Although never part of the mod scene, The Kinks are undoubtedly one of the most influential bands on the planet. From as early as 1964, their highly individual style was changing the cultural landscape. Faces on Carnaby Street during the early 1960s, The Kinks’ distinct, poetic lyrics and raw sound became a global phenomenon. They achieved international success without attaching themselves to any particular fashion trend. Instead they concentrated on capturing the mood of the sixties before effortlessly transcending the era.
Ray Davies, his brother Dave, Pete Quaife and Mick Avory are credited with being a driver of change that challenged The Beatles’ stranglehold on popular culture. The Kinks led the British pop invasion of America from the front. They did it with a sound that has inspired generations of musicians, criss-crossing genres and embracing everything from punk to heavy rock. Listen to You Really Got Me and you will understand. And they did it not just wearing floppy jumpers and jeans but also in sharp suits that resonate with mods.
Legends who broke convention with their own style
So how did The Kinks ‘really get us’ and what makes them music legends and cultural icons? For the answer, you have to turn the clock back to a time before 1990 – the year the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You have to realise that The Kinks’ name is synonymous with innovation. Then you have to acknowledge that they disrupted convention by pioneering a white charge on rhythm and blues.
Now that’s pretty cool for a band formed as part of a challenge set during a school music lesson. The aim was to write a song for a dance. The result was… The Kinks. With an outrageous name they hoped would court publicity, they went on to achieve notoriety both on and off stage. To say they lived the rock and roll lifestyle would be an understatement.
It was The Kinks’ sheer talent that saw them become masters of the power chord; a sound that epitomises their brand. They took guitarist Link Wray’s 1950s invention and owned it. With a rasping, atmospheric guitar sound that gave us immortal hits such as Lola, The Kinks take storytelling to new heights. They document popular culture in words and break boundaries with new rhythms.
From the avant-garde to mainstream
From humble beginnings in Muswell Hill, London, The Kinks enjoyed a string of hits through the 1960s. Together with the Rolling Stones, they are rightly credited as being early avant-gardes of musical creativity. Just a year after they formed, they topped the charts with experimental You Really Got Me. It was followed by All Day and All of the Night, Tired of Waiting for You and the ironic Dedicated Followers of Fashion.
The hits kept on coming, right up until the end of the decade. Then The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, an album released in 1969, was deemed a commercial flop. The Kinks seemed to be doomed to the history books when, in the summer of 1970, along came Lola. It put them back in the limelight, both at home and across the Pond.
The Kinks’ sound cultivated the blues scene with a distinctive style. It is revered for delivering drama and edgy twists. This is a band that manages to incorporate harmonious melodies with lyrics that provide razor sharp social commentary. How many bands can you name whose observations have kept it in tune with audiences for more than half a century?
Back in fashion – The Kinks reform
Personal and artistic differences eventually saw the band split; the divisions considered so wide that any talk of a reunion was quickly snuffed out. But, after a 20-year hiatus, The Kinks are back. They are headed for the recording studio in what could be a defining moment in the band’s long history. Commentators have said several brushes with death have given the band members a greater appreciation of one another.
When they first took America by storm, The Kinks likened the US to a ‘fantasy land’. But nobody will be dreaming when this new collaboration bears fruit. Its what Kinks’ fans have been praying for. And it’s what a new generation of music lovers will come to love.
Frontman Ray Davies, along with his brother Dave and drummer Mick Avory have confirmed a new album is in the making. For audiences old and new, Better Things could still be to come.