The lyric Ray Davies wishes he had written: “It resonated with my childhood”

In 1964, The Kinks made an elephantine impression on the musical map, rivalling The Beatles with their early hit singles, ‘You Really Got Me’ and ‘All Day and All of the Night’. The band’s infectious approach attracted global attention, but ongoing innovation was necessary if they were to outlive a flash in the pan. Fortunately, the band had one of the 20th century’s finest songwriters, Ray Davies, at the helm.

As bands like The Kinks and The Who squared up to titans such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, they soon realised how vital a strong identity was. For The Who’s leader, Pete Townshend, this entailed conceptual rock operas and explosive live performances; for The Kinks, it meant establishing a quintessentially English image and satirising the upper classes in one fell swoop. 

The most memorable product of this second chapter for The Kinks was 1966’s ‘Sunny Afternoon’, but similar ideas were expressed in The Village Green Preservation Society a couple of years later. Although he made a splash or two regarding his home nation’s status quo, Ray Davies always sang his Anglophilic lyrics in earnest.

Speaking to Melody Maker in 1966, Ray discussed his national pride and revealed his fears of Americanisation, which, ironically, rock music accelerated. “I hope England doesn’t change,” he said. “I’m writing a song now called ‘You Ain’t What You Used to Be’ which expresses what I feel. I hope we don’t get swallowed up by America and Europe. I’m really proud of being British.”

It is important to note that the two-party system today is a different kettle of fish, but Ray continued, noting his political ambivalence at the time. “I don’t care if a bloke votes Labour or Conservative as long as he appreciates what we’ve got here,” he added. “We have so much that is great compared with other countries, and people just don’t realise it. I want to keep writing very English songs.”

Davies stuck to his word and remained markedly English throughout The Kinks’ revered oeuvre heading into the 1970s. Hence, it comes with little surprise that Ray’s taste in literature is predominantly centred on British authors and poets. In a 2019 conversation with The Times, he picked out Blue Remembered Hills by AE Housman as his favourite poem of all time.

Ray also noted his affection for William Blake as a contender but sided with Housman for his work’s nostalgic evocations. “There were many poems in contention, including many by William Blake, but I chose this because it resonated with my childhood,” he said. “Again, I am a Londoner, but the Shropshire lad is in the same mindset as my own village green.”

When writing lyrics, Davies channels his broad education in poetry, prose and music and regards his oeuvre with pride. Intriguingly, when asked to name the lyric he wishes he could have written, it was one that appeared in The Kinks catalogue, only in a rare songwriting contribution from his brother, guitarist Dave Davies. “My brother Dave can be a great lyricist and did a little-known song called ‘Lincoln County’,” Ray said.

Like Housman’s Blue Remembered Hills, ‘Lincoln County’ is nostalgic for Ray, reminding him of his and Dave’s late mother. “There’s one line in the song that goes: ‘I got a headscarf, fair, I got for my momma that she won’t wear,’” he recalled. “We shared the same mother, but sometimes any gift that she was given by us was deemed so precious to her that she would keep it in a cabinet rather than use it.”

Infamously, The Kinks’ path is strewn with animosity, with much of the bitterness simmering between Ray and Dave. Ray’s comment about Dave’s lyric is a heart-warming sign that no matter how heated their relationship got, they love each other deep down.

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