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'See My Friends': A collaborator's history of the Kinks

Ray Davies goes over the collaborations on his last album "See My Friends" — and the meaning behind the chosen Kinks' songs

By Dave Thompson

You Really Got Me – Metallica
The Kinks’ third UK single and their first hit - a mega monster in 1964. Now, as aforementioned, widely proclaimed as the founding father of Heavy Metal

Ray Davies. Publicity photo, courtesy of Decca Label Group

Ray Davies. Publicity photo, courtesy of Decca Label Group

(an onerous burden that it shares with its follow-up, “All Day and All Of The Night”), Davies recalled, “what happened was, we were trying to make a sound, something different, and that was what gave it that edge. I remember people were a little bit threatened by it when it came out because it was so distorted. But credit to the producer, Shel, and the engineer, for actually capturing that.

“It had a lot to do with the equipment too, the great valve amps. To make it sound distorted, we had a pre-amp, a little eight watt amplifier, a green amplifier we called it, and we stuck knitting needles in the speaker or cut it with razor blades so it vibrated more. Then we plugged that into an AC30. It was before pre-sets, there were no fuzzboxes in those days. There was a tremolo on an amp but no fuzzboxes. It was one of the first hit records to ever use distortion.”

The choice of Metallica to perform it here was made in late 2009, when Davies joined that band at Madison Square Garden to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “Metallica requested to do ‘You Really Got Me’ with me, and I was really flattered by that. There was an instant connection with them. We did the two songs together, and they virtually came on board for the record at that point, we got on really well. And they took the two songs in a new direction.”

Tired Of Waiting For You – Gary Lightbody (Snow Patrol)
For the Kinks’ all important third smash, and the first to suggest there was more to the Ray Davies writing machine than volume and riffery, the songsmith looked back to a piece of music he wrote in his mid-teens. “I wrote the basic music track before I wrote ‘You Really Got Me.’ I was living with my sister in Highgate in north London, and just practicing on guitar, and I wrote the main bulk of the music when I was about 15 or 16 years old.”

See My Friends – Spoon
By mid-1965, the Kinks were firmly established among British pop’s most vibrant hitmakers, both at home and abroad. Indeed, they were on their way to Australia when a stop over in Bombay, India, saw Davies put pen to paper for one of the most distinctive sounding records of the year. “It was inspired by seeing these fishermen going to work early in the morning and chanting. Again, it’s more about the sensibility than the actual musical structure. It wasn’t an attempt to become Indian! It was about the people, and the environment I was in – the sense of the way they got along with their lives and living in a lot of poverty, and how they celebrated life and went to work, with a song.”

Till The End Of The Day – Alex Chilton
The first track recorded for the album was this... itself a case of deja vu for Alex Chilton, who had already recorded the 1965 hit during the sessions for the third Big Star album. Davies recalled, “Alex was the first person I thought of for this project. He came in to Konk on July 4th 2009, and he was the first person to do this project. He was here in the UK by himself doing solo dates.” Chilton also recorded a version of “Set Me Free” at that same time. A future b-side or bonus track, perhaps?

This Is Where I Belong – Black Francis
One of several songs on the album whose inclusion surprised Davies, he told Goldmine, “I don’t think ‘This Is Where I Belong’ was ever officially on an album, I think it was a b-side. It was what we called a low achiever recording; in those days we only had a few hours to record and the first track we got through without making a mistake, we’d call that the master. There wasn’t much dilly-dallying around.”


Davies remembers this song as a b-side; in fact, it is even more obscure than that. Recorded in March 1966, “This Is Where I Belong” was one of five songs being touted for the Kinks’ next Extended Play release in April 1967. The EP was never released, as its contents were then divided between the upcoming "Something Else" LP, the gestating Village Green project and the archive - from which this lovely, wistful ballad was extracted for the Kinks Kronikles compilation.

Dead End Street - Amy MacDonald
One of the most enduring songs from the Kinks’ mid-1960s, “Dead End Street” was the shockingly overcast follow-up to “Sunny Afternoon,” and is one of the songs that Davies recorded after first playing it to his father. “I used to try them out on him. He had lived through the Depression of the Twenties and Thirties, and was a socialist. And he liked the idea of the song. And I tried to put that Depression in a modern context.” (Off on a tangent, it was Davies senior who inspired the song “Harry Rag” — fluent in Cockney Rhyming Slang, it was his preferred term for a cigarette... or a fag, as the English so quaintly call them.)

Waterloo Sunset – Jackson Browne
“This is the most unexpected casting. Jackson was on tour in Europe and my agent called and said he’d love to do a track. And I couldn’t think of anything he’d like to do. Maybe one of the West Coast-sounding songs that I’d written. And my agent said, ‘why don’t you let him do ‘Waterloo Sunset’?’ I thought, ‘that’s a strange one…’ And Jackson turned up at the studio with a lovely old beaten-up Gibson acoustic. He was playing it in D but the song was written in E, and he had open tuning on it – he’d detuned the bottom string. Which gave it a nice resonance. And it was just two, guitars, two vocals. And I didn’t want to spoil that… The interesting thing about it is, it made me realize the song’s got a lot of soul to it. But what the combination of his voice and style of playing and my song has made it a unique vignette. It’s one of the most uncomplicated arrangements on the record.”

David Watts – The 88
Best known, perhaps, for the Jam’s so perfect, punk-tinged restaging, “David Watts” was originally included on the Kinks’ 1967 opus "Something Else," and was based around a concert promoter the band met up with. “He was a very impressive, great character. And when I wrote the song I imagined being at school with him, he was the Head Boy – you look up to and admire the Head Boy. And he had all the qualities of being a leader.”

Days / This Time Tomorrow — Mumford & Sons
The 1968 single “Days” was Davies’ choice for inclusion on the album; “This Time Tomorrow,” the first of three songs from the Lola LP, was the guesting Mumford & Sons’. “They had seen Wes Anderson’s "The Darjeeling Limited" and they’d heard the song on that. And I thought it’d be nice to incorporate that with "Days." To mix the two songs together. I thought that worked really well.”

Lola – Paloma Faith
Predicting gender bending a full decade before Boy George made it fashionable, the Kinks’ final monster hit (a worldwide chart topper) was written in Paris “after a confrontation with a few drag queens. Songs evolve… it’s not usually one big incident. It’s a series of incidents that are put together and you get bits of information from them, then put songs together.”

Ray Davies, March 1987, performing with the Kinks. Photo Bob Leafe/ Frank White Photo Agency

Ray Davies, March 1987, performing with the Kinks. Photo Bob Leafe/ Frank White Photo Agency

A Long Way From Home – Lucinda Williams
Another cut from the oft-overlooked "Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround Part One" album, “it was written originally for my brother Dave, warning him of the dangers of being successful, and never losing touch with your roots. That’s what the song’s about. You think you’re successful but basically you’re the same person.”

Celluloid Heroes – Bon Jovi
Asked to nominate his own choice for the period of the Kinks history that most demands reappraisal, Davies unerringly targeted the early 1970s, and the "Muswell Hillbillies" LP. “That was a really interesting phase, because we discovered our Englishness through country music. I adore that period.” Nothing from that album made it aboard "See My Friends;" in fact, the 1970s themselves remain fallow, with just one exception - this gorgeous paean to the golden age of Hollywood.

Do not, however, be surprised to see Davies turn his eye back to this period at some point in the future. A string of often ignored, but genuinely inspired concept albums were matched by a string of gigs of similar import; “we did three big concept tours in that period, for "Preservation, Schoolboys In Disgrace" and "Soap Opera." It was a very productive time. The band was very tight, it was less scrappy than it had ever been in the past....”

Destroyer/All Day And All Of The Night - Billy Corgan
Originally written for 1979’s "Low Budget" album, but ultimately held over until 1981’s "Give The People What They Want," “Destroyer” looked back to the earliest days of the Kinks for its riff — so it made sense, Davies laughed, to combine them. “That song was one of the few tracks that was done electronically – once we agreed the structure, he did his parts and digitally sent them over. Then I got them here and tidied them up into a form I liked, and put the drums and other instruments on.” Billy Corgan revisits the band’s second hit, “All Day and All Of The Night,” as part of his assault on the later “Destroyer.”

Better Things – Bruce Springsteen
The closing cut on "Give The People What They Want" was written to help a friend get through a painful divorce. Its sentiments were universal, however, and when Springsteen suggested they record it together, Davies did not need to think twice. “Bruce said he’d like to do ‘Better Things,’ and that surprised me. With Metallica there was no option, we had to do ‘You Really Got Me’ because it went down really well at Madison Square Garden. But this is not an obvious song for someone to do.”

He laughed, and compared the creation of the album, in parts at least, with his live show. “Obviously with the Kinks’ heritage and catalog there’s always people coming up and asking for the classics, and sometimes when they ask for the most obscure songs, I will play them - when I can remember them!”

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