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The 1960s were a fascinating time in the music industry. The shift from the happy and safe rock and roll of the 50s was turning into something more dangerous and exciting. Several of the most iconic bands in the history of music would form during this time, such as The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and Black Sabbath. There was another band that formed then as well, called The Kinks.
The Kinks, to me, are one of the most underrated bands of all time. There are so many hits that you probably don’t even realize they are by The Kinks.
I know that some friends of mine have never heard of the band, but I surely know many of their songs. This is what spurred me to write about them because they are so underappreciated and yet are just as talented as many of their contemporaries, even if they never achieved massive success.
We’ll find out about a band that still has their hits played to this day. From their humble beginnings to their breakthrough successes, it’s time to take a journey throughout the history of The Kinks.
The Kinks would find their origins in the home of the Davies brothers, Ray and Dave. The boys would be huge music fans as children and formed their first band in grade school. The two of them learned to play guitar young and became infatuated with rock music.
When they were in grade school, they debuted with their first formation of the band, called the Ray Davis Quartet. Funnily enough, the band went through many vocalists, including a well-known one named Rod Stewart, who would become a massive success in his own right.
Ray Davies would head off to college, and he joined the Hamilton King Band there.
This band would start to pick up some popularity around this time, and soon, they would gain the attention of The Beatles’ promoter, Arthur Howes. At this point, the band broke up and rebranded as The Ravens instead.
The Ravens would go on to start getting more and more press following their impressive live shows. Despite this, they would fail to be signed until Pye Records decided to take a chance with them.
The Kinks Arrive
The Ravens was a good name, but it didn’t kick the way the band needed, and that’s when the name The Kinks was born. It was edgier, more provocative, and more interesting than The Ravens, and it was the perfect name for the era’s music.
Hilariously, Ray Davies has famously said he doesn’t even like the name of the band, despite the large amount of success it has garnered throughout his career.
The Songs Start Hitting Big
The Kinks got off to a hot start, recording a handful of hits with their first album, including “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of The Night.” These singles would get heavy early radio play and are still heavily played to this day.
The story around “You Really Got Me” is interesting because it has a very raw sound to it compared to most of the other Kinks material. This wasn’t due to a lack of production, but rather Ray Davies demanding it to be re-recorded in a more stripped-down state. He got his demands, which turned the song into a huge hit.
Off and Running, The Kinks Get Bigger
The Kinks had a pretty successful first album, with multiple hits charting big in both the US and UK. Following their early successes, the band would have a little dust-up, which included Davies and Avory getting in a fight that ended with Avory going to the hospital.
It would not derail them much, though, and soon after, they came out with the single “See My Friends.” The song famously influenced Pete Townsend of The Who, who was fascinated by the use of the Sitar in the song. It showed not only The Kinks ability to cross genres but also to inspire their cohorts in the music industry.
The first album was a solid success and got the band’s name out there, but it was clear they were capable of much more than a few pop-rock hits, and their second effort in Kinda Kinks would prove that much. They got a bit more experimental with this record, and the reception wasn’t nearly as good as the first one. Despite this, the album would be praised for its hard rock vibe.
Sunny Afternoon Changes Everything
The Kinks were a very well-known band at this point, but they still hadn’t quite achieved the success that would go on to define much of their career. That first huge success came with the hit “Sunny Afternoon” in 1966. The Beatles were already dominating the music world, and “Paperback Writer” was tearing up the charts. But then, along came to this little song called Sunny Afternoon.
The song was a huge hit, knocking Paperback Writer out of the top spot on the charts. It marked a massive moment for the band, but unfortunately, the success was received too well by Ray Davies, who had a nervous breakdown due to the pressure of heading a top-selling rock band.
The band’s next album was Face to Face, which hit the charts at number 8 in the UK and seemed to be the band’s big breakout hit, but for some reason, they lacked the popularity that The Beatles had garnered in America. Despite that, they managed to hit it big again in the UK with “Dead End Street,” which would again hit the top 10 in the charts.
The Kinks Get Strange with Something Else by the Kinks
The next album by The Kinks would be a unique one for sure. The biggest hit off the album was “Death of a Clown,” a folksy tune that seemed to be a massive departure from the group’s musical style. It had a dream-like quality that would permeate throughout the rest of the album. The other big hit from the album was “Mister Pleasant,” a bizarre, circus-like tune that would again hit big on the charts.
The Kinks became known for albums that wouldn’t necessarily hit big but would create hit after hit, a rarity for any band. Of the 13 singles they’d had to this point, 12 of them chartered in the top 10. That was something of rarified air for any band.
The Kinks Take a Break
The Kinks had become a bit overplayed at this point, and the lukewarm reception for their last album made them give up touring for a while to come out with a big redemption album.
The next few singles they came up with didn’t hit all that big either, making the band’s future quickly become in doubt, and many saw The Kinks as just a flash in the pan that was quickly losing momentum in the changing music scene.
They would bounce back with the single “Days’. It would again hit g big in multiple countries but somehow also evaded any real success in the US.
It had become a theme that critics loved, The Kinks, but the charts would never respond the same way. It was around this time that they began to gain the cult status that they’ve retained to this day, with a small but fierce following that defended their music no matter what the reception to it was by the public.
This is also when the dreaded comparisons to The Beatles would start up. This was inevitable because they were one of the bands that came around along the same time, although they managed to outsell The Beatles with their strong singles at different points.
New Members, A New Direction
The Kinks got a big change when Peter Quaife left the band and started a new one without telling the band. This left the band with Dave Davies, Ray Davies, John Dalton, and Mick Avory. John Dalton had filled in for the band earlier when he had to replace Quaife, and he ended up staying with the band for some time.
They managed to add yet another member, the keyboard player John Gosling in 1970, and right after that, a new song was released called “Lola.”
This is probably my favorite Kinks song not only for its musical genius but also for the storytelling nature of the song, which is quite comical as well. The lyrics famously contained “Coca-Cola,” which had to be rewritten to become Cherry Cola in the recording we know today.
This was another solid hit for The Kinks, which have just become a factory of hits. The album that would support it was called Percy, and again it faced issues. It failed to get any good reviews and didn’t even release in the US due to poor performance and the band leaving their label, Reprise.
The Kinks Evolve
The Kinks have always been a pretty experimental band, and when it came time for the 70s rock scene to hit, they were more than willing to grow their sound.
This period involved them making an entire Rock Opera called Preservation, which had their sound substantially with the inclusion of a massive horn section, and supporting female singers. The result turned Kinks shows into a whole production that barely resembled the raw and dirty rock of the mid-1960s incarnation of the band.
The pressures of the band got to Ray Davies in the worst way in 1973 when he collapsed after an overdose. The band thought there was a real chance that Ray would die, and everyone agreed that Dave Davies would take over if his brother died. Ray did not die, and not only did he recover, but he beat his depression.
Despite this, The Kink’s were a thing of the past. A relic from the 1960s rock scene that had no place in the modern music scene. Their next two albums, Preservation Act 1 and 2, would be huge miscues for the band, but in 1978, they released “A Rock n’ Roll Fantasy.
This would be a huge return to form for the band, and the album that featured it, Misfits, actually managed to gain some airplay in the US for once, with A Rock and Roll Fantasy hitting the top 40. In 1978, The Kinks got an interesting return to popularity when a young band called Van Halen covered You Really Got Me.
It started a trend of newer bands covering The Kinks’ early material, and following this resurgence, the album Low Budget was released by The Kinks in 1979. It returned the group to huge success, going gold and finally hitting big in the US while getting to the 11th spot on the Billboard 200 charts.
The Kinks Take on the 1980s
You wouldn’t think that The Kinks could keep up in the 1980s, but they managed to hit big again with Give the People What They Want, getting as high as 13 on the charts in the US. The big hit off this album was “Destroyer,” a fascinating mixture of the songs Lola and All Day and The Night. It was a fun way to reference their past while welcoming them into the new era of rock.
The Kinks were finally having fun again, and the world was down for that more than ever. Coming out of an era where they struggled to get any foothold, the 80s started out on fire for The Kinks, and they would keep riding that wave, releasing a handful of new singles that would all do great on the charts, such as “Tired of Waiting for You.”
They were now hitting big on both the US and UK charts with their hits.
The 80s started hot for The Kinks, with a considerable resurgence coming from their new albums and other bands covering their material.
It would quickly disappear, though, and as the decade progressed, heavy metal and glam metal would start to take over the rock scene, leaving bands like The Kinks and The Who losing tons of popularity in a very quick amount of time.
Turmoil Breaks The Kinks Apart
Dave Davies and Mick Avory never got along that great, and it was this era where their fuses would be lit again, causing Mick Avory to leave the band. Strangely enough, he took on a producer role with the band since his relationship was still quite good with Dave’s brother Ray.
The Kinks Lose Steam
Throughout the rest of the 80s, The Kinks put out several more albums, but they only managed mediocre success, only reaching as high as 81 on The Billboard 200.
Because of this loss of popularity and outright failure to perform on the charts like their new record label, MCA Records, expected, they ended up dropping the band, leaving the legendary cult band without a way to produce albums for the first time since 1964.
The Kinks Get The Hall Call
Even with their declining popularity, it didn’t stop The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame from calling them when they were eligible for the first time in 1990.
They were immediately inducted, and with this induction, it was assumed a popularity resurgence might follow. That was not to be, but the band managed to sign with Columbia Records and begin recording again.
The Second British Invasion Revives The Kinks
Unexpectedly, around midway through the 90s, an influx of British pop-rock bands would emerge, such as Oasis, with many of them calling The Kinks a significant influence on them. With these tributes being paid, another popularity kick hit momentarily for the band, but that was pretty much the end of The Kinks in the public eye.
They would perform in 1996 for the last time as a band together. The band members would then pursue solo careers, with Ray and Dave Davies becoming solo artists. The band’s relationship had strained to the point that there didn’t seem to be any way to restore it, so all parties felt the need to try flexing their musical muscles elsewhere.
The Castoffs Steal The Show
The Kinks had gone through several members at this point, becoming known as one of the more dysfunctional and argumentative bands out there despite existing for 30 years and some of those castoffs made sure to capitalize on their past with The Kinks.
Mick Avory, John Gosling, and John Dalton formed a band called The Kast Off Kinks, which ended up gaining them some popularity on the touring circuit by playing oldies material.
Going Solo, The Birth of VH1 Storytellers
Never one to be dull in their production, Ray Davies released a solo album called Storyteller, which was set up as a cabaret-style show which detailed the history of the band as well as his broken relationship with his brother. It had a unique format to it, where Davies would perform, then talk about the songs, talk about memories surrounding the music and then perform some more.
VH1 saw this format and completely adopted it, creating VH1 Storytellers, which ended up being a huge hit, giving many artists a chance to interact with their audiences and share stories they’ve never been able to get across with big crowds.
The shows were generally stripped-down acoustic affairs, much like MTV Unplugged, but the additional dialogue the bands were allowed to have with their audiences added a new twist.
Present Day, Talks of Reunion
The Kinks had been officially broken up in 1996, but just as of 2019, the band was known to have been working on releasing a new album.
Several band members had passed away by this point, though, so any evidence that they’ll have the motivation to get back together for another record is lacking since last hearing about the possible reunion in 2020.
The Kinks are one of the more unique bands from the 1960s. They used a very stripped-down style that never felt overproduced. In fact, Ray Davies specifically had The Kinks’ hit song “You Really Got Me” re-recorded in order to get it to sound rawer.
He also experimented with different techniques with his guitar, such as plugging into amps in unique ways and physically altering the guitar wiring at times. Several of The Kinks’ songs approach folk-rock territory, but you will also find that they have many hard rock songs with driving guitars as well.
They’ve been a band that adapts to each era they’re in, including their overtly theatrical era in the 1970s, which involved expanding the band to an almost musical level of pageantry. The Kinks focus on catchy riffs that aren’t too complex and rely on infectious choruses such as the one in “All Day and All of the Night.” and “Destroyer.”
The Kinks were a cult band even during their heyday; these days, they remain in that same area of music royalty. Something that should be known about The Kinks is that they were an absolute hit-making machine. I don’t care what band you name; they likely didn’t have as many hit singles as The Kinks churned out throughout their 30-year career.
They didn’t have the best vocals, most talented guitar or bass, or the most bombastic drums, but their simple brand of rock was infectious at times, creating tons of songs that are still played on the radio today.
The Kinks are commonly known as the first true punk band to exist in the music scene. Their raucous on-stage antics, constant infighting with each other, and aggressive style of raw, in-your-face rock and roll went on to heavily inspire bands like The Sex Pistols and The Clash.
Despite beating them on the charts with their strong singles a few times, The Kinks have never been talked about in the rarified air that The Beatles, The Who, or The Beach Boys, but they were very much on par with those groups for most of their careers.
They were commonly critical darlings despite the mass audiences rarely catching on to the genius of their work.
Answer: The Kinks officially broke up in 1996 following one last show. In recent years, the Davies brothers have been collaborating to make new music, although no word yet as to when this new music will be coming out.
Answer: Sunny Afternoon is a darkly comic song that resonated with audiences in a way that The Kinks never really had achieved before. When you manage to displace a song by The Beatles at the top of the charts, it’s a song worth paying attention to.