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Music

When John Lennon insulted The Kinks’ Dave Davies

@TomTaylorFO

When David Bowie asked John Lennon what he thought of glam rock he answered as quick as a flash that it was just “rock and roll with lipstick”. The reason such a jibe opens this particular piece is merely to establish that Lennon was undoubtedly a snappy personality whose words were often not all that far from the tip of his tongue. 

Another reason that it is worth mentioning, Bowie, however, is that he once reflected on the long-term influence of The Beatles and other bands of the era. “Bands like the Beatles (who) were so extremely large in terms of what they sold and the influence they had,” he once opined, “well, very little of their influence is actually felt now. It was the fringe, strange bands that nobody ever bought, like the Velvet Underground, that actually have created modern music. And you kind of think, where’s ‘Yesterday’ in all this?”

While his quote might largely underplay the ‘Fab Four’, that is a discussion for another day. What is apparent, however, is how many of their peers can now be heard everywhere too—The Kinks being chief among them. The heavier sound of the Muswell Hill boys and their sonic blend of everything that went before, is now ubiquitous in music and even in the immediate aftermath was central to the development of heavy metal.

Fittingly they rubbed shoulders back in the day too. Not only did Ray Davies give a relatively scathing review to Revolver once (saying, “I can imagine they had George Martin tied to a totem pole when they did this”) and a few jibes flew, but they also had a sort of friendship and revelling creative spirit too. 

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This odd relationship was discussed by Ray Davies in a recent interview with Louder Sound. “The only thing me and [late Kinks bassist] Pete Quaife ever argued about was The Beatles,” Dave Davies began. I never liked them but Pete thought the sun shone out of their arses. I used to say: C’mon, Pete, we can do this stuff better than them!’”

Nevertheless, he had at least some respect for the band and they eventually even opened for The Beatles. It was these shows that changed Ray Davies tune too. “I think they were very well organized about the way they worked,” Ray said. “And they had a team. I didn’t really have a team. They knew exactly what their music was being cast for. I didn’t. I knew I had a good riff guitar player [in brother Dave Davies]…but I had no one to collaborate with… There is something special about Beatles, though.”

However, as Dave reveals the shows didn’t run all that smoothly. As he recalls, “We were dying to see the guitars they used. We knew they were Rickenbackers. I was going to go up there and play one, but John Lennon wouldn’t let us touch anything. ‘Don’t you dare touch those!’ He was a paranoid guy, but funny.”

Adding: “They were so protective of everything, with their posh suits and Beatle haircuts. John used to hang out at the Scotch of St James. I think he liked me, mostly because he knew I didn’t give a shit. My attitude wasn’t down to inner resentment, like his was.”

But as Dave got to know the band more, he realised that a lot of this resentment was deep seeded. “A lot of his discontent was born from deep-rooted experience and resentment. But, unlike John, I’d had a great childhood,” he opined. 

Nevertheless, this didn’t stop Lennon’s lambasts from landing. “We were once both drunk, sitting at the table in the Scotch of St James. I’d had a few pills as well and he couldn’t stop me talking. As I was leaving, John said to me: ‘You’re one of the most obnoxious people I’ve ever met!’ I took that as a great compliment,” Dave Davies said, and it’s nice to see he saw the funny side, lord knows thousands of others haven’t when it came to Lennon.