The Making and Influence of “You Really Got Me”

On rare occasion, there have been moments in music history where a profound and audible shift has taken place, forever rerouting the course of popular music. Often initially regarded as controversial, these instances of ingenuity influence others, crafting a succession of fresh and inspired perspectives to follow in their wake. The Kinks’ revolutionary recording of “You Really Got Me” is regarded as one of these monumental music moments.

As with most historic occurrences that were not expected to become one, the Kinks’ story behind the making of “You Really Got Me” is muddied by conflicting perspectives, but remains somewhat intact, with a myriad of fascinating details supporting its integrity.

Prior to writing and recording their world-renowned hit, “You Really Got Me,” the Kinks were nearly dropped from their label, Pye Records, after releasing a mediocre Merseybeat‑style cover of Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally.” It was producer, Shel Talmy whom backed the then less than inspiring band, expecting and believing that they could write a hit.

The Kinks lead singer, songwriter, rhythm guitarist, and pianist, Ray Davies sat down to write “You Really Got Me” on the piano in the front room of the Davies family home. Inspired by both an encounter with a female fan and the 1957 classic, “The Train and the River,” it was there that Ray invented the distinctive and instantly recognizable two-note riff, which opens and motivates their soon to be international hit song.

According to Ray, “You Really Got Me” was intended to be a blues number, but that it was the rock and roll version, constructed by power chords, which struck the band as interesting and special. The iconic distortion, which went on to inspire multiple revolutionary sub-genres of rock and roll, was not so carefully crafted by a switch blade, which Ray slashed into the speaker cone of his Elpico amplifier.

Feeling that his amp was “sounding crap,” Ray made these alterations and subsequently changed the sound of his guitar, not to mention the style of popular music as a whole. Ray then wired the modified amp to a VOX AC30, effectively making his guitar sound louder and rougher than ever before, giving “You Really Got Me” it’s completely distinctive and captivating edge.

Since its release, various rumors have emerged regarding Jimmy Page, of Led Zeppelin fame, and his contribution as a studio musician on the Kinks’ official recording of “You Really Got Me.” These tales claim Page played either rhythm guitar, lead guitar, or get this, tambourine on the Kinks first hit. Though an intriguing claim, and despite having most definitely played and recorded with the Kinks in their early years, Page and Ray have both since reported these claims as complete falsities.

The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” became a UK chart-topper in September of 1964 and a number seven hit in America. At that time, each member of the group was a teenager and the band had been formed only a year prior. “You Really Got Me” not only established the Kinks as a successful and contributing band in the British Invasion phenomenon, but sparked a fire in the eyes of rock and roll fanatics across the globe on what could and should be experimented on within the genre.

Subsequently, “You Really Got Me” has since been deemed by many as responsible for the emergence of distortion heavy sub-genres, hard rock, metal, and punk rock. Though teeming with influence and accomplishment, possibly the most outstanding component of “You Really Got Me” is its ability to transcend time, with its enticingly fresh sound that never gets old, no matter the amount of times you choose to press play.

–Victoria Shaffer
 
Sources:
Buskin, Richard. “The Kinks ‘You Really Got Me’: Classic Tracks.” The Kinks ‘You Really Got Me’ | Classic Tracks | Sound On Sound, 1 Dec. 2019, https://www.soundonsound.com/people/kinks-you-really-got-me-classic-tracks.

Jeffgiles. “How the Kinks Changed Rock Music With ‘You Really Got Me’.” Ultimate Classic Rock, 4 Aug. 2015, https://ultimateclassicrock.com/kinks-you-really-got-me-anniversary/.

The Making of “You Really Got Me”, 8 Apr. 2015, http://www.epiphone.com/News/Features/News/2015/The-Making-of-You-Really-Got-Me.aspx.

“The Story Behind The Kinks ‘You Really Got Me.’” I Like Your Old Stuff, https://www.ilikeyouroldstuff.com/news/the-story-behind-the-kinks-you-really-got-me.

5 thoughts on “The Making and Influence of “You Really Got Me”

  1. I remember it coming out. It was a totally new sound. There were a number of those magic moments back then with new bands emerging with powerful new sounds – The Who, Smallfaces, Them, Animals etc. The Kinks sound really stood out. That guitar riff was very different. It had an immediate impact.
    I remember getting a similar feeling when I first heard Jimi Hendrix’s Hey Joe and then Elvis Costello’s Watching the Detectives.

    Liked by 1 person

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