John Lydon, or Johnny Rotten as many affectionately refer to him, produced the iconic gritty vocals for the Sex Pistols that would cement his legacy into the annals of rock and roll history. The lead singer’s ferocious style, along with his uncompromising stage presence, is now revered as quintessential punk in all its glory.
Fan favourites such as ‘Anarchy In The UK’ and ‘God Save The Queen’ helped push the British punk band into new levels of fame back in 1977, a momentum swing that would build to such a crescendo that the group burst into flames almost as quickly as the success it garnered. It leads us all to wonder, however, what was the moment that “started it all” for Lydon and his unique creative vision?
In the 1960s, The Kinks burst onto the north London music scene with their third single, ‘You Really Got Me’, and announced themselves into a counterculture movement that was swirling almost uncontrollably. Arguably their most popular song, it was released in 1964 and eventually climbed up to the top of the British charts and remained there for two weeks. It was a pivotal moment for the band, one that turned their floundering efforts into that of mainstream triumph. Prior to the release of ‘You Really Got Me’, The Kinks released two singles that failed to land a dent in the UK charts, a back-to-back flop that nearly resulted in the band being dumped by their record label.
The Kinks frontman, Ray Davies, in a somewhat clichéd rock and roll stereotype, began to write the chart-topper while watching girls dance in a club, explaining in a past interview to Rolling Stone: “I just remembered this one girl dancing,” he said. “Sometimes you’re so overwhelmed by the presence of another person and you can’t put two words together.”
The north London band initially recorded a slower version of the number one hit but have since revealed they hated the results. Davies, speaking in depth about its creation, has explained how he thought it came out too clean, and instead wanted it to capture the energy of their live shows.
Despite Davies’ disappointment, ‘You Really Got Me’ went on to have a whirlwind success of its own, propelling the group to international fame, inspiring countless budding musicians in the process. It was this song that essentially arrived as the genesis of John Lydon’s musical influence: Lydon told The Guardian: “Somebody’s elder brother had it, I remember it was on Pye Records, and my God, that insane guitar started it all for me”.
Lydon added: “But I have to be careful about sharing my tastes in music because it comes back to haunt you. I said once that I liked Van der Graaf Generator and before I knew it I was accused of ripping them off. Perhaps it’s safer to state that I like Steeleye Span.”
‘You Really Got Me’ has been iconic since its release decades ago, so much so that it is still relevant and influential today. Its impact on contemporary culture knows no bounds and, undoubtedly, it will continue to flex its muscles for years to come. As Dave Davies once explained: “Our song was working-class people trying to fight back” and, in that sentiment, its sincerity will be everlasting.