It's a classic rock and roll legend: guitarist Eddie Van Halen was hanging out with Barry Brandt, drummer for the band Angel. Angel was signed to Casablanca, and poised to be the next big band as the opposite of the label's cash cow, KISS. While the two were bragging about what their respective bands had going on, Van Halen allegedly whipped out a demo version of his band's version of the Kinks' "You Really Got Me."
It was all good until Van Halen returned to the studio, where producer Ted Templeman told him that Brandt and Angel were now planning to make their own version of "You Really Got Me." So they rounded up the group and rush-recorded their version to beat Angel to the punch. And the rest is history.
"That’s a bullsh*t lie, and I want to set that straight," Angel singer Punky Meadows told Guitar Player in 2016. "I don’t know why Eddie Van Halen said that. I never heard Van Halen’s 'You Really Got Me' until everybody else heard it—on the radio. I have integrity. I would never try to steal someone else’s song idea."
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Regardless, Van Halen would go on to release their cover of the Kinks' classic as the band's very first single for Warner Brothers. It was a longtime part of the band's repertoire, ideal for the SoCal backyard party/high school dance circuits. Released on January 28, 1978, it made a respectable chart run for a debut. "You Really Got Me" would crash the Top 40, peaking at #36 on March 24, 1978. The #1 song in America that week: "Night Fever" by The Bee Gees. The #2 song in America that week? "Stayin' Alive" by The Bee Gees.
It was a bittersweet victory for Eddie Van Halen: "It kind of bummed me out that Ted [Templeman] wanted our first single to be someone else's tune. I would have maybe picked 'Jamie's Cryin,' just because it was our own."
Dave Davies of the Kinks was also bummed by Van Halen's take on his band's song, but for different reasons: "There's the thing: good art isn't always about having the comfiest technique. I shouldn't encourage him, but I'm sure Eddie Van Halen played better when he was drunk," he sniffed to Classic Rock (via Blabbermouth) in 2010. "But it must be a good record if people like it. Van Halen's version was very Middle America. It was like, 'Hey man, look at me with my tight trousers! Here's our version of 'You Really Got Me'! The Kinks had an album out called Low Budget, and we ended up touring and playing stadiums. Some kid came up to me after one of the gigs and said: 'I like your cover of Van Halen's 'You Really Got Me.' You have to smile sometimes."
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