Friday, January 22, 2010

January 22: The Kinks, "You Really Got Me"

Artist: The Kinks
Song: "You Really Got Me"
Album: single/The Kinks
Year: 1964

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Throughout the history of recorded music, there are a handful of musical progressions that were so brilliantly crafted, that they remain truly iconic to this day. Whether it was a stunning saxophone line or a crushing guitar riff, these most memorable of compositions stand as pivotal moments and have shaped the state of music that followed. Yet even though these musical works are often so important due to their complexity, one cannot deny that often times, the intrigue behind a certain song actually lives in its simplicity. This is perhaps no more true than in the powerful, yet rather elementary guitar riff that serves as the main factor in one of the most important songs in history: The Kinks' 1964 hit, "You Really Got Me." Appearing late in the year, the song rocketed up the charts in the U.K., and would later find similar success in the U.S., making The Kinks one of the most popular groups of the "British Invasion." The song, which was actually the third single from the group, would become so popular that the band would re-record the song and it remains the finest moment of their self-titled debut album. Over the decades, it has become one of the most heavily covered songs in history, with the most memorable surfacing with a testosterone-fueled cover on Van Halen's 1978 debut record. Both the original and the Van Halen cover remain in heavy radio rotation to this day, and this is largely due to the truly perfect crafting in every aspect of the song.

Though nearly every aspect of "You Really Got Me" is fantastic, there is little question that the key to the staying power of the song is the iconic guitar riff. This simple musical progression serves as one of the most obvious symbols of "success through simplicity," and in both its form and tone, the riff is easily one of the most influential in music history. The riff, which came out of "playing with" the core riff from the equally iconic "Louie, Louie," would be the first of a number of straightforward riffs that would power The Kinks' next few singles to equal success. Truth be told, the main riff is as much about the progression as it is about the tone, as the more aggressive, almost heavy metal sound was a result of guitarist Dave Davies slicing the cone of his amplifier with a razor blade, as well as poking a hole in it with a pin. The guitar solo on "You Really Got Me" is also the source of one of the most persistent (and false) rumors in rock history, as many have been led to believe that it was played by Jimmy Page. Though Page was involved in the recording of the album as a session musician, this occurred well after "You Really Got Me" was recorded, and Page has denied his involvement in the song, though the rumor persists. However, there is much truth to the fact that the group playing on "You Really Got Me" is not the "real" lineup of The Kinks, as both the drumming and piano/keyboard work on the single were performed by session musicians. Standing as one of the finest drummers in history, Bobby Graham was called in for the track in the place of "normal" drummer Mick Avery. The keyboards were played by either Arthur Greensdale or Deep Purple's Jon Lord, and along with the Davies' bothers, the song remains nothing short of iconic.

With the music having a slightly dirty, aggressive feel that was unlike anything else being done at the time, band co-founder and lead vocalist, Ray Davies, mirrors the style of the music with his fantastic vocal work. Giving the song an amazing swagger, Davies has an attitude and growl to his voice that was a far cry from the clean, friendly sounds that were dominating the music charts at the time. Though he also makes it clear that he has an exceptionally clean and powerful voice during the verses, it is his adjustment during the bridges and choruses that truly set this song apart from others, and in many ways, one can see his more aggressive approach as a pre-cursor to the sounds of both heavy metal and punk rock. Yet much like the music, both the singing style and the lyrics are very simple and straightforward, and this certainly played a key role in the songs' overall popularity and continued musical relevance. Taking the direct approach, the song has no subtlety whatsoever, and it is one of the most perfect pictures of a raw, unhindered infatuation that has ever been penned. Ray Davies did an absolutely brilliant job at capturing the emotion of the early stages of love and yearning, and this is much of the reason why the song has continued relevance more than forty years after its initial release. The fantastic, universal lyric, combined with the absolutely perfect vocal sound of Ray Davies' voice became the blueprint for countless bands from a wide range of genres, and yet this original recording remains fresh and equally enjoyable to this day.

Once called "the track which invented heavy metal," The Kinks' 1964 hit, "You Really Got Me" stands among the most elite songs in music history, and it has earned the description of "perfect" in every single aspect. While in some ways it is impossible to describe why this song "works" and has had so much success, if one steps back and examines each element, it becomes clear why a song that sounded quite different from everything else at the time was able to become such an important piece of music history. The crunching core guitar riff of the song is truly an iconic piece of music, and while it follows the somewhat simple formula that was dominating popular music at the time, it is the distorted, more aggressive sound that made the song absolutely unforgettable. This avoidance of the "clean" sound and feel permeates every aspect of the song, and with a slightly menacing vocal approach, as well as a lyric that can be seen as a perfectly capturing the heat of lust, The Kinks set themselves apart from the more "proper" popular music. The way in which "You Really Got Me" was crafted would serve as the template for their later hits, yet it also played a massive role in the formation of both heavy metal and punk rock in the decades that followed. Though it has been covered countless times over the past forty years, there truly is nothing that can compare to the phenomenal original 1964 recording, as The Kinks truly changed the world with their hit, "You Really Got Me."

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