The Kinks’ guitarist Dave Davies, who turns 67 on Monday, February 3, was one of the hottest riff-masters of the British Invasion, ranked number 88 on Rolling Stone’s list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”
Like John Lennon, Paul McCartney and other key figures of that era, Dave started as a skiffle player and graduated to rock ‘n’ roll with the purchase of his first electric. Although his role in the Kinks was often complicated by sibling rivalry with his brother Ray, the Kinks’ lyricist and frontman — which may well account for how low his guitar is mixed on some of this best recorded performances, Dave has retained his place in history for his inventive playing and his enduring influence, and is in the midst of a comeback that finds him still at the top of his game a half-century after his initial studio date.
Beginning in 1965, when he acquired his first Gibson Flying V, Dave has been associated with Gibson guitars. Although the V was his signature instrument through the late ’60s and 1970s, he’s also cut tracks with Les Paul Customs, L5-S and L6-S models, and an Epiphone Casino.
Here is a rundown of 10 of his greatest guitar performances with the Kinks, starting with the song that got him inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
• “You Really Got Me” (1964): This is Dave Davies’ king-daddy riff (C-D-D-C-D), still repeated verbatim by rock bands around the world. Even Eddie Van Halen played this song’s riff in a strict Biblical interpretation when his band covered “You Really Got Me” on their 1978 debut album. According to Kinks lore, Davies got his distorted sound by using two amps: an Elpico with a speaker that he slit for maximum growl and a Vox AC30. The tune was the Kinks’ third single, and it secured their place in rock history. Between Davies and fellow Gibson legend Link Ray, the future of the power chord was also secured.
• “All Day and All of the Night” (1964): The follow-up to “You Really Got Me” is another blast of raw distortion and heavy-handed passion, with an equally frenetic solo. There’s a longstanding rumor that Jimmy Page played that solo, but it’s all Davies. And like “You Really Got Me,” this song has been widely recorded and performed by other artists, with the A-list including the Stranglers, Quiet Riot, Status Quo, Metallica, Scorpions and even 2 Live Crew.
• “Tired of Waiting For You” (1965): This January 1965 single reached number one in the U.K. and number six in the U.S., propelling the Kinks along the international touring trail. While on the road in the U.S. during 1965, Davies found his first Gibson Flying V — the guitar that was associated with him for most of his formative career — for $60. Melodically the tune was an evolutionary step for the band and its primary songwriter Ray Davies, although its backbone is another of Dave’s sturdy two-chord riffs.
• “Lola” (1970): The Kinks beat Lou Reed in the race to record a hit song about a transvestite by two years. The music, including the song’s graceful, melodic modified Chuck Berry riff, was written by Dave with Ray adding lyrics about an off-center romantic encounter in New York City. What’s great about this song, “Tired of Waiting for You” and “You Really Got Me” is that they’re all very simple, which — along with their familiarity — makes them ripe for beginning guitarists.
• “A Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy” (1978): The Misfits album was the beginning of a revival for the Kinks, who nicely fit the mid-’70s punk rock aesthetic. But this song was miles away from their gritty beginnings, with Ray Davies turning in a sweet vocal and Dave adding melodic blues fills. The bridge pumps up on a few grinding chords, but Dave really shines at the tune’s ending with a pair of overdubbed guitar lines that bring the song to its crescendo.
• “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman” (1979): The album Low Budget, which houses this song, contains some of Dave’s dirtiest guitar playing. Besides the fat chords that propel the tune, he plays a stinging unison line with Ray’s vocal performance on the verses and drops a great chopping rhythm under the choruses. Like “Come Dancing,” where Dave’s guitar tracks are woefully low in the mix, this tune nonetheless reveals his conceptual sophistication and inventiveness.
• “Catch Me Now I’m Falling (1979): Ray Davies’ take on the decline of America as a superpower sports epic riffs and a great turnaround from Dave. There’s a little “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” in the chorus, and, as with many of Dave’s best performances, he’s mixed too low, but his six-string intellect still manages to shine through.
• “Destroyer” (1981): Perfectly dialing in on the times and flashing back to the Kinks’ early history, this song is a sequel to both “All Day and All of the Night” and “Lola.” Its framework blends the band’s famed tale of romantic misadventure with the earlier song’s chord progression and attitude. Dave turns loose on the verses and choruses, playing six-string call-and-response with his brother.
• “Come Dancing” (1983): A truly romantic charmer, “Come Dancing” celebrates the bygone days of the English dance hall, and while keyboards dominate the mix — damn the ’80s! — a careful listen reveals Dave playing a sophisticated blend of tracks. In the first verse he’s got spare-to-the-bone ’50s-era single-note twang, which yields to atmospheric chorused single notes. Building into the bridge he plays a series of reggae style off-the-beat chords and then slashes through that bridge. It’s a lovely, complex performance.
• “Little Green Amp” (2013): Dave had more than the dissipation of the Kings to combat to make this comeback recording with the band Anti-Flag. He suffered a stroke nearly a decade ago and had to work through physical therapy to regain the ability to play. But this tune sounds great. His guitar is proudly up front slashing out chords and leads, and the autobiographical lyrics flash back on his early days as a Kink, in the heart of the burgeoning British rock ‘n’ roll scene, when that little green Elpico combo put him on the path to fame.