As one of the most notable pairs of rock ‘n’ roll siblings, Ray and Dave Davies first stirred up the music world in the ’60s with their proto-punk sound and timeless social commentary as founders of the Kinks.
Most of the credit to the band’s genius is given to older brother Ray, who was the primary songwriter and lead singer of the group, leaving Dave’s contributions to the band often swept under the rug. But without his gritty guitar work, let’s face it, the Kinks would have gotten nowhere.
The younger Davies wrote many important songs during his time in the band, some of which have become just as renowned and well-respected as his brother’s.
Today is Dave Davies’ 70th birthday — the perfect occasion to take a look back at 10 of his best Kinks tunes.
1) “Death of a Clown” (1967)
Although this track was included on the Kinks’ album Something Else by the Kinks, it was released as a solo effort by Dave Davies.
Sharing writing credit with brother Ray (perhaps unfairly in this fan’s opinion), the song is a melancholy tale of regret and feeling the fool featuring haunting background vocals provided by Ray’s first wife, Rasa.
In his 1996 memoir, Kinked, Dave says, “I was feeling sorry for myself. I wanted more out of life than I had been getting. Suddenly the whole roller-coaster ride of the past three years seemed wearisome. Disconsolate, I felt like a cheerless clown, all painted up for fun on the outside, but hurting on the inside.”
2) “Creeping Jean” (1969)
A current fan favorite at his live shows since it results in the very deliberate flinging of women’s underwear, this is a raw, punk-like tale of a drug-addicted girlfriend who just needs to go.
Lyrically, it’s dark and insidious; musically, it’s sleazy and falls in an odd pocket of sound between slide-guitar blues and psychedelia. This track was featured as the B-side to another Dave solo track, “Hold My Hand.”
3) “This Man He Weeps Tonight” (1969)
Several of Dave Davies’s late-1960s solo songs were intended to be released as a solo album — but it never happened. The songs were left as single releases or “lost” tracks floating around in unreleased limbo, becoming favorite on unofficial bootleg albums.
“This Man He Weeps Tonight” is a beautiful, emotional song much in the same vein as many of Dave’s songs at the time. “I thought our thing would last ’cause it said so in my horoscope,” is a personal favorite lyric.
4) “Mindless Child of Motherhood” (1969)
Readers of Kinked will know the sad tale of a teenage Dave Davies’ getting his girlfriend pregnant. Several of his songs from the ’60s can be traced to his emotional turmoil after the families conspired to keep the youths apart.
Davies lost touch with the mother of his first daughter, not meeting his child until decades later. “Mindless Child” is just one of a few tracks about the pain of this experience along with “Funny Face” from Something Else among others.
5) “Strangers” (1970)
Featured on the soundtrack of Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited, “Strangers” is perhaps Dave Davies’ most popular song and one of the finest on Lola vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One. Dave, often associated with his grungy, electric-guitar sound, opts for a softer acoustic ballad with stunning results.
But it’s the idealistic hope within the lyrics that wins us over, promoting unity and tearing down authoritarianism and materialism. It’s still relevant today.
6) “Rats” (1970)
Another Lola vs. Powerman pick, this is nearly the exact opposite in tone and feel as the previous composition but not much different lyrically. Dave’s guitar is cutting with short bursts of chords full of anarchy.
It’s anti-establishment, attacking capitalist corruption and fighting for the little man. “Those rats breeding angriness and spite / Never have done anything right for people like you and me.”
7) “Trust Your Heart” (1978)
If you notice, there’s a large gap between the last Dave Davies track and this one. The middle of the Kinks’ career was largely taken over by what is sometimes referred to as a “theatrical” period.
Older brother Ray took tight control over the band and focused his efforts on several consecutive rock operas. By 1977, however, the band started to revisit their roots with Sleepwalker and, in 1978, Misfits came along, finally featuring another tune penned by Dave.
This song probably seems like your typical sappy love ballad of the late ’70s, but you have to love Dave’s soulful vocals and the surprising increase in pace and power in the last minute warranting a true rock out.
8) “Living on a Thin Line” (1984)
Another track famously featured elsewhere (in this case on the wildly popular HBO series The Sopranos), “Living on a Thin Line,” from Word of Mouth, is an ominous warning about what kind of world we want to live in and create for future generations.
It rips apart the idea of “empire” and “golden age” that so many people to this day still cling to. It’s also one of the few Dave Davies songs to include prominent background vocals from Ray, who responds in call-back style during the chorus.
9) “Perfect Strangers” (1989)
Before you go thinking that this is a response to his earlier song “Strangers,” it’s not. The title is mere coincidence. While this song reeks of a very archetypal late-’80s sound, we can’t help but enjoy this reminder of Dave’s guitar prowess, and to be quite honest, this track might have some of his best vocal efforts as well.
Fans of Pink Floyd might find the sound to be Gilmour-esque, and that’s not a bad thing.
10) “It’s Alright (Don’t Think About It)” (1993)
Funny enough, the Kinks last effort, 1993’s Phobia, is perhaps the Davies brothers’ most collaborative album. This is a searing metal-esque blitz against industrialization, environmental destruction, and ignoring the world’s problems in the face of monetary gain. Sound familiar?
Dave’s guitar has never sounded so charged as it does on this track and his vocals remind us of the gravelly blues covers he sang early in his career.
Dave Davies is touring the US this spring and releasing a new album. Check out his website for tour details.
(Cover artwork by Jen Cunningham; used with permission)