August 1964: The Kinks Reinvent Rock and Roll with "You Really Got Me"

English rock group The Kinks, from left, Ray Davies, Pete Quaife, Dave Davies (playing a Gibson Flying V guitar) and Mick Avory, perform on the pop music television show Top Of The Pops for BBC Television in Manchester, England in August 1965. (Photo by David Redfern/Redferns)
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(David Redfern/Redferns)

The inspiration for the Kinks' groundbreaking 1964 hit, "You Really Got Me," was a lethal combination of unbridled teenage angst and anger.

RELATED: January 1978: Van Halen Releases Debut Single "You Really Got Me"

"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," Kinks guitarist Dave Davies told Guardian in 2013. "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. 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."

Released on August 4, 1964, "You Really Got Me" exploded on the rock and roll scene around the world, influencing countless bands to plug in and turn up. The single soared to #1 on the UK charts. Not released in America until September 1964, the made a big impact on the Hot 100 as well, peaking at #7 for the week of November 28, 1964. The #1 song in America that week: The Shangri-La's "Leader of the Pack."

Lyrically, Ray Davies' inspiration for the track was a dancing fan at an early gig: "I was playing a gig at a club in Piccadilly, and there was a young girl in the audience who I really liked," he shared to Q magazine in 2016. "She had beautiful lips. Thin, but not skinny. A bit similar to Françoise Hardy. Not long hair, but down to about there (points to shoulders). Long enough to put your hands through... (drifts off, wistfully)... long enough to hold. I wrote 'You Really Got Me' for her, even though I never met her."

What producer Shel Talmy remembers about making the track was the Davies brothers attempting to kill each other during the proceedings.

"The sessions did get intense, because Ray and Dave were at each other's throats," Talmy recalled. "Whenever they got into a rumpus, I'd call a coffee break and the rest of us would just leave them to it."

Talmy also bore witness to the effects "You Really Got Me" had on rock and roll at large back in the mid-1960s: "Dave was a hugely underrated guitarist, too. Everyone copied his sound. Pete Townshend specifically wrote 'I Can't Explain' to sound like the Kinks," he added, having the distinction of working with both bands. "I've been fortunate enough to have been involved with some classic hits, and 'You Really Got Me' is up there with 'My Generation.' I'll always love it."

In January 1978, the band Van Halen released a high-octane cover of "You Really Got Me" as the band's first single. A huge hit, the record didn't win many friends within the Kinks camp.

"It must be a good record if people like it," Dave Davies said in 2010. "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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