The Kinks were a key part of the 1960s British Invasion, and their early hits — especially "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night" — paved the way for the next decade's hard rock. After their first burst of popularity died down, the Kinks became a cult band, continuing to turn out great albums into the Seventies. Ray Davies was the leader, a deeply articulate (and often cranky) craftsmen who could write elegies for the beleaguered British middle class, romantic scenarios for rock theater, and bittersweet tales of show-business survival. Skirmishes between Davies and his brother, Dave, who had been the group's guitarist since its inception, were perpetual — and sometimes even physical. But over the years, the Kinks have influenced bands from the Pretenders to Pavement.
Ray Davies was attending art school when he joined his younger brother Dave's band, the Ravens, in 1963. In short order he took over the group (renamed the Kinks), retaining bassist Pete Quaife and recruiting Mick Avory to play drums. This lineup released a pair of unsuccessful singles before recording "You Really Got Me," a Number 1 hit in England that reached Number Seven in the U.S. in 1964. The following year "All Day and All of the Night" and "Tired of Waiting for You" both reached the Top Ten in the U.S. and set a pattern for future releases: tough rockers ("Who'll Be the Next in Line") were alternated with ballads ("Set Me Free").
In 1966 the Kinks released two singles of pointed social satire, "A Well Respected Man" (Number 13) and "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" (Number 36), indicating the turn Davies' songs were taking. Their next album, The Kinks Kontroversy, though containing another full-tilt rocker, "Till the End of the Day" (Number 50) was increasingly introspective, with songs like "I'm On An Island." Also that year, an appearance on the American TV show Hullabaloo resulted in a problem with the American Federation of Musicians that wasn't resolved until 1969 and prevented the group from touring the U.S. for some time. Ultimately, the work breach stymied their career trajectory, side-lining them in Britain while other English bands made hay building American audiences. The gorgeous "Sunny Afternoon" (Number 14, 1966) from Face to Face was their last hit of that period.
In 1967, Dave Davies, who had been writing the occasional song for the Kinks from the beginning, had a "solo" hit in England with "Death of a Clown," actually a Kinks song that he wrote and sang. More of Dave's singles followed ("Susannah's Still Alive," "Lincoln County"), none of which repeated the success of "Clown." A planned solo album was recorded but released much later, in 1987, as The Album That Never Was.
During their years of U.S. exile, Ray Davies composed the first of many concept albums, (The Kinks Are) The Village Green Preservation Society (1968), a nostalgic song cycle that pined for all the quaint English customs other bands were rebelling against. The next album, Arthur, or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire, was, with the Who's Tommy, an early rock opera. It was written for a British TV show that never aired. Davies' songwriting had always been sharp, but with these two discs, and their follow-up record Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One (Number 35, 1970), it was obvious that he was in his most creative period. And he was certainly writing about what he knew: Lolawas the story of a band trying to make, and get properly paid for, a hit record. The title track was about a transvestite; driven by a radically catchy chorus, it reached Number Nine on the charts. Lola was the group's first Top 40 record since 1966's The Kinks Greatest Hits (Number Nine).
In 1971 the group left its longtime home of the Reprise label for RCA, continuing to work on concept pieces, once again without hits. Nevertheless Davies and company earned themselves a reputation as a cheerfully boozy live band; Kinks performances were known for messy musicianship and onstage arguments between Ray and Dave, while Ray clowned with limp wrists and sprayed beer at the audience. This was chronicled on Everybody's in Show-Biz (Number 70, 1972), a double album split between a smattering of Davies' studio songs and a loose live set.
During the next years, concept albums became soundtracks for theatrical presentations. Preservation Acts 1 and 2, Soap Opera (Number 51, 1975), and Schoolboys in Disgrace (Number 45, 1975) were all composed for the stage, complete with extra horn players and singers. For all of the elaborate shows, though, the albums didn't particularly sell well.
In 1977 The Kinks left both RCA and concept albums behind. The resultantSleepwalker, issued by Arista, had its title track hit Number 48. They finally scored a hit in 1978 with "A Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy" (Number 30, 1978), off Misfits (Number 40, 1978). Low Budget (Number 11, 1979), aided by another successful 45, "(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman" (Number 41, 1979), became the Kinks' first gold record since the Reprise greatest-hits collection of their early singles.
In the meantime, young bands began rediscovering and embracing the Kinks' catalogue, notably Van Halen ("You Really Got Me") and the Pretenders ("Stop Your Sobbing"). The group, which had tightened up considerably onstage with the 1978 addition of former Argent bassist Jim Rodford, responded with One for the Road (Number 14, 1980), a double live album that was accompanied by one of the first full-length rock videos. It, too, went gold, as did Give the People What They Want (Number 15, 1981).
Over the years, Ray Davies has also produced two albums by Claire Hamill (for his ill-fated Konk Records), worked with Tom Robinson, and scored the films The Virgin Soldiers and Percy. Dave Davies finally came out with a solo album, AFLI-3603, in 1980, followed by Glamourin 1981 and Chosen People in 1983; all featured Dave on most of the instruments and achieved modest success.
Thanks in part to some beautifully produced videos, the Kinks' third wind continued with State of Confusion (Number 12, 1983), which gave the group its first Top 10 hit since "Lola": the delightfully nostalgic "Come Dancing" (#6, 1983). A wistful ballad, "Don't Forget to Dance," cracked the Top 30 later in the year. Other mid-1980s events included Return to Waterloo (1985), a film Ray Davies wrote and directed; the 1983 birth of Ray's daughter Natalie Rae Hynde, the daughter of Ray and Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde. Their relationship ended the following year. In 1986 Ray also acted in the film Absolute Beginners.
Beginning with Word of Mouth (Number 57, 1984), the Kinks once again fell on hard times. None of the band's subsequent albums sold well. But the Kinks, with ex-Argent drummer Bob Henrit in place of Avory, still toured occasionally. In 1993 the group undertook its first U.S. tour in more than three years to promote Phobia. The album's first single, "Hatred (A Duet)," poked fun at the long-standing filial antagonism between Ray and Dave that has led both brothers to quit the band on more than one occasion. Despite the sibling rivalry and sagging record sales, these 1990 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees endure with dignity and wit. In 1992 Ray directed a documentary on the making of the Charles Mingus tribute album, Weird Nightmare.
The band's 1996 release, To the Bone, was a live-in-the-studio rerecording of many of their hits. In 1995 Ray Davies' "unauthorized autobiography" X-Ray was published in the U.S. He then did some shows performing a spoken word/unplugged piece called 20th Century Man, for which he read sections of his book and sang Kinks songs. By that time, the band's reputation was enjoying another revival, as contemporary British stars Blur and Oasis acknowledged their debt to the Kinks. And in the U.S., Velvel Records initiated a 15-album reissue series of the group's classic recordings. Dave published Kink, his own autobiography, in 1997, a recounting of his early debauchery and current interest in metaphysics. Also in the Nineties he provided the musical score for John Carpenter's Village of the Damned and toured with a band called Dave Davies Kink Kronikles.
In 2000 Ray Davies published his first collection of short stories, Waterloo Sunset: Stories. In 2004, while he was temporarily living in New Orleans, Davies and a friend were out walking when a robber grabbed his companion's purse. Davies ran after the suspect, who then shot Davies in the leg. Thankfully, he recovered soon after, hitting the studio for Other People's Lives (2006) and Working Man's Café (2007), both of which found Ray's songwriting strong and keenly observational.
Perhaps the most adventurous activity in the Kinks name of late came in 2009, when Ray worked with the Crouch End Festival Chorus to make the Kinks Choral Collection, an array of key tunes — "Picture Book" "See My Friends," "Shangri-La" - sung by the British symphonic choir. The results were utterly unusual, especially on early rockers like "You Really Got Me."
Portions of this biography appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001). Jim Macnie contributed to this article.