The Kinks’s debut album is pretty remarkable in the fact that its not all that remarkable.
Which is not to say it’s a bad album… as a representative of the British Invasion’s first wave, it’s a hardy mix of blues rock, rockabilly, and that overall Merseybeat flavor that mixes R&B, skiffle, rock, and the like. That unmistakable chime and crunch is all over this album. If you’re looking for that British Invasion sound, Kinks is a pretty spot-on album.
The problem is: it really doesn’t sound like The Kinks. Mostly. Which is an appropriate criticism; Please Please Me isn’t emblematic of that quintessential Beatles sound either. But what we have here is mostly the type of Stones or Yardbirds material that sounded better when the Stones or Yardbirds were doing them. There’s also the rather frank admission of Beatle-type knockoffs as well. It makes the album less innovative and entirely more imitative.
So is it a good British Invasion album, or a serviceable if unremarkable Kinks album? Mostly both. But I’d be remiss if I left out the stronger material on the album, and the seeds of what would become the bands greatest strengths.
The album was recorded in October 1964, after two initial singles bombed and one absolutely soared. A cover of “Long Tall Sally” has the distinction of being The Kinks’s first single ever, and the February 1964 release tanked. Nonetheless, a second release was prepared for April, but “You Still Want Me / You Do Something To Me” failed to make waves in any capacity. But the band was saved by a massively popular and best-selling summertime single, the classic “You Really Got Me” (B-sided with “It’s Alright”) which dropped that August. With it’s crunchy distorted guitar riffs, chimey solo, pounding uptempo beat and soaring harmonies, it overnight defined an entire genre. Emboldened by this success, the group was rushed into the studio to record their debut album. Kinks was released in the UK in October of 1964. Session musicians on the album included Bobby Graham on drums and some guy named Jimmy Page who contributed rhythm guitar tracks during these sessions (but did NOT, as commonly believed, perform the solo on “You Really Got Me”. That track was recorded a few months earlier)
Eight of the 14 album tracks are covers. As a songwriter, Ray Davies didn’t get the biggest opportunity to shine, but his talent is already emerging. The six original songs are kind of fun in and of themselves. “So Mystifying” sounds exactly like the type of material The Stones were cranking out at the same time, and better. Still, it’s an OK number if you accept that it doesn’t really feel like a Kinks song. Neither does “Just Can’t Go To Sleep”, a Merseybeat track that reminds me of The Beatles’ “I’ll Get You”. Nonetheless, it’s a sweet little song with infectious melodies and a nice vibe. “I Took My Baby Home” is another Merseybeat pop trifle, an energetic harmonica-anchored toe-tapper. A decent little tune. “Revenge” is a rockin’ li’l instrumental that is highlighted by more of Ray’s upbeat harmonica licks and Dave’s crunchy guitar distortion.
The two remaining original songs are the album’s most heralded tracks: the aforementioned smash hit “You Really Got Me” and “Stop Your Sobbing”. What can I say about the former? It’s often referred to as the first hard rock/heavy metal song, or rather, set the blueprint for harder rocking music. It certainly made Pete Townshend stand up and take notice (Townshend was a huge fan of the band and Davies’s songwriting). The interesting thing is that it sounds like NOTHING ELSE on the album (with maybe the exception of “Revenge”). It’s certainly without question the album standout. Ray’s voice isn’t as affected or as strained. Dave’s guitar distortion and solo is epic. The perfectly blended harmonies don’t sound as thin as the other album tracks. Given that this track was recorded before the Kinks sessions, it’s odd (or maybe refreshing) that they didn’t try to springboard off the track’s overall sound and feel.
I’m not a huge fan of “Stop Your Sobbing”. I find it puzzling and overpraised. The lyrics are no less banal, the melodies no more memorable, than much of the rest of the album. Of the original songs, it might be my least favorite. On the other hand, many other groups would cover the song to great success, most notably The Pretenders in 1979.
Overall, the original material is — with the exception of “You Really Got Me”, which is in a class all its own — enjoyable but nothing exceptional. Unfortunately they are diluted by a whole slew of cover songs that are, for the most part, forgettable. If you’re looking for second-rate covers of Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Slim Harpo, Jay Miller, and traditional songs with dull blues/rock arrangements, you might enjoy the album a whole lot more than I did. Serviceable? Sure. Memorable? Not at all. Tracks like “Beautiful Delilah”, “Long Tall Shorty” and “I’m A Lover Not A Fighter” (both sung by Dave Davies), “Cadillac”, “Too Much Monkey Business”, and “Bald Headed Woman” won’t stick in your memory at all. They’re OK (except for “Bald Headed Woman”, which is all kinds of awful) but entirely skippable and ultimately forgettable. As a snapshot of the type of music that as popular at the time, it works (although there’s better examples out there). But as Kinks tracks, you can just zip right by.
Although I do think Dave’s rendition of “Got Love If You Want It” is pretty decent. But as the last song of the album proper, it’s already too little too late.
Kinks is an interesting artifact but an unessential Kinks album. The original tracks are worth seeking out for fans. Compilations like the outstanding “The Ultimate Collection” package “You Really Got Me” and “Stop Your Sobbing” together with a bunch of other great Kinks tracks, and to be honest with you unless you’re an obsessive completist or a hardcore fan, there’s no compelling reason to seek out Kinks as an album on its own.
But then we have the 2004 CD Bonus Tracks…
The UK release of Kinks had the 14 previously reviewed tracks. US albums were shorter, and the album was renamed You Really Got Me with only 11 tracks; “I Took My Baby Home”, “I’m A Lover Not A Fighter”, and “Revenge” were left off. Much like with Beatles releases, a second album was released to the US only entitled Kinks-Size. The album included “I’m A Lover” and “Revenge”, as well as two UK singles “All Day And All Of The Night / I Gotta Move” and “Tired Of Waiting For You / Come On Now”. Meanwhile in the UK, an EP entitled Kinksize Session was released in November 1964, featuring four new tracks: “Louie Louie”, “I Gotta Go Now”, “I’ve Got That Feeling”, and “Things Are Getting Better”. These four tracks were also included on the US Kinks-Size album, which resulted in a 10-track second album for the US market.
PHEW! Anyway, the 2004 re-release of Kinks contains nearly all of these ’64/early ’65 non-UK LP releases: singles, B-sides, EP tracks, an alt-take, and an unreleased track. The only exceptions are “Tired of Waiting For You” and “Come On Now”, which would be released on the next UK LP.
Of these bonus track, “All Day And All of the Night” is the popular standout. Clearly a track manufactured in the “You Really Got Me” vein, it still succeeds as classic hard rocker with that BI sound. On the other hand, “Long Tall Sally” is perfunctory and unmemorable. You’ve heard it many times before, and better. The followup single “You Still Want Me”, which also didn’t do much business, is a stronger effort. It’s a little rough but has some interesting musical changes and maintains itself throughout its brief running time. Its B-side “You Do Something For Me” isn’t as good but it’s a heck of a lot more interesting than the host of uninspired cover songs that litter this release.
“It’s Alright” was the B-side to “You Really Got Me”, and it’s a decent, uptempo blues-rock number, but not a standout. “I Gotta Move” (another B-side, this time to “All Day and All of the Night” is a Stones-esque blues rocker, anchored by memorable jangly guitar licks and a driving drumbeat. Even if it’s a bit derivative, but it’s a strong track. Moving on to the Kinksize Session EP tracks: “Louie Louie” I’m not even gonna discuss. If you’re as sick of the song as I am, or if you still love every second of it, the Kinks cover ain’t gonna change your mind one way or the other. “I Gotta Go Now” pretty much just stinks. It’s repetitive, droning, and uninspiring. “Things Are Getting Better” is a skiffly/rockabilly monstrosity that is best skipped over. The Merseybeat’ish “I’ve Got That Feeling” fares better, but it’s not really that great a song. But it feels original and fresh, even if it doesn’t entirely succeed.
We’re finally left with an alt-take of “Too Much Monkey Business”. The original is one of those OK-but-forgettable cover songs and this version is no different. On the other hand, the previously unreleased “I Don’t Need You Anymore” is pretty good! Fantastic harmonies, songwriting, and a steady driving beat keeps it in the win column.
Overall, Kinks is an average album, but as I mentioned before, on its own it’s pretty unessential. The 2004 re-release with bonus tracks makes it a more attractive package, but overall I’d still only recommend for the hardcore fan, completist, or British Invasion aficionado.