Did A Teenage Girl Make The Kinks Great?

One of the Internet’s favourite things, it seems, is finding and celebrating The Woman Who Was Really Responsible For Work For Which A Man Took Credit. Sometimes, as with Delia Derbyshire on the theme from Doctor Who, Rosalind Franklin and the discovery of the structure of DNA, or Harriet Taylor and the work credited to John Stuart Mill, the evidence seems pretty unassailable for their having been denied credit they deserve. Other times, unfortunately, the evidence is rather slim.

But there’s one example that I’ve never seen anyone point out. It’s one I suspected for some time, but last night I happened to stumble across something which confirmed my suspicions:

A woman may well have been responsible for much of the Kinks’ best material. In fact, she was a teenager when she made her contributions.

Ray Davies’ career as a songwriter follows a definite arc shape. He starts out in early 1964 writing the odd very good track, and a lot of crap. From late 1964 on he keeps hitting greater and greater heights, and getting more consistent, for several years — the run of albums from 1966’s Face to Face through 1969’s Arthur, or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire, is pretty much perfect and as solid a run of albums as anyone has ever made, though in retrospect Arthur is a little less good than the albums before it.

After 1969, his songwriting becomes a little more erratic. The next few albums — Lola vs Powerman and the Moneygoround, Muswell Hillbillies, and Everybody’s in Showbiz — are all fine albums, but nowhere near the same quality as the four albums that came before.

And then, in 1973, the songwriting ability just falls off a cliff. Preservation Act 1 is half a really good album and half a sloppy mess, and after that… well, there are individual good songs, but if you collect together a single CD of the best work Ray Davies did in the ensuing forty-five years, it wouldn’t match up to any one of the 1966-71 albums. There are gems on even the worst album, but the gems are of lower and lower quality. Some Kinks ultra-fans will make cases for some of the later albums, but even those cases tend to be things like “well, the live shows at the time were really good” or “if you listen past the production, there’s a few really quite nice songs”. I’m someone who has bought every pre-1974 Kinks album multiple times and owns multiple box sets of the band’s music, but I could hum the melodies of… maybe ten Davies songs from after 1974. If that.

Now, there have been a lot of attempts to explain Davies’ songwriting ability going downhill, and some of them have a certain ring of truth to them. For example, the slight decline between Village Green Preservation Society and Arthur might be put down to the departure of bass player Pete Quaife and session keyboardist Nicky Hopkins (who played on all the Kinks’ records prior to that, but refused to work with Davies ever again after Davies took credit for his playing on Village Green). In 1969 a ban on them playing the US was lifted, and they started to concentrate more on the loud, less-nuanced, sound that was popular in America. And in 1973 Ray Davies had a nervous breakdown after his wife left him. All of these things may have played a part.

But one thing always seemed very suspicious about the timings to me — something I alluded to in passing, but never really talked about much because it was just a coincidence of dates.

You see, in mid 1964, Ray Davies began dating a woman called Rasa Didzpetris. Well, I say woman, she was a teenage girl at the time — aged only 17 (Davies was only twenty, so this wasn’t the kind of sleazy thing one might normally expect from a rock star dating a teenager). They married in December 1964 and divorced in 1973.

Even before their marriage, Rasa started singing on Kinks records — her first recording with the band was “Stop Your Sobbing” in August 1964 — and she can be heard on many of their best records singing backing vocals. Hers is the high voice singing the “sha la la” on “Waterloo Sunset” or the “la la la” part on “Death of a Clown”. While she never performed live with the Kinks, on record she was at least as important a part of their sound as the band’s rhythm section, possibly more so. Her vocal contributions were never given credit on the records (some recent CD reissues have rectified that somewhat) and she’s been largely ignored, I suspect because of rock fans’ refusal to think anything but the worst of their idols’ wives. She doesn’t even have her own Wikipedia page, and on the band’s Wikipedia page she’s mentioned in two sentences (“Backing vocals by Dave Davies, Pete Quaife and Ray’s wife, Rasa, were laid down first, followed by Ray’s lead vocal track” and “Ray Davies’ marital problems during this period began to affect the band adversely, particularly after his wife, Rasa, took their children and left him in June 1973.”)

She stopped performing on the records around the time of Arthur (no-one’s exactly sure when, because she was never credited, but I don’t hear her on anything after that album — she might be buried in the mix on some tracks, but she’s nowhere near as prominent) — which is also around the time her marriage to Ray started to deteriorate. And when she finally left him, during the early stages of recording Preservation Act 1, is the point at which Davies’ songwriting, which had been on a gentle slope downwards for several years, finally fell off the cliff edge and never recovered.

That coincidence in timings, along with the fact that Davies was at that time an inveterate taker of credit for other people’s work, led me to suspect that maybe she had something to do with the songwriting. There’s also the interesting fact that around the same time Davies started to get more secretive about his songwriting process, only telling the band members the chords to songs, but not letting them know the words or vocal melody until the records came out, in case someone stole the songs.

But I’d never seen any claims that Rasa Davies had any songwriting input, not in any of the several books I’ve read on the band, and not even any speculation on the Internet other than my own, so I mentioned the interesting coincidence, but decided it was probably me just seeing patterns that aren’t really there. The only songwriting or arrangement contribution I’d heard of from her was Ray crediting her with coming up with the idea to have the harmony vocals peak at the end of “Waterloo Sunset” (which is, in itself, an idea that added a lot to that song).

But then, last night, while looking on the Internet for confirmation of a minor fact I wanted to mention on Twitter about the band (and as a sidenote, it’s *really* weird to go looking for some fact or other on Wikipedia and find yourself quoted. It’s happened to me a few times, and it freaks me out no end…) I found this, which is literally the only interview I’ve ever seen with Rasa. (She was apparently also interviewed by Johnny Rogan for his book on Ray Davies — I’ve not yet read that book, as it came out just after my own book on the Kinks, and I was a little burned out on the subject).

And it says:

Rasa, however, would sometimes take a very active role during the writing of the songs, many of which were written in the family home, even on occasion adding to the lyrics. She suggested the words “In the summertime” to ‘Sunny Afternoon’, it is claimed. She now says, “I would make suggestions for a backing melody, sing along while Ray was playing the song(s) on the piano; at times I would add a lyric line or word(s). It was rewarding for me and was a major part of our life.”

So… that looks to me like confirmation of my hunch. Rasa Davies contributed both lyrically and melodically to the songwriting during the time of the Kinks’ greatest records. And once she stopped doing that, Ray Davies never wrote another truly great song again.

I think that’s enough evidence for me to say that the Kinks’ greatest records weren’t written by the genius Ray Davies, but by the genius songwriting team of Ray and Rasa Davies.

Note that I’m *not* saying that Ray didn’t do most of the writing — there is a very clear stylistic line between the music Ray was writing before Rasa, the music he wrote when they were together, and the music he wrote afterwards. His melodic and lyrical fingerprints are all over those records.

But what I *am* saying is that a talented collaborator is a valuable thing, and can turn a good artist into a great one. I don’t know what the split was in their writing partnership — I don’t know if it was 90% Ray and 10% Rasa, or a fifty-fifty split, or what. No-one but the two of them know, and no-one but the two of them is ever likely to.

But even if Rasa only contributed ten percent, that seems likely to me to have been the ten percent that pulled those songs up to greatness. Even if all she did was pull Ray back from his more excessive instincts, perhaps cause him to show a little more compassion in his more satirical works (and the thing that’s most notable about his post-Rasa songwriting is how much less compassionate it is), suggest a melodic line should go up instead of down at the end of a verse, that kind of thing… the cumulative effect of those sorts of suggestions can be enormous.

So I think it’s safe to say that a teenage girl from Bradford helped write the greatest songs ever written about London, and that the “quintessentially English” songs of the Kinks, during their most “quintessentially English” period, were co-written by a Lithuanian immigrant. I think that Rasa Didzpetris Davies deserves credit, morally if not legally, for that music, and in the same way I try to talk about On Liberty as having been written by John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor, I’m going to try to talk about the Davies/Davies songwriting team rather than the songwriter Ray Davies.


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21 Responses to Did A Teenage Girl Make The Kinks Great?

  1. plok says:

    Exhilarating!

  2. JASON DIKES says:

    I read Johnny Rogan’s book. Ray does not come off well in it. Pete Quaife said Ray’s secretness about melodies and vocals goes back quite a ways, at least to Waterloo Sunset, just a thought.

  3. TAD says:

    Rather than being a songwriting partner, it might be better to describe her as Ray’s sounding board, while he was writing songs at home. And she would occasionally make suggestions that he would incorporate. I don’t know if that qualifies as a songwriting collaboration, but perhaps it does on a minor level. And as you say, just have a trusted and sympathetic person around can make all the difference.

    I was writing a lot in the 2008-2012 period, and a lot of my songs I’d send to
    Geoff to get his opinions on them. And he’d send stuff to me too. I don’t think any of the songs were true collaborations, but we were a big help to each other. It’s cool to have that dynamic. Even today, when I write and especially when I record, I always have Geoff’s voice in the back of my mind giving me advice. “What would Geoff do with this?” I often ask myself when I get stuck. Even when he’s not there, he’s still there.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I think it qualifies as a collaboration simply because the rise in quality after they married, and the drop-off in quality after they divorced, were so dramatic. During the eight and a bit years they were married, the Kinks recorded maybe fifty truly great songs. In the forty-five years since, there have *maybe* been three great Ray Davies songs (“Better Things”, “Come Dancing”, and “Catch Me Now I’m Falling”), and frankly that’s me being extraordinarily generous — I don’t think any of them stand up to any of the fifty or so great ones from that eight year period. But even assuming that they did stand up equally, that would mean Ray Davies’ production rate for great songs was *ninety-three point seven five times greater* during their marriage than afterwards.
      Obviously we can argue about what counts as a great song and so forth, and there will have been other factors, but I think most people who love the Kinks’ music would agree that there was a precipitous drop-off in quality, and that as a very rough estimate that number is correct.
      (Of course, with any band there’ll be superfans who say “ah, no, Obscure Album Track X From 1985 is truly great!”, but I think even the superfans who set the bar for greatness for their favourite band very low would probably concede that their favourite obscure 80s album track is not great in the same way that “Waterloo Sunset” or “Days” or “Two Sisters” or “Some Mother’s Son” or “Autumn Almanac” or “Fancy” or or or or or are great).

      • TAD says:

        I would say there’s just not enough evidence to support your theory. Has Rasa done anything artistically/musically since they got divorced? There’s just nothing to look at from her, post-divorce, to indicate she has songwriting talent. The more likely scenario is that their marriage simply coincided with Ray’s artistic peak. Many artists do peak in their 20s too.

    • plok says:

      So hard to quantify a spouse’s collaboration! I often feel as though we have maybe got the whole business of assigning credit in general completely wrong, and that there must be some better way…

      • Andrew Hickey says:

        Indeed. Just look at the way Lennon and McCartney were mocked for occasionally crediting their wives as co-writers or performers (and the way that even someone like myself who *tries* to do better ends up saying things like “Paul McCartney’s album Ram”, when the album is credited to “Paul and Linda McCartney”).

  4. Matt (Bristol) says:

    Thankyou for this article — as someone who knows little about the kinks in detail but loves their work in the era you mention, it crystalises a lot of things for me, whilst providing food for thought about the nature of collaboration (and women in the creative industries)…

  5. noslier says:

    Hello Andrew, thank you for your very interesting article on Rasa etc. I’m going to get your book which i didn’t know existed and see whether it brings something else to all the others i have read on the Kinks… And i have read a few plus all the interviews.
    As for the quality of Ray’s work after Rasa divorced him, i am taking note and agree but only partly.
    I still think though that “Sitting in The Midday Sun”, “Sweet Lady Genevieve”, “Di Ya”, “Scattered”, “One More Time”, “Things Are Gonna Change” are masterpieces or very close to them but i’m sure about “Scattered”… and Rasa wasn’t there to help, or was she?
    Maybe, it was Yvonne, Chrissie or Patricia who helped this time, who knows? Every body needs a muse, don’t they?
    You are probably aware that one can’t have been and still be. It is a fact that songs like “Wonder Boy”, “Days”, “Dead End Street” etc. do have a particular touching quality about them (Lyrically AND melodically). But once you’ve written songs of such high standards, where do you go to, next? How do you renew yourself?There is no doubt that Ray’s extremely sensitive to what surrounds him and most of all, his family, his father for and to whom he wrote many songs to please him. I may be wrong but as i am concerned, the 80s was not a very good musical period in London. I remember being bored watching Top of the Pops and even The Old Grey Wistle Test. An artist can’t escape the time/period in which he is living, in many ways, isn’t he a mirror? And what was there to mirror? I also think Ray got fed up being asked to write number ones, feeling like a pressed lemon… So I can’t blame him for instance for the “Muswell Hillbillies” album that he did. I have enjoyed and still do listening to it. It is for me, the last excellent (not great) album The Kinks did. As for “Everybody’s a Star”, well, apart from “Celluloid Heroes” and “Sitting In My Hotel”, there’s not that much that stands out, is there? And Rasa was still with him, wasn’t she? So i don’t know… I think his brother Dave had as much influence as Rasa just i believe Robert Wace had on “Lola”. For me, the decline of Ray’s work is explained more by the self belief you’re a star, a genius and whatever you do is gonna be good or great. I certainly won’t blame Ray for this; His songs have given me so much pleasure and helped me to grow up. But if Rasa has had a positive influence on Ray’s writing (and i’ll agree to that), well, what about his 6 sisters influences and the fact that Renee died on his 13th birthday after offering him a guitar? Is “Scattered” about her? About his mother who had just died? My excuses for the messy writing above but i don’t master the english language as well as i used to when i was living in London. But i enjoyed your blog and the questions it rises and, of course, being a Kinks fan but not a blind one, i couldn’t help but try to write what i’ve just done. Like Ray sang: “Nothing Lasts For Ever”, he has done extremely well in conveying things i have felt but couldn’t express, so, if he does one or 2 excellent songs per album, i am happy and grateful.

  6. Rasa says:

    Having read the comments firstly thanking you all.

    I am proud to have worked with my husband Ray, it was joyous and immensely creative: always will be in my heart.

  7. Frank Lima says:

    Rasa’s contributions to the 60’s Kinks records was great and was an element of the magic of those recordings, their daughters Victoria and Louisa are also very talented women in many ways including singing and theatre, Louisa has contributed some background vocals to later kinks tracks, and Victoria had her own bad “Pout ” that even opened up for a kinks show on the other side of the ponds once I think in the 80’s or very early 90’s.

  8. Tony Jaras says:

    Great blog this, and nice to hear from Rasa.
    Listening to them now, even the great albums Face to Face and Something Else have an uneven quality to the tracks. Ray wrote some great stuff on Preservation 2 (‘Mr Flash’s Confession’ is surely his best lyric – but then I was brought up a Catholic :-)) and on the 80’s records (Don’t Forget to Dance, Lost and Found, Do It Again as examples).

    I too am a lifelong (50+ years) Kinks fan, but remember thinking when he scowled at me during a soundcheck at the Rothes Hall before the start of their 1993(?) UK tour – he takes himself a bit to seriously.

  9. Cat Frumerman says:

    Such an interesting article. Rasa, I loved your gentle contributions to the greatest songs of the Kinks. One of my favorite songs on which you sing is Lazy Old Sun, where your voice raises the song right up into the dreamy English sky.

  10. Very interesting blog. Not sure I can agree with Ray having lost his songwriting mojo after the release of “Arthur”. That you suggest the “songs” just were not as strong. So, here is a list of 10 [of the 627 published songs] delivered well into the 70’s, 80″s, 90’s including the 21st Century: 1. Can’t Stop the Music; 2. To The Bone. 3. Celluloid Heroes; 4. Gallon of Gas; 5. Low Budget; 6. Here Come The People In Grey; 7. Life Goes On; 8. London Song [Duet]; 9. Thanksgiving Day [Solo]; 10, Hatred [Duet]. So enjoy the expanded listen.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I didn’t say he “lost his songwriting mojo” after Arthur — what I said was that after that album his writing becomes “a little more erratic”, and “The next few albums — Lola vs Powerman and the Moneygoround, Muswell Hillbillies, and Everybody’s in Showbiz — are all fine albums, but nowhere near the same quality as the four albums that came before.”

      I think that’s a perfectly fair assessment. All of those albums (and Percy) are pleasant and contain plenty of highlights, and I listen to them often, but they’re not as good as the run of singles and albums from Kwyet Kinks through Arthur — and in general both the commercial and critical consensus seems to agree with me.

      I said the songwriting fell off a cliff after Preservation Act 1, and it really did. You’ve named ten songs, out of 627. Of those, two come from before Preservation. I’m familiar with all of them, and the only one that I think even rises above the mediocre is Here Come the People in Grey. (I know many people love Celluloid Heroes, but to me it’s just a less-inspired rewrite of Oklahoma, USA — which I think *is* a gorgeous Kinks song from the early 70s).

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