In the midst of the artistic revolution that swept Britain in the 1960s came the sound of a band determined to distance themselves from the conventions of melody for something more raucous and ready. It was The Kinks, who arrived onto the pop scene with a convoy of hooks, each one more blistering than the one that came before it. They inspired many follow-up groups to pivot towards their amp, but it was The Who-all whirlwinds and cymbal shakes-who came closest to aping The Kinks.
Caught in the burgeoning scene, guitarist Dave Davies opted to befriend the competition, rather than smear them, opening himself to a collection of impressive retorts that showed reverence, respect and tremendous regard to the other Englishmen who sought to perfect the art of the electric guitar riff.
Reminiscing about The Who, Davies reckoned that the group had a standing in their sphere, both as an influence, and more importantly,as a collection of friends. He seemed particularly fond of Keith Moon, the mercurial drummer The Who were never successful in finding a replacement for.
“The last time I saw Keith was about two weeks before he died,” Davies revealed. “I was staying in the Hyatt House hotel in LA. He just looked different. He was in the bar on his own and looked sad and old. I was on my way out with a girl I’d met, and he said: ‘Oh, stay and have a beer with me’. It was said in the same way as my dad might say it: ‘Come and have a beer, son’. It was very odd. Maybe he was very lonely in the end.”
Moon died in 1978. Scheduled to perform on Paul McCartney’s ‘Rockestra Theme‘, the drummer’s position was filled by Kenny Jones, who ultimately went on to tour with The Who in the 1980s. Davies didn’t feature on the recording, but there was no shortage of guitarists, as Laurence Juber, David Gilmour and Pete Townshend contributed to the pounding guitar line. The song was trite, and the assembly of guitarists did little to salvage the result, but the tune did boast an impressive cast that included half of Zeppelin, and all of Wings. Interesting, Jimmy Page was supposed to play on the track, but he didn’t turn up to the recording.
In his own idiosyncratic way, Davies admired The Who for their ferocity, friendship and strength of character. “The Kinks always used to look forward to playing on Ready Steady Go! because we’d always score drugs off Keith Moon,” he admitted. “He’d be supplying us with uppers, downers and a bit of reefer.”
Drugs have commonly played a part in the rock lexicon, and without marijuana, it’s unlikely that The Beatles would have recorded Rubber Soul and Revolver. While it wasn’t necessarily drugs that Kevin Rowland captured the epithet driven vocal on ‘Burn it Down’, he was nonetheless willing to carve himself on the subject to demonstrate a delivery based on passion, perseverance and courage.
Like poetry, music needs emotion to push it through to the ultimate finish line. Courageous in verse, vigour and commitment to the subject matter, The Kinks egged The Who onto greater heights, and without the yearning of ‘Waterloo Sunset’, it’s impossible to imagine The Who writing something as naked as ‘The Real Me’. While the competition was an integral part of the compositional process, the bands did it out of love and admiration for the others work.
What tied the two bands together was Jimmy Page, a lively London guitar player who was often erroneously credited with recording the piercing guitar licks on their best-known songs. It was Townshend who played the blistering solo on ‘I Can’t Explain’, much as it was Davies who delivered that solo on ‘You Really Got Me’. Interestingly, Phil Daniels’ character can be heard humming the riff to ‘You Really Got Me’ in Quadrophenia, a jukebox musical centred around The Who’s catalogue. Steeped in rock lore, Quadrophenia was a thrillingly violent memento that commemorated the highs, lows and passages that the genre held on a trendy social class of young British people.
Townshend was clearly a fan of The Kinks, as can be seen in the following quote: “In British rock, Ray Davies is our only true and natural genius.” It was their Englishness that attracted The Kinks to The Who, which was brave, considering how much The Beatles and The Rolling Stones pandered themselves to a more American audience (although The Beatles would return to their Liverpudlian roots with the astonishing ‘Penny Lane’ in 1967.)
While the British underground presses might be content to stir conflict between members of the rock aristocracy, the bands have long held a more amicable approach to their correspondence to one another. And as long as stay true to their work, then their audiences will stay true to them.