More than any of their contemporaries, the Kinks stormed through three decades with a natural survival instinct that rarely compromised their ideals. Their early garage rock days are the most celebrated, and their greatest singles come from that era. But their late-'60s albums -- starting with the terrific Something Else by the Kinks and including the classic The Village Green Preservation Society -- are more sophisticated, reflecting singer and songwriter Ray Davies' interest in Victorian society, which he juxtaposed with hippie culture and a clear-cut vision of class division through the ages. The Kinks revived their classic power chord riffs in the late '70s, which led to an early-'80s comeback and their first Top 10 single in a dozen years. Our list of the Top 10 Kinks Songs is heavy on those classic '60s singles, but you should also check out their great albums from that decade.
"Celluloid Heroes"From: 'Everybody's in Show-Biz' (1972)
Ray Davies' wistful tribute to the golden age of Hollywood borrows inspiration from the classic movie Sunset Blvd., in which a faded star is chewed up and spit out by the studio system. The Kinks' version of the story isn't so cynical, but there's a cautionary tone to both the lyrics and melody -- one of Davies' prettiest.
"A Well Respected Man"Single (1965)
Ray Davies' growth as a songwriter started here. In addition to being his first foray into the British music hall tradition (which would have a greater impact on his work over the next few years), "A Well Respected Man" addresses for the first time the class system that would become a major element of Davies' best material. It's also just a really good song.
"Victoria"From: 'Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)' (1969)
By 1969 Ray Davies was well into his British class-consciousness period. The previous year's The Village Green Preservation Society is his undisputed classic, but the follow-up LP surveys the social implications of the politics and culture behind the issues even further. "Victoria," the album's lead single, kicks off Arthur with one of the Kinks' best mid-period songs. Great riff too.
"Till the End of the Day"From: 'The Kink Kontroversy' (1965)
"Till the End of the Day" is a pretty typical Kinks song from the era -- a two-and-a-half-minute blast of garage rock that even borrows a musical line or two from their earlier hits. But Dave Davies' mid-song solo is a quick, tidy hit of pure rock and roll adrenaline. There's not much to it, but that's his style and timeless contribution to rock history.
"Tired of Waiting for You"From: 'Kinda Kinks' (1965)
This early Kinks single was the first to ease up on the frantic guitar attacks established on previous hits like "You Really Got Me" (see No. 1 on our list of the Top 10 Kinks Songs). But there's still plenty of power in Dave Davies' ringing guitar riff and the band's super-tight performance. "Tired of Waiting for You" reached No. 6, the Kinks' highest-charting hit until "Come Dancing" came along in 1982 and tied it.
"All Day and All of the Night"Single (1964)
The follow-up to the breakthrough "You Really Got Me" is a similar-sounding distortion-fueled rocker based on basic, but totally effective power chords. Like in many of the Kinks' early hits, Dave Davies tosses off an ear-piercing solo in "All Day and All of the Night" that takes on a life of its own.
"Sunny Afternoon"From: 'Face to Face' (1966)
Barely a year into their career, and Ray Davies was already getting bored with the three-chord guitar assaults the Kinks were discharging. It started with "A Well Respected Man" (see No. 9 on our list of the Top 10 Kinks Songs), but the old-timey musical arrangement of "Sunny Afternoon" presages the more sophisticated song structures Davies would begin exploring on the group's next album, Something Else by the Kinks.
"Lola"From: 'Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One' (1970)
After a four-year commercial dry spell that coincided with Ray Davies' increasingly sophisticated songwriting, the Kinks rocketed back into the Top 10 with one of their most popular songs. The lyrical twist -- turns out Lola's a guy -- is certainly a doozy, but the great guitar riff that feeds the song is one of Dave's all-time greatest.
"Waterloo Sunset"From: 'Something Else by the Kinks' (1967)
Something Else by the Kinks, the band's fifth LP, is one of its greatest albums. And it's no accident that Ray Davies began sharpening his perceptions of British class division during this time. The string of albums the Kinks made starting with Something Else remains among the most focused and incisive of the era. "Waterloo Sunset" ends the album on a wistful, picturesque note.
"You Really Got Me"From: 'Kinks' (1964)
The Kinks' breakthrough single features one of the greatest opening guitar riffs ever recorded. "You Really Got Me" made the band stars and set the template for almost every hard rock band that formed over the next decade (and then some). The sloppy, stumbling solo -- all Dave, not Jimmy Page, as is often rumored -- also influenced countless generations of long-haired kids with guitars. A rock 'n' roll milestone on so many levels.