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Kinks

The Kinks were an English rock band formed in Muswell Hill, North London, by brothers Ray and Dave Davies in 1964. Categorized in the United States as a British Invasion band, The Kinks are recognized as one of the most important and influential rock acts of the era. Their music was influenced by a wide range of genres, including rhythm and blues, British music hall, folk, and country. Ray Davies (lead vocals, rhythm guitar) and Dave Davies (lead guitar, vocals) remained members throughout the group’s 32-year run. Original members Pete Quaife (bass guitar, vocals) and Mick Avory (drums and percussion) were replaced by John Dalton in 1969 and Bob Henrit in 1984, respectively. Dalton was in turn replaced by Jim Rodford in 1978. Keyboardist Nicky Hopkins accompanied the band during studio sessions in the mid-1960s. Later, various keyboardists, including John Gosling and Ian Gibbons, were full-time members.

The Kinks first came to prominence in 1964 with their third single, “You Really Got Me”, written by Ray Davies. It became an international hit, topping the charts in the United Kingdom and reaching the Top 10 in the United States. Between the mid-1960s and early 1970s, the group released a string of commercially and critically successful singles and LPs, and gained a reputation for songs and concept albums reflecting English culture and lifestyle, fuelled by Ray Davies’ observational writing style. Albums such as Face to Face, Something Else, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, Arthur, Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, and Muswell Hillbillies, along with their accompanying singles, are considered among the most influential recordings of the period. The Kinks’ subsequent theatrical concept albums met with less success, but the band experienced a revival during the late 1970s and early 1980s—groups such as Van Halen, The Jam, The Knack, and The Pretenders covered their songs, helping to boost The Kinks’ record sales. In the 1990s, Britpop acts such as Blur and Oasis cited the band as a major influence. The Kinks broke up in 1996, a result of the commercial failures of their last few albums and creative tension between the Davies brothers.

The Kinks had five Top 10 singles on the US Billboard chart. Nine of their albums charted in the Top 40. In the UK, the group had seventeen Top 20 singles and five Top 10 albums. Four of their albums have been certified gold by the RIAA. Among numerous honours, they received the Ivor Novello Award for “Outstanding Service to British Music”. In 1990, their first year of eligibility, the original four members of The Kinks were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, as well as the UK Music Hall of Fame in November 2005.

History

Formation (1962–1963)

The Davies brothers were born in suburban North London on Huntingdon Road, East Finchley, the youngest and only boys among their family’s eight children. Their parents, Frederick and Annie Davies, soon moved the family to 6 Denmark Terrace, Fortis Green, in the neighbouring suburb of Muswell Hill. At home they were immersed in a world of varied musical styles, from the music hall of their parents’ generation to the jazz and early rock and roll that their older sisters enjoyed. These musical experiences centred around nightlong parties held in the front room of their house, which made a great impression on the Davies brothers. Thomas Kitts writes, “The influence of these parties on The Kinks … is remarkable. Whether consciously or unconsciously, [onstage] it seemed as if Ray was trying to recreate the Saturday night parties of his family’s home—complete with chaos, beer, and singalongs.” Both Ray and his brother Dave, younger by almost three years, learned to play guitar, and they played skiffle and rock and roll together.

The brothers attended William Grimshaw Secondary Modern School (later merged with Fortismere School), where they formed a band, the Ray Davies Quartet, with Ray’s friend and classmate Pete Quaife, and Quaife’s friend John Start. Their debut at a school dance was well received, which encouraged the group to play at local pubs and bars. The band went through a series of lead vocalists; the most notable was Rod Stewart, another student at William Grimshaw, who performed with the group at least once in early 1962. He soon formed his own group, Rod Stewart and the Moonrakers, which became a local rival to the Ray Davies Quartet. In late 1962, Ray Davies left home to study at Hornsey College of Art. He pursued interests in subjects such as film, sketching, theatre, and music such as jazz and blues. He gained experience as a guitarist with the Soho-based Dave Hunt Band, a professional group of musicians who played jazz and R&B. Davies soon quit school and returned to Muswell Hill, where the brothers and Quaife re-formed their old group, performing under several names, including the Pete Quaife Band, The Bo-Weevils, and The Ramrods, before (temporarily) settling on The Ravens.

The fledgling group hired two managers, Grenville Collins and Robert Wace, and in late 1963 former pop singer Larry Page signed on as their third. American record producer Shel Talmy began working with the band, and The Beatles’ promoter, Arthur Howes, was retained to schedule The Ravens’ live shows. The group unsuccessfully auditioned for various record labels until early 1964, when Talmy secured them a contract with Pye Records. During this period they had acquired a new drummer, Mickey Willet; however, Willet left the band shortly before they signed to Pye. The Ravens invited Mick Avory to replace him after seeing an advertisement Avory had placed in Melody Maker. Avory had a background in jazz drumming, and had played one gig with the fledgling Rolling Stones.

Around this period, The Ravens decided on a new, permanent name: The Kinks. Numerous explanations of the name’s genesis have been offered. In Jon Savage’s analysis, “[They] needed a gimmick, some edge to get them attention. Here it was: ‘Kinkiness’—something newsy, naughty but just on the borderline of acceptability. In adopting the ‘Kinks’ as their name at that time, they were participating in a time-honoured pop ritual—fame through outrage.” Manager Robert Wace related his side of the story: “I had a friend. … He thought the group was rather fun. If my memory is correct, he came up with the name just as an idea, as a good way of getting publicity. … When we went to [the band members] with the name, they were … absolutely horrified. They said, ‘We’re not going to be called kinky!’” Ray Davies’ account conflicts with Wace’s—he recalled that the name was coined by Larry Page, and referenced their “kinky” fashion sense. Davies quoted him as saying, “The way you look, and the clothes you wear, you ought to be called the Kinks.” “I’ve never really liked the name,” Ray stated.

Breakthrough and American touring ban (1964–1966)

The Kinks’ first single was a cover of the Little Richard song “Long Tall Sally”. Bobby Graham, a friend of the band, was recruited to play drums on the recording. He would continue to occasionally substitute for Avory in the studio and play on several of The Kinks’ early singles. “Long Tall Sally” was released in February 1964, but despite the publicity efforts of the band’s managers, the single was almost completely ignored. When their second single, “You Still Want Me”, failed to chart, Pye Records threatened to annul the group’s contract unless their third single was successful.

“You Really Got Me” was released in August 1964, and, boosted by a performance on the television show Ready Steady Go!, quickly reached number one in the United Kingdom. Hastily imported by the American label Reprise Records, it also made the Top 10 in the United States. The loud, distorted guitar riff—achieved by a slice Dave Davies made in the speaker cone of his Elpico amplifier (referred to by the band as the “little green amp”)—gave the song its signature, gritty guitar sound. Extremely influential on the American garage rock scene, “You Really Got Me” has been described as “a blueprint song in the hard rock and heavy metal arsenal”. Soon after its release, the group recorded most of the tracks for their debut LP, simply titled Kinks. Consisting largely of covers and revamped traditional songs, it was released on 2 October 1964, reaching number four on the UK chart. The group’s fourth single, “All Day and All of the Night”, another original hard rock tune, was released three weeks later, reaching number two in the United Kingdom, and number seven in the United States. The next singles, “Set Me Free” and “Tired of Waiting for You”, were also commercially successful, the latter topping the UK singles chart.

The Kinks made their first tour of Australia and New Zealand in January 1965 as part of a package bill that included Manfred Mann and The Honeycombs. An intensive performing schedule saw them headline other package tours throughout the year with acts such as The Yardbirds and Mickey Finn. Tensions began to emerge within the band, expressed in incidents such as the on-stage fight between Avory and Dave Davies at The Capitol Theatre, Cardiff, Wales on 19 May. After finishing the first song, “You Really Got Me”, Davies insulted Avory and kicked over his drum set. Avory responded by hitting Davies with his hi-hat stand, rendering him unconscious, before fleeing from the scene, fearing that he had killed his bandmate. Davies was taken to Cardiff Royal Infirmary, where he received 16 stitches to his head. To placate the police, Avory later claimed that it was part of a new act in which the band members would hurl their instruments at each other. Following a mid-year tour of the United States, the American Federation of Musicians refused permits for the group to appear in concerts there for the next four years, effectively cutting off The Kinks from the main market for rock music at the height of the British Invasion. Although neither The Kinks nor the union gave a specific reason for the ban, at the time it was widely attributed to their rowdy on-stage behaviour.

A stopover in Bombay, India, during the band’s Australian and Asian tour had led Davies to write the song “See My Friends”, released as a single in July 1965. This was an early example of crossover music and one of the first pop songs of the period to display the direct influence of traditional music from the Indian subcontinent. In his autobiography, X-Ray, Davies noted he was inspired to write “See My Friends” after hearing the songs of local fishermen during an early morning walk:

I remember getting up, going to the beach and seeing all these fishermen coming along. I heard chanting to start with, and gradually the chanting came a bit closer and I could see it was fishermen carrying their nets out. When I got to Australia I wrote lots of songs, and that one particularly.

Music historian Jonathan Bellman argues that the song was “extremely influential” on Davies’ musical peers: “And while much has been made of The Beatles’ ‘Norwegian Wood’ because it was the first pop record to use a sitar, it was recorded well after The Kinks’ clearly Indian ‘See My Friends’ was released.” Pete Townshend of The Who was particularly affected by the song: “‘See My Friends’ was the next time I pricked up my ears and thought, ‘God, he’s done it again. He’s invented something new.’ It was a European sound rather than an Eastern sound but with a strong, legitimate Eastern influence which had its roots in European folk music.” In a widely quoted statement by Barry Fantoni, 1960s celebrity and friend of The Kinks, The Beatles and The Who, he recalled that it was also an influence on The Beatles: “I remember it vividly and still think it’s a remarkable pop song. I was with The Beatles the evening that they actually sat around listening to it on a gramophone, saying ‘You know this guitar thing sounds like a sitar. We must get one of those.’” The song’s radical departure from popular music conventions proved unpopular with the band’s American following—it hit number 11 in the UK, but stalled at number 111 in the US.

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