The Kink’s red-blooded 1960s classic ‘You Really Got Me’ is one of the most high-octane hits of the era. Released in 1964, Ray Davies’ portrait of lust and intoxication captured the hormonally-charged imaginations of teenagers across the UK and marked a distinct shift in The Kinks’ sound, its frenetic energy standing in stark contrast to their material up to that point.
Much of that energy comes from the intensely overdriven guitar sound that came to define The Kink’s proto-punk output in the following years. As the guitarist, Dave Davies remembered: “My childhood sweetheart Sue got pregnant and we wanted to get married. But our parents said we were too young and they split us up. I was a rebellious, angry kid anyway, but that had a profound effect on me.
“I was full of rage. A little later, I was very depressed and fooling around with a razor blade. I could easily have slashed my wrists, but I had a little green amplifier, an Elpico, that was sounding crap. I thought, ‘I’ll teach it’ – and slashed the speaker cone. It changed the sound of my guitar. Then, when I wired that amp up to another, a Vox AC30, it made it a lot, lot louder.”
But in this isolated recording of Ray Davies’ vocals track, we get to hear an often-overlooked aspect of The Kinks’ sound. The lyrics may not be the most articulate or complex, but they still manage to evoke the club – and, indeed, the woman – who inspired ‘You Really Got Me’. As Davies explained in a 2016 interview: “I was playing a gig at a club in Piccadilly and there was a young girl in the audience who I really liked. She had beautiful lips. Thin, but not skinny. A bit similar to Françoise Hardy. Not long hair, but down to about there (points to shoulders). Long enough to put your hands through… (drifts off, wistfully)… long enough to hold. I wrote ‘You Really Got Me’ for her, even though I never met her.”
Davies’ vocal performance, while understated, played an essential role in The Kink’s success. ‘You Got Me’ was the first of their singles to cross the Atlantic and came to form part of the ‘British invasion‘ that swept US radio stations during the first half of the 1960s. Indeed, Davies gave a voice to The Kink’s uniquely British take on American blues music.
As Shel Talmy, the producer who recorded ‘You Really Got Me’, once recalled, the song began life as a “slower, bluesier version, but Ray really wanted to try it uptempo, which is the version we wound up with,” Talmy said, adding: “It’s fairly well known that he always resented the fact that I was producing and he wasn’t. It took all of five takes, with Ray singing live in an isolation booth. No one would ever call him the Pavarotti of rock’n’roll, but he’s got a terrific commercial voice.”
You can check out Ray Davies’ era-defining isolated vocals below.