Seemingly since the dawn of time itself, the debate concerning who exactly was the first punk band has raged on amongst music lovers everywhere. A whole host of opinions exist, with many opting for the more balanced approach in believing that there was no definitive first punk band; rather, a collection of songs from across music’s timeline and a host of off-stage attitudes are what really fed into punk becoming, well, punk.
There are many songs that get thrown around as examples that influenced punk’s development, Jimmy Page’s guitar tone and incessant downstrokes on Led Zeppelin’s 1969 classic, ‘Communication Breakdown‘, The Kingsmen’s gritty take on ‘Louie Louie’, The Fugs track ‘CIA Man’ and of course, The Stooges’ self-titled debut album.
However, there exists another track, a notable entry we have not yet mentioned, that one would posit had a greater influence on the development of punk than the examples listed above. Any guesses? Of course, it would be British rockers The Kinks and their 1964 classic, ‘You Really Got Me’, that established the gritty guitar tone that would go on to inform the sensibilities of the Ramones and Sex Pistols a decade later.
It’s a story that’s gone down in rock ‘n’ roll history as one of the most important and iconic moments in the whole of the genre, a happy accident that ended up having game-changing effects. Initially, The Kinks were an R&B band, and they were massively influenced by The Kingman’s 1963 hit ‘Louie Louie’ to ditch the languid R&B and go for a more direct and aggressive approach.
This Kingman’s track informed their developing musical sensibility and is hailed as a defining influence that helped The Kinks to progress from their early, softer R&B sound into a more electrifying rock ‘n’ roll outfit. This shift would come into noticeable effect when lead guitarist Dave Davies sliced his Elpico amplifier with a razor blade.
Frontman, and Dave’s brother, Ray, had initially intended for the song to be in the blues genre, but now that Dave’s amp had a gaping gash in it, this was to set the song, and music, in a completely different direction. The gash had given the amplifier a gritty, distorted sound, that at the time, was totally unique and set The Kinks apart from their contemporaries.
Davies’ guitar tone surprised listeners, and they wanted more. An astounding piece of innovation that came from nothing but boredom, and it would go on to inspire so many. We wouldn’t call The Kinks the first punk band, but Davies’ attitude was certainly punk, and his somewhat nihilistic reaction to the boredom of The Kinks‘ earlier sound ended up being a pioneering act of petulance.
The song was a massive hit and has been cited by most influential figures from hard rock and punk acts to heavy metal bands as a critical inspiration. Before the purists get their knickers in a twist, without the distorted contribution of ‘You Really Got Me’, there would be no Raw Power. Let that sink in. Furthermore, Ray Davies has gone on to play with Metallica, and if that’s not indicative of the song’s effect, we don’t know what is.
Listen to Ray Davies talk about the song, below.