Friday, 1 March 2013

Dave Davies and George Harrison: Parallel Lives Part I

I’ll confine the first part of this blog to the early- to- mid-60s to make it more manageable.

I’ve already written a little about Dave’s guitar in the Kinks and the vital presence he was live and now I’m going to focus on his vocals and his songwriting.

I’ve been thinking how Dave’s contribution to the Kinks has parallels in George Harrison’s to the Beatles. They were both lead guitarists, both great guitarists. Neither of them was as prolific in output as the main songwriter/s in the band but I would argue that some of the songs they did write had more emotional intensity almost because of that. It’s an interesting jumping-off point for a reconsideration of Dave’s role in the Kinks.

I read in a recent article that George only managed to get about one song on each Beatles album. Whether this was his choice, I don't know. With Dave, it seems to me that he was probably discouraged by the facility and ease with which Ray turned out songs and possibly by the sheer number he came up with. Plus what demotivated Dave would motivate Ray.

I was going to write that one difference was that George only ever sang his own compositions with the Beatles but fact-checking proved me wrong. He did sing lead on at least a couple of Lennon and McCartney tunes (I'm Happy Just to Dance with You, Do You Want to Know a Secret); Dave sang on more of Ray’s songs than this and both Dave and George sang lead vocals on a number of covers. It’s not exactly clear how the decision about who would sing what was made. A few times in X-Ray, Ray mentions that he thought Dave’s voice would suit a song better or that he wrote a song for Dave, for instance, he says:
‘We recorded Come On Now [I love the version on the Picture Book set that I was lucky enough to win at the first Satsang weekend, when Dave gets the words wrong and has to restart twice, with laughter and comments in between], which I had written for Dave to sing as the B-side of our next single, Tired of Waiting for You’. 
This is par for the course – the track Dave sang (or wrote) would be the B-side even when it was exceptional like I’m Not Like Everybody Else, also originally written for Dave. Later Ray might change his mind about who should sing as he did with the latter.

Anyway, I’ve started to digress onto Dave’s vocals so let’s go.

Dave was crucial, especially in the early days, with his signature guitar sound on songs like You Really Got Me (discussed in more detail elsewhere) and his powerful lead vocal on original songs and the aforementioned covers that were then a staple of Kinks sets. Ray realises that certain of these fit Dave’s ra(n)ge and the urgency of his delivery, for instance, the rock/blues numbers, Milk Cow Blues, I’ve Been Driving on Bald Mountain, Beautiful Delilah and the Ray songs of the same ilk, such as I Don’t Need You Any More, all of which he interprets with exuberance, with his own potent feral amalgam of anger and sexual energy. Of course Ray also sang covers but not to the same extent and not with the same gusto.

The moods and lyrics of these songs gel perfectly with Dave’s raucously fervent vocals. He may sometimes get the words wrong (remembering words is not his forte) but you never doubt his intent and he brings a credibility to some of these blues/rock standards that I don't think Ray could.

Milk Cow Blues (Sleepy John Estes)
‘Well I've tried everything to get along with you/But I'm gonna tell ya what I'm gonna do/I'm sick of all your crying, gonna leave you alone/If you don't believe I'm going/You can count the days I'm gone/I'm gonna leave/Gonna leave your lovin' baby, oh some day/Well if you don't believe I'm going/Watch me leaving you this way’
Again, who sings which bit is not set in stone. In 1965, I said before that Ray has yet to find his roar while Dave manages to smile and sneer at the same time – he wants to express the frustration in the lyrics but can't hide his delight at getting to sing on TV, so his demeanour and his performance are part-menace, part-glee (with classic hair toss) and pure exultation. Ray comes in and Dave never resumes the lead vocal, a pity as there’s some shameless one-upmanship from him in the 1966 performance. Dave’s voice is hoarse, strained, intense, real, an animal unleashed. His guitar and Mick’s drumming driving the song at points (can hardly hear Pete’s bass, although this song usually depends on it so it’s possibly just this recording), with a final flourish at the end, not that the self-involved French crowd seems to appreciate or notice it. Why is it that the French TV crews always show the audience at the expense of the band? It’s true of tennis tournaments too – the French are so obsessed with themselves that they really think we would rather see a French child or woman in the crowd than the actual tennis players.

Beautiful Delilah (Chuck Berry) 1964
That high rasp in his voice and the way the band race through the song adds a rush of excitement.

Naggin' Woman (Jerry West, Jimmy Anderson) 1965
‘So stop your naggin' woman/Nagging me right off my face/Well baby if you weren't naggin'/Honey you'd be so sweet’

I’ve Been Driving on Bald Mountain (credited to Shel Talmy) 1964

I’m a Lover Not a Fighter (J. D. Miller) 1964
The beginning of the true rock vocal, that fine serrated edge. Dave the Rave lets loose.

Good Golly Miss Molly (John Marascalco/Robert ‘Bumps’ Blackwell, 1958)

I Don’t Need You Any More 1964
Dave’s distinctively rougher-edged lead vocal – is that Ray’s as counterpoint? It doesn’t sound like Ray. Very Beatles-ish, especially the bridge. Dave seems to come in a couple of words into each line, as if for emphasis – he seems to really mean it. His vocals reinforce the bitter triumph in the lyrics.
‘Well I don't need you honey/'Cause things just ain't the same/Since you've been going out with other fellas/Things have really (have) changed/Well I needed you once/But now I'm standing alone/I don't need you any more.’

Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight 1965

First a comparison of Dave’s One Fine Day 1964 with George Harrison’s Don’t Bother Me 1963
Both of these are completely charming and haven’t received much attention.
Dave’s early songs were perfect for the infant Kinks and for the time, great little pop songs with a Merseybeat feel, I Believed You (1963/4) and  One Fine Day (a crime that this wasn’t recorded by the Kinks or Dave; Shel Naylor’s voice has a  similar jagged edge but I would still love to hear Dave sing it) – a song as energetic, fresh, irrepressible and irresistible as Dave himself. Simple but effective and similar in tone and story to George’s initial input with the Beatles, Don’t Bother Me, a song that George himself dismisses but which I think is on a par with or even superior to what Lennon and McCartney were writing at the time, just as One Fine Day compares favourably with Ray’s I Need You, admittedly only a B-side (ok I know many of you love it and Ray does too but I find it pedestrian). Lost girlfriends are the subject of the songs but the jaunty tunes suggest the boys are pretty philosophical about their losses.

Weirdly the vocal on I Believed You doesn’t sound like either Ray or Dave. It sounds more like George.

Got My Feet on the Ground 1965
A song credited to Dave and Ray that Dave races through with such a burst of breathless optimism that the first line at first listen sounds like ‘La la la la la’ when in fact he is singing words, just failing to enunciate them in his hurry. A breath of fresh air in comparison to some of the material the Kinks did release: Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy and Who’ll Be the Next in Line. Not that Ray wasn't writing truly beautiful songs at this time that never got further than demo stage: I’ve Got That Feeling, Tell Me Now So I’ll Know. Perhaps there were simply too many to go round..

Wait till the Summer Comes Along 1965
I know my summer'll never come/I know I'll cry until my dying day has come/Let the winter roll along/I've got nothing left but song.

I think it’s always difficult in a band when one person is a prolific composer as Ray was. Dave’s situation reminds me of Grant Hart’s in Husker Du, with Bob Mould churning out tunes constantly and therefore believing he had more of a claim to tracks on an album, while Grant wrote much more from emotion as Dave does.

In the beginning, Dave was obviously having way too much fun to knuckle down to songwriting. It wasn’t something he felt obliged to do, Ray being the one who reacted to the pressure from the record companies and the pressure he put on himself. Neither have Dave and responsibility ever been on great terms so it was natural for him to leave this up to Ray in the 60s when there were so many other distractions (sex, drugs and alcohol). Ray was asked to provide a song for each episode of a six-week series called Where Was Spring:
‘I had the brief for a song on a Thursday, wrote it on Friday and it went out on Saturday’.
It’s almost as if he welcomes the opportunity to work to this gruelling schedule. I can imagine what Dave would have said if asked to deliver songs like this, probably something ruder than this:
‘I don’t function that well being pushed. Being inspired, I can go on forever.’ (Dave in Uncut interview).

Ray seems to thrive on pressure, rises to the challenge, even seems to welcome the task of exercising his ingenuity within certain constraints. Dave is the total opposite. While Dave might rail against the confines and mores of the system, Ray works within it, slyly subverting and denigrating it. Dave has a knee-jerk negative reaction to anything restrictive and once things get difficult or too much like a chore, he bails. Telling Dave to do something (especially when he was young) would probably ensure that there was little chance that he would do it. He would see any limits (time, studio) as an attempt to circumscribe his imagination but also, he was far more conscious, still single and carefree, that he was missing out on other opportunities. He had other, more hedonist priorities: making the most of his new-found fame and promise of wealth. Obviously Ray was married with all the responsibilities that entailed while Dave had so far escaped that fate although I’m not sure it would have made much difference. So the idea that Dave should make a solo album to capitalise on his popularity and good looks was destined to fail.

Dave grumbles:
‘It stirred up all the emotions about Sue and I didn’t want to do the bleeding record. I felt I had to do it out of duty rather than out of joy, fun and excitement. They were very exuberant times and there I was, traipsing into the studio to force this stuff out.’

You can imagine that Dave regretted each minute spent cooped up in that small studio, trying to create to order, minutes and hours he could have spent on the town. He has no misgivings about not completing the record but his pent-up feelings for Sue and the situation resulted in some beautiful, heartfelt, soul-searching songs, full of anguish. Being a social animal, he misses the band. But perhaps it wasn’t a bad plan, to give Dave a platform for his creativity, which could be stifled under the barrage of Ray’s new songs. There seemed little space on Kinks releases for these impassioned gems, each wrested from Dave’s soul merely to languish on a B-side. Perhaps this relegation was a punishment for his refusal to complete the album.

George Harrison traversed a similar trajectory, his first Beatles A-side being Something in 1969, with the exquisite While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Here Comes the Sun unbelievably deemed not to be A-side material. I’ll compare these with Dave’s songs from the same era in Part II.

As Mick says in the Imaginary Man documentary, Ray could write a song about anything. For him, it was more of an intellectual process, springing from an idea, whereas for Dave it was primarily cathartic, a release. Dave needed to feel passionate before he was driven to express himself, hence all those rage-filled, melancholy digs at (the much-maligned in song) Sue: Susannah’s Still Alive, This Man He Weeps, Crying, Love Me till the Sun Shines, Funny Face.

It seems like I'm only beginning to scratch the surface so more on the above in Part II plus Eastern religions, mysticism, karma and the lighter side of the comparison.


  1. Nice start. Keep going.

    Curtis Roberts

  2. I do believe you've really hit on some aspects of Dave's creative process that specific interviews, books, etc. merely touch upon. Great job!

  3. Thanks! I'm working on Part II now.