Certain Songs #840: The Kinks – “You Really Got Me”

Album: The Kinks
Year: 1964

Funnily enough, I’m pretty sure that the first time that “You Really Got Me” burrowed its way into my head wasn’t The Kinks version, or even Van Halen’s version.

Rather, it was Rick Derrigner’s version. And that was in the live version of “Rock and Roll, Hootchie Koo,” from Derringer Live, which was a standard on Rock 96FM. At some point, after a very long guitar solo — because this was the mid-1970s, and it was Federal law that the live version of your one single have a very long guitar solo, especially if you were a gunslinger guitarist by trade — the song breaks down and Derringer launches into that famous riff and opening verse.

I really liked that song, but at 13, accepted it at face value, and in fact I might have originally thought that Van Halen’s version was the studio version of what I assumed was a Rick Derringer song until all of the publicity & reviews surrounding Van Halen’s debut schooled me on it being a Kinks cover. You know, the band that did that song “Lola.”

The Kinks!

Not so long after I discovered that “You Really Got Me” was by The Kinks, I went out and got a copy of their still-near-perfect 1966 Greatest Hits album, and a deep lifelong love affair was born.

“You Really Got Me” just jumps out of the speaker with an almost uncontrolled amount of primal fuzzy energy, with only a simple beat and one-note piano keeping it from dissolving it into total anarchy, as Ray Davies introduces a theme that will inform many of his greatest songs: a man completely overwhelmed by forces beyond his control. In this case, sex.

Girl, you really got me goin’
You got me so I don’t know what I’m doin’ now
Yeah, you really got me now
You got me so I can’t sleep at night

As “You Really Got Me” builds towards its title chorus, it gets and more frenzied, with echos of “yeahhhhhhhh” in the background until all he can do is scream “oh no!” as the guitar solo starts.

Said guitar solo, of coruse, is played by the true hero of “You Really Got Me:” 17-year-old Dave Davies. Not only did Dave slash his speaker cone with a razor blade to get the fucked-up sound of the riff, he also provided the backing “yeahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” in the second part of each verse, and perfectly-crazed harmonies on the chorus.

Oh, and he played the guitar solo. It had only been a few months since the Kingsmen’s “Louie, Louie,” had become a thing so I’m just going to posit that Dave had its whacked-out solo in mind when it was time for the solo in “You Really Got Me.”

I say that because he attacks his guitar like it’s infested with bugs and the only way he’s going to survive is to kill them all at the same time. And so, coming out of a scream, notes are flying every which way, higgledy-piggledy, bouncing off of the studio walls, ceilings and floor while Shel Talmy is running round the studio trying to collect them for the recording. It’s complete and utter chaos, and it is beautiful.

All of this unprecedented heaviness somehow played incredibly well in a post-Beatles world, as “You Really Got Me” was a top 10 single here in the States, and became the first in a series of massive U.K. hits for The Kinks.

“You Really Got Me”

“You Really Got Me” performed live in 1964

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