It’s a song that we all know. Even if you don’t know who sings it, you know it. It’s the type of song that sticks in your head and is played joyously over and over. And after a string of unsuccessful singles from the Kinks and pressure to produce a hit, the Kinks changed rock music when they released “You Really Got Me” to the masses 51 years ago.
With Dave Davies’ irresistibly loud and powerful guitar riff and memorable melody, “You Really Got Me” was born in the Summer of 1964. But, according to Davies, what seemed like a riff that was just waiting to be found didn’t come easy. As recalled by the band, it was co-founding sibling Ray Davies that wrote the arrangement after being inspired by Jimmy Giuffre’s 1957 sing “The Train and the River.”
“Ray was messing around on the piano in the front room at home, inspired by this song, and came up with the two-note riff to ‘You Really Got Me,’ which I played on guitar.”
“My childhood sweetheart, Sue, got pregnant, and we wanted to get married. But our parents said we were too young and they split us up. I was a rebellious, angry kid anyway, but that had a profound effect on me. I was full of rage. A little later, I was very depressed and fooling around with a razor blade. I could easily have slashed my wrists, but I had a little green amplifier, an Elpico, that was sounding crap. I thought, ‘I’ll teach it’ – and slashed the speaker cone,” Davies explained. “It changed the sound of my guitar. Then, when I wired that amp up to another, a Vox AC30, it made it a lot, lot louder. That’s how ‘You Really Got Me’ became the first hit record to use distortion, which so many bands have cited as the beginnings of punk and heavy metal.”
“You Really Got Me” was released on August 4, 1964 and became an immediate sensation and took the top spot for two weeks in the UK. It’s success worldwide led to the song making the Top 40 in Germany, Italy and France, and breaking into the Top 10 in Ireland and Canada, while peaking at No.7 in the U.S. The Kinks had officially become famous.