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- Posted on Apr 16th 2010 5:00PM by James Sullivan
If the Kinks ever get back together, it will be like "a bad remake of 'Night of the Living Dead,'" guitarist Dave Davies once promised. Given the brawls, breakdowns, car crashes, shootings and physical ailments that have afflicted the band members since their inception almost a half-century ago, he was not exactly kidding.
Admired and emulated by their contemporaries the Beatles and the Who, punk-era followers such as the Jam and latter-day Britpop standard-bearers Blur and Oasis, the Kinks almost singlehandedly foretold punk and heavy metal with their early power-chord singles. They gave novelistic character studies a place in rock 'n' roll, and they proved that '60s acts could remain relevant in the New Wave era. Not bad for a band that never liked its name, was banned from touring the US for four of its most productive years and hasn't had a sniff of the album chart in its native UK with a new record since 1967.
The Kinks were effectively born in the living room of Ray and Dave Davies' childhood row house in North London, where their six sisters -- Dave was the youngest of eight -- and their boyfriends listened to hit songs on the record player. It was guitarist Dave who originally formed the band, enlisting his friend Pete Quaife to play bass, but Ray's apparent knack for songwriting soon made him the band's frontman. Drummer Mick Avory, a onetime roommate of Dave's, rounded out the original foursome.
Two failed singles quickly jeopardized the young group's relationship with its record company. But Dave Davies, experimenting with his guitar sound by poking a hole in a speaker cone, gave the group a hard-rocking fuzz tone on their next single, 'You Really Got Me,' which shot to No. 1. Davies would also influence heavy metal generations to come when he became one of the first rock stars to embrace Gibson's stylish Flying V guitar.
Despite the group's rapid ascent -- the Kinks would put 11 more songs in the British Top 10 by the end of 1967 -- their well-documented squabbles also started early. Onstage in Cardiff, Wales, Dave Davies picked a fight with Avory, who responded by cold-cocking his former roommate with his hi-hat stand.
Such public displays of disaffection might have contributed to the mysterious denial of musicians' permits for the band in America in 1965, a ban that would last four years. In 1966, Ray Davies suffered a serious breakdown, and Pete Quaife was in a car accident that kept him offstage for months. (Within a few years, Quaife would become the first Kink to quit.) Meanwhile, despite the superb craftsmanship of albums such as 'The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society' and 'Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire),' the Kinks were already becoming has-beens in their native England.
Though they fared better in America after finally securing touring permits, Ray Davies had another breakdown in 1973. Swallowing a fistful of pills before a gig, he finished the show by kissing his brother and announcing he was quitting. After having his stomach pumped, he soldiered on.
Later in the decade, the Kinks enjoyed an unexpected revival of fortune -- especially in the States. At the urging of their new record label, Arista, they began writing harder-edged songs ('Sleepwalker,' 'Low Budget') that played well to big audiences and sounded up-to-date in the punk era. Still, the band couldn't stay out of its own way: Ray Davies's second marriage broke up over his affair with the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde, who wrote 'I'm the Adultress' about it. In the mid-1980s, Dave Davies finally forced his brother to choose between him and his longtime adversary Avory, who was given a job running the band's studio, Konk.
Since the band's overdue breakup in 1996, fans like Edgers have been clamoring for a reunion. Such hopes seemed particularly futile in 2004, when Dave suffered a stroke and Ray was shot in the leg during a mugging in New Orleans's French Quarter. Recently, Dave Davies has been making tentative steps toward performing again, and Ray has just announced a forthcoming album of Kinks favorites with collaborators including Bruce Springsteen, the Killers and possibly Metallica.
Asked how he's getting along with his brother, Ray recently said they've been enjoying each other's company more since Dave's stroke. He stopped short, however, of making any promises.
"He's my little brother," he said. "He can be annoying."