Today we’re doing a GOAT for The Kinks, whose debut single, “You Really Got Me,” was released in England on October 2, 1963.
THE GREATEST OF ALL TUNES (G.O.A.T.) is a salute to the greatest songs of all time, one song per artist. Want more? Go to the G.O.A.T. Page for all the GOATs so far!
Off the top of my head, right now, if I had to name the five rock artists or bands I listened to the most throughout my teens and early twenties, they’d probably be Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, The Stones and…The Kinks. I’ve held off doing a GOAT feature on a Kinks song because I couldn’t pick one. Just one. Then I got the idea a while ago about doing “top 10s” and I couldn’t pick just ten. So, today and tomorrow, I’m doing a top 30.
The band was big for thirty years, with many of their most covered and most popular songs coming out early in their career, during the 1960s. But I’ll be honest: Out of the three decades’ of brilliant work coming out of The Kinks, the 1960s is my least favorite. The quality is definitely high, but a lot of it is covers or derivative roots rock. Still, you get many of their most enduring classic singles out of this period. In terms of albums, 1966’s Face to Face was the first Kinks album that is 100% Ray Davies original songs. Rock historians also call it the first rock-and-roll concept album, but I can’t say I agree. Sure, all the songs have a perspective—but it’s because they’re all about where Ray was at that point in his life. More importantly, it really doesn’t have to be listened to that way. There were tons of well-crafted songs that stand on their own, notably Sunny Afternoon, A House in the Country (which was recorded and released by The Pretty Things earlier the same year, and made the charts), and Dandy (a hit for Herman’s Hermits). Face To Face is the first truly “important” Kinks album, and it’s the first time the band emerges as a truly unique voice in rock and folk. But the band’s breakthrough 1960s albums were clearly Something Else and Village Green Preservation Society.
Then the 1970s come, which is really the best time for the band in terms of songwriting. The decade starting strong with Muswell Hillbillies, and then dipped dramatically as the band started doing a string of “operas” or “concert albums,” some of which were good, others of which just weren’t, but then they rocked back with one of my top 10 favorite records of all time, Misfits.
Then in the early 1980s we got the powerhouse album “Give The People What They Want,” their most emblematic album, containing fist-pumping rockers, bluesier ballads, touching sentimentality…All the earmarks of Ray and Dave Davies’ collective genius.
And then, around 1986, The Kinks’ albums became less relevant—one of them was a great live album with no new material. All good things must end.
Let’s start the countdown today, and finish it tomorrow! Let me know if you like this feature!
THE TOP 30 KINKS SONGS #30-15
30. Do You Remember Walter? (The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society 1968)
An unapologetically sentimental song about two boys who dreamed of changing the world, but got lost in the realities of life. If you can’t relate to this song, you were probably born rich.
Covers: Not a ton, but the Decemberists gave it a whirl, live…
29. Set Me Free (Single, 1965)
A fairly standard rock song, but great for what it is.
Covers: The Jaybirds is a band that later became 10 Years After. That’s kinda cool.
28. Have a Cuppa Tea (Muswell Hillbillies 1971)
The hardest part about a top 10 list is cutting it off at 10. I picked this song instead of the equally wonderful “The Village Green Preservation Society” because the latter was both a single and the title track of a record, so more people know about it. But this song is so simple, so wonderful, and so charming. Optimism is something often missing from rock and roll, yet The Kinks often prove it’s not only possible, but beautiful.
Covers: There’s a good country one…
27. Death of a Clown (Something Else by…1967)
The rare Dave Davies song on the list, and I included it because it’s so touching. When the song became a hit, Dave tried to break up the band but fortunately his solo career petered out quickly and he rejoined his brother. So this is the song that almost deprived us of The Kinks’ greatest works.
Covers: A few…And some are pretty good!
26. Schoolboys in Disgrace (Album, 1975)
Here’s my big “cheat” for this list. Schoolboys in Disgrace is probably my second-favorite concept album of all time (second to Pink Floyd’s The Wall, of course)—and I know that it’s a controversial pick. It didn’t have a single. No big hits or deep cuts emerged from it. It got them dropped by their record label. And yet the album, which tells the tale of how Jack “the idiot dunce,” who was humiliated by his Headmaster, grew up to become Mr. Flash—the hero of the Kinks’ Preservation Acts I and II, double-concept-album. And it’s true that some of the songs feel like the soundtrack to a musical, notably Jack the Idiot Dunce, Education, I’m In Disgrace…But it’s a truly great album. It’s also the last time they created a rock opera—when Arista and Clive Davis picked the band up, they were transformed into an arena rock band. For those reasons, and because all of the songs tie together, I’m calling this a single song. Nyah.
There’s only one cover of any song from the album–it’s an underrated masterpiece–so I posted The Kinks doing the best song from it, “No More Looking Back,” above.
Covers: The only one I could find was a hit by Finland’s Kontra, who changed the name of “Jack the Idiot Dunce” to “Jerry Cotton,” and took the song to #1.
25. (Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman (Low Budget, 1979)
New producer Clive Davis moves The Kinks towards disco with this single, which got its own dance mix. I do really like this song, even though it stands in stark contrast to most of the other songs on this album—which are largely blues-based.
Interesting other fact: “Catch Me Now I’m Falling,” also off of Low Budget, mentions Captain America in the chorus.
Covers: Now we’re getting somewhere. Some good covers and remixes here…The Patti Lupone version is exceptionally weird and cool.
24. Tired of Waiting for You (Kinda Kinks, 1965)
A very simple, very 1950s hit for the band. It’s actually tied for their biggest charting single of all time—tied with another song that appears much higher on this list. How’s that for suspense?
Covers: We’ll start with a duet between Ray Davies and Gary Lightbody, lead singer of Snow Patrol. Then lots of famous bands playing this tune…
23. A Gallon of Gas (Low Budget, 1977)
This song, like the title track from the album, celebrated the problems of the everyman in the 1970’s inflationary times. Sure, it may be a novelty—or it’s an historical document. It’s also bluesier than anything else on the album. Great stuff.
Covers: Not a one, so the original version is above.
22. Get Up (Misfits, 1978)
The first of two songs from my favorite Kinks album. I’d include Black Messiah if I had more space. As well as Live Life—which is pretty much a similar songs. Both are rallying cry tunes, uplifting and wonderful.
Covers: Another one that doesn’t have a single cover. Really? It’s such a great song! Oh well. Here’s the band doing it themselves…
21. Give the People What They Want (Give the People What They Want, 1981)
One of the bands’ hardest rockers—with Ray at one point shouting out, “Hey Mom, I caught a piece of the President’s brain!” while witnessing an assassination.
Covers: This is getting ridiculous. Yet another great song without a single cover. Maybe if we take a page break, we’ll have better luck…