Kinks frontman Ray Davies wrote the lyric to this rambunctious rocker after watching girls dancing in a club. It's not the most articulate lyric, but that's the point: The guy in the song is so infatuated, all he can do is mutter at the girl how she's really got him.
In 2015, he told Rolling Stone: "I just remembered this one girl dancing. 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."
Dave Davies got the dirty guitar sound by slashing the speaker cone on his amplifier 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.
According to Dave, the amp slashing happened in his bedroom in North London when he was irate - he had gotten his girlfriend, Sue Sheehan, pregnant, and their parents wanted to keep them from getting married. Instead of doing self harm, he used the blade on the amp to channel his rage. The amp was a cheap unit called an Elpico that had been giving him problems - he decided to teach it a lesson!
In the studio, the wounded Elpico was hooked into a another amp, which Dave recalls as a Vox AC30 and producer Shel Talmy remembers as a Vox AC10. The sound they got changed the course of rock history, becoming the first big hit to use distortion.
Davies and Sheehan stayed apart, but she had the baby, a girl named Tracey who finally met her father
"You Really Got Me" is the first hit for The Kinks. Before releasing it, they 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, but the song gave them the hit they were looking for. Soon they were making TV appearances, gracing magazine covers, and playing on bills with The Beatles as an opening act. They didn't have an album out when the song took off, so they rushed one out to capitalize on the demand. This first, self-titled album has just five originals, with the rest being R&B covers - standard practice at the time for British Invasion bands.
The Kinks recorded a slower version with a blues feel on their first attempt, but hated the results. 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, they were able to withhold the song until they could do it again. At the second session, Dave Davies used his slashed amp and Talmy produced it to get the desired live sound. This is the version that was released. Talmy liked the original: He claimed it would also have been a hit if it was released.
Ray Davies came up with famous riff on the piano at the family home. He played it for Dave, who transposed it to guitar. Their first version was 6-minutes long, but the final single release came in at just 2:20.
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.
The final version of the song was recorded in July 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 a month earlier, so producer Shel Talmy brought in a session musician named Bobby Graham to play. When they recorded it the second time in July, Mick Avory had joined the band as their drummer, but Talmy didn't trust him and made him play tambourine while Graham played drums. A session musician named Arthur Greenslade played piano, and Jon Lord, years before he became a member of Deep Purple, claimed he played keyboards. Lord recalled with a laugh to The Leicester Mercury in 2000: "All I did was plink, plink, plink. It wasn't hard."
Released in the UK on August 4, 1964, "You Really Got Me" climbed to #1 on September 16, where it stayed for two weeks. In America, it was released in September and reached a peak of #7 in November.
Ray Davies is the only songwriter credited on this track, even though his brother Dave came up with the signature guitar sound. This was one of many friction points for the brothers, who are near the top of any list of the most combative siblings in rock. When they recorded the song, Ray was 22 and Dave was 17.
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.
Shel Talmy, who produced this track, came to England from California and brought many American recording techniques with him. To get the loud guitar sound on "You Really Got Me," he recorded the guitar on two channels, one with distortion, the other without. When combined in the mix, the result was a loud, gritty sound that popped when it came on the radio.
"I was using some techniques I worked out on how to get a raunchier sound with distortion," Talmy said in a Songfacts interview
. "It wasn't that difficult because I had done it before in America."
Talmy added: "It helped that Dave was as good as he was, and that he was quite happy to listen."
Talmy later produced the first album for The Who, My Generation
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 producer Shel Talmy, Page didn't play on this song but did play rhythm guitar on some album tracks because Ray Davies didn't want to sing and play guitar at the same time.
Ray Davies took pains to make sure we could understand the words. "I made a conscious effort to make my voice sound pure and I sang the words as clearly as the music would allow," he said.
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."
This has been used in these TV shows:
The Simpsons ("The Canine Mutiny" - 1997)
Mad Men ("The Other Woman" - 2012)
Shameless ("Hurricane Monica" - 2012)
Blue Bloods ("Model Behavior" - 2011)
Daria ("Legends of the Mall" - 2000)
WKRP in Cincinnati ("Frog Story" - 1981)
And in these movies:
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (2009)
Catch Me If You Can (2002)
The New Guy (2002)
Hilary and Jackie (1998)
Private Parts (1997)
A Bronx Tale (1993)
She's Out of Control (1989)
Night Shift (1982)
Over the Edge (1979)
It also appears in the video game Guitar Hero II (2006).
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 Elpico 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."
One of the many things the Davies brothers disagree on is the Van Halen cover. Ray loves it. He told NME it is his favorite Kinks cover. "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. 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
," also produced by Shel Talmy with a sound clearly borrowed from "You Really Got Me," as Pete Townshend played a dirty guitar riff similar to what Dave Davies' did.