Written by Kinks lead singer Ray Davies, he called this "a romantic, lyrical song about my older sister's generation."
Waterloo Bridge is in London, and the lyrics are about a guy looking out of a window at two lovers meeting at Waterloo Station. Davies used to cross Waterloo Bridge every day when he was a student at Croydon Art School.
Ray Davies brought this to the band while they were in the middle of recording the album. He was reluctant to share the lyrics because they were so personal. In a Rolling Stone magazine interview, his brother (and Kinks guitarist) Dave Davies said Ray felt "it was like an extract from a diary nobody was allowed to read."
It is often claimed that the line, "Terry meets Julie, Waterloo Station every Friday night" is about the relationship between actor Terence Stamp and actress Julie Christie. However, Ray Davies denied this in his autobiography. He subsequently revealed that it was "a fantasy about my sister going off with her boyfriend to a new world and they were going to emigrate and go to another country."
According to Kinks biographer Nick Hasted, Terry was Ray's nephew Terry Davies, whom he was close to in early teenage years.
Further confusing the matter, Davies told Rolling Stone in 2015 that Julie and Terry were "big, famous actors at the time." The actors had been dating since the early '60s and starred together in the film Far From the Madding Crowd, which is often cited as the direct inspiration for the song, but the film didn't come out until six months after the single's release.
Ray Davies started writing this a few years before The Kinks recorded it. At first, it was called "Liverpool Sunset," but when The Beatles released "Penny Lane
," he changed the words so it wouldn't look like a rip-off.
On February 23, 2003 David Bowie was joined on stage by Ray Davies and performed a duet of this song at Carnegie Hall in New York City for the Tibet House benefit.
The perfectionist Ray Davies, before releasing the single, revisited the song's location at sunset to ensure "the atmosphere was right."
Ray Davies (From Uncut magazine January 2009): "It came to me first as a statement about the death of Merseybeat. But I realized that Waterloo was a very significant place in my life. I was in St. Thomas' Hospital when I was really ill as a child, and I looked out on the river. I went to Waterloo every day to go to college as well. The song was also about being taken to the Festival of Britain with my mum and dad. I remember them taking me by the hand, looking at the big Skylon tower, and saying it symbolized the future. That, and then walking by the Thames with my first wife (Rasa, who left Ray, taking his two daughters, in 1973) and all the other dreams that we had. Her in her brown suede coat that she wore, that was stolen. And also about my sisters, and about the world I wanted them to have. The two characters in the song, Terry and Julie, are to do with the aspirations of my sisters' generation, who grew up during the Second world War and missed out on the '60s.
Sometimes when you're writing and you're really on good form, you get into the frame of mind where you think, I can relate to any of these things. It's something I learned at art school-let all the ideas flow out. But if you listen to the words without the music, it's a different thing entirely. The lyrics could be better. But they dovetail with the music perfectly."
Popular British singer Paul Weller has said this is his favorite song.
Ray Davies performed this with Jackson Browne on Davies' 2010 collaborative album See My Friends. In an interview for Daniel Rachel's book The Art of Noise: Conversations with Great Songwriters, Davies recalled that Browne was taken with a particular lyric: "He said, 'I don't need no friends?' He said it twice. I said, 'Yeah.' He said, 'That's the most beautiful thing I've ever had to sing. It doesn't make sense on the page but when you put it with the music...'
I hadn't thought about it that way. The melody takes the curse off the grammar fault. The choice of words, the way they're pronounced, sometimes gives an emotion that's unexpected. Don't is the killer word because it's not correct. Great lines are only great because of what precedes them, maybe sometimes when they happen after."