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.
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.
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.