How we made You Really Got Me

Kinks' guitarist Dave Davies and producer Shel Talmy recall slashed speakers, kicked amplifiers and two band members being at each others' throats

The Kinks - You Really Got Me on MUZU.TV.

Dave Davies, guitarist

My childhood sweetheart Sue got pregnant and we wanted to get married. But our parents said we were too young and they split us up. I was a rebellious, angry kid anyway, but that had a profound effect on me. I was full of rage. A little later, I was very depressed and fooling around with a razor blade. I could easily have slashed my wrists, but I had a little green amplifier, an Elpico, that was sounding crap. I thought, "I'll teach it" – and slashed the speaker cone. It changed the sound of my guitar. Then, when I wired that amp up to another, a Vox AC30, it made it a lot, lot louder. That's how You Really Got Me became the first hit record to use distortion, which so many bands have cited as the beginnings of punk and heavy metal.

There was this record my brother Ray [Davies, singer-songwriter] and I liked by Jimmy Giuffre called The Train and the River, which went ba-ba ba-ba. Ray was messing around on the piano in the front room at home, inspired by this song, and came up with the two-note riff to You Really Got Me, which I played on guitar.

We recorded the song twice. At first, our producer, Shel Talmy, was trying too hard to be the new Phil Spector and put echo on everything. Everybody hated it. Ray tells a story that you can hear him swearing at me. I'd been panicking, what with trying to do this crazy guitar solo, and Ray's standing there going: "Come on, for fuck's sake." So I told him to piss off and just launched into it. But that was on the unused version of the song, not the one that was released.

When You Really Got Me came out, it was so different. It seemed as if nobody liked it – until it became an international hit. I remember hearing it on the radio for the first time in my mate's Humber Super Snipe. I was transfixed. I thought it was someone else. I said: "Is that us? That's us!"

Shel Talmy, producer

I was in the right place at the right time, an American producer who'd come to London and was hanging out at Hills Music in Denmark Street. One day, Rob Wace walked in with a demo of a group he was managing called the Ravens. I liked it, took the tape to Pye Records, and they signed the band.

By the time we got to the studio, they were called the Kinks. Ray was such a prolific songwriterthat he could go home one day and come back with a dozen songs the next. None of us were happy with their first single – a cover of Little Richard's Long Tall Sally, which Pye ordered us to do. When it wasn't a hit, Pye were going to drop the band, so Ray came up with You Really Got Me. As soon as I heard that riff, I knew it was a hit.

This was 1964: it was the first time a record had really kicked people in the teeth. The song played a major part in the "British invasion" of the US charts. I recorded it as a slower, bluesier version, but Ray really wanted to try it uptempo, which is the version we wound up with. It's fairly well known that He always resented the fact that I was producing and he wasn't. It took all of five takes, with Ray singing live in an isolation booth. No one would ever call him the Pavarotti of rock'n'roll, but he's got a terrific commercial voice.

While working as a studio engineer in LA, I'd figured out various techniques to make stuff sound even more powerful. On You Really Got Me, I recorded the guitar on two channels, one distorting and the other not. The combination makes the sound seem louder. We'd even kick Dave's amp as we walked past, to make it sound rougher. I used 12 microphones to record the drums – which was unheard of then – so they'd sound like they were bouncing off the walls.

Ray's story about him swearing is an urban legend. I wouldn't have let it on the track, but the sessions did get intense because Ray and Dave were at each other's throats. Whenever they got into a rumpus, I'd call a coffee break and the rest of us would just leave them to it. We used Jimmy Page[] on some Kinks stuff so Ray didn't have to play rhythm guitar as well as sing – but, contrary to myth, Jimmy didn't play on You Really Got Me. Dave was a hugely underrated guitarist, too. Everyone copied his sound. Pete Townshend specifically wrote Can't Explain to sound like the Kinks. I've been fortunate enough to have been involved with some classic hits, and You Really Got Me is up there with My Generation. I'll always love it.

• This article was amended on 13 June 2013. The original misspelled Jimmy Giuffre's surname as Guiffre, and misnamed his record as Train on the River.


Interviews by Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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