You may have missed them along the way, they always seemed second fiddle to the likes of the Beatles and the Stones, or during the wave of like-sounding garage whimsy of 90s pop – Blur et al. The Kinks early singles, and the run of albums from 1966’s Face to Face through Something Else and Village Green Preservation Society to 1969’s Arthur, or the Decline And Fall of the British Empire, is spectacular as any, establishing Ray Davies as one of the strongest songwriters in Britain and keenest observers of British society, cementing the band’s influence and legacy.
And their catalogue is as intriguing as any in the rock landscape. From their jagged full length debut in 1964, through unimpeachable catchy hits, buzzing distillations of sneering vocals and strutting riffs, blown-out distortion, fuzz boxes, to perfect English pop and misguided conceptual fluff, through to new wave reinvigoration records all without UK chart success; owing considerable charm less to originality than to pure guts and pop vigour.
Witness the Davies brothers continually changing and writing new material to create a varied but distinctive place in rock history in this 50 track count down. The challenge is adequately representing each phase while balancing considerations of what’s worthwhile. So this is not an authoritative overview of the Kinks, about 500 compilations have already covered that, rather a closer look at 50 Kinks Klassics from their vast catalogue.
An aborted TV special, the theme was a crumbling self-image of Britain, with the shadow of war ever present. This was the closing track on an early Kinks concept album, the marvellous Arthur, or the Decline And Fall of the British Empire (1969).
49. A Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy
A slow character study finds the band effectively summing up modern alienation on this charming late-70s highlight off Misfits (1978), a strong late-70s Kinks album.
48. Here Comes Yet Another Day
Great opening track off the half-studio half-live double album Everybody’s in Show-Biz (1972). It found moderate success in the US however another album that sunk without a trace in the UK.
47. Everybody’s a Star (Starmaker)
Lifted off dreary concept album Soap Opera (1975). This opening track however finds Ray Davies nailing early ’70s glam Bowie, complete with a Dave Davies sharkfin, buzz guitar.
46. Heart of Gold
A jangly pop gem, reminiscent of the Pretenders, the only track here representing 1983 album State of Confusion, edging out minor US hits Come Dancing and Don’t Forget to Dance.
A beautifully penned Ray Davies number from the new wave era, this one taken from Give the People What They Want (1981). Another Pretenders-esque track, possibly a commentary on his romance with Chrissie Hynde.
A lost classic off the soundtrack album Percy (1971) about a penis transplant and the final flowering of their pastoral period.
43. King Kong
B-side to the Plastic Man single in 1969 peaking at #31 in the UK. Ray Davies does a great Marc Bolan impersonation inventing the glam rock sound at the same time. Ended up as a bonus track on Arthur.
42. Muswell Hillbilly
Closing title track to 1971’s occasionally brilliant acoustic outing Muswell Hillbillies.
41. Out of the Wardrobe
A light mid-tempo major key number telling the story of a transvestite in a similar vein as Lola. Another track taken from the solid Misfits.
40. Catch Me Now I’m Falling
The only track here off their American commercial breakthrough album Low Budget (1979). Despite Dave Davies liberal use of a famous Stones riff inviting comparisons with Jumpin’ Jack Flash, it’s tremendous fun.
39. When a Solution Comes
One of the few excellent songs salvageable from the mess of the conceptually forgettable Preservation Act 2 (1974).
38. The Hard Way
Another mediocre concept album Schoolboys in Disgrace (1975), this is an entertaining, accomplished little proto-punk rocker that resembles I Can’t Explain, with Ray sounding like Lou Reed.
37. The Village Green Preservation Society
Title track of their now landmark 1968 album which did not trouble the charts on either side of the Atlantic. It was as far away from everything that was happening at the time as you could get. English quirkiness abounds on this musical museum and all time Kinks gem.
36. Living on a Thin Line
Written by Dave Davies, this dark mid-tempo rocker popped up to great effect over the closing credits to the Sopranos on several occasions, a lovely track and sole representative off the underrated Word of Mouth (1984).
A whimsical, throwaway cabaret ditty on an album (Muswell Hillbillies) of country rock stylings, sarcastically delivered by Ray.
34. I’m Not Like Everybody Else
B-side to 1966 #1 UK single Sunny Afternoon sung by Dave Davies. Has stood the test of time and a perennial live favourite for decades.
This track find the Kinks cannibalising earlier hits such as You Really Got Me and All Day And All of the Night, bashing it out with a punkish energy off the hard rocking Give the People What They Want.
32. Dedicated Follower of Fashion
Another in the long line of classic Kinks singles and something of a musical expansion within a British music hall tradition, released in 1966 and peaking at #2 in the UK.
31. God’s Children
Opening track off Percy, a neglected jewel and one of the more affecting songs in the Ray Davies catalogue.
One of the Kinks last UK hits, Apeman was the second single taken from the underrated 1970 LP Lola Versus the Powerman and the Moneygoround.
29. Better Things
A fine song in the British new wave style and an effortlessly melodic message of hope and optimism. Last and best track off Give the People What They Want.
28. A Well Respected Man
Originally released on the band’s most important EP Kwyet Kinks in 1965 and as a successful single in the US, a stylistic change away from R’n’B with Ray providing a class-conscience character study with shades of music hall that would go on to dominate his writing and the Kinks output throughout the late ’60s and early ’70s.
27. Life Goes On
A darkly cynical and closing track off the return to form album Sleepwalker in 1977, featuring some wonderful guitar work from Dave.
A song taken from classic Kinks album Face to Face (1966) written by Ray balancing disgust and admiration (possibly) about his brother’s wild lifestyle as a ladies’ man, whose womanising has become a sad obsession.
25. Lavender Hill
A whimsical song not included on The Village Green Preservation Society album, eventually appearing on The Great Lost Kinks Album in 1973.
The gorgeous and passionate Strangers is simply one of Dave Davies finest achievements, track 2 on Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One.
23. Sitting in My Hotel
A captivating ballad and an off the cuff moment of genius from Ray, elegantly commenting on the perils of stardom. This song can be found on the studio side of Everybody’s in Show-Biz.
22. I Need You
Another mid-’60s Kinks gem. A single in 1965 (B-side to Set Me Free), I Need You almost beats You Really Got Me and All Day And All of the Night at their own game. An early hard rocking classic.
21. Juke Box Music
Non-charting single from Sleepwalker, should’ve gone to #1. The rollicking Juke Box Music is bouncy, rocking and lots of fun. They had not sounded like this in a decade of musical meandering.
20. Picture Book
Track 2 from The Village Green Preservation Society. A song that infuses anti-nostalgia with a picturesque English countryside and large doses of charm and humour.
19. Celluloid Heroes
A certified masterpiece and one of the Kinks finest RCA moments, Celluloid Heroes was inspired by Ray’s sojourn in LA while strolling down the Hollywood Blvd. Another song taken from the flawed Everybody’s in Show-Biz.
18. Stop Your Sobbing
Appearing on their first LP Kinks (1964) this accomplished track displays, at this early stage, what a great writer Ray Davies was. It would later find favour via the Pretenders’ version in 1979.
17. Berkeley Mews
A non-album track and B-side to hugely successful UK single Lola in 1970, and originally recorded during the Village Green sessions in 1968. Session pianist Nicky Hopkins appears here.
16. Sweet Lady Genevieve
The only track here off the very patchy Preservation Act 1 (1973). Released as a single during the Kinks commercial slump, it sunk without a trace.
15. See My Friends
A hit single and a work of true genius with its droning eastern guitar sounds and evocative lyrics. A step in a different direction for the Kinks in 1965 and still sounds fresh.
14. Sunny Afternoon
Has all of the ingredients for an all time Kinks classic: deep melodic sound, acoustic guitars, gorgeous harmonies, music hall piano and Pete Quaife’s descending bassline. It’s also concurrently a lazy yawn of resignation and an impeccable portrait of urban life in technicolor nostalgia. This track can be found on the essential Face to Face.
13. Where Have All the Good Times Gone
In the midst of a breakdown, Ray Davies finds his true voice with this all-time classic song lifted from The Kink Kontroversy (1965), and near to the ultimate peak of UK pop music, melting the essence of electric Dylan via every previous Kinks hit.
12. Death of a Clown
Another Dave Davies masterpiece and an enormously successful (solo) single. Capturing the essence of the Kinks in the mid-late ’60s and the mad Carnaby Street days on a Saturday afternoon in swinging London. Appears on one of the Kinks best albums Something Else (1967).
11. Dead End Street
Released as a non-album single in 1966, amazing considering it’s a song good enough to be the thematic centrepiece of an album, it eventually appeared as bonus track on Face to Face and has more than stood the test of time.
10. 20th Century Man
The galloping opening number off Muswell Hillbillies, 20th Century Man is a classic storming Kinks moment. Drummer Mick Avory firing the band who deliver with an abundance of real energy and purpose.
A 1968 hit single recorded during the Village Green sessions but inexplicably left off that album. It’s a great song, the melody/lyric, particularly on the bridge section: I wish today could be tomorrow/The night is dark/It just brings sorrow, let it wait, it’ll bring a tear to your eye.
Arthur was a return to guitar driven rock, none more so than rousing opener Victoria which appears to celebrate the queen’s name while delivering a seething indictment of everything her reign upheld. Notably covered by The Fall.
7. Set Me Free
A non-album single released in 1965 and a hit in both UK and the US is a classic and another step in a different direction for the Kinks. The song eventually appeared on the deluxe edition of the band’s second album Kinda Kinks (1965).
6. Tired of Waiting for You
The follow up single to You Really Got Me and All Day And All of the Night sees the Kinks staking their claim as a band more flexible than the Stones and more vulnerable than the Beatles with an equally nagging and addictive riff but placed within a quiet and reflective mood. The song appeared on Kinda Kinks.
5. All Day And All of the Night
Hastily written, rehearsed and recorded after the huge success of You Really Got Me, it’s equally great with the snarling guitar and soaring chorus articulating youthful lust and angst. One of the greatest singles of the ’60s.
A huge hit in 1970 in both the UK and US where it gave the Kinks a crucial platform, it’s a gem in the Kinks entire catalogue. Perfectly constructed, both melodically and lyrically, the enigmatic Lola gave the Kinks a second career.
3. Till The End of the Day
Cut from the same aggressive cloth as earlier singles, and similarly successful, also a complete rewrite of You Really Got Me, either way another timeless classic Kinks single released when they were were still very much a singles band – although it appears on the album The Kink Kontroversy. Has been covered by the likes of Alex Chilton, Shonen Knife, Ty Segall and Ace Frehley.
2. You Really Got Me
A key moment in rock history. Such primal energy, it still sounds like it has touched down from another planet. The distorted guitar tone is perfect, the key shifts propulsive like no other, and a sound that would become the epitome of hard rock inspiring the likes of Jimmy Page through Eddie Van Halen. Lifted from their first LP Kinks.
1. Waterloo Sunset
A moving and nostalgic character study of two lovers meeting at Waterloo Station every Friday night, the melancholic writer staring out the window watching busy London life pass by grey and unhappy. ‘Terry and Julie’ however find each other, and time exclusively for themselves, while the city bustles on around them. Complex in arrangement yet simple in execution (it took only 10 hours to record) it was a huge hit in the UK for the band, and is simply one of the greatest songs ever written. Can be found as the closing number on the very fine Something Else.