“You Really Got Me” is a song written by Ray Davies for English rock band the Kinks. The song, originally performed in a more blues-oriented style, was inspired by artists such as Lead Belly and Big Bill Broonzy. Two versions of the song were recorded, with the second performance being used for the final single. Although it was rumoured that future Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page had performed the song’s guitar solo, the myth has since been proven false.
“You Really Got Me” was built around power chords (perfect fifths and octaves) and heavily influenced later rock musicians, particularly in the genres of heavy metal and punk rock. Built around a guitar riff played by Dave Davies, the song’s lyrics were described by Dave as “a love song for street kids.”
“You Really Got Me” was released on 4 August 1964 as the group’s third single, and reached number one on the UK singles chart the next month, remaining for two weeks. The song became the group’s breakthrough hit; it established them as one of the top British Invasion acts in the United States, reaching number seven there later in the year. “You Really Got Me” was later included on the Kinks’ debut album, Kinks. The song was covered by American rock band Van Halen in 1978, reaching the Billboard Top 40.
[The original demo version of ‘You Really Got Me’] had very way-out words and a funny sort of ending that didn’t. We did it differently on the record because [this original version] was really rather uncommercial.
– Ray Davies
“You Really Got Me” was written by Ray Davies, the Kinks’ vocalist and main songwriter, sometime between 9 and 12 March 1964. Created on the piano in the front room of the Davies’ home, the song was stylistically very different from the finished product, being much lighter and somewhat jazz-oriented. Ray said of the song’s writing, “When I came up with [‘You Really Got Me’] I hadn’t been writing songs very long at all. It was one of the first five I ever came up with.”
During the spring of 1964, Ray Davies played an early version of “You Really Got Me” on piano to rock photographer Allan Ballard during a photo shoot. Ballard later remembered, “It was quite a small, pokey, Victorian Terrace, a bit scruffy, and in the hallway they had an upright piano. Ray sat down and plonked out, ‘Der-der, der, Der-der!’ He said, ‘What do you reckon to this?’ It meant nothing to me at the time, but it ended up as ‘You Really Got Me’.”
Ray, initially planning for the song to be a “more laid-back number”, later played the chords of the song to brother Dave Davies, the Kinks’ lead guitarist. However, upon hearing the track, Dave decided that the riff would be much more powerful on a guitar. Ray said of the track’s change to a guitar-centred track, “I wanted it to be a jazz-type tune, because that’s what I liked at the time. It’s written originally around a sax line … Dave ended up playing the sax line in fuzz guitar and it took the song a step further.” The band then began to perform the new track in some of their live shows, where it was well received.
In 1998, Ray said, “I’d written ‘You Really Got Me’ as tribute to all those great blues people I love: Lead Belly and Big Bill Broonzy.” Dave cited Gerry Mulligan as an inspiration, saying, “Ray was a great fan of Gerry Mulligan, who was in [the Jazz on a Summer’s Day movie], and as he sat at the piano at home, he sort of messed around in a vein similar to Mulligan and came up with this figure based on a 12-bar blues”. Dave has also said that song had been inspired by Jimmy Giuffre’s song “The Train and the River”. According to the band’s manager, Larry Page, the song’s characteristic riff came about while working out the chords of the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie”. Lyrically, the song was said to be influenced by an encounter with one of the band’s “first serious female fans.”
When I first heard [“You Really Got Me”], I said, “Shit, it doesn’t matter what you do with this, it’s a number one song”. It could have been done in waltz time and it would have been a hit.
– Shel Talmy, producer of “You Really Got Me”
The song was recorded by the Kinks at least twice in the summer of 1964. The band’s demo was in a “bluesy” style, while a full studio version recorded in June was slower and less emphatic than the final single. Although the band wanted to rerecord the song, their record company Pye refused to fund another session on the ground that the band’s first two singles had failed to chart. Ray Davies, however, hated the original recording of the track, threatening that he would refuse to perform or promote the single unless it was rerecorded. Manager Larry Page also refused to publish the original recording. When Pye stood its ground, the band’s own management broke the stalemate by funding the session themselves. Ray Davies’ adamant attitude on behalf of the career-making song effectively established him as the leader and chief songwriter of the Kinks. Davies later said, “I was floundering around trying to find an identity. It was in 1964 that I managed to do that, to be able to justify myself and say, ‘I exist, I’m here.’ I was literally born when that song hit.”
The influential distortion sound of the guitar track was created after guitarist Dave Davies sliced the speaker cone of his guitar amplifier with a razor blade and poked it with a pin. The amplifier was affectionately called “little green”, after the name of the amplifier made by the Elpico company, and purchased in Davies’ neighbourhood music shop, linked to a Vox AC-30. In 2014, Dave Davies accused brother Ray of lying about participating in Dave’s guitar distortion sound. Dave wrote on his Facebook page, “My brother is lying. I don’t know why he does this but it was my Elpico amp that I bought and out of frustration I cut the speaker cone up with a razor blade and I was so shocked and surprised and excited that it worked that I demonstrated the sound to Ray and [Kinks bassist] Pete [Quaife] … Ray liked the sound and he had written a riff on the piano which formed the basis of the song ‘You Really Got Me’ and I played the riff on my guitar with my new sound. I alone created this sound.”
According to recent Kinks’ releases that give full official performance credits of the track, group members Ray Davies (vocals and rhythm guitar), Dave Davies (lead guitar), Pete Quaife (bass) are joined by session men Bobby Graham (drums), and Arthur Greenslade (piano). Regular Kinks drummer Mick Avory plays the tambourine.