Destinations Magazine

It's A London Thing No.68: The Kinks & You Really Got Me

By Lwblog @londonwalks

It's A London Thing No.68: The Kinks & You Really Got MeIt’s a London Thing is our Wednesday series in which we turn the spotlight on a unique aspect of London – perhaps a curious shop, sometimes an eccentric restaurant, a hidden place, book or oddity. The subject matter will be different every week. The running theme, however, will remain constant: you have to come to London to enjoy it. It’s A London Thing.

Over the past few weeks we’ve written a number of times about The Kinks here on The Daily Constitutional. And whenever we have, the response from our readers has been fantastic.
So much so that we’ve decided to include The Kinks – and their first UK number one single – in our regular Wednesday It’s A London Thing slot.
Rock’n’Roll London guide Adam pens the fanmail…

The Kinks: They’re A London Thing.
When Ray Davies penned The Kinks’ classic of sociopathic braggadocio I’m Not Like Everybody Else in 1966, he could have been summing up his band’s career to this date: Unorthodox. Peculiar. Unique.
It's A London Thing No.68: The Kinks & You Really Got MeWhen they started out back in 1964 The Kinks had been just another whiteboy fourpiece drawing from the already-dwindling well of black R&B standards along with the rest of the herd. But by the August of that year, with the release of only their third single, The Kinks had established themselves as one of the most inventive forces in pop.
The Kinks’ guerilla sound exploded into the nation’s consciousness with the advent of You Really Got Me – with its now famous arresting two-chord intro. This ferocious, barking guitar sound was discovered, according to legend, when lead guitarist Dave Davies slashed the cone of the speaker in his amp. Such thuggish overtones are entirely in keeping with this aural mugging masquerading as pop music.
Even this early in his career, big brother Ray Davies is already a singular writer, turning the staple boy-meets-girl scenario into something altogether more startling – here, it’s boy-stalks-girl.
The Who’s Pete Townshend, such a dedicated follower of the Kinks that he rehashed You Really Got Me for his own My Generation, bemoans, in Andrew Loog Oldham’s second volume of autobiography 2Stoned, the early Beatles’ predilection for the love song. “You just don’t sing about love,” said Townshend, “you don’t sing soppy love songs.” With You Really Got Me, Davies concurs. It is not soppy. It’s clammy. It is the kitchen sink drama of love songs, all hormonal and greedy and naked and real.
Late in life, Sophocles stated that he welcomed the onset of dwindling libido, comparing the feeling to that of being “unchained from a lunatic.” In You Really Got Me, Ray Davies is that lunatic.
In the lyric at hand, said lunatic is leaping around before the object of his desires, pleading, begging for the act that had been invented, according to Philip Larkin’s Annus Mirabillis, just one year earlier in 1963. This tragicomic image is very much of its time, and would not have been out of place as a scene in a newly sexually free English New Wave movie of the day – Richard Lester’s The Knack, say, or Karel Reisz’s Morgan: A Suitable Case For Treatment.
It's A London Thing No.68: The Kinks & You Really Got MeIt has been written that in the original draft of the song, the opening line went: “You, you really got me going.” Replacing the first “you” with the word “girl” certainly got the song going. Consider the chart topper immediately prior to YRGM: Have I the Right by The Honeycombs. The typically rumbustious arrangement and quirky production job from the great Joe Meek masks a rather nimby-pimby lyric: “Have I the right to kiss you?”
The lyric of Davies’s first number one, typifies the sea change in social mores away from the polite concerns of The Honeycombs.
So there stands Davies, a pleasingly seedy gap-toothed Lothario, not so much Kinky (a word that had entered broader circulation thanks to the spank-me antics of John Profumo and his political chums that brought about the fall of the Tory government of the period) as primal: ape like, flagrantly strutting his stuff and begging for it.
There are, of course, precedents in the history of rock'n'roll, a form, after all, that takes its very name from an old jazz man’s euphemism for sex. Vying for chart success that very year were Rod Stewart and The Yardbirds each with a version of Sonny Boy Williamson’s Good Morning Little Schoolgirl – a track that seldom troubles the airwaves these days. The black blues back catalog may well heave with sexual tension – but You Really Got Me is that blues sensibility viewed through the prism of the fevered imagination of a white, suburban Englishman. And as such it is the first British number one record to take the sexual revolution as its theme. In the main, white pop had hitherto been more at ease with actual death (Johnny Remember Me, Terry, et al) that with la petit mort.
The music is no less fevered.
Davies’s obsessive lyric is underpinned by an arrangement that is nothing less than a knuckle-dragging classic. Its influences are plain – Louie Louie (a natural Kinks cover released on the Kinksize Session EP) is near the surface. There’s Motown here, too, with a tambourine riding just under the bass throughout, a subliminal exhortation to dance common to many a record that came out of Detroit.
But its influences are less manifold than the influence it would beget. The early recorded Who were flagrant copyists (Can’t Explain, My Generation). There are shards of You Really Got Me in everything from The Troggs to The Hives. Many cite it as proto-punk classic, the record that launched a million garage bands. It is even credited in some quarters with the invention of heavy metal. Damned with faint praise, indeed.
Essentially two punchy chords (G and F at the top) changing key twice (to A and G, to D and C) the music is as rudimentary and direct as the desire expressed in the lyric. The bridging chord between the first and second verse, where the song is taut and pent up in D, dropping to a C-chord functions almost as a deep breath lest the song, already frenzied, spends itself too soon. We repeat with the addition of a high, vamping piano, part Motown influence once more (see The Supremes’ Baby Love and Where Did Our Love Go) part expressionist alarm bell ringing as the sexual tension mounts.
Guitar breaks and guitarists have long been satirised in cod-Freudian terms, but the frantic spank of 17-year-old Dave Davies’s solo is the element that most lends the song its lurid, onanistic air. A chimera of a riff (essentially a repeated figure) part punk Chuck Berry, part cocky, welfare state-reared swank, it winds the song up even higher. Dave, one thread in the Gordian knot of guitarists who “invented” feedback – Clapton, Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend and rhythm guitarist John Lennon all lay claim – sets out his stall as one of the most aggressive players of his age – in one of the most famously violent bands of any era.
Once more Chuck Berry-like, the solo smoothly glides back into the rhythm part, and we’re back to the obsessional repetition of the lyric one last time. Pleas never to be set free; allusions to clammy, sleepless beds; shameless confessions to having lost control. Then suddenly with four jack-knifing D-chords, the peak of the chord progression, the tune is cut off in its prime. What caused this musical coitus interruptus? An irate father aiming a boot at the rump of our lover, sighing like furnace with his woeful ballad? Did the police arrive? The sudden, stuttering, spurting ending leaves the listener wanting more.
It's A London Thing No.68: The Kinks & You Really Got MeWhen You Really Got Me was released in 1964, the big hit song in London 48 years earlier had been If You Were The Only Girl In The World, a duet from The Bing Boys Are Here at the Alhambra Theatre, Leicester Square. By 1964 such a number sounded as if it came from not only a different century, but a different planet. As I write this, You Really Got Me is nearly 48 years old – and still sounds as vital today as it did when released.
In typically contrary Davies fashion, he would soon abandon such primitive music to his copyists and take his band on to tales of dissipation, disillusion and, well, gardening in a fascinating songwriting career of nearly 50 years standing. But this record remains ground zero for anyone wishing to acquaint themselves with The Kinks. Many a lesser act would have burned themselves out trying to outdo such a monumental first big hit. That The Kinks seemed not in the slightest bit fazed by their own landmark reveals the unshakable confidence that is a hallmark of the native Londoner.
The Kinks and You Really Got Me. It’s A London Thing.

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