Regarded as one of the most influential rock bands of the 1960s, The Kinks were formed in Muswell Hill, North London in 1963 by brothers Ray and Dave Davies. Ray Davies (rhythm guitar, lead vocals, keyboards) and Dave Davies (lead guitar, vocals) remained members throughout the band’s 33-year run. When the band split up in 1997 due to creative tension between the Davies brothers, they were joined in the band by Jim Rodford (bass, backing vocals) and Ian Gibbons (keyboards, piano, backing vocals).
The Kinks have had five top ten singles on the US Billboard chart, with nine of their albums charting in the top 40. In the UK, they have had seventeen top twenty singles and five top ten albums. Four of their albums have been certified gold by the RIAA, with the band selling 50 million records worldwide. They have received the Ivor Novello Award for “Outstanding Service to British Music”.
In 1990, the original four members were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as well as the UK Music Hall of Fame in November 2005. In this piece, I write about the top five best songs from the band, in my personal opinion.
#5 – Waterloo Sunset
Album: Something Else by The Kinks | Single: Waterloo Sunset/Act Nice and Gentle | 1967
At number five, we have Waterloo Sunset, which was released as a single in 1967 from their album Something Else by The Kinks. Frontman Ray Davis composed and produced the song and it is one of the band’s best-known songs. It was ranked number fourteen on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and was also their first single available in true stereo. It reached number two in the British charts in mid-1967 and was also a top ten hit in Australia, New Zealand, and most of Europe but unfortunately, failed to chart in North America.
The lyrics describe a solitary narrator either watching or imagining two lovers passing over a bridge, with them reflecting on the couple, the River Thames, and Waterloo station. It was rumored that the song was inspired by the romance between actors Terence Stamp and Julie Christie, stars of the 1967 movie Far from the Madding Crowd, although frontman Ray Davies denied this in a 2008 interview, mentioning that it was a fantasy about his sister going off to a new world with her boyfriend by emigrating to another country.
The recording sessions for Waterloo Sunset took a mere ten hours, with Dave Davis commenting that they spent a lot of time trying to get a different guitar sound so they could get a more unique feel for the record but ended up using a tape-delay echo. The song ended up being one of the group’s biggest UK successes. The song was the first Kinks recording solely produced by Ray Davies, without longtime producer Shel Talmy. Frontman Ray Davies revealed in a 2010 interview that the song was originally entitled ‘Liverpool Sunset’.
The Kinks also included an exclusive B-side to the single, entitled “Act Nice and Gentle” which has been described as a plea for “some civility”. It later appeared as a bonus track on the 1998 reissue of Something Else by the Kinks.
The song is commonly known in the UK as Ray Davies’ most famous work. It is highly esteemed for its musical and lyrical qualities, with the song being a common subject of study in university art courses. Music journalists, along with fellow musical artists, have praised the song, with pop music journalist Robert Christgau calling it “the most beautiful song in the English language, with The Who’s Pete Townshend, calling it “divine” and “a masterpiece.
In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine placed the song at number forty-two on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of all time, with it being re-ranked at number fourteen on the 2021 list. Davies even performed it at the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics.
#4 – Sunny Afternoon
Album: Face to Face | Single: Sunny Afternoon/I’m Not Like Everybody Else | 1966
At number four, we have Sunny Afternoon, released by The Kinks in June 1966. The track was featured on the Face to Face album, with it being the title track for their 1967 compilation album. The song references the high levels of progressive tax taken by the British Labour government of Harold Wilson, who, at the time, was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
The song was first written in frontman Ray Davies’ house while he was sick. He said he hadn’t written for a time due to his illness and recalled that, while writing the opening riff, his one-year-old daughter was crawling on the floor and saying he remembered it vividly, even remembering that he wore a polo-neck sweater.
Davies has talked about how Sunny Afternoon was made very quickly, in the morning and has called it one of their most atmospheric sessions. He said that he still likes to keep tapes of the few minutes before they recorded the final take, recalling that the bass player went off and played funny little classical things on the bass, with Nicky Hopkins, who was playing piano for the session playing “Liza”, as they always used to play that song.
Davies added that, at the time of writing Sunny Afternoon, he couldn’t listen to anything. He was only playing the greatest hits of Frank Sinatra and Bob Dylan’s Maggie’s Farm. The song was released as a single on June 3rd, 1966, and went to number one on the UK singles chart a month later, remaining there for two weeks. It peaked at number fourteen in the US on the Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart in the early Autumn of 1966. The promotional video featured the band performing in a cold, snowy environment.
#3 – All Day and All of the Night
Album: Kinksize Hits EP | Single: All Day and All of the Night/I Gotta Move | 1964
Released as a single in October 1964, All Day and All of the Night reached number two on the UK Singles Chart, with it reaching number seven on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart a year later in 1965. The song was featured on the Kinksize Hits EP in the UK and The Kinks’ second American album, Kinks-Size, released in 1965.
Much like You Really Got Me (which is written about later in this piece), the song is based on a power chord riff. They are similar in beat and structure, with similar background vocals, progressions, and guitar solos. Dave Davies claims that this song was where he found his voice, stating that he likes the guitar sound on the song. Billboard describes the song as a ‘potent entry’ and that the ‘raw gutsy delivery is maintained along with guitar sound they described as ‘raunchy’.
The song wasn’t released without controversy though as similarities between All Day and All of the Night and the 1968 The Doors single Hello, I Love You. Ray has claimed that their publisher wanted to sue but he was unwilling to do that. According to The Doors biography No One Here Gets Out Alive, courts in the UK determined in favor of Davies and any royalties for the song are paid to him.
#2 – You Really Got Me
Album: Kinks | Single: You Really Got Me/It’s Alright | 1964
Inspired by artists such as Lead Belly and Big Bill Broonzy, You Really Got Me was featured on the Kinks’ debut album, Kinks. It was even rumored that future Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page had performed the song’s guitar solo but the myth has since been proven false. The song was built around power chords and heavily influenced rock musicians. Built around a guitar riff played by Dave, the song’s lyrics, as described by Dave, were “a love song for street kids”.
The song was released in the UK on August 4th, 1964 by Pye Records as the group’s third single and it reached number one on the UK Singles Chart the following month, remaining there for two weeks. It was released in the US a month later on September 2nd by Reprise Records. The song became The Kinks’ breakthrough hit and established them as one of the top British Invasion acts in the United States, with it reaching number seven later in the year. It was even covered by American rock band Van Halen for their 1978 self-titled debut album, with it peaking as a single for them at number thirty-six on the Billboard Hot 100.
The Kinks’ vocalist and main songwriter, Ray Davies, wrote the song sometime between the 9th and 12th of March 1964. Ray said that when he came up with the song, he hadn’t been writing for very long at all. It was one of the first five he ever came up with. He stated that he had been inspired to write the song one night during his college days playing with the Dave Hunt Band, when he had seen an attractive girl on the dance floor, mentioning that, when they finished, he went off to find her but she was gone and never returned to the club, stating that “she really got me going”.
Ray initially planned for the song to be more of a “laid-back number”, with him later playing the chords of the song to brother Dave, The Kinks’ lead guitarist. Upon hearing the track, Dave decided that the riff would be a bit more powerful on a guitar. It was originially written around a sax line but Dave ended up playing it in fuzz guitar, taking the song a step further. They then began performing the new track on their live shows, where it was well received.
The song was recorded by The Kinks at least twice in the summer of 1964, with the demo being in a “bluesy” style, with the full studio version being slower and less emphatic than the final recording. The band wanted to rerecord the song and their management ended up going against their record company due to them refusing to fund another session due to their first two singles failing to chart. Ray’s adamant attitude on behalf of the career-making song established him as the leader and chief songwriter of the band, with him later stating that he was “literally born when that song hit”.
The guitar solo on the recording has been the subject of a persistent myth over the years that it was not played by The Kinks’ lead guitarist Dave Davies, but by then-session player Jimmy Page, who later joined The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin. Jon Lord of Deep Purple is one of the people who claim this, with him also claiming he played piano on the track.
Ray Davies discusses the guitar solo in his 1998 autobiographical release The Storyteller, confirming that Dave played the solo and it was preceded by the banter between the brothers, saying that he shouted across the studio to Dave to give him encouragement but he seemed to spoil his concentration. Dave looked at him with a dazed expression and told him to fuck off. Ray added that you can hear Dave say fuck off in the song, saying it’s even clearer on CD calling it “really embarrassing”.
The song is centered on a guitar riff by Dave, which has since been referred to as “instantly identifiable”. The song has since also been labeled as an early influence on the heavy metal genre. Dave has since rejected the idea that You Really Got Me is heavy metal, saying that he has never really liked the term heavy metal. The song was released as the band’s third single in August 1964 and, within three days of release, it began to appear on local charts.
The song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999, with Rolling Stone Magazine placing the song at number eighty-two on their list of the 500 greatest songs of all time, with it being number four on their list of the 100 greatest guitar songs of all time.
#1 – Lola
Album: Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygorund, Part One | Single: Lola/Berkley Mews |1970
Lola was released in the UK on June 12th, 1970, and reached number two on the UK Singles Chart. The song is featured on The Kinks’ album Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygorund, Part One. The song details a romantic encounter between a young man and a possible trans woman or cross-dresser, after their meeting in a club in Soho, London.
Ray claims that he was inspired to write Lola after The Kinks’ manager Robert Wace spent a night in Paris dancing with a cross-dresser, with drummer Mick Avory claiming that it was partially inspired by his frequenting of certain bars in West London. Dave said that he came up with the music for what would become Lola, with Ray adding the lyrics after hearing it and that it was written in a similar fashion to You Really Got Me. Ray noted that he knew the song would be successful when he heard his one-year-old daughter singing the chorus.
Initial recordings began in April 1970, but, as the bassist John Dalton remembered, recording Lola took particularly long, stretching into the next month. Drummer Avory remembered the recording sessions positively, saying that it was fun as it was John Gosling’s first recording with them. The success of Lola as a single had important ramifications for the band’s career, as it allowed them to negotiate a new contract with RCA Records, construct their own studio in London and assume more creative and managerial control.
The Kinks are arguably one of the most influential bands in British history, with some of the artists influenced by them including The Ramones, The Clash, Blondie, Van Halen and Oasis, among others. Due to their pioneering contribution, they have often been labeled as “the original punks”. They were ranked 65th on Rolling Stone magazine’s “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” list.
The Who guitarist Pete Townshend has credited Ray with inventing “a new kind of poetry that influenced me from the very, very, very beginning”. Queen guitarist Brian May has even credited the band with planting “the seed which grew into riff-based music.”
The Kinks have two albums, The Kings Are The Village Green Preservation Society (number 384) and Something Else by The Kinks (number 478) on Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list. Waterloo Sunset, You Really Got Me and Lola are in the same magazines 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list. The Kinks are one of the most influential British bands in music history and are a must-listen to anyone who likes the rock genre.