Pick of the Week
“You Really Got Me”, The Kinks (1964)
If you think about what else was playing on the radio in August of 1964, at the time, when the Kinks came out with “You Really Got Me”, it must have seemed very radical. It is like Michael J. Fox playing electric guitar in ‘Back to the Future” at the grad – he starts playing like Hendrix and Van Halen and the band and audience are wondering what the hell is going on. The heaviest pop songs out in 1964 were “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”.
The interesting dynamic with the Kinks is that the two principal players in the band, leader and vocalist Ray and aggressive guitar player Dave, hated each other. They were even known to scrap on stage upon occasion. This set the stage for an interesting dynamic in 1964 when they were under pressure to produce a hit single after their first two failed and Ray fought for one more chance. The strange emotional power of this song is possibly born of that angst.
1964 was a pretty good year for music with songs like the Supremes “Where Did Our Love Go”, The Animals “House of the Rising Sun”, The Beach Boys “I Get Around” and “Don’t Worry Baby “and the Beatles “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, and “I Saw Her Standing There”. When they first put this one out and you heard the opening onslaught of the F/G power chord through the purposely fractured speaker by brother Dave Davies and heard Ray’s vocals rising to a snarling fever pitch, . you knew this was nothing you had heard before. The guitar solo was a hectic, unstructured barrage somewhat reminiscent of Chuck Berry or Eddie Cochrane, with a serious blues influence. but raw and unbridled. Some said this was really Jimmy Page who worked as a studio musician on the first album – but actually he did not come into the studio for several weeks after this was recorded. It was a 17 year old Dave Davies who ripped this one off.
Sometimes things that are not intentional result in something good. It has been called “the track which invented heavy metal”1 With a power chord onslaught from a purposely fractured speaker, “You Really Got Me” was born.
Bands like ‘The Who’ and ‘The Rolling Stones’ would soon swoop in and take this style away from the Kinks and go forward, but in the summer of ’64 the Davies Brothers had their 15 minutes of fame, and then some - and went on to have much more.
1. American musicologist Robert Walser, from ‘Running With the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music’1993