Ray Davies: 8 career defining moments

Kayleigh Rattle

We explore the prolific career of The Kinks’ frontman, from crafting some of the catchiest pop hits to penning lyrics which challenge, question and inform society as we know it 

From “You Really Got Me” to “Waterloo Sunset”, Ray Davies’ lengthy discography—both as lead singer of The Kinks and as a solo artist—spans decades, and accolades. We take a look at some of the defining moments of his career so far, from hit breakthroughs to notoriously being banned from the US. 

 

Early Days

Born June 21, 1944 in Muswell Hill, North London, to working-class parents Frederick and Anne, Ray was the seventh of eight children—six older sisters, and younger brother Dave. His older sister Irene (“Rene”) gave Ray his first guitar on his 13th birthday—before tragically suffering a heart attack that very evening while dancing at London’s Lyceum Ballroom. Three years later, Ray and his brother Dave would go on to perform together for the first time. The Kinks’ 1957 single “See My Friends” was said to be inspired by Rene.

 

Record Deal

Ray and Dave’s early musical output was subject to a number of name changes and line-up alterations, with Ray’s fellow Hornsey Art College student Rod Stewart even joining them temporarily as lead singer. But it was signing to Pye Records in 1963 that solidified the outfit as The Kinks, with “You Really Got Me”—boasting one of the catchiest riffs of all time - being released the following year and “All Day and All of the Night” following suit. 
 

“Waterloo Sunset”

At the peak of the “Swinging Sixties”, The Kinks released one of their most well-known and celebrated songs, “Waterloo Sunset”, in 1967. Telling the tale of Terry and Julie—and capturing the hearts of the nation with it—the single reached number two in the British charts. It also shined a light on Ray’s innate talent for deftly penning songs which chronicle class, social commentary and character profiles, all masterfully crafted with generous doses of wit and satire. For Ray, “Waterloo Sunset” was inspired by his older sisters, as well as “ walking by the Thames with my first wife, and all the dreams we had then”. David Bowie covered the hit in 2003, and it was also covered by The Jam. 

 

America

Similar to the often fraught relationship with his own brother and fellow The Kinks band member, Dave, Ray’s relationship with America has been a ongoing source of tension throughout his life. At the beginning of their career, The Kinks were denied entry to the US after a series of unfortunate events: from fights on stage during the 1965 recording of Dick Clark’s TV show Where the Action Is to promoters not paying sufficiently. Being refused career-making opportunities such as Woodstock (which contemporaries The Rolling Stones and The Beatles would go on to enjoy) meant that The Kinks remained relatively unknown in America during the 1960s. Reflecting on this time, Ray does credit the extra studio time this unexpected turn of events gave The Kinks: “But for the ban we’d never have made The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society. We’d have been on tour in America making heavy metal music and turning into drug addicts.”

 

“Sunny Afternoon” 

In fact, the following year Ray would go on to write a song that would come to epitomise the zeitgeist of 1966—the year England triumphantly and unforgettably won the World Cup. The smash single “Sunny Afternoon”, was number one on July 30, the time of England winning. In fact, The Kinks played a gig in Exeter that very evening—but were slightly late as the match went into extra-time.

 

The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society 

While The Kinks’ sixth studio album—a concept album charting a series of metaphorical pastoral vignettes—was released without any significant fanfare, and failed to chart at the time, it went on to become one of Ray’s most critically-acclaimed pieces of work. Its influence is best summarised by The Who’s Pete Townshend: “For me, Village Green Preservation Society was Ray’s masterwork. It’s his Sgt. Pepper, it’s what makes him the definitive pop laureate.” 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the release of this pivotal album.

 

Musical Milestones

Ray Davies—both as a member of The Kinks and as a singer-songwriter—continues to receive accolades for his impressive oeuvre. In 1990, The Kinks were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the third British band to do so. In 2005 they entered the UK Music Hall of Fame. Ray has also received a number of royal warrants: he received a CBE from the Queen in 2004 for his services to music, and was Knighted in the 1017 Years Honours list. Ray’s hit musical, “Sunny Afternoon”, premiered in London in 2014 and went on to scoop four prestigious Olivier awards in 2015. 

 

Watch this Space

The allure—and creativity—of Ray Davies shows no sign of fading. In fact, rumour has it that he and his brother Dave are currently in the middle of a series of promising discussions concerning new material, and even a potential The Kinks reunion. While it’s not certain when, or even if, this will happen, one thing’s for sure: should Ray and Dave perform together again, Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy.