A Kinks song often acted as an agent: It observed the world around us and reported back its findings. Those findings, most of the time, weren’t too cheery, but damn were they beautiful to listen to. The Kinks weren’t motivated by comfort as much as they were by documenting a transitional period of British history, always aiming a little higher to detail the social and economic problems that affected them as children in postwar London. With Ray Davies front and center as the band’s primary songwriter, his younger brother and fellow co-founder Dave Davies became a mad scientist of the guitar, popularizing distortion as we know it with the 1964 smash “You Really Got Me.” When he looks back at Kinks lore, though, the riffs don’t come to mind as much as the visual imagination. “It’s not just about music,” Davies told me recently. “It’s also the art and the presentation.”
This year, the Kinks released The Journey — Part 1, an anthology of their earliest work, as part of the band’s 60th-anniversary celebration (formative member Mick Avory contributed liner notes to the release). And Davies recently published his second memoir, Living on a Thin Line, which makes the case for why the Kinks have persevered through decades despite a reputation as rock exiles. Our other theory for their endurance: They were just really, really great.
Most prescient song
That’s hard to think about, because I’ve been fortunate to be in a band with a legacy in music that Ray and myself have always been involved in. It’s been quite a journey, and our work often suggests that theme. How can you choose one song to embrace all that stuff? Sometimes it’s best to just say the first thing that comes to mind. The two main songs that are coming to me right now are “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” and “Dead End Street.” I always thought that “Dead End Street” was the Kinks’ key that came through our work and Ray’s writing. Our past, where we come from, and the key that we all created. So it’s a lot of stuff.
It goes back to the beginning of our journey — it was really all about family. We grew up in a big family with six sisters and countless uncles, aunts, and family members. It was always such a joy to be surrounded by music, the piano, banjos, laughter, jokes, and a whole creative and emotional life. I feel very fortunate that I was born into a family that had so many cultures to it. Earthiness, emotion, and spirit. They didn’t have any money, but they had a lot of spirit. There was so much material to draw from. I always liked “Dead End Street” because I remember when Ray wrote it and we first rehearsed it, it felt like it could’ve been our last song if that’s what history had for us, because I realized it was all we needed to say. People can make their own corrections.
Song you now interpret differently
God, music is so personal. It’s proper for the listener to find out what’s going on in me. There are some songs that are so heavy — about my awakening, my respect, and my enlightening. I can pull out a page anywhere in the book. Music is so in touch with our spirits and our souls. Thank God there’s music. It’s how we find out about higher thought or even something like life, emotion, courage, and colorful messages. Obviously, you notice more when you get older. “You Really Got Me” was about young men, kids really, trying to understand the world around them through music and magnetism. Music is like magnetism — information made into energy. It makes you realize what an incredible world we live in. I’m flabbergasted how much information was involved in music and emotions.
There’s something special about the love connection coming through a family member who you’re so close to. You hate their guts sometimes. “Oh, fuck off. Get out of here.” And other times you depend on each other to solve the riddle of life. I feel blessed. I feel privileged. Ray was my mentor, my enemy, my teacher, my everything. Through these songs, that only scratches the surface. That’s why I think “You Really Got Me” is a good presentation to put together. It’s a good opener, really, for our work and our music. It’s in tune with our history.
Song that pissed off the most people
There’s so many. Loads of stuff, some unintentional. “Lola,” for one, is obvious. The “Denmark Street” comments about how fucked up the music business is. Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround was pretty heavy-duty, but, remember, they’re observations. It’s not categorical information. It’s observations. It’s our viewpoint or Ray’s viewpoint. The 1970s were a tough time for the band and for me individually. I was going through a kind of spiritual rebirth and a change in my spiritual life. It’s as important to me as a person, where you live and who you meet. Change is hard and it just doesn’t stop. The change, it’s all about you again. Life just keeps changing into something else, which I’m glad to say is good. At least I think it’s good. It’s important to learn how to live. Even though it’s hard at times.
We caused some anger because we had a very keen observation quality about people — what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. We’d meet and talk about it. There would be a lot of laughs. It was information that we gleaned from just being at the pub with our dad or all his mates. We learned a lot about the world from different generations. They talked a lot about the war years and their mates dying. All of this goes into the music. It all goes in the brain, or soul, or whatever. You get, through conversations and music, exchanges where Ray would come up with something like Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire.) War was an inevitable thing to write about. You write about what you know about it. That’s a good starting point for any project.
We knew about our family and the conditions that surrounded our working-class life. Things were happening, so you would sing about them all and how you react to them. Life lessons are like an incredibly complicated school for us. Especially with the funny times, you don’t always know what you learn in laughter and what it means to you as a person. You don’t always find out straight away. Sometimes you look back at something and think it’s funny. It’s very revealing.
Song that gives you the strongest nostalgia
I tend to look at nostalgia as information. If you go to the library, you look into specific stories or ideas. It’s not always nostalgia. It’s information. When we find the Kinks’ musical library, it’s a lot of information — it’s about people. It’s about how people live, survive, live again, fall down, and stand up again. It’s a wonderful encyclopedia of survival. Survival, really, is another foundation for us. Wherever you open the book and turn every page, you think, Oh, wow. Yeah, I know that feeling. I’ve lived that experience. It can resonate. We’re an open book.
I think the most important thing I’ve learned in my life is the bond of family. We’re always about the humor, the people, and how humor carries a whole multitude of storytelling, ideas, and solutions. Humor provides a lot of solutions to problems. Especially at times when you’re up against or cornered by something, humor can point a way out to somewhere else. That’s reflected in Ray’s great writing of observation. It’s what it means to be human. You’ve got a release; it’s an emotion and a problem solver. My family grew up in the war years and the Blitz. To grow up through two wars, those kids must have have always been wondering, What the fuck is going on? There’s so much information in the memories. Not just for us, but for everybody. Songs are keys to unlock memories and ideas. Even if it’s only just a three- or five-minute song, it can still be an encyclopedia of your town. Connecting the thoughts, connecting the ideas, you know how it goes.
Most combative album
Soap Opera. I found that there were many aspects of making that record that I didn’t like. I thought back to the day, for me, would that be my swan song? I wanted to venture into new things. I didn’t know whether I was happy at that time — it was rather difficult. It always seemed everything was a struggle for the Kinks, even from making the first record. We didn’t like the first version of “You Really Got Me.” The record producers said, “Well, that’s it, then. That’s what it is.” We said, “Well, we don’t want to put it out.” Ray insisted that we wouldn’t release it in its current form, and we gave the producers a hundred pounds to get it re-recorded in a way that we envisioned when we saw it. Many times the Kinks could have finished and ended, but we didn’t. I think the bond of family, and the love of music, helped see us through.
Most meaningful preservation of English culture
“Days” comes to mind because it embodies exactly what we’re talking about. We should be grateful for our experiences, because it teaches us something we didn’t know beforehand. With “Days,” the lyrics make it seem like something is ending. But maybe it’s just starting. Thank you for something that’s gone, but maybe thank you for something that’s just about to happen. It’s a very important song for the Kinks, and very personal to Ray, but it touches on so many different people. It was people who were experiencing the message and feelings of the song. That’s the power of music. The way the melody is structured, and how it takes you to the different tones — I could go on forever about how much I love that song.
How retroactive Kinks praise has manifested over the years
That’s interesting to think about. Maybe it’s because the good stuff gets better with age. Good ideas, good stories, good people — they get better with time. I’ve found that a lot of Kinks music is pretty timeless in the sense that it’s not really been in one particular age or time, but in some ways quite futuristic. It could be about the future as well as the past.
Favorite needledrop in cinema
Any of the Wes Anderson ones. He’s been very good to us.
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