The Legend of “You Really Got Me”

Perfection.  There are some who think perfection is only an idea, a theory that can never be truly realized.  And then there are people who have heard “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks.  I have nothing against complex, intricate music; I think there’s something to be said about an intricate symphony.  But when it comes to rock music, simpler is always better.  When Ray Davies wrote “You Really Got Me” in 1964, I’m confident that he wasn’t aware of the importance of what he was doing, he wasn’t trying to change the world, just write a tune.   But as one of the first successful songs built exclusively around a power chord, “You Really Got Me” proved hugely influential.

Simply put, heavy metal and punk rock could not exist without “You Really Got Me.”  That is not my opinion, it is a fact.

The riff that launched a 1,000 bands. It’s the rock music equivalent of E=MC2

But besides being built around a simple, repetitive power chord, “You Really Got Me” is notable for a unique distortion effect created by guitarist Dave Davies who cut the speaker cone of his amplifier with a razor blade.  The simple song with a unique sound was an instant hit, and saved The Kinks.  According to Ray Davies, the band’s record contract included a provision that The Kinks had ave a hit within three songs or their label would drop them.  The band’s first single, a cover of “Long Tall Sally” and follow-up single “You Still Want Me” proved to be dismal failures.  That put an incredible amount of pressure on the band, who literally had one shot to write a hit song or lose their deal with Pye Records, their record label.

“Fuck Off”

Interestingly, there are two legends surrounding the song, both involving the song’s guitar solo.  One of the rumors circulating is that Page played the guitar solo on “You Really Got Me,” but he didn’t.  During the 1960’s, Jimmy Page was the world’s most unfamous, famous guitar player.  Instead of being in a band, Page worked as a session man, or hired gun, playing on just about any and all tracks that paid.  He wasn’t well-known to the general public, but behind the scenes he was well regarded as a top-session guitarist.  Ironically, more people probably heard him play anonymously than when he was in  Zed Zeppelin.  He’s even on the theme-song for GOLDFINGER of all things.  And while The Kinks did use Page as a session player, he didn’t play on “You Really Got Me.”  The truth, it turns out, is stranger than fiction.

Ray Davies amazingly claims that not only did Kinks guitarist Dave Davies play the guitar solo, but that the word “fuck” is in original recording of the song.  The story goes that as the band was recording the song, Ray shouted to Dave Davies (in encouragement )as Dave started to play the solo.  Misinterpreting this gesture (imagine if you were about to record a solo and someone just randomly yelled at you) Dave, who was standing before a hot mic, allegedly told Ray to “Fuck off.”  Ray Davies claims that they kept the take, and that the band tried to cover it up with an “Oh No” but that it’s still there.  Davies says that with improved CD-quality sound technology the “fuck off” is quite audible.  After studying the song for several hours, I can tell you that there is without a doubt an “oh no!” just before the solo…beyond that…I just don’t hear it.

Regardless, “You Really Got Me” is an amazing song that launched the career of The Kinks and also changed rock music forever.

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11 thoughts on “The Legend of “You Really Got Me”

  1. Robin Renee says:

    Agreed. Reading this, I was also reminded of “Little Girl” by Syndicate of Sound which is a great proto-punk song (The Angry Samoans owe a lot to it, I think), and Jimmy Page’s playing on The First Gear’s “A Certain Girl,” later covered definitively by a certain guy I know you admire greatly (Me too!).

    • It always amazes me how interconnected (or inbred) rock music is. And with guys like Jimmy Page, it’s super easy to play “Six Degrees Of…”

      A Zevon reference in my Kinks comments? Awesome.

  2. Patrick says:

    The “Fuck off!” is clearly audible near the end of the 1:14 second in the clip you posted just before the “Oh, no!” The “fuck” is short and the “off” is longer with more emphasis, coinciding with the guitars hitting the C chord that sustains just before the guitar solo. I’m not sure about Ray’s story because if the guitar was mic’d anything like the way guitars have been mic’d in the years since, there’s no way it could pick up something like that. But it’s definitely there and who knows how they recorded bands back then. Also, Jimmy Page may not be on the record but that piano has been credited in recent years to Jon Lord of Deep Purple.

    Good job giving this song the credit it deserves. I believe it’s the most influential recording in history. It was the first record to define rock music without being overtly derivative of another genre. After this record, all musicians either wanted to sound like it or avoid sounding like it. You can’t beat that for influence!

    • I just can’t hear it, Patrick. I guess I’ll have to take your word for it…You are correct about Jon Lord playing the piano. I had totally forgotten that, thanks for reminding me. Deep Purple, I am learning, is much more than the dunder-headed metal dudes I’d once taken them for.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

      • Patrick says:

        You’re welcome! After I posted that, I discovered a glitch in my flash player that may have thrown off the exact time but it’s there. I’m really surprised you can’t hear it. I had a hard time hearing it based on Ray’s description but then someone pointed it out to me and I’ve heard it every time since. Listen before the “Oh no!” The “off” is right when they hit that chord that sustains before the solo. The “fuck” is like the 16th note that preceeds that chord and is not as audible as the “off” but once you find it, it will be clear to you forever.

        Deep Purple was incredible. Since learning that Jon Lord played on YRGM, I’ve wondered if his distorted, overdriven organ tone was inspired by Dave Davies overdriven guitar, which was achieved not only by slashing his speaker cone of his 7-watt ElPico amp but also by plugging a cable from an auxiliary speaker output on that amp into the instrument input of a Vox AC30, effectively creating a 7-watt overdrive. I could see Jon Lord thinking that would be a great thing to do with an organ and as a result, Deep Purple was like a two-guitar band with Lord’s organ as the other guitar. No one else played organ like he did. Ritchie Blackmore was always a spectacular guitarist, too — they were all great. But a song like “Smoke On the Water” definitely leaned heavily on the Kinks formula for having a guitar riff that’s a hummable hook.

  3. JLS says:

    Well simple is certainly good in rock but not always better. Waterloo Sunset is pretty intricate and hauntingly beautiful.

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