An infinite number of rockin’ pop records can be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!
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THE KINKS: “You Really Got Me”
The record had no precedent.
Link Wray was the closest thing it had to a prototype; the growling, cantankerous power chords of Wray’s “Rumble” sounded like a force of nature, a monolithic, lumbering whamwhamWHAM! pouncing through cheap speakers to devour unsuspecting radio listeners in 1958. “Rumble” influenced anything loud and threatening that was ever played at 45 rpm from that second forward. And one imagines it must have influenced The Kinks, as well. Nonetheless, even six years later in 1964, there had still never been another record quite like “You Really Got Me.”
It’s not just a matter of velocity; “You Really Got Me” seems faster than it really is, and attempts to play it too fast or (worse) too heavy–like Van Halen‘s meatball cover in the late ’70s, or even The Kinks’ own live renditions in the ’80s–feel insincere, wrong. No, the song is methodical, deliberate, but still pounding with desire and passionate, right-now insistence. Its implied speed, its breakneck illusion, makes it all the more powerful, menacing, like a cobra poised to strike and rob you of your last breath. It’s a punk song, even a proto-metal song, but it has a groove. It has a soul. It has a heart.
And it seethes with the frustration from which it was born.
The Kinks had released two previous singles: a perfunctory cover of Little Richard‘s “Long Tall Sally” (backed by a great beat raver, “I Took My Baby Home”) and a lovely Britpop number called “You Still Want Me.” The former had sold respectably (but unspectacularly) in the UK, and the latter had been a relative stiff. The song’s composer, Ray Davies, is said to have pounded out “You Really Got Me”‘s bluesey creation at home, on his parents’ piano. Frustrated. His frequently estranged brother, Kinks guitarist Dave Davies, couldn’t get the dirty, gritty six-string sound he wanted on the song–Frustrated!–and wound up slashing his amp with a razor blade just to get the guttural effect he could only hear in his head. Ray Davies thought the first recording too polite, too polished, too smooth. FRUSTRATED!! He begged the record label to let them have another go at getting it right.
And they did. Release! Girl, you really got me goin’. Cigarette?
With “You Really Got Me,” The Kinks had their first big hit, and not just in the UK. That simple, ferocious riff echoed across the Atlantic, and The Kinks were suddenly part of a British Invasion, an insurrection armed with guitars, bass, and drums, a rock ‘n’ roll police action that reclaimed the colonies for Her Majesty. Yes, of course, The Beatles were the shaggy-headed faces of this unexpected Britmania, and those Liverpudlians’ wit and style and sheer pop brilliance were the driving force of that scene and its sound. But no other rock ‘n’ roll group was more British than The Kinks, and no song ever summed up the British Invasion as well as “You Really Got Me.”
The Rolling Stones tried to surpass it, tried to make a record that could beat the overwhelming, transcendent urgency of “You Really Got Me.” And while the Stones created a lot of terrific singles in the process, they couldn’t match The Kinks. Nor could The Who, nor The Sex Pistols, nor even The Ramones, though Forest Hills’ Finest likely came the closest. The Kinks also tried; their follow-up single “All Day And All Of The Night” was arguably even better, a steamrollin’ refinement of “You Really Got Me”‘s primal attack. But “better” isn’t the same as Greatest. In the visceral realm of pop music, of rock ‘n’ roll, immediacy can be immortal. God save the greatest. And God save The Kinks.