The Talented Ray Davies Part One
For other people named Ray Davies, see Ray Davies (disambiguation).
Sir Raymond Douglas “Ray” Davies, CBE (/ˈdeɪvɪz/ DAY-viz; born 21 June 1944) is an English musician. He was the lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist and main songwriter for the Kinks, which he led with his younger brother, Dave. He has also acted, directed and produced shows for theatre and television.
Davies performing in Toronto, 1977
Raymond Douglas Davies
21 June 1944 (age 73)
Fortis Green, London, England
Musician, singer-songwriter, record producer
Vocals, guitar, harmonica, keyboards, piano
* Fender King
* Fender Telecaster
* National Steel Resonator Guitar
At the dissolution of the Kinks in 1996, Davies embarked on a solo career as a singer-songwriter.
6 Denmark Terrace, birthplace of the Davies brothers
Davies was born at 6 Denmark Terrace, Fortis Green, in Muswell Hill, North London, England. He is the seventh of eight children born to Fred and Annie Davies, including six older sisters and younger brother Dave Davies. His father is of Welsh ancestry. He went to William Grimshaw Secondary Modern School (now called Fortismere School).
Davies was an art student at Hornsey College of Art in London in 1962–1963. In late 1962 he became increasingly interested in music; at a Hornsey College Christmas dance he sought advice from Alexis Korner who was playing at the dance with Blues Incorporated and Korner introduced him to Giorgio Gomelsky, a promoter and future manager of the Yardbirds. Gomelsky arranged for Davies to play at his Piccadilly Club with the Dave Hunt Rhythm & Blues Band, and on New Year’s Eve the Ray Davies Quartet opened for Cyril Stapleton at the Lyceum Ballroom. A few days later he became the permanent guitarist for the Dave Hunt Band, an engagement that would only last about six weeks. The band were the house band at Gomelsky’s new venture, the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond-upon-Thames; when the Dave Hunt band were snowed in during the coldest winter since 1740, Gomelsky offered a gig to a new band called the Rolling Stones, who had previously supported Hunt at the Piccadilly and would take over the residency. Davies then joined the Hamilton King Band until June 1963; the Kinks (then known as the Ramrods) spent the summer supporting Rick Wayne on a tour of US airbases.
After the Kinks obtained a recording contract in early 1964, Davies emerged as the chief songwriter and de facto leader of the band, especially after the band’s breakthrough success with his early composition “You Really Got Me”, which was released as the band’s third single in August of that year. Davies led the Kinks through a period of musical experimentation between 1966 and 1975, with notable artistic achievements and commercial success. Between 1976 and their break-up 20 years later, Davies and the group reverted to their earlier mainstream rock format and enjoyed a second peak of success, with other hit songs, like “Destroyer”, “Come Dancing” and “Do It Again”. The Kinks disbanded in 1996, and Ray Davies has performed solo since then.
In 1990, Davies was inducted, with the Kinks, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and, in 2005, into the UK Music Hall of Fame. On 4 January 2004, Davies was shot in the leg while chasing thieves who had snatched the purse of his companion as they walked in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana. The shooting came less than a week after Davies was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.
Davies was knighted in the 2017 New Year Honours for services to the arts.
The Kinks: 1963–1996
Early style (1964–65)
The Kinks’ early recordings of 1964 ranged from covers of R&B standards like “Long Tall Sally” and “Got Love If You Want It” to the chiming, melodic beat music of Ray Davies’ earliest original compositions for the band, “You Still Want Me” and “Something Better Beginning”, to the more influential proto-metal, protopunk, power chord-based hard rock of the band’s first two hit singles, “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night”.
However, by 1965, this raucous, hard-driving early style had gradually given way to the softer and more introspective sound of “Tired of Waiting for You”, “Nothin’ in the World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl”, “Set Me Free”, “I Go to Sleep” and “Ring the Bells”. With the eerie, droning “See My Friends”—inspired by the untimely death of the Davies brothers’ older sister Rene in June 1957—the band began to show signs of expanding their musical palette even further. A rare foray into early psychedelic rock, “See My Friends” is credited by Jonathan Bellman as the first Western pop song to integrate Indian raga sounds—released six months before the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”.
The classic mid-period (1965–75)
Beginning with “A Well Respected Man” and “Where Have All the Good Times Gone” (both recorded in the summer of 1965), Davies’ lyrics assumed a new sociological character. He began to explore the aspirations and frustrations of common working-class people, with particular emphasis on the psychological effects of the British class system. Face to Face (1966), the first Kinks album composed solely of original material, was a creative breakthrough. As the band began to experiment with theatrical sound effects and baroque musical arrangements (Nicky Hopkins played harpsichord on several tracks), Davies’ songwriting fully acquired its distinctive elements of narrative, observation and wry social commentary. His topical songs took aim at the complacency and indolence of wealthy playboys and the upper class (“A House in the Country”, “Sunny Afternoon”), the heedless ostentation of a self-indulgent spendthrift nouveau riche (“Most Exclusive Residence For Sale”), and even the mercenary nature of the music business itself (“Session Man”).
By late 1966, Davies was addressing the bleakness of life at the lower end of the social spectrum: released together as the complementary A-B sides of a single, “Dead End Street” and “Big Black Smoke” were powerful neo-Dickensian sketches of urban poverty. Other songs like “Situation Vacant” (1967) and “Shangri-La” (1969) hinted at the helpless sense of insecurity and emptiness underlying the materialistic values adopted by the English working class. In a similar vein, “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” (1966) wittily satirized the consumerism and celebrity worship of Carnaby Street and ‘Swinging London’, while “David Watts” (1967) humorously expressed the wounded feelings of a plain schoolboy who envies the grace and privileges enjoyed by a charismatic upper class student.
The Kinks have been called “the most adamantly British of the Brit Invasion bands” on account of Ray Davies’ abiding fascination with England’s imperial past and his tender, bittersweet evocations of “a vanishing, romanticized world of village greens, pubs and public schools”. During the band’s mid-period, he wrote many cheerfully eccentric—and often ironic—celebrations of traditional English culture and living: “Village Green” (1966), “Afternoon Tea” and “Autumn Almanac” (both 1967), “The Last of the Steam-Powered Trains” (1968), “Victoria” (1969), “Have a Cuppa Tea” (1971) and “Cricket” (1973). In other songs, Davies revived the style of British music hall, vaudeville and trad jazz: “Dedicated Follower of Fashion”, “Sunny Afternoon”, “Dandy” and “Little Miss Queen of Darkness” (all 1966); “Mister Pleasant” and “End of the Season” (both 1967); “Sitting By the Riverside” and “All of My Friends Were There” (both 1968); “She’s Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina” (1969); “Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues” and “Alcohol” (both 1971); “Look a Little on the Sunny Side” (1972); and “Holiday Romance” (1975). Occasionally, he varied the group’s sound with more disparate musical influences, such as raga (“Fancy”, 1966), bossa nova (“No Return”, 1967) and calypso (“I’m on an Island”, 1965; “Monica”, 1968; “Apeman”, 1970; “Supersonic Rocket Ship”, 1972).
Davies is often at his most affecting when he sings of giving up worldly ambition for the simple rewards of love and domesticity (“This is Where I Belong”, 1966; “Two Sisters”, 1967; “The Way Love Used to Be”, 1971; “Sweet Lady Genevieve”, 1973; “You Make It All Worthwhile”, 1974), or when he extols the consolations of friendship and memory (“Days”, 1968; “Do You Remember Walter?”, 1968; “Picture Book”, 1968; “Young and Innocent Days”, 1969; “Moments”, 1971; “Schooldays”, 1975). Yet another perennial Ray Davies theme is the championing of individualistic personalities and lifestyles (“I’m Not Like Everybody Else”, 1966; “Johnny Thunder”, 1968; “Monica”, 1968; “Lola”, 1970; “Celluloid Heroes”, 1972; “Where Are They Now?”, 1973; “Sitting in the Midday Sun”, 1973). On his 1967 masterpiece “Waterloo Sunset”, the singer finds a fleeting sense of contentment in the midst of urban drabness and solitude.
Davies’ mid-period work for the Kinks also showed signs of an emerging social conscience. For example, “Holiday in Waikiki” (1966) deplored the vulgar commercialization of a once unspoiled indigenous culture. Similarly, “God’s Children” and “Apeman” (both 1970), and the songs “20th Century Man”, “Complicated Life” and “Here Come the People in Grey” from Muswell Hillbillies (1971), passionately decried industrialization and bureaucracy in favour of simple pastoral living. Perhaps most significantly, the band’s acclaimed 1968 concept album The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society gave an affectionate embrace to “Merry England” nostalgia and advocated for the preservation of traditional English country village and hamlet life.
A definitive testament to Davies’ reputation as a songwriter of insight, empathy and wit can be heard on the Kinks’ landmark 1969 album Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire). Originally conceived as the soundtrack to a television play that was never produced, the band’s first rock opera affectionately chronicled the trials and tribulations of a working class everyman and his family from the very end of the Victorian era through World War I and World War II, the postwar austerity years, and up to the 1960s. The overall theme of the record was partly inspired by the life of Ray and Dave Davies’ brother-in-law, Arthur Anning, who had married their older sister, Rose—herself the subject of an earlier Kinks song, “Rosie Won’t You Please Come Home” (1966)—and had emigrated to Australia after the war. Over the course of a dozen evocative songs, Arthur fulfils its ambitious subtitle as Davies embellishes an intimate family chronicle with satirical observations about the shifting mores of the English working class in response to the declining fortunes of the British Empire.