“You Really Got Me” / The Kinks
MAY IS BRITISH INVASION MONTH!
We all know those harsh, grating opening chords – bah dunh-dunh dunh dunh – two chords, five forceful strums, muscling into the sugary world of the British Beat and demanding to be heard. There is no more efficient guitar intro in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, with the possible exception of the Kinks’ next runaway hit record, “All Day and All Of the Night” (bum ba-dunh ba dunh-dunh-dunh dunh).
That riff, twice, then a vigorous whomp on the drums, then in comes the lead vocal: “Girl / You really got me goin’ / You got me so I don’t know what I’m doing.” His voice is plaintive, whiny, confused, chasing around that slippery, unconventional melodic line. Still trying to pin down what’s happening in his desire-wracked brain, he repeats himself, adding “You got me so I can’t sleep at night” (that vocal flutter on “sleep AT night” tickles me every time). Someone stabs a few jittery piano chords behind him in rhythm with that abrupt, jerky guitar. Then he shifts anxiously upward to a new key, with back-up vocals joining to swell the volume. But it’s not enough; he’s not getting through to her -- so letting loose a desperate howled “Oh, YEAH!” he shifts up into yet a third key change, jacking up the volume too, racheting up his inarticulate passion to almost unbearable heights. Take pity on this guy, please.
I remember standing in our kitchen, listening to this song on the radio for the first time, and thinking, “Who IS this?” Ray Davies truly does sound like someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing, a guy who can’t sleep at night – gangly and vulnerable and yet somehow utterly charming. Has anybody else ever made obsessive compulsion this attractive? “See, don't ever set me free / I always wanna be by your side.” (A few singles later and he’d be begging the girl to “Set Me Free” after all.) And then there’s his unruly brother Dave, launching into his guitar solo in the middle eight like a kid possessed.
The lyrics barely change from verse to verse -- and why should they, when the singer has only one thing on his mind? It's two minutes and thirteen seconds of rock ‘n’ roll at its most elemental, sexual frustration and teenage angst and visceral energy all erupting like a volcano -- a volcano with irresistible hooks and a jazzy syncopated beat you couldn’t stop moving to.
This song came out of nowhere, hitting #1 in the UK in September 1964 and, released a month later Stateside, a respectable #7 on the US charts. They’d follow it up with “All Day and All of The Night,” “Tired of Waiting,” “Set Me Free,” “Till the End of the Day,” every one of them recognizable as a Kinks track the minute you heard it (it was all in the power chords). Then in 1966, as British rock embraced social satire, Ray Davies found his true calling with songs like “Well-Respected Man,” “Dedicated Follower of Fashion,” “Sunny Afternoon,” “Dead End Street,” “Mister Pleasant”…well, it’s a LONG list. Add together the consistent excellence of their songs and their remarkable longevity (the band stopped performing in the mid-1990s, though they’ve never officially broken up) and the Kinks may well have been the most productive English band ever. The fact that Ray Davies hasn’t been knighted yet is a disgrace.
I didn’t surrender to my fate and become a true Kinkaholic for a few more years – not until the Beatles were well and truly broken up, the British Invasion a thing of the past. But in 1964, even a loyal Beatle lover like myself couldn’t help but like the Kinks, scruffy and outlandish as their public persona might have been -- they just always seemed to be having so much fun. And wasn’t fun the whole point?
You Really Got Me sample