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The Kinks: They Really Got Me

by David Soulsby, author of the novel "Somewhere in the Distance"

 

From the outset, the opening riff of You Really Got Me announced a clear no-nonsense message of intent: The Kinks are here and you had better believe it! They’ve served their apprenticeship in scores of small, sweaty rhythm and blues clubs and now they are ready to make their mark big time. This was August 1964 and their innovative raw guitar-driven sound proved third time lucky, their two previous two singles going by relatively unnoticed, including a spirited cover of Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally.

The thunderous You Really Got Me blasted out regularly from the radio against a varied backdrop: an escalation of the war in Vietnam, the release of The Beatles’ single A Hard Day’s Night and Julie Andrews performing her rooftop magic in Mary Poppins.

Then in November they released All Day And All Of The Night and there was no looking back. Both tracks were instant hits and gave the group a launch pad to worldwide recognition and kudos among aspiring rock musicians who wanted to imitate their gutsy, hard-driving sound.

In their early days The Kinks were very much about London and its vibrant cultural and social fabric, although only Ray Davies and his brother Dave were born in the capital. The other members, Pete Quaife and Mick Avory, were originally out-of-towners, but as a unit their approach to music and life was London through and through. The Kinks were formed in Muswell Hill and captured the raw energy and bombast of the city, and it eventually struck a note with the rest of the country and, soon after, the rest of the world.

As they grew in stature, group frontman Ray Davies wrote lyrics that chronicled the daily ebb and flow and the mind-set and behaviour of England’s population. He astutely captured the flavour and essence and foibles of everyday life as lived by ordinary people, and he did it with wit and warmth. Not bad for a band that started out simply as a hard-playing rhythm and blues foursome whose early live performances were gutsy, raw and loud and always got the crowds excited.

One of the small venues they played early on was the Manor House pub in north London. It was a mecca for blues and rock fans, many travelling miles to see the various acts that performed there, including the Rolling Stones and The Who. My friends and I visited the venue many times and saw most of the leading rhythm and blues bands make their mark there.

Throughout the back end of 1964 and through 1965, I heard The Kinks often on the BBC’s popular radio shows Saturday Club and Top Gear. They were always great to hear. Also, their BBC live recordings at the prestigious Playhouse Theatre in central London were exceptional. It was always exciting tuning in the radio and settling back to listen to them playing not just their big hits but obscure tracks as well, showing their versatility to good effect.

Controversially, at the height of their fame the band was banned from touring in America because of what was considered rowdy behaviour both on stage and off. By today’s standards the ‘wrongdoing’ was pretty tame. The ban was a great pity. The Kinks were producing some of their best music at the time, notably such classics as Sunny Afternoon, Lola, Dedicated Follower Of Fashion and Waterloo Sunset.

Sunny Afternoon was a superb song that conjured up the lazy hazy feelings of warm summer weather, something we Brits cherish highly. The satirical Lola and Dedicated Follower Of Fashion were pithy and fun. And Waterloo Sunset was pure evocative genius. All four songs ooze with class and razor sharp imagery.

In late 1966 the band put out a single that’s among my favourites: Dead End Street. It was something of an offbeat oddity, not just for the macabre sounding lyrics, more for the bleak black and white promotional film they made to publicise the song. It showed the band dressed as undertakers carrying an empty coffin along a narrow cobbled street where they stop to knock on a door.

The widow answers and invites them in. They struggle to take the coffin upstairs where her husband’s body rests on the bed. You don’t see his face, only his feet, which are disfigured. A pair of boots is put on the feet and the foursome leave the house with the leaden coffin.

They’ve just gone a short distance when they put the coffin down and decide to have a cigarette. Just then, the coffin lid flies open and the corpse runs away, leaving the bemused pallbearers to give manic chase through the adjoining streets. The fleeing ‘dead man’ finally vanishes into a solid brick wall! At various times throughout the film we see still images of working class people struggling to make ends meets.

Sounds bizarre, doesn’t it? And it was at the time. Not surprisingly, the BBC didn’t like it and refused to show it, saying it was in bad taste. What they didn’t appreciate was that it was tongue in cheek humour used by Ray Davies to get across a serious point.

The film was very much influenced by the British music hall tradition and the slapstick chases of the Keystone Cops. Despite the BBC’s decision, the song did reasonably well in the British charts, and had some limited success in the States.

The film was shot in Little Green Street, a tiny row of Georgian houses just off Highgate Road in north London. The distinctive houses were built in the late 1700s. I’d seen the street many times in my early teens when I lived just a short walk away. A friend lived across from the street and we’d walk along the cobbles chatting to the top of the turning and then walk back again! We’d usually be deep in conservation about soccer or the Top Ten hits of the day. Exciting stuff! I don’t remember at the time being aware of just how old the houses were.

I only mention this in passing as Little Green Street was recently deemed by a leading guide to be one of the 500 places to see in the world before it disappears. The street over recent years has witnessed its residents and supporters battle with developers wanting to use the street to gain access to a site at the rear. Protestors feared the constant passage of heavy traffic would damage the cobbles and the homes themselves. Dave Davies even got involved, visiting the street to reminisce about the filming and show his support for the save our street campaign.

In my view, The Kinks and Little Green Street share a common bond — they’re both national treasures to be preserved and revered.

In 1968, the themed album The Village Green Preservation Society saw The Kinks at their most patriotic, creating a heartfelt homage to all things English. It wasn’t a great success at the time: it was only some years later that its brilliance was fully appreciated. Whenever I listen to it now, I’m transported back and left with fond memories of times gone by.

David Soulsby lives in Romford, Essex,David Soulsby England, and is now retired after 46 years as a journalist. During his career, he worked on local and national newspapers and magazines, and in the Sixties met many of his musical heroes, including Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Sonny Boy Williamson, James Brown and Mel Torme. He’s now freelancing as a writer and proof-reader, working from home. He’s the author of Somewhere In The Distance, a novel about four friends growing up in the Sixties.

 

Somewhere in the Distance

 

 

 

 

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