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Music

The song that made The Kinks' Ray Davies pick up the guitar

Ray Davies is an eminent figure in rock music. As the frontman of The Kinks, he wrote some of the most iconic songs of the 1960s and ’70s, with the likes of ‘You Really Got Me’, ‘All Day and All of the Night’, ‘Lola, ‘Waterloo Sunset’ all making his discography something of genuine beauty. 

Characteristically, Davies’ songs are quintessentially British. He discusses the many peculiarities of this strange, sceptred isle, such as the catchy satire ‘The Village Green Preservation Society‘, which examines rural England and all of her rustic particulars evoking the works of Thomas Hardy and John Ruskin. 

There’s no wonder that Davies influenced a whole host of subsequent songwriters. Davies inspired some of the most important songwriters Britain has ever known, including Joe Strummer and Paul Weller, possessing a keen perception and a knack for penning a catchy tune. Other well-respected songsmiths he and the band influenced are The Libertines, Queen, Oasis, Blur and Pulp. 

Showing just how widespread their influence has been, Davies and Co. even influenced Australian rock outfit The Vines, something you wouldn’t have thought upon comparing the music of the two. 

Given that Davies’ significance within the annals of rock and roll is so tremendous, it makes you wonder who inspired him to pick up the guitar. In a 2006 interview with The Guardian, soundtracking his life, Davies revealed which song galvanised him and pushed him in the direction of the hallowed six-string.

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The 1956 rhythm and blues instrumental ‘Honky Tonk’ by Bill Doggett first sent Davies on his way to stardom. Davies recalled: “I hardly ever bought records; I got my brother to buy them instead. But I stole ‘Honky Tonk’ by Big Bill Doggett when a friend had a party in, I think, 1959; the other guys walked off with a girlfriend and I walked off with ‘Honky Tonk’, which I think was a good deal.” 

He explained: “It is a live recording with mistakes in it – it’s an instrumental and there’s a lot of shouting in the background when the guitar solo comes in – and it started my love of incidentals and accidents. The records by matinee idols that my elder sisters listened to in the Fifties were always so perfect, and it was the imperfection in this that was exciting.”

Who’d have thought that one of the most influential songwriters of all time’s career was effectively by his friends walking off? Either way, we’re glad it happened, as Davies has given us a host of enduring classics that we’ll be talking about for many years to come.

Listen to ‘Waterloo Sunset’ below.