The Kinks – from London’s Muswell Hill district – began their career in a similar way to hundreds of other groups, playing R&B and blues music.
By drawing on the old British Music Hall and traditional pop, within a few years, they developed into the most “English” sounding of all their contemporaries.
One of the most influential groups of the era, the Davies brothers (Ray and Dave), bassist Peter Quaife and drummer John Start originally came together as The Ray Davies Quartet in September 1962 before changing their name to The Ravens.
After hearing a demo tape, producer Sheldon ‘Shel’ Talmy signed them to Pye Records. Mick Avory replaced Start on the drums towards the end of 1963, and the group was re-named The Kinks.
The first two singles made no impression, but the third, You Really Got Me, was a different matter altogether. This record went to #1 in the charts and was to influence virtually every rock guitarist of the 1960s. The next few singles would be in a similar style.
Their commercial peak between 1964 and 1967 saw the band chalk up several hit records while affecting the appearance of English dandies.
During this time, they also embarked on a strenuous touring schedule, and at the end of their US tour, in the summer of 1965, the American government banned them from re-entering the USA for unspecified reasons. The ban lasted for four years.
Possibly as a result of this restriction, in 1966, Ray Davies adopted a change in his songwriting style, moving away from his earlier “punk” style to songs containing astute social commentary. With Face To Face and Something Else By The Kinks (1967), however, he set about redefining the English character with sparkling wit and steely nerve.
One of Davies’ greatest songs was the final track on the latter – Waterloo Sunset was a simple but emotional tour de force with the melancholic singer observing two lovers (many have suggested actor Terence Stamp and actress Julie Christie, but Davies denies this) meeting and crossing over Hungerford Bridge in London.
It narrowly missed the top of the charts, as did the follow-up, Autumn Almanac, with its gentle chorus, summing up the English working-class lifestyle of the 50s and 60s: “I like my football on a Saturday/roast beef on Sunday is all right/ I go to Blackpool for my holiday/ sit in the autumn sunlight”.
Throughout this fertile period, Ray Davies was among Britain’s finest writers – alongside John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Pete Townshend. But by 1968, The Kinks had fallen from public grace in their home country, despite remaining well respected by the critics.
Two superb concept albums, The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society (1968) and Arthur (Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire), failed to sell.
This inexplicable quirk was all the harder to take as they contained some of Davies’ finest songs. Writing honestly about everyday events seemingly no longer appealed to Davies’ public.
The former was likened to Dylan Thomas’s Under Milkwood while Arthur had to compete with Pete Townshend’s Tommy.
Both Davies and Townshend were writing rock operas without each other’s knowledge, but as Johnny Rogan states in his biography of The Kinks: “Davies’ celebration of the mundane was far removed from the studious iconoclasm of Tommy and its successors”.
The last hit single during this “first” age of The Kinks was the glorious Days. This lilting and timeless ballad is another of Davies” many classics and was a major hit for Kirsty MacColl in 1989.
Pete Quaife permanently departed in 1969 and was replaced by ex-Creation member John Dalton.
The Kinks returned to the UK bestsellers lists in July 1970 with Lola, an irresistible fable of transvestism, which marked the beginning of their breakthrough in the USA by reaching the Top 10. The track was initially denied radio airplay in Britain because it mentioned Coca-Cola (which constituted brand promotion). Davies re-recorded the vocal, changing the words to “cherry cola”.
The resulting LP – Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part One – was also a success in America. On this record, Davies attacked the music industry and, in one track, The Moneygoround, openly slated his former managers and publishers while alluding to the lengthy High Court action in which he had been embroiled.
The Kinks embarked on a series of huge US tours and rarely performed in Britain, although their business operation centre and recording studio, Konk, was based close to the Davies’ childhood home in North London.
Having signed a new contract with RCA Records in 1971, the band had now enlarged to incorporate a brass section, amalgamating with the Mike Cotton Sound.
Following the interesting country-influenced Muswell Hillbillies (1971), however, they suffered a barren period. Ray Davies experienced drug and marital problems, and their ragged half-hearted live performances revealed a man bereft of his driving, creative enthusiasm.
Throughout the early ’70s, a series of average, over-ambitious concept albums appeared as Davies’ main outlet. Preservation Act 1, Preservation Act 2, Soap Opera and Schoolboys In Disgrace were all thematic, and Soap Opera was adapted for British television as Starmaker.
At the end of 1976, John Dalton departed, as their unhappy and comparatively unsuccessful years with RCA ended. A new contract with Arista Records engendered a remarkable change in fortunes. Both Sleepwalker (1977) and Misfits (1978) were excellent and successful albums. Davies had rediscovered the knack of writing short, punchy rock songs with quality lyrics.
The musicianship of the band improved, in particular, Dave Davies, who, after years in his elder brother’s shadow, came into his own with a more fluid style. Although still spending most of their time playing to vast audiences in the USA, The Kinks were adopted by the British new wave and were cited by many punk bands as a major influence.
Both The Jam (David Watts) and The Pretenders (Stop Your Sobbing) provided reminders of Davies’ songwriting skill, and the UK music press – then normally harsh on rock “dinosaurs” – constantly praised The Kinks and helped to regenerate a market for them in Europe.
Then in 1983, as Ray Davies’ stormy three-year relationship with Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders drew to its close, The Kinks unexpectedly returned to the UK singles chart with the charming Come Dancing. The accompanying video and high publicity profile prompted the reissue of their entire and considerable back catalogue, but following the release of 1984s Word Of Mouth, the band was released by Arista.
They signed a new deal with London Records in the UK and MCA Records in the USA, but their late 80s releases proved disappointing, and towards the end of the decade, they toured only sporadically amid rumours of a final break-up.
In 1990, The Kinks were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, at the time only the fourth British band to take the honour behind The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who. During the ceremony, both Pete Quaife and Mick Avory were present. Later that year, they received the Ivor Novello Award for “outstanding services to British music”.
After the comparative failure of UK Jive, the band left London Records and after being without a recording contract for some time, signed with Sony in 1991. Their debut for that label was Phobia, a good album that suffered from a lack of promotion (the public still perceiving The Kinks as a 60’s act).
A prime example was Scattered, as good a song as Davies has ever written, which, when released, was totally ignored apart from a few pro-Kinks radio broadcasters. Following the commercial failure of Phobia, the band was released from its contract and put out To The Bone on their own Konk label.
This unplugged session was recorded in front of a small audience at their own headquarters in Crouch End, North London, and contained semi-acoustic versions of some of Davies’ finest songs.
Both brothers had autobiographies published in the mid-90s. Ray was first with the cleverly constructed X-Ray, and Dave responded with Kink, a revealing if somewhat pedestrian book.
Ray Davies has made his mark under The Kinks’ banner as one of the most perceptive, prolific and popular songwriters of our time. His catalogue of songs is one of the finest available, and he remains one of the most acute observers of the quirks and eccentricities of ordinary life.
Much of the Britpop movement from the mid-90s acknowledged a considerable debt to Davies as one of their key musical influences. Bands such as Supergrass, Oasis, Cast, and Blur were some of The Kinks’ most admiring students.
A long-awaited reissue programme was undertaken by the Castle Communications label in 1998; this was particularly significant as the Kinks catalogue has been mercilessly and often badly reissued for many years. The addition of many bonus tracks on each CD helps make their first five albums even more essential.
Dave Davies suffered a stroke in 2004. By 2006, he had recovered enough to be able to walk, talk and play the guitar. He has since continued to record solo albums.
In 2007, Ray met with his estranged brother to discuss a possible Kinks reunion. Nothing came of it, and the two continued to communicate mostly via email when business matters required it.
Pete Quaife died in 2010 from kidney failure, aged 66.
A show-stealing turn at the London Olympics in 2012 brought Ray Davies back into the public spotlight. It was a perfect moment – Davies exiting a London black cab to perform Waterloo Sunset for an audience of millions during the closing ceremony.