It was in the larger-than-life era of music video when I discovered former Kinks frontman Ray Davies, decades after he had constructed the timeless 1964 rock anthem “You Really Got Me.” The Kinks had just released their 1984 album Word of Mouth, and the clip for “Do It Again” — with Davies at his power-pop best — was in heavy rotation. The post-punk power chords, monster hooks and energy-packed drumming had me grinning like a Cheshire cat.
Years later, with “Do It Again” still stuck in my head, I immersed myself in all things Kinks and marveled at Davies’ otherworldly ability to craft a song. There’s the inherent sing-along factor of 1967’s “Afternoon Tea,” the longing, earnestness and sentimentality of 1983’s “Heart of Gold,” 1977’s dark and humorous “Life Goes On,” and the pounding guitar rock of 1975’s “The Hard Way,” a song he authored to be used by someone special for her own musical pursuits.
“It’s a punk song and I wrote it for my [daughter],” Davies says. “She was not barely a teenager at the time, and she turned it down.”
Davies laughs. “It went on a Kinks album instead.”
Davies, minor rejections aside, was not only the primary Kinks songwriter; he also produced most of the band’s recordings. Given his aptitude, drive and work ethic, it was only a matter of time before he embarked on a solo career. Recently, Other People’s Lives (2006) and its follow-up, Working Man’s Café (2007), showed the British musician at the height of his rock ’n’ roll powers, writing material as strong and legitimate as when he arrived on the scene decades ago.
Davies’ latest album is last year’s The Kinks Choral Collection, a solid assemblage of Kinks tunes — including classics such as “Shangri-La,” “All Day and All of the Night” and “Waterloo Sunset” — performed by Davies, a 65-piece choir and his backup band, including guitarist Bill Shanley. Like Davies, listeners cannot help but be taken aback by the dozens of voices singing, “You Really Got Me,” delivering the song in an entirely new and unexpected fashion.
Understandably, he isn’t sitting on a disc of this caliber or relying on radio alone to push his new non-album pop single, “Postcard from London,” and has embarked on a month-long U.S. tour. The live show is a bit different than some may anticipate, considering the intricate nature of the choir-filled record and the recently birthed pop single featuring the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde, but the spirit of the songs and the integrity of delivery remain intact.
“Interestingly enough, these dates I’m doing are a two-man acoustic show,” Davies says. “It’s just me and Bill Shanley playing acoustic songs. We’re doing a song called ‘See My Friends,’ which on the choral album was a cappella voices and no instruments. But the original instrumentation was both Bill and myself playing an acoustic version, so all the tonality and harmonic influences stem from that version. So when we play it in Denver, what you’ll be hearing [is] the original harmonic structure to the choral record.
“I’ve done choral performances in the last year and stuff with the band, but the gig that sticks in my mind from the last year was Glastonbury, and it was a two-man show, like we’re doing in Denver. So it’s Bill and I, and we got down to Glastonbury and there are 20,000 people there, and we thought, ‘Oh, what are we going to do?’ We went on and something magical happened. There’s a lot of dynamics and interesting diversity [that] can come out of two players, and Bill is a very talented accompanist. Each show is a surprise because we hit on something new every night.”
While the focus of the show is the acoustic duo, opening act The 88 is slated to come out at the end and back Davies on some Kinks material. Get ready for the energy level to rise. It may bring some listeners back to memories of the Kinks 46 years ago when a wet-behind-the-ears Ray Davies innocently thought his rock idol existence was just a passing phase for him, per an album sleeve bio. Little did he know he would become one of the leading songsmiths in the annals of contemporary music.
“I never intended on being a songwriter,” Davies says. “I wanted to just play in a band. Everyone in art school wanted to play in a band. I just played along on cover tracks, my brother did the lead singing, and then we needed a single, something original, because the stuff they were giving us to record were like rejects from the Beatles or Rolling Stones sound-alikes. I had this song, ‘You Really Got Me,’ I’d written when I played in a blues band, and when it came out, people said, ‘We’ve never heard anything quite like it before,’ and it was, in its time, revolutionary. You just don’t know how these things evolve, and that was the fifth song I ever wrote. So, here I am, all these songs later, and today I discovered one I had forgotten about. It’s quite an interesting journey.”
Davies may soon have the opportunity to perform with the rest of the Kinks in what would undoubtedly be one of the rock world’s most anticipated musical reunions. This time around, the group won’t have to worry about playing cover songs or castoffs from other British rock royalty as it did over four-and-a-half decades ago. The doors of the recording studio have already been entered with ideas in tow, and Davies seems optimistic about the possibility of resurrecting an integral portion of pop history.
“I’ve put some tracks down with Mick Avery on the drums and they sound real good, so it’s a question of when Dave [Davies, Ray’s brother] wants to come on board,” he says. “Dave did a lot of late guitar overdubs. He used to come do his part later on, so it’s nothing new. I’d really like to see it happen but in a dignified way (laughs).
“[Dave] had some health issues, and my advice to Dave is to go slow, take your time and just make your hands work the best way they can for you. It’s your artillery.”