For longevity alone, the Kinks deserve a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The heart and soul of the Kinks - brothers Ray and Dave Davies - have been performing together since 1963, at which time Ray joined his younger brother’s band, the Ravens (soon renamed the Kinks). The original lineup consisted of Ray (guitar, vocals), Dave (lead guitar, vocals), Mick Avory (drums) and Pete Quaife (bass). Ray Davies is almost indisputably rock’s most literate, witty and insightful songwriter. Dave Davies, on the other hand, is renowned for his guitar playing. His pioneering hard-rock style was evident as far back as “You Really Got Me” in 1964 and is today considered a forerunner of heavy metal.
Though the Kinks were at the vanguard of the British Invasion during the years 1964-66, they were also very much not a part of any bandwagon. To be sure, they had a stack of rocking hits from the British Invasion era: “You Really Got Me,” “All Day and All of the Night” and “Tired of Waiting for You” among them. But another side of the Kinks began to emerge with such keenly observed satires as “A Well Respected Man” and “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” - trenchant social commentary that lampooned characters drawn from the heyday of Carnaby Street.
As the popularity of beat-group music faded, Davies’ creativity flowered and his songwriting matured. Always a band of anti-trendsetters (and beloved by their cult following for that very reason), the Kinks ignored the countercultural gestalt of the late Sixties in order to reflect brilliantly on the life and times of the British Empire. The gallery of characters and musical settings - a quaint marriage of understated pop and British music hall, with occasional detours into aggressive rock and even Indian music - came to life on such classic albums as Face to Face, Something Else and Arthur. The group savored the past and the personal in such masterpieces as “Waterloo Sunset,” “Days,” “Village Green Preservation Society” and “Sunny Afternoon.” With no false modesty, Ray Davies once said: “I’ve only written about 200 good songs. The rest are B sides.”
Though the Kinks struggled commercially and performed unevenly, even as they were writing and recording some of their most timeless music, their drought on the charts came to an end with the left-field success of “Lola” (#9, 1970). It may be the only song about an encounter with a transvestite to make the Top Ten, and it became a staple of their increasingly popular live shows. Ray Davies spent the early Seventies composing a series of concept albums (Preservation, Soap Opera and Schoolboys in Disgrace) that made for entertaining stage theater. As the decade wore on, however, the group turned its attention - both in terms of songwriting subjects and touring agendas - to America. A series of popular albums with a more updated, hard-hitting sound translated into sold-out tours and the Kinks’ first gold albums (Low Budget, One for the Road and Give the People What They Want). All the while, Ray Davies’ wry and keenly observant eye as a songwriter, informed by his compassion for the average guy and his reverence for “the immense smallness of life,” shone through even the most (by Kinks standards) bombastic moments.
While the Kinks carried on, a new generation of rockers found inspiration in the band’s early sound and songs. Mod-minded New Wavers like the Jam and Madness embraced aspects of the Kinks’ early music, style of dress and focus on British culture. The Pretenders’ career, for instance, was launched with a cover of the Kinks’ “Stop Your Sobbing” - and a real-life liaison between Ray Davies and Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders occurred in the Eighties. All the while, the Kinks as a group and brothers Ray and Dave as solo artists have continued their productive ways, producing albums, autobiographies, a BBC film (Ray’s Return to Waterloo, 1985), a one-man show, and more.
Having gone from British Invasion hitmakers to late Sixties cult heroes to bonafide arena-filling rock stars in the Seventies and Eighties, the Kinks are, it would seem, cult heroes again for the time being - a position that their bright and sometimes discomfited leader no doubt savors. On the eve of their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, Ray Davies had this to say: “The Kinks have always been outsiders. I’m an outsider. To be accepted is unique for us. I’m pleased for the people who believed in me all along. It’s nice for them to know that their faith wasn’t misplaced.” To quote a slogan popular with those who love the band, “God Save the Kinks.”
The group, with different lineups of musicians, continued to record into the Nineties. Their last public performance took place in 1996, on Dave Davies' 50th birthday.