There are many important anniversaries this year. Forty years since Jon Pertwee received his Doctorate, for instance. Sixty-five years since the Mini was launched. A century since the Great War started. But most importantly, fifty years ago this week, an insignificant group of teenagers from North London released their first single, a cover of Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally.
The single sank without a trace, but that group of teenagers would go on to become one of the most significant British bands, well, ever.
Yes, fifty years ago this week, The Kinks arrived. And that seems like as good an excuse as any to forget about the usual themes of this blog and start a Kinks retrospective series; which we will start with the bands eponymous debut album.
For such an influential band, the most remarkable thing about The Kinks’ first album is that it was remarkably unremarkable: it opens with a Chuck Berry cover, and makes its way through a mixture of vaguely Mersey Beat-esque Ray Davies tracks and contemporary blues covers, finishing with another R&B standard of the day, Slim Harpo’s Got Love If You Want It.
It is, to say the least, a very mixed bag; there are hints of better things to come, with the instrumental Revenge mixing blues harmonica and Dave Davies’ guitar to good effect, and a nice cover of the Pretenders’ first single, Stop Your Sobbing. Unfortunately the weak points of the album are also Kinks originals – though not by Davies, but producer Shel Talmy, who somehow persuaded the band to perform the awful dreary tat that is Bald Headed Woman, and the nondescript I’ve Been Driving On Bald Mountain (yes, there is something of a theme going on).
So far, so any-sixties-beat-combo. This album could easily have disappeared and been nothing but a footnote in the story of 60s pop. But then, stuck right in the middle of all the covers and occasionally good crowd following – literally in the middle, back in the day it would have closed side one – and sounding like it is not only on the wrong album, but the wrong planet, is You Really Got Me.
And that is the thing I love about this album. Not just the track itself, which is so good it’s been covered by everyone from Mott the Hoople to Tom Baker, and performed live by the likes of Iggy Pop and Brian Eno; but hearing it like this, in context, juxtaposed with what the Simon Cowells of the day said the band should be making, you get a better idea of just how different the sound was. It really does sound like something from another planet, it’s just that out of place. The fact that it doesn’t sound out of place on a Van Halen LP or an Iggy Pop concert is testament to the proto-punk rock guitar genius of Dave Davies.
It’s Ray’s songwriting that made The Kinks the enduring and influential thing they became, but without doubt it was his little brother’s crazed guitar playing (and the little green amp) that got them their big break.
Recent CD versions of the album contain, as well as both mono and stereo versions of the original album (the quality of the stereo mixes was variable, sometimes mono sounds better), a variety of bonus tracks, live recordings, interview snippets and other extras.
Notable inclusions are the first two singles, the aforementioned Little Richard cover and the Mersey Beat-ish You Still Want Me, neither of which were on the original album, and second hit single All Day And All Of The Night, one of the few other Kinks tracks to get close to the raw rock energy of You Really Got Me. Otherwise, it’s pretty much more of the same; not vintage Kinks, but interesting to see where they came from.
Stand-out tracks: Obviously, You Really Got Me, a stand-out track in every way; but also You Still Want Me, as the first song Ray wrote for The Kinks, has a historical value that is perhaps more interesting than the song itself.