The Kinks announced on August 4th, “50 years since we unleashed You Really Got Me on an unsuspecting world!” on their Facebook page. This is indeed an anniversary to take note of; “You Really Got Me” was fundamentally instrumental in the evolution of rock music. Read on for the Encyclopedia of Music’s brief history of how “You Really Got Me” was made into a hit rock song of the ‘60’s that is still recognized and requested today.
Guitarist Dave Davies’ fuzz guitar was a sound previously unheard of, but it quickly became an icon of ‘60’s and ‘70’s rock guitar tones. Davies told The Guardian how he achieved this miraculously fuzzy tone in an interview, “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. 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.”
The other illustrious aspect of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” is the two-note riff which makes the song immediately recognizable upon hearing it. This was credited to Dave Davies’ brother, Ray Davies, the Kinks’ singer and songwriter. He was fiddling around on the piano, inspired by the Jimmy Giuffre song “The Train and the River,” and generated the two-note riff of “You Really Got Me” which Dave Davies would play on guitar. The song was recorded twice, in 1964. The first version was a slower, bluesier version with a lot of echo on Shel Tamy’s production of it. The Kinks were not fans. Ray Davies wanted an uptempo version, without the Phil Spector-style production. The second recording took a grand total of five takes. Tamy explained to The Guardian how he got the sound they were all pleased with. “On You Really Got Me, I recorded the guitar on two channels, one distorting and the other not. The combination makes the sound seem louder. We’d even kick Dave’s amp as we walked past, to make it sound rougher. I used 12 microphones to record the drums – which was unheard of then – so they’d sound like they were bouncing off the walls.” These recording techniques have become universal to the approach of recording rock music.
Thus a hit was born, the British Invasion of the U.S. thrived, and rock bands everywhere had a template to follow. If you like The Kinks, check out FDRMX’s review of a similar sounding group, Irish folk rock band Morrissey and Marshall’s And So It Began album.