Listen to this song by Muswell Hill Londoners and first-tier British Invasionists The Kinks, and a vital, dare I say important, track to the trajectory of rock music it is. It’s their smash breakthrough hit “You Really Got Me”, a slice of proto-metal R&B that changed the way rock music sounded forever.
This song is a towering titan of a single, one of those tunes you’d submit to an alien civilization to give them an idea of what rock n roll is. Everything about it screams danger, celebration, and carnality, all of which are all key ingredients in any rock song. It was released as a single in the UK, the group’s third, where it scored the number 1 spot in August 1964. Later, the song made a significant impact in North America too, reaching number 7 on the charts. It was added to the band’s debut album, the Kinks.
For such a high-profile hit single, there has been a lot of mystery surrounding who played on it and how the sheer ferocity of the sound was achieved. For years, it was surmised that the scorching, string-bending guitar solo, one of the greatest solos ever recorded in my opinion, was played by one Jimmy Page.
It’s true that Page was an active session player at the time, and had played on a number of singles contemporary of this one. It’s true too that session players had sat in on Kinks sessions before. But, that solo was played by seventeen year old Dave Davies, brother of songwriter and lead singer Ray Davies. Page himself insisted that he didn’t play the solo, only to be disbelieved. Maybe the solo sounds too “Pagey” for aficionados to have believed anything otherwise. Or maybe it’s too incredible that a seventeen year old could play such a perfect, even if not technically great, solo. It still gives me chills every time I hear it.
And as for that crunchy guitar sound, which is a far cry from what most guitars sounded like in 1964, it came about in a rock n roll fashion even before anyone hit a note. Dave Davies vandalized his amp, slicing a speaking cone with a razor, and poking a pin through it, to see how the sound would change. And hence, was the distortion effect created, one that would arguably influence the way the guitar was approached and understood by both listeners and players.
Since the Kinks cut this tune, it’s been heavily covered by acts like the 13th Floor Elevators, Mott the Hoople, and Robert Palmer, not to mention the thousands of garage bands, wedding bands, high-school bands, whoever, who took this song and made it a part of their repertiore. Van Halen recorded this song, along with another Kinks favourite “Where Have All the Good Times Gone?”. And for years, many music fans in seeing Ray Davies perform the song solo, would congratulate him on his version of the ‘Van Halen song’, much to his amusement.
I don’t think this song can be overestimated in its importance to the evolution of rock music. After this song, the mannered element in a lot of rock music made in Britain was a thing of the past. This song activated a requirement for texture in rock, of greater force in attack, and with a more dangerous sound. From here, there was no turning back.
For more information about the Kinks, check out TheKinks.Org