On this day in 1944, Ray Davies, the leader of the Kinks, one of the
British Invasion's most creative and idiosyncratic bands, was born in
Muswell Hill, London, England. As a teen-ager, Ray played guitar with his brother Dave in skiffle and rock 'n' roll bands. The two eventually teamed with
a school friend, Peter Quaife (bass), calling themselves the Ravens. With drummer Mick Avory on board, they renamed themselves the Kinks.
The band's single "You Really Got Me," which broke sonic ground with its dirty and hard-driving guitar power chords, hit #1 in the U.K. and went top 10 in the U.S. in 1964. In 1965, they scored more top-10 singles with
the similar "All Day and All of the Night" and the more melodic "Tired of Waiting For You." Taken together, these very different songs gave an early glimpse of the eclectic musicality that would continue to mark Ray's songwriting as his career progressed. At this point, instead of heading in the punchy, proto-punk direction suggested by "You Really Got Me," Ray opted more for traditional melodies and lyrics reflecting the lives of the struggling British middle
class in songs such as "A Well Respected Man" and "Sunny Afternoon."
After the Kinks' 1965 American tour, they were banned from the U.S. for
undetermined reasons, resulting in their music becoming even more
provincially British in its lyrics and style and preventing them from achieving the
fame of contemporaries such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Although their 1966 album Face to Face ran the gamut from
country to folk to pop/rock, Ray's writing began to emphasize
British nostalgia, sending the band into a commercial freefall, especially in the States. Concept albums, such as 1969's The Village Green Preservation Society, many of which became the basis for theatrical productions, became the norm for the Kinks. They had a hit in 1970 with the classic story-song "Lola" (RealAudio excerpt), but the Kinks' reputation was further sullied by messy and loony live
performances and frequent fights between the Davies brothers.
Nevertheless, the Kinks signed a million-dollar deal with RCA Records in
1971 and began attracting a devoted following to their resumed U.S.
performances. After various members' comings and goings, the Kinks had
a minor hit with "Rock and Roll Fantasy" from Misfits (Arista,
1978). 1979's Low Budget, with its hit "(Wish I Could Fly Like)
Superman," achieved gold status and began to solidify the band's renewed
presence on American radio stations. Both the Pretenders and Van Halen
had hits with Kinks songs, further fueling the band's commercial
renaissance. The Kinks even began playing arenas in the U.S.
More hits followed in the '80s, including "Better Things" and "Come Dancing," but the Kinks damaged their sound by firing Avory, the stable force of their
rhythm section. In the mid-'80s, their popularity went south again and
The '90s began on a high note for the Kinks when, in 1990, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1993, the band's first album for Columbia Records, Phobia, arrived, containing the ode to the Davies
brothers' troubled relationship, "Hatred (A Duet)." But Columbia soon
dropped the band due to poor sales.
In 1995, Ray began hawking his autobiography, "X-Ray," in the media. He also backed the book with a series of solo concerts, during which he would sing, read and tell stories. This concert series became the basis for cable station VH1's popular "Storyteller" series, spotlighting many artists in this fashion.
Ray also released a book of short stories and a 1998 live album, Storyteller, based on these performances. Ray Davies remains an
influential rock musician and composer.
Other birthdays: Chris Britton (Troggs), 53; Joey Molland (Badfinger), 50; Joey Kramer (Aerosmith), 48; Nils Lofgren, 46; and Mark Brzezicki (Big Country), 41.