Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

The Kinks’ Music 1 – Kinks

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on January 22, 2012

A revised version of this essay appears in Preservation: The Kinks’ Music 1964-1974, available in paperback , hardback, Kindle (US), Kindle (UK) , and for all non-Kindle devices from Smashwords.

The Kinks’ first album, titled simply Kinks, is a mish-mash of different styles, only some of them effective. While Ray and Dave Davies had been playing together for many years, and had been working with bass player Pete Quaife for some time, the final line-up of the band, with drummer Mick Avory, had only settled down after the release of the band’s debut single, a lacklustre cover of Long Tall Sally, in February 1964. Avory was so new to the band that he doesn’t even appear on much of the album, being replaced by session player Bobbie Graham.

The band’s early singles set the pattern for this album. Long Tall Sally was a semi-competent cover of an American R&B classic, You Still Want Me, the band’s second single, was decent Merseybeat-by-numbers, and You Really Got Me, their third, was one of the greatest singles of all time, a crunchy garage-rock track with one of the best riffs ever committed to record.

And the album is as much of a mixed bag as the singles. Like many British bands in 1964 and 65, the Kinks were attempting to sound like the American blues music of a previous generation. The problem is that like many of those bands, the Kinks were not particularly strong either vocally or instrumentally, and simply couldn’t carry the weight of this material. When Muddy Waters or Bo Diddley sing “I’m A Man”, the implicit meaning is “so don’t call me ‘boy’”. When white teenagers from the Home Counties sing the same material, it comes out sounding more like “I’m a grown man, now, mummy, so you can’t make me tidy my room!”

The best of the British R&B-oriented bands, like the Animals or the Zombies or the Spencer Davis Group, got away with this by having astonishingly good vocalists – and all of these bands soon moved away from the R&B sound. The Kinks, too, would make this move very soon, but in 1964 there was little to impress on their first album.

And while they don’t add very much to the sound, it should probably be mentioned that among the session players who played on this album are Jimmy Page (who added acoustic rhythm guitar on a couple of tracks but did not play any leads, despite some reports to the contrary) and Jon Lord.

The Album

Beautiful Delilah
Writer: Chuck Berry
Lead Vocalist: Dave Davies

The album opener is a perfect example of where most British blues bands of the time were going wrong. A cover version of one of Chuck Berry’s more minor works, this misses everything that makes Berry’s original worth listening to – the wit in Berry’s vocals, and his distinctive guitar work.

It does have a punk energy, especially in Dave Davies’ incoherent vocals, but even so it sounds forced. This is garage band music in a bad way – it’s the work of teenagers who aren’t very good yet, and who love R&B music without knowing what it is they love about it.

So Mystifying
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

This is a much better attempt at the same kind of thing. It appears to have been written off the Rolling Stones’ version of It’s All Over Now, but has a more country-blues flavour, reminiscent both of early Chuck Berry tracks like Maybelline and of Carl Perkins rockabilly. The lead guitar part, in particular, has some unusual choices that point the way forward to the band’s later experimentation with country music on albums like Muswell Hillbillies.

The song, and the track, are still not especially good, but even on a by-the-numbers blues track like this Ray Davies is starting to develop a distinctive voice which suits the band far better than the cover versions they do.

Just Can’t Go To Sleep
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

A simple exercise in a girl-group style, this is the kind of thing that bands like the Swinging Blue Jeans were having hits with at the time, and is a very competent piece in the style, but completely unmemorable except for the key change down a tone for the middle section, which is an unusually-long twelve bars. The hook line sounds like an early attempt at the hook for Stop Your Sobbing.

Long Tall Shorty
Writers: Don Covay and Herbert C Abramson
Lead Vocalist: Dave Davies

This song was originally recorded by Tommy Tucker earlier in 1964 as a follow-up to his hit single Hi-Heeled Sneakers, and has almost exactly the same melody as that track. Probably the best of the R&B covers on this album, this has some very creditable harmonica playing from Ray Davies – nothing technically challenging, but with far more feeling than much of the music elsewhere on the album. It’s still fundamentally pointless though, especially in comparison with Tucker’s much more interesting original.

I Took My Baby Home
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

Easily the catchiest and most commercial sounding of the tracks so far, this is a simple three-chord formula pop song of a kind that almost every band did dozens of during the sixties (probably its closest relation is I’m A Fool by Dino, Desi and Billy from a couple of years later, but every Merseybeat band had a few songs like this). The arrangement is more inventive than normal for this kind of song, though, with all instruments except the drums dropping out for the “I wo-o-o-o-on’t” line, and some quite complicated drum fills.

This was the B-side to the band’s first single, Long Tall Sally, and should really have been the A-side, being both a better performance and more in tune with the music that was having success in early 1964.

I’m A Lover Not A Fighter
Writer: Jay Miller
Lead Vocalist: Dave Davies

A cover of a Cajun blues song by evil racist scumbag J.D. Miller, this features some very nice guitar picking from Dave Davies, but is unfortunately spoiled by his lead vocal, which has all the subtlety of a rutting rhinoceros.

You Really Got Me
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

It’s almost impossible to describe how much this track stands out from the dross around it. On paper, this should be more of the same – a simple two-note riff, played in three different keys, and a lyric with a 35-word vocabulary (significantly simpler than the average Doctor Seuss book). In fact the lyric originally only had thirty-four words in it, but Davies was persuaded to change some of the ‘yeah’s to ‘girl’, to avoid any possible implication of homosexuality.

The sound of this, though, is extraordinary. Forty-eight years later, this still packs a punch unlike anything else in the charts at that time. At a time when record companies were turning down tracks on the grounds that the guitar was distorted, this is recorded with a guitar put through a speaker cone that had been slashed with a knife. Everything about this track is designed to evoke adolescent sexual tension in the extreme – the riff, the repetitive single-note piano parts, Dave Davies’ long “yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah” backing vocals, Ray Davies’ screaming, lustful vocals on the high notes. And nothing like Dave Davies’ finger-twisting guitar solo had ever been recorded before.

Angry, frustrated, raunchy, this is the precise moment when rock – as opposed to rock ‘n’ roll – was invented.

Cadillac
Writer: Bo Diddley
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

And we’re immediately back into the realms of R & B covers, although Bo Diddley’s thuggish simplicity is more suited to the band at this stage of their development than many of the other covers have been, and this isn’t too bad at all.

Bald Headed Woman
Writer: Shel Talmy
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

One of two covers of tracks by the folk singer Odetta, included on the album so that producer Shel Talmy could claim a ‘trad. arr.’ writing credit. The band do as competent a job as could be expected for a song so firmly out of their normal stylistic range (it sounds more like a work chant than anything else), but this is pointless.

Revenge
Writer: Ray Davies and Larry Page
Lead Vocalist: Instrumental

As is this, a by-the-numbers harmonica-led instrumental presumably included so that Larry Page, one of the band’s managers, could get some songwriting money too. It’s actually quite an advanced-sounding track – it could easily be a backing track from Love’s first album, two years later, but it sounds like a backing track for which someone’s forgotten to bother to record a vocal, rather than a proper instrumental.

Too Much Monkey Business
Writer: Chuck Berry
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

Another missing-the-point Chuck Berry cover, again of a song which depends almost entirely on Berry’s delivery for its effect, this one is even less successful than Beautiful Delilah because of the frankly incomprehensible decision to double track the lead vocal. For a wordy song such as this, so dependent on diction, this is fatal. Dave Davies’ guitar solo is quite nice though.

I’ve Been Driving On Bald Mountain
Writer: Odetta Felious
Lead Vocalist: Dave Davies

The second of the Odetta covers, though on this one Odetta has regained her songwriting credit as the song isn’t actually traditional. The backing track is quite pleasant, in an acoustic hootenany kind of way, but then Dave Davies does his usual tuneless punk hollering over the top. He got much better as a vocalist.

Stop Your Sobbing
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

This is the second really good track on the album, and one of Ray Davies’ very best early songs. A simple Merseybeat track, this has a gorgeous melody and one of the catchiest hooks Davies ever came up with (“better stop sobbing now”).

It’s also more emotionally ambiguous than the rest of his early songs, paving the way for the more interesting work he’d be doing later on. The protagonist wants to help his girlfriend get over whatever is causing her to cry, but he’s also implicitly threatening to leave her if she doesn’t. There’s a weird unresolved tension here between the sympathetic and the extraordinarily callous, that makes this the most emotionally realistic song on the entire album.

This track is also the first to feature Rasa Didzpetris on backing vocals. Didzpetris was soon to become Ray Davies’ first wife, and as Rasa Davies her vocal lines became an essential part of many of the Kinks’ most memorable records.

While this was never released as a single, The Pretenders released a version in 1979 that was a minor hit.

Got Love If You Want It
Writer: James H Moore
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

And we end with another cover version of a blues standard. This one is better than the album standard, because Ray Davies plays with his vocals here in a way he hasn’t on the rest of the album, and wins over on sheer strangeness. There’s some ferociously good drumming on this track too.

Bonus Tracks

I Believed You
Writer: Ray and Dave Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

An early demo recording, before the band had settled on the name The Kinks, this was recorded under the name The Bo Weevils. A much more sophisticated song and performance than most of what we can hear on the actual album, this could easily have been a hit for a band like The Zombies. It suggests that many of the problems with the first album can be laid at the door not of the band themselves, but of producer Shel Talmy, with whom the band didn’t get on, and who notably didn’t produce You Really Got Me, although he was credited with it.

I’m A Hog For You Baby
Writer: Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

Another Bo Weevils demo, this one is a fairly poor-quality recording of a Coasters cover, but it still shows the band as far more assured than on the Kinks album, with some very good lead guitar and with the band members doing a variety of silly voices in the style of the original. Where most of the R&B covers on the album show an utter lack of comprehension, this one is a sympathetic cover of what is, ultimately, a fluffy piece of nothing.

I Don’t Need You Any More
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

A demo from January 1964, in very rough quality, this is a decent enough pop-rocker that would have made a perfectly acceptable album track had it been taken any further.

Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy (demo)
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

This is a demo, recorded toward the end of 1964, for what would become the band’s sixth single. I’ll deal with the song more when I look at the Kinda Kinks album, but what I can say is that this demo shows every element of the finished record was conceived very early on – the arrangement barely changed at all, although the performance on the finished track is much tighter.

Long Tall Sally
Writer: Richard Penniman, Robert Blackwell and Enotis Johnson
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

For the band’s first single, they were persuaded to record Long Tall Sally, a Little Richard song that they’d never performed before, on the grounds that the Beatles were performing the song live (this was before the Beatles released their own studio version of the song).

On paper, an R&B song about a transsexual prostitute should have been perfect for the Kinks, but there’s no evidence they’d actually figured out what the lyrics were. While Paul McCartney got round the problem of not being able to understand Little Richard’s screeched vocals by gabbling, Ray Davies seems to have just made up some new lyrics for himself.

The song’s taken at too slow a pace – in fact the band are playing the riff from a different, slower, Little Richard song, Lucille, and for all their singing “we’re having some fun tonight” it sounds like they’re protesting too much. It’s not a bad track, as such, but nor is it a very good one, and it’s easy to see why this was a flop, only reaching number 42 despite a TV appearance on Ready, Steady, Go.

You Still Want Me
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

The band’s second single, this was even less commercially successful than Long Tall Sally, but it’s harder to see why in retrospect. This would have been a great pop hit in 1963, the year of Gerry And The Pacemakers, the Swinging Blue Jeans and the Searchers. Unfortunately for the band, it was released in 1964, at a time when a harder, bluesier style was starting to come into fashion, and sounded like they were trying to jump on the bandwagon just after it had pulled away.

With five decades’ hindsight, though, this was a massive improvement on their first single, and shows that they were headed in the right direction. While this didn’t chart, the lowest chart ranking any of their next thirteen singles would have would be number eleven.

You Do Something To Me
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

The B-side to You Still Want Me, this uptempo pop track is equal parts Merseybeat (in the verses) and Buddy Holly (in the middle eight), with some quite gorgeous Everly Brothers style harmonies from the Davies brothers, in a style they never really returned to. This is easily as good as, say, any of the hits the Hollies had around this time, and is in much the same style. Quite why this and its A-side were left off the album is hard to say.

It’s Alright
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

The B-side of You Really Got Me is a standard Brit-blues riff-based track, possibly showing a little of the influence of Mose Allison, either directly or through contemporary bands like Manfred Mann. There’s no real song there – it sounds like something that evolved out of a jam session – but the performance and arrangement, with a prominent drum part and short spot of dead air when the entire band briefly drop out, are inventive enough that the track remains listenable.

All Day And All Of The Night
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

The follow-up to You Really Got Me was very much a repeat of that single’s winning formula. Instead of a two-note riff, this time we have a three-note riff (F, G and B flat ). And whereas You Really Got Me goes up by a tone, then by another tone, this track goes up by a third, and then up by a tone into the chorus.

Otherwise, this sticks as closely as possible to the You Really Got Me template, and amazingly manages to capture lighting in a bottle twice. The band would very soon move on to more complex songs, but like their previous single this is one of the great pop-rock tracks of all time.

I Gotta Move
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

The B-side to All Day And All Of The Night is again very similar to the previous B-side, a simple riffy blues track. By this point, the Kinks had become quite good at this kind of track, but there’s little of interest here other than the faint backing vocals, setting up a drone – a sound which would become of more interest to the band in the next year.

Louie Louie
Writer: Richard Berry
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

Apparently Ray Davies wrote You Really Got Me while trying to work out the three-chord riff to Louie Louie, which had been a hit for the Kingsmen in the US the previous year, so it was natural that the Kinks would record their own version, which became the opening track of their Kinksize Session EP. This version is now the best-known version in the UK, and is notable for the band getting the chords wrong (they play I-IV-V rather than I-IV-v). This recording in turn seems to have been the inspiration for the Troggs’ hit version of Wild Thing in 1966 – a record produced by the Kinks’ manager Larry Page.

I’ve Got That Feeling
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

The second track on Kinksize Session, this seems to be an attempt by Ray Davies to write in the style of the Zombies, who had recently had their first big hit with She’s Not There. Much like that song, this is keyboard based, and based around a jazzy riff centred on an Am chord, though this continues the habit Davies has at this time of making riffs out of single-tone differences, rather than having the more expansive changes of the Zombies song. This is again reminiscent of the riffs to You Really Got Me and All Day And All Of The Night, but the choice is probably made because unlike the Zombies’ singer Colin Blunstone, Ray Davies was at this time an incredibly limited vocalist, and keeping within a narrow range was probably necessary.

I Gotta Go Now
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

At 2:53, the third track on Kinksize Session is longer than anything on the band’s first album. Which is odd, because it must have taken much less time than that to write, consisting as it does mostly of two chords and six words. And unlike in the case of You Really Got Me, this doesn’t appear to be a deliberate choice as much as it’s an utter lack of effort. I actually managed to forget this track while listening to it.

Things Are Getting Better
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

This track, the last on Kinksize Session is actually a rewrite of Cadillac. Ray Davies forgets the lyric to the last line on the last verse, and what little lyric there is is written in an attempt at American dialect (our protagonist “hasn’t got a dime”). Davies would soon move away from this kind of imitation and find a voice of his own though.

Don’t Ever Let Me Go
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

This was apparently an attempt at a follow-up to You Really Got Me, wisely scrapped in favour of All Day And All Of The Night. It features the same riff as You Really Got Me, but married to a more conventional, and thus less interesting, song.

I Don’t Need You Any More
Writer: Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

An utterly by-the-numbers garage rock track, with absolutely nothing of any interest about it.

Little Queenie
Writer: Chuck Berry
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

Recorded during a live BBC session, and introduced by Brian Matthew (who is still to this day a BBC DJ, having been a broadcaster for 64 years), this is yet another attempt at a Chuck Berry cover. This time, they miss out half of the lyrics and don’t seem to really have understood the rest. The liner notes for the Kinks deluxe edition claim Ray Davies is singing this, but if so he sounds very like his brother Dave (although the two could often sound alike).

Overall, Kinks, and the material recorded around that time, is a sloppy mess for the most part, with occasional flashes of brilliance, though sloppiness was the norm for every band other than the Beatles or the Beach Boys at the end of 1964. 1965 would see the Kinks improve dramatically…

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