Tuesday, May 27, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: You Really Got Me: The Story of the Kinks

Regular readers of this site need no reminder of my love for the Kinks. Their unique sound and the genius songwriting of Ray Davies have stood the test of time since their emergence in 1964 and they continue to resonate as one of the Great Four bands of 1960s England.  Given my love for the band and the number of books I've reviewed on them, you may be asking yourself if there is a reason why I'm reviewing yet another? (And if you're asking yourself that, be forewarned that I still have three more on my pile to read and review in the future!).  I've already reviewed Ray's second book, a fantastic book detailing their entire day-to-day recording and performing history, and a new biography on the band that was released late last year. Given that, why am I then reviewing You Really Got Me? For one, it's never a bad thing to read multiple books on a subject to get different perspectives on matters; for another thing, there is often information in one book that might not be in others, and learning more about anything is never bad. Perhaps the biggest reason I was so interested to read this book was because I have read in multiple places where it's been compared to God Save the Kinks, with both books being praised and criticized. I wanted to read both, compare and contrast them, and decide for myself which one was better.

***special thanks to Charlie at Omnibus Press for sending me a copy of this book to review!***

One of the selling points for God Save the Kinks was that it contained new interviews with band members Mick Avory, John Gosling, and John Dalton, as well as David Quaife (brother of late original bassist Pete Quaife). You Really Got Me has something similar going for it in that author Nick Hasted draws upon new interviews with not only Mick Avory and David Quaife, but with Ray and Dave Davies, who are always at the core of the Kinks story. I don't intend for this review to be a point/counterpoint comparison of the two books...I'll save that for the end.


One thing I noticed right away during the short introduction to the book is that the author's style takes a little getting used to. In those few pages before getting to the beginning of the actual book, he came off obviously as a fan, but rather abrasive toward other bands and perhaps a bit overprotective of the Kinks. There were some snide comments toward contemporaries of the Kinks, most notably his labeling of The Who as "Kinks copyists" which I found a bit ridiculous. Yes, I'm also a massive Who fan, but to me this overstates the case. Pete Townshend has been an unabashed Ray/Kinks fan from the beginning and readily admitted that their debut single "I Can't Explain" was based on the Kinks' sound. But to suggest that anything that came after, or even the two band's approaches to records and live performances, were remotely similar enough that it warranted being painted with the broad brush accusation of being "copyists" seemed way off base. Similar swipes at the Beatles and Stones also seemed unnecessary and too broadly applied such that I immediately had my antennae up as I dug into the meat of the book.

It turns out I needn't have worried as overall the book is a joyful read, even if some of the uncomfortable periods in Kinks history Hasted discusses aren't. Beginning with their youth and the formation of the band, Hasted gets into all sorts of detail with regards to the inner workings of the band and the terrible contracts and management situation they were in from the very beginning. Here, and throughout the rest of the book is where evidence that this book is slightly superior to God Save the Kinks comes through. The recent interviews with the Davies and Avory, all conducted between 2002 and 2012, shed so much new and interesting light onto the entire Kinks career at each era. Of particular note was the revelations of just how violent life in the Kinks was. While there are numerous well known incidents of the Davies brothers feuding and coming to blows that have been documented, as well as Avory's famous onstage assault on Dave during a gig in Cardiff in 1965, this book sheds new light on Pete Quaife's long and drawn out decision to leave the band, which began in 1966 and culminated in his departure early in 1969. In addition to his well known feelings of marginalization as Ray Davies began to exert more control over the band by the late 1960s, it was the stress and violence within the band that finally precipitated his departure. In particular, his brother David's corroboration that the broken wrist he played with through the latter part of 1968 being caused by an attack from Dave, which was new information to me, seemed to be the last straw for Pete. However, his leaving was a traumatic emotional blow to the rest of the band and one they never seemed to ever get over, as numerous attempts to get Pete back into the band, including in the late 1970s and post-split in 1996, attest to. (These failures to reunite had more to do with Dave refusing to be on board if Mick was, which was a major sticking point since Mick and Ray were and still are great friends). As for a criticism, there's perhaps an unnecessary (and sometimes lengthy) focus on some of the more peripheral people involved with the band (in particular, I'm thinking of the interviews with some of Ray's playwright friends with whom he collaborated with in the past) although even these tend to give additional perspective on Ray's personality outside of his persona as chief Kink. Thus, there's still a kernel of information to be gleaned from these otherwise superfluous interviews.

Where this book really excels, though, is in its discussion of each era of the band's career, and in particular, the insight into each album and important single. Hasted does a great job with his analyses and walks the fine line between being a dedicated fan and acolyte, while not overdoing the heavy handed analysis that tends to bog down similar books. The best part of each of these sections, however, is the insight shared by Ray, Dave, and Mick into the making of the songs and, in the case of Ray, what his mindset and meaning were when he wrote and recorded each one. The candor with which it's all discussed, and in particular the more troublesome moments detailing Ray and Dave's various mental breakdowns, physical health scares, and personal problems (ie divorces, lawsuits, etc) is refreshing and really allows the reader inside the minds of each man.  Another nice thing about Hasted's book is that he doesn't give short shrift to the latter period of the Kinks' career, giving the albums and tours of the 1980s and 1990s as much focus as the earlier material. While I disagree with his pronouncements on a few things (for instance, I think UK Jive is a pretty good album, while he savages it), overall I think he's spot on when he says that the Kinks were still putting out quality music into the 1990s, but their time had simply passed.  An interesting side discussion of the BritPop movement in the 1990s and Ray's elevation to revered Godfather of British music, as well as his dismissal of the movement and its differences from the 1960s is both fascinating and accurate. As a devoted fan of BritPop and 1990s British rock myself, I enjoyed this section.

By this point in the story, however, the disputes between the Davies brothers became for the most part intractable and the numerous interviews with them conducted within the past ten years are revealing. It seems to be mostly sadness and a little bitterness on Dave's side with regards to the impasse he's reached with his brother.  Ray, on the other hand, seems sad at the loss of the relationship with his brothers and wistful for how it used to be, but at the same time completely oblivious to the hurt he's caused in the past and how some of his behavior may have come across to Dave over the years. As anyone with siblings (myself included) can tell you, family relationships are hard and being in a band can be stressful: adding the brother dynamic to an already crazy atmosphere is almost always a recipe for disaster. For every example of a band with brothers being able to exist productively and peacefully (ie The Black Crowes, Radiohead, the Allman Brothers Band to name a few), there are many more that eventually end in disaster and estrangement (ie Oasis, CCR, etc). The Kinks walked the tightrope in between, carving out a successful and long career where Ray and Dave cared for each other musically as well as personally (the stories of Dave nursing Ray out of his depressions or convalescences are quite touching) while allowing festering resentments to build up and simmer until they finally exploded when the band broke up. However, even their dual health scares in 2004 (Dave's stroke, Ray's gunshot) brought the brothers together, albeit in their own unique way. It seems, however, that it wasn't enough to allow them to paper over the bad feelings that continue to exist...they haven't seen each other since 2008 (according to Dave).

As with any book about the Kinks, the Davies brothers and their complicated relationship are at the heart of the story. Hasted does a great job, however, of keeping this central to the book without crowding out the other, equally important members of the Kinks. In addition, it's obvious he loves the band as much as anyone who is reading the book does, but he's able to keep an objective perspective and where his opinion comes into play, it's done in an appropriate manner (the introduction aside). I've purposely decided to focus this review more on the style and substance of the book as it reflects on the individual members rather than on the story of the Kinks' musical journey; it's been described wonderfully in this book but has also been discussed elsewhere, both by me and others, and it would be redundant to rehash here it yet again. However, I do think that between this book and God Save the Kinks, this is the more satisfying of the two. That's not to say that I wouldn't recommend the other book...in fact, for any serious Kinks fans, I would highly recommend both. But You Really Got Me has more insight and heart and, due to the participation of the major principles in the story (Ray, Dave, Mick, and Pete via his brother David), is probably the closest we will ever get to an authorized band biography now that the entire story can be told (I'm aware of the authorized biography from the early 1980s but they still had another twelve years to go in their career when that was published). With that fact and the benefit of the perspective afforded of the Kinks growing older and (perhaps) wiser, You Really Got Me is probably the best biography written on the Kinks and one which I highly recommend to any fan.

MY RATING: 9.5/10

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