The Kinks song ‘Waterloo Sunset’ is an archetypal British classic. A number that instantly transports you down by the Thames in the middle of summer, ahead of an evening of whatever your version of utopia is lined up ahead. The song’s magic has never floundered, and this version from 2003 with Ray Davies being joined by no-other than David Bowie in New York for a collective eulogy to their hometown being nothing short of perfection.
The Kinks are a band that is, in many ways, underappreciated despite having played an essential role in reshaping the landscape of popular music. Whether you love, hate or have never heard of them, The Kinks remain one of the most influential bands of the ’60s and ’70s. Their ear for a tune and pop sensibilities always made their songwriting emanate more so than their counterparts. Ray Davies, being dubbed as ‘The Godfather of Britpop’, doesn’t quite do the great man justice with his level of influence transcending that one sub-genre. His lyricism remains a source of inspiration for many, including Bowie, who covered ‘Waterloo Sunset’ on his 2003 record, Reality.
“Originally I wanted to call it Liverpool Sunset,” Davies reveals to Classic Rock. “I loved Liverpool and Merseybeat. But you know what they say as advice for writers – write about what you know. I knew London better than I knew Liverpool. So I changed it.”
“Waterloo was a pivotal place in my life,” he continues. “And I saw several Waterloo sunsets. I was in St Thomas’ Hospital there when I was really ill as a child, and I looked out on the Thames. Later I used to go past the station when I went to art college on the train. And I met my first girlfriend, who became my first wife, along the Embankment at Waterloo.”
“As soon as I sang ‘Terry and Julie’,” Davies remembered, “It seemed that they didn’t need description.” Lines like this made it a track that resonated universally; everybody knows a Terry and Julie, everybody has their version of a Waterloo sunset engrained on their mind, which derives from the beauty of Davies’ deliberate ambiguity.
This lyrical facet of ‘Waterloo Sunset’ has made it an appealing cover, and a plethora of greats such as Peter Gabriel, Suede and Damon Albarn have performed it, but Bowie’s take on the track captures the desired essence of The Kinks’ classic.
Davies added, “With records, I like to let the listener do some work and conjure up some images in their own way. If everybody could draw a picture of Terry and Julie, they’d all draw a different picture, according to people they knew.”
When these two titans of London’s musical history collided on February 28th, 2003, at Carnegie Hall in New York to aid the Tibet House Benefit, it was a special moment that remains an utter joy from start-to-finish. There’s a natural chemistry between the two who bounce off each other exuberantly.
This performance showcases how immeasurable the impact The Kinks have had on music, and this duet from their leader with Bowie is a delight that will warm the cockles in your heart. Although The Kinks never quite sold out stadiums like The Stones or caused Kinksmania, they remain one of the most important British bands who deserve every inch of the love they get.