Top 10 Ray Davies Lyrics
Ray Davies and the Kinks were so wildly creative in their time, they’re considered godfathers of punk, metal, Britpop, indie rock and more, thanks to the band’s music. But the band’s frontman is also a great storyteller. No less a songsmith than Pete Townshend has credited his own growth as a writer to Davies’ finely tuned character portraits. When so many British Invasion contemporaries were seeking new angles for their love songs, Davies and the Kinks took on topics ranging from history and city life to rich kids and lusty transvestites. They all make appearances in our list of the Top 10 Ray Davies Lyrics.
“Long ago life was clean / Sex was bad and obscene / And the rich were so mean”
A heaping slice of Davies’ nasty wit, ‘Victoria’ kicks off the Kinks’ seventh album, which was conceived as the soundtrack to a TV play. The special never happened, so ‘Arthur’ became a concept album about 20th-century England. ‘Victoria’ pays sarcastic tribute to the good ol’ days of prudish Queen Victoria and her once-powerful empire, which was built on the backs of the poor.
“You took my life / But then I knew that very soon you’d leave me / But it’s all right / Now I’m not frightened of this world, believe me”
Although ‘Days’ seems to be about the bittersweet unraveling of a romantic relationship, Davies actually wrote the song about his band. The frontman was uncertain about the Kinks’ commercial future, as well as the stability of the group’s lineup. For a guy who delivered so much snark in his songs, Davies expresses only heartfelt gratitude and melancholy acceptance in ‘Days.’ It’s the kind of wistful nugget that most artists pen decades after the fact, not when they’re in the thick of things.
“He’d end up blowing all his wages for the week / All for a cuddle and a peck on the cheek”
The Kinks scored their biggest U.S. hit in 1983 with this bouncy bit of wistful nostalgia. Davies drew on memories of his older sister going on dates to the local dance hall in ‘Come Dancing,’ which ends with her all grown up and worrying about her own teenage daughters. Real life didn’t turn out so well: Davies’ sister died of a heart attack at age 31 while dancing at a ballroom. Earlier that day, she had given her 13-year-old brother his first guitar. This is Davies’ imagined happy ending.
“I look out the window but I can’t see the sky / The air pollution is a-fogging up my eyes / I want to get out of this city alive and make like an apeman”
Never mind the Victorian England Davies goes on about in other cuts on our list of the Top 10 Ray Davies Lyrics – he’s so fed up with modern life in the calypso-styled ‘Apeman’ that he’s ready to live in the jungle. Davies’ goofy sense of humor and seething frustration are equally evident here, as he castigates a polluted society and longs for a “life of luxury” in the coconut trees. It’s fitting that ‘Apeman’ was released the same year Earth Day was founded.
“I am a dull and simple lad / Cannot tell water from champagne / And I have never met the queen / And I wish I could have all that he has got / I wish I could be like David Watts”
There’s a whole lot of class envy in this driving track, as Davies wishes he could have all the advantages of the popular rich boy at school. But there’s also a bit of homoeroticism going on: “He is so gay and fancy free” should be taken literally. According to Davies, David Watts – a real-life schoolmate – had an unrequited crush on Ray’s younger brother (and Kinks guitarist) Dave. Which, when you think about it, makes Ray’s wish to “be like David Watts” pretty creepy.
“Here’s wishing you the bluest sky / And hoping something better comes tomorrow / Hoping all the verses rhyme / And the very best of choruses to / Follow all the doubt and sadness / I know that better things are on the way”
Davies offers the loveliest of benedictions in ‘Better Things.’ Coming from a songwriter, some of the blessing is spelled out in musical terms – rhyming verses, a great chorus. Reading the lyrics, ‘Better Things’ comes across as a little corny. But listening to this ’80s gem reveals its true nature: one of the sweetest and most mature breakup song in rock ‘n’ roll history. Perhaps Davies’ optimism was a result of his band’s new resurgence as arena-rocking hitmakers in the U.S. at the time. One of just two ’80s cuts to make our list of the Top 10 Ray Davies Lyrics.
‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’
“He thinks he is a flower to be looked at / And when he pulls his frilly nylon panties right up tight / He feels a dedicated follower of fashion”
In the middle of swinging London, one can imagine every young rock star trying to stay on the cutting edge of music, fashion and the avant-garde. Thankfully, Davies – forever the kid in the back of the class – took the piss out of those concerned with the superficial. ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’ is sort of an “emperor has no clothes” approach to hipsterdom – except in this case it’s more like an “emperor has all of the clothes.”
‘Village Green Preservation Society’
“We are the Sherlock Holmes English speaking vernacular / Help save Fu Manchu, Moriarty and Dracula / We are the office block persecution affinity / God save little shops, china cups and virginity”
Of all the quirky, entertaining songs in the Kinks catalog, few sound like they were more fun to write than ‘Village Green Preservation Society,’ from the concept album of (roughly) the same name. If you can reference Donald Duck, Dracula and virginity in the same song, you’re doing something right. It’s interesting to sort out where Davies sits on the nostalgia bangwagon here. This folksy album opener (as well as the entire LP) acknowledges the power of “preserving the old ways from being abused,” but it offers a knowing wink about those who stubbornly resist change of any kind.
“Well I’m not dumb but I can’t understand / Why she walked like a woman and talked like a man”
Sometimes love knows no bounds – especially when you’ve been spending the evening drinking glass after glass of champagne that tastes just like Coca-Cola (C-O-L-A, cola). Davies wrote this Kinks classic after witnessing a night when the band’s manager spent all his time dancing with a transvestite … and was too drunk by the end of the night to care about the stubble on his dance partner’s face. From that experience, Davies created Lola, a clubgoer with a “dark brown voice,” a spine-breaking grip and a wealth of self-confidence.
“Dirty old river, must you keep rolling / Flowing into the night / People so busy, makes me feel dizzy / Taxi light shines so bright / But I don’t need no friends / As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset / I am in paradise”
More than a few people have called ‘Waterloo Sunset’ one of the most beautiful achievements in rock history. Any city-dweller can certainly relate as Davies gazes out his window and watches the rush of people around Waterloo Station. He can’t imagine anything better than taking in this dirty city’s hectic scene. The song’s simple, gentle language conveys the sublime beauty in urban ugliness. To paraphrase another Kinks classic, this is where he belongs.