Ray Davies wrote this with the help of his brother (and Kinks guitarist) Dave. Ray played it for Dave on piano, and Dave tried it on guitar. Their first version was six-minutes long, but the final single release came in at just 2:20.
Dave Davies got the dirty guitar sound by slashing the speaker cone on his amp with a razor blade. The vibration of the fabric produced an effect known as "fuzz," which became common as various electronic devices were invented to distort the sound. At the time, none of these devices existed, so Davies would mistreat his amp to get the desired sound, often kicking it. The amp was a cheap unit called an Elpico.
In 2015, Ray Davies told Rolling Stone that the lyric was inspired by watching girls dancing in a club. "I just remembered this one girl dancing," he said. "Sometimes you're so overwhelmed by the presence of another person and you can't put two words together."
Davies expanded on the song's inspiration during a 2016 interview with Q magazine: "I was playing a gig at a club in Piccadilly and there was a young girl in the audience who I really liked. She had beautiful lips. Thin, but not skinny. A bit similar to Françoise Hardy. Not long hair, but down to about there (points to shoulders). Long enough to put your hands through… (drifts off, wistfully)… long enough to hold. I wrote You Really Got Me for her, even though I never met her."
Before they released this, The Kinks put out two singles that flopped: a cover of "Long Tall Sally
" and a Ray Davis composition called "You Still Want Me." If "You Really Got Me" didn't sell, there was a good chance their record label would have dropped them.
When The Kinks heard the first version they recorded of this song, they hated the results. It was produced by Shel Talmy, their manager at the time, and Ray Davies thought it came out clean and sterile, when he wanted it to capture the energy of their live shows.
Dave Davies' girlfriend backed them up, saying it didn't make her want to "drop her knickers." The Kinks' record company had no interest in letting them re-record the song, but due to a technicality in their contract, The Kinks were able to withhold the song until they could do it again. At the second session, Dave Davies slashed his amp and Talmy produced it to get the desired live sound. This is the version that was released.
Talmy thought the first version was good, and that it also would have been a hit if it was released. This first version was slower and had more of a blues sound.
The song was recorded on September 26, 1964 with Ray Davies on lead vocals, Dave Davies on guitar and Pete Quaife on bass.
The Kinks didn't have a drummer when they first recorded the song, so producer Shel Talmy brought in a session musician named Bobby Graham to play. When they recorded this the second time, Mick Avory had joined the band as their drummer, but Talmy didn't trust him and made him play tambourine while Graham played drums. One other session musician was used - Arthur Greenslade played piano.
Just before Dave Davies started his guitar solo at the second recording session, his brother yelled to encourage him. Dave got a little confused, but they had only three hours of studio time so he kept playing. He pulled off the solo despite the distraction.
The first line was originally "You, you really got me going." Ray Davies changed it to "Girl, you really got me going" at the suggestion of one of their advisers. The idea was to appeal to the teenage girls in their audience.
Dave Davies got the idea for the guitar riff from "Tequila
" by The Champs.
This was the first hit for The Kinks. It gave them a lot of publicity and led to TV appearances, magazine covers, and two gigs opening for The Beatles. They didn't have an album out yet, so they rushed one out to capitalize on the demand. This first album contained only five originals, with the rest being R&B covers.
Ray Davies wrote this with the intention of making it big crowd-pleaser for their live shows. He was trying to write something similar to "Louie Louie
," which was a big hit for The Kingsmen.
It was rumored that Jimmy Page, who was a session musician at the time, played guitar on this track, which the band stridently denied. According to a 2012 interview on Finding Zoso
with producer Shel Talmy, Jimmy Page did not play the lead guitar on the song. However he did
play rhythm as Ray Davies didn't want to sing and play guitar at the same time.
Ray Davies: "I made a conscious effort to make my voice sound pure and I sang the words as clearly as the music would allow."
Ray Davies was 22 when they recorded this; Dave Davies was 17.
A 1978 cover of this song was the first single for Van Halen
, who played lots of Kinks songs in their early years doing club shows. Eddie Van Halen spent the next several years developing new guitar riffs, and like Davies, was known to manipulate his equipment to get just the right sound.
The powerful rhythm guitar riff was very influential on other British groups. The Rolling Stones recorded "Satisfaction
," which was driven by the rhythm guitar, a year later.
According to Ray Davies, there was a great deal of jealousy among their peers when The Kinks came up with this song. He said in a 1981 interview with Creem: "There were a lot of groups going around at the time – the Yardbirds, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones – and nobody had really cracked with a sort of R&B #1 record. The songs were always sort of like The Beatles. When we first wanted to do a record, we couldn't get a recording gig. We were turned down by Decca, Parlophone, EMI and even Brian Epstein came to see us play and turned us down. So I started writing songs like 'You Really Got Me,' and I think there was a sheer jealousy that we did it first. Because we weren't a great group – untidy – and we were considered maybe a bit of a joke. But for some reason, I'd just had dinner, shepherd's pie, at my sister's house, and I sat down at the piano and played da, da, da, da, da. The funny thing is it was influenced by Mose Allison more than anybody else. And I think there was a lot of bad feeling. I remember we went to clubs like the Marquee, and those bands wouldn't talk to us because we did it first."
The Kinks' next single was "All Day And All Of The Night," which was basically a re-write of this song, but was also a hit.
This was used in the 2004 video game Battlefield Vietnam
Jon Lord played the keyboard part on this track years before he became a member of Deep Purple. He recalled with a laugh to The Leicester Mercury in 2000: "All I did was plink, plink, plink. It wasn't hard."
Ray Davies recalled in an interview with NME how his brother Dave created the distortion effect on this song. Said Ray: "We stuck knitting needles in the speakers, or in Dave's case, he slit the speakers with a razor blade. In those days we played records on a radiogram so loudly that they all sounded fuzzy. We thought, 'That's a great sound,' without realizing the speakers were buggered. Everyone else was using really clean guitar sounds, so for 'You Really Got Me' we hooked a little speaker up to a clean amp and came up with thunderous, unaffected, pure power."
In a Rolling Stone interview, Ray said that they "evolved" the sound by putting knitting needles in the speakers when recording this song. That statement prompted a rebuttal from his brother Dave, who wrote in to explain: "I alone created the guitar sound for the song with my Elipico amp that I bought. I slashed the speaker with a razor blade, which resulted in the 'You Really Got Me' tone. There were no knitting needles used in making my guitar sound."
Ray Davies told The NME
that the Van Halen version
of this tune is his favorite Kinks cover. He explained: "It was a big hit for them and put them on a career of excess and sent them on the road. So I enjoyed that one."
Dave Davies is not a fan of the Van Halen cover. He told Rolling Stone: "Our song was working-class people trying to fight back. Their version sounds too easy."
The Who played this at many of their early concerts. Their first single was "I Can't Explain
" and was also produced by Shel Talmy. The sound borrowed heavily from this, as Pete Townshend played a dirty guitar riff similar to what Dave Davies' recording.