Fifty years ago today, today's song was released in the U.S. It was released earlier that month in the UK. It was the first big hit by The Kinks in both markets, and rightly so. Set it beside anything being served up by their contemporaries—blokes like The Beatles, the Stones, The Who, The Animals—and it kicks butt. Brothers Ray and Dave Davies came up with a signature sound that would mark The Kinks, suddenly, as a “heavy” band. Ray does the vocals and wrote the song. Dave—and not Jimmy Page, as has been oft rumored—plays the fast, distorted and twisted guitar solo. But what stays engraved in the brain after all the smoke settles is those fucking power chords, hammering away, and Ray repeating the song’s trance-like mantra: “you really got me, you really got me, you really got me.”
In 1964, British Invasion was the name of the game. The Beatles, with their Mersey Sound, were the top dogs, but Davies came up with a line that wouldn’t be amiss in a Beatles tune: “you really got me” is one of those odd phrases that seems self-explanatory but isn’t quite. Does it mean “I’m yours”? Does it mean “you get me”? Does it mean “you got to me”? All of the above? Such might be a cause for rejoicing, but Davies wisely makes it a source of cranking angst. “You got me so I can’t sleep at night.” The effects of this affair of the heart—and other organs—seems like paranoia, insomnia, anxiety attacks.
Ray Davies is sort of the last guy you’d expect to be intoning such distress—and that “oh yeahhhh.” It sounds as delinquent as teachers were always telling us guys with hair over ears and collars and bad grammar must be. Though they were Mods in their couture, The Kinks sound almost like greasers on this one, with that guttural guitar sound able to put uptight teeth on edge.
And how about that solo? It became instantly influential, so resolutely not cleaned up or given any prettiness whatsoever. It goes for the jugular—a brash attack on the niceties of courtship and the sense that young love is supposed to be mawkish and self-conscious. It sounds like different solos spliced together, it's so frantic. And Davies’s voice grabs you as if he’s jabbing at this girl who’s making his head spin. Of all the Brit bands of this time, The Kinks sound like drinkers. There’s often something boozy about Davies’s voice—like the “I always wanta be by your side” bit. And the way the overlapped screams come right before the solo—it sounds like the lads are in primal heat.
It’s a great rock track but it’s not the first song I heard by Davies, Davies and company. That was “Lola,” in 1970, another indelible riff song that made the charts. The Kinks could rock second to none when the mood was on them, and without the pretty harmonies of The Beatles or the showboating of Jagger or Burdon or Daltrey or any of the other big singer bands—like Van Morrison in Them and Steve Marriott in The Small Faces. The Kinks are one of the best bands of the era and my appreciation of their early work—from 1966 to 1971—continues to deepen as time goes on.
See, don’t ever set me free.