A Well-Respected Man: Artists Pick Their Favorite Kinks Songs

1. “WATERLOO SUNSET” (1967)
Robyn Hitchcock: “Waterloo Sunset” threads through my life. The single came out during my psychedelic bar mitzvah and still has that eerie “the world has stopped, let’s get out and look around” feel. Every place I’ve lived in Britain is on the main line to Waterloo Station. My children currently both live near Waterloo Bridge, where the sunset is witnessed by Terry and Julie as they have their moment in the crowd. I’ve rehearsed in a studio there since the Soft Boys’ time. My wife and I have had many romantic rendezvous there as the sun flared over the Thames. Then there’s the song itself: sad, dreamy, exultant. The singer is happy to look at life rather than participate. That’s a feeling to relate to. Originally, Ray was going to call it “Liverpool Sunset,” apparently. Thank you for changing it, Ray.
Rhett Miller, Old 97’s:
“Waterloo Sunset” is my all-time favorite song, not just from Ray Davies’ catalog but from the entire canon of Western music. My wife and I fell in love in London. On our first date, we watched the great Robyn Hitchcock sing this song—backed by his Soft Boys bandmate Kimberley Rew—at sunset next to Waterloo Bridge. It was my favorite song before that because of its rule-breaking chord changes and weird lyrics (love triangle? observant recluse?), but once it became “our song,” it cemented its place atop my personal list. Thank you, Ray, for not conquering America as a young man; I’m afraid it would’ve ruined you.

2. “THIS IS WHERE I BELONG” (1967)
Black Francis:
The phrase “This Is Where I Belong” is taped to the side of one of my guitars. While the song can be described as a declaration of love, there’s something deeper for me. It’s a kind of spiritual, a song of acceptance about one’s place in the universe, within the space-time continuum. And for me, at times, it’s there behind my guitar, singing a song, sometimes singing this very song: “I won’t search for a house upon the hill/Why should I, when I would only miss you still?” That is such a heavy statement: about contentment, about truth, about having arrived in the palace of wisdom.

3. “TIRED OF WAITING FOR YOU” (1965)
Robert Schneider, the Apples In Stereo:
I have seen Ray play twice, solo with an acoustic guitar, and his singing blew me away. He has the most soulful voice, overflowing with sympathy and charm. I learned to sing from listening to the Beatles and the Beach Boys, but I learned how to be a singer from listening to Ray Davies. “Tired Of Waiting For You” is the ultimate Kinks song. It has distorto power chords, and it has the dreamy, pastoral middle section: a perfect balance of what the Kinks do best.

4. “LOLA” (1970)
Will Sheff, Okkervil River:
Anybody who argues that this isn’t one of the best rock songs of all time is just being contrary. Like Lola herself, you don’t have to know what’s hiding underneath the surface of this song to enjoy it. You can just focus on that great riff and typically transcendent Ray Davies vocal melody. “Lola” is rich and complex, though, heroically humanizing a character who could’ve been an adolescent joke (one year after the Velvet Underground’s “Candy Says,” admittedly) before crowning her and seating her at the center of a song that testifies to the primacy of love over all things. “Lola” sparkles with detail and pulses with yearning emotion, and the characters show every dimension of themselves; by the end of the song, we fully agree with the couple dancing “under electric candlelight.” All light is the same, warming and illuminating our way, whether it comes from fire or from a bulb on a club wall.

5. “GET BACK IN LINE” (1970)
Scott McCaughey, the Minus 5:
The protagonist of “Get Back In Line” seems like a simple guy: downtrodden, proud, both discouraged and hopeful, and really not asking for much—just the chance to work and make a meager living. The recording is miraculous, a chaotic interweaving of guitars and organ, tempo chan-ges and Ray’s plaintive vocal lifted by Dave’s lovely harmony. It feels almost accidental, yet somehow so perfectly formed, like a performance that could never be repeated. Perhaps it hasn’t been.

6. “TILL THE END OF THE DAY” (1966)
Steve Wynn:
“Till The End Of The Day” blows my mind. Just try playing it on guitar. It uses just about every chord in the book. It’s hard to imagine how someone would write a song like this. It’s as complicated as any ’70s prog-rock song, but sounds impossibly catchy and simple. That’s genius in my book.

7. “DAYS” (1968)
Kevin Barnes, Of Montreal:
“Days” is the only broken love song I can think of where the writer doesn’t display any animosity whatsoever toward the one who broke his heart. Instead of cursing the girl for moving on, he thanks her for all the sacred times they had together. It makes me realize there doesn’t have to be a villain when a relationship dissolves. If you were close with someone and then splintered apart, you can still feel good about the experience, holding the sweet memories inside as you continue on with your life. You don’t have to become bitter or resentful.

8. “SHANGRI-LA” (1969)
Sam Jayne, Love As Laughter:
I have a strange memory of “Shangri-La” that I revisit every time I hear the song. The memory is somewhere on an old videotape, probably stuck in the camcorder it was recorded on. I was playing with the camcorder out the window of a van while returning to Los Angeles after Coachella in 2000. We were listening to the Kinks, and out the window in the hills I saw two people riding horses. There was nothing around, just hills and shrubs and these two people. I zoomed in with the camcorder, and “Shangri-La” was on and at the part where it’s everybody singing “Shangri-La” with the horns and stuff. I was just watching this couple’s hair blow on their horses in the hills through the screen. Every time I hear “Shangri-La,” that’s what I think of: horseback riders in the hills outside of Palm Springs.

9. “TWO SISTERS” (1967)
Neko Case:
I’ve always loved “Two Sisters” the most. Ray Davies has this amazing quality that Roger Miller and Carolyn Mark have, where the song is sad and moving along and killing you. Then they say something that sounds like it should be almost comic—like “she ran around the house with her curlers on”—and it sends you over the edge and breaks your heart. It feels so good and so humbling.

10. “COME DANCING” (1983)
John Roderick, the Long Winters:
It might not be the “coolest” Kinks tune, but “Come Dancing” managed to make me, at age 14 back in 1983, nostalgic for trying to cop a feel at a big-band concert in Brighton Beach, England, in 1959. That is an amazing feat of songwriting.

11. “SUNNY AFTERNOON” (1966)
12. “SEE MY FRIENDS” (1965)
13. “YOU REALLY GOT ME” (1964)
14. “VICTORIA” (1969)
15. “ANIMAL FRAM” (1968)
16. “THIS TIME TOMORROW” (1970)
17. “ALL DAY AND ALL OF THE NIGHT” (1964)
18. “PICTURE BOOK” (1968)
19. “THE VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY” (1968)
20. “BETTER THINGS” (1981)

As chosen by: Lou Barlow, Kevin Barnes, Charles Bissell (Wrens), Sonic Boom, Britt Daniel (Spoon), Black Francis, Robyn Hitchcock, Sam Jayne, Tommy Keene, Mac McCaughan (Portastatic), Scott McCaughey, Rhett Miller, John Roderick, Robert Schneider, Will Sheff, Steve Wynn and Jon Langford, Steve Goulding & Lu Edmunds (Mekons)

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4 Comments

  1. Posted January 15, 2009 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    I think “Something better beginning” should very well be on this list of the finest of songs in pop music.

  2. Anders
    Posted January 20, 2009 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Why not pick take one more chance by Dave Davies that song is so beutiful Dave is a great songwriter,he is one of the best

  3. David Watts
    Posted January 23, 2009 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    The Kinks were groundbreakers when they wrote “I’m Not Like Everybody Else”, a B side of “Sunny Afternoon”. My buddies and I were blown away with the complex rhythm phasing in the background and the first true punk-sounding, defiant anthem. It defines The Kinks and their image as perfectly as it first did 43 years ago! We all know now how influential they were and who was listening very carefully besides us kids.

  4. Posted April 17, 2009 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    I love this song and the only song better than it on Something Else is Waterloo Sunset (IMHO). I saw the Kinks at Springfield Civic Center (Mass ) in December of 1983 and it was one of those old genreal admissions shows and the weather was awful. Snow, freezing rain, windy and brutally cold; we waited in line for the doors to the arean to open for hours and were a mess when we finally made a mad rush to the front of the stage. Ray and the band were impressed and touched at the perserverance of the sold out crowd and so they played at least a half hour longer than they had been on that tour. It was during this show that I first heard Two Sisters live and it blew me away. We were all shmushed together like sardines in a can because that’s what happens at gen admin shows and near me were two girls, whom I didn’t know. Near the end of Two Sisters I look over and one of the girls is actually crying and says to her friend, “This song is about me and my sister.” I WILL NEVER FORGET THAT! To me, that’s what Ray has always done best. Write songs about everyone and for everyone while maybe having no one in particular in mind when he actually wrote the song. This girl was young enough to be Ray’s own daughter and yet a song that was released 14 years earlier could have been written about her and her sister. The man exudes bloody fucking brilliance and takes a second seat to no one; Townshend, McCartney, Lennon, Jagger….no one.

    Thank you for the days Ray…God Save The Kinks!