You all know that riff -- surely one of the Top Ten Greatest Opening Riffs ever. Chances are you even remember the first time you heard it.
But bonus points to you if you first heard it in 1964, either after August 4 in the U.K., or after September 2 in the U.S.
Note that I have opted for a video that simply plays the record, not one of the many great live performances on YouTube. Growing up in Indianapolis, this was what I heard, endless times that fall, on the car radio or coming out of the little transistor radio I hid under my pillow at night after lights out. Oh, sure, I saw them sing it on Shindig and Hullabaloo the next winter, but then the ban happened and the Kinks weren't so easy to catch in the States. It would be another 12 years before I finally got to see the Kinks live. And yes, I believe they did sing "You Really Got Me" that night in London.
It's a song that never grows old.
Granted, when it first came out I was too young, really, to Get It. It disturbed me, in fact. I preferred the cheerier tunes of the Beatles or the haunting romantic sound of the Zombies. (And if the Kinks disturbed little pre-teen me, imagine how I felt about those rowdy Rolling Stones.) It wasn't until "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" and "Well-Respected Man" that I really became a Kinks fan -- it was their satiric, oh-so British side that won me over. But in retrospect, I believe that it was "You Really Got Me" (and the follow-up "All Day and All of the Night" and "Tired Of Waiting") that first planted the hooks in me.
Out of the box, you're slammed with that guitar lick -- chugging, harsh, insistent -- full of youthful aggression and a refusal to stand down. But in my humble opinion, the genius of this song lies in pairing that dirty Dave Davies lick with brother Ray's pleading, morose vocal. "Girl, you really got me now / You got me so I can't sleep at night" -- he really does sound as if he hasn't slept in weeks.
Despite starting with such a punch, the song continues to build from there -- not in power but in frustration. Key changes shift groaningly upward, and the volume ratchets up (think of how you tend to talk louder when you suspect you're losing an argument). And the melodic line, so chromatic, circles miserably around a few close notes -- what a perfect evocation of someone who's got himself into a corner he can't get out of.
It's a marvel of vitality, urgency, immediacy, and dead-on emotional truth. Drums slap, an electric piano hammers on his head like a woodpecker. Ray's pleas turn to a snarl, then a wild yelp. Yeah, sure he insists, "Don't ever set me free / I always want to be by your side" -- but he does NOT sound happy. (How delicious it was a few months later to hear the sequel "Set Me Free" in which lovesick Ray finally calls for mercy...).
Fifty years ago? Nah. This song could have been released yesterday.