You Really Got Me: The Kinks, Van Halen, Toots and the Maytals

Hello there! In this week’s blog we review the song You Really Got Me. Many people consider this the original heavy-metal song. We will start with the original version by The Kinks, then discuss covers of that song by the groups Van Halen and Toots and the Maytals.

The Kinks and You Really Got Me:

The Kinks were one of the most influential British Invasion bands. Although they first appeared on the charts in the mid-60s, the band continued on with significant commercial success until they broke up in 1996.

The Kinks were apparently named after their unusual tastes in fashion. Below is a photo of the original lineup of The Kinks from 1965. From L: lead singer and rhythm guitarist Ray Davies; bassist Pete Quaife; Ray’s brother Dave Davies on lead guitar; and drummer Mick Avory. In 1969, the group added keyboardist Nicky Hopkins to their lineup.

Embed from Getty Images

The song You Really Got Me was the Kinks’ first big hit. It was written by Ray Davies and has a fascinating story behind it. Apparently Ray’s tune was initially inspired by blues and jazz, as Davies was a fan of musicians like Leadbelly and jazz saxophonist Gerry Mulligan.

Ray Davies’ song You Really Got Me describes his infatuation with a female fan of the band.

Girl, you really got me goin’
You got me so I don’t know what I’m doin’
Yeah, you really got me now
You got me so I can’t sleep at night

Yeah, you really got me now
You got me so I don’t know what I’m doin’, now
Oh yeah, you really got me now
You got me so I can’t sleep at night

CHORUS: You really got me (sung 3 times)

Ray Davies had envisioned the main musical theme being played on saxophone; however, his brother Dave Davies had other ideas. Dave had been trying unsuccessfully to produce a raspy, fuzzy sound from his guitar. In frustration, he took a razor blade and sliced his amplifier.

To his delight, Dave’s mutilation of his amp produced just the sound he was searching for. Dave convinced his brother Ray to allow him to play the lead on his electric guitar.

Inspired by tunes like The Kingsmen’s Louie Louie, The Kinks then undertook a total transformation of You Really Got Me. Instead of a jazz-based blues tune, it was converted into a hard-rock garage band song. Ray Davies’ vocals were delivered with a really hard edge, and this was complemented beautifully by Dave Davies’ thrash guitar solo.

The song was released in the UK in August, 1964, and quickly climbed to #1 on the British pop charts. It was subsequently rushed into production in the US, where it reached #7 on the Billboard pop list.

Here are the Kinks performing You Really Got Me live on the TV program Shindig in 1965.

Isn’t this great? Ray Davies’ gritty lead vocals mesh perfectly with Dave Davies’ guitar solo. Upon hearing this song, scores of garage bands raced out and copied the Kinks’ style. This song also inspired more serious hard-rock musicians such as The Who and Jimi Hendrix, and an entire genre of heavy-metal groups followed.

By the way, this song sparked the long-standing claim that the electric guitar solo on the Kinks’ record was actually played by legendary guitarist Jimmy Page, and not Dave Davies. All of the parties involved deny that this was true, and it appears that this was simply an urban legend.

Following their success with You Really Got Me, the Kinks continued on with similar hard-rock chart-toppers such as All Day and All of the Night, Tired of Waiting For You, and Lola.

However, Ray Davies also wrote a number of much more standard pop tunes. Later Ray Davies songs such as Waterloo Sunset, Sunny Afternoon and Come Dancing
exemplified the development of Davies’ songwriting style … toward songs rich in social commentary, observation and idiosyncratic character study, all with a uniquely English flavor.

One feature of the Kinks was their frequent on-stage aggression. At one venue, Mick Avory and Dave Davies got into a squabble that ended with Mick cold-cocking Dave with his high-hat stand. On other occasions, Ray and Dave would get into rather violent arguments during concerts.

One result of their behavior was that in 1965 the American Federation of Musicians banned the Kinks from performing in the U.S., because of their rowdy on-stage antics. Unfortunately, this kept the group from American audiences for almost five years, during the period of their greatest fame.

The Kinks were one of the most influential musical groups from the British Invasion. In addition to their impact on heavy-metal music, both the vocal and instrumental contributions from the Kinks were a major force in the development of hard rock, paving the way for groups like The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. The Kinks were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

Van Halen and You Really Got Me:

The band Van Halen have now been performing for over 40 years. They are one of the most influential heavy-metal groups of all time. Although they only ever had one #1 single, Jump, the group has sold over 80 million records, and they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.

Van Halen is a quartet founded by brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen, who were born in Nijmegen, Netherlands but moved to California where they formed their band.

Below is a photo of Van Halen from the mid-1970’s. From L: bassist Michael Anthony; lead vocalist David Lee Roth (love that Spandex!); drummer Alex Van Halen; and lead guitarist Eddie Van Halen.

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David Lee Roth was born in my home town of Bloomington, Indiana. The son of a wealthy eye surgeon, Roth was raised in Bloomington but then moved to California in his teens. He met the Van Halen brothers while they were all students at Pasadena City College.

After adding bassist Michael Anthony, the group proceeded to gain an enthusiastic following at West Coast clubs. Their eponymous first album was released in 1978, became a best-seller and established the group as one of the top heavy-metal bands in the country.

For me, Van Halen’s music is marked by three significant features. The first is the exceptional virtuosity and creativity of Eddie Van Halen’s guitar work. Eddie pioneered a technique called “finger-tapping,” which allowed him to produce eye-popping runs and trills on his electric guitar. Many of Van Halen’s signature songs contain truly unique guitar solos.

A second hallmark of both Van Halen’s records and live shows was the band’s ability to produce both vocals and musical accompaniment, where all four musicians were totally in synch with one another.

Single record cover, Van Halen, You Really Got Me

Single record cover, Van Halen, You Really Got Me

The final defining feature of Van Halen was David Lee Roth’s over-the-top, manic performing style. Whether he was utilizing feedback from his microphone to produce trademark squeals and pops, or doing the splits and acrobatic jumps, Roth’s high-energy showmanship was a staple of Van Halen shows.

You Really Got Me was the first Van Halen single, a release from their 1978 debut album Van Halen. At left is a shot of the single record cover. Apparently Eddie was miffed that their record company chose to release a cover song as their first single, rather than one of their original efforts.

And here is Van Halen performing their cover of You Really Got Me.

I think the Kinks’ song is the perfect vehicle for a heavy-metal band. Note Eddie Van Halen’s ‘finger-tapping’ in his guitar solo. He produces some exceptionally precise runs, and segues right from that work into some soaring slides.

David Lee Roth is his usual manic self. I very much doubt that this is a live performance – it looks too much like a lip-synched ‘music video.’ But it doesn’t matter that much, since Eddie was certainly capable of reproducing those guitar arpeggios in live performance.

Once Van Halen became famous, they proved to be an extremely durable band. They stayed atop the Billboard charts for several years, released several gold-certified albums, sold a ton of records, and embarked on a number of top-grossing concert tours.

The great success of Van Halen inspired a number of similar “big hair” bands that proliferated during the 1980s.  Unfortunately, for a number of these groups their hair seemed more impressive than their musical abilities.

Van Halen also became notorious for the riders in their concert contracts, which specified
a “wish list,” a practice now used throughout the music industry. They pioneered extensive requirements including power availability and stage construction details. The band’s demands were not limited to technical issues; their now-infamous rider specified that a bowl of M&M’s, with all of the brown M&M’s removed, was to be placed in their dressing room.

Despite their enduring fame, the band also experienced more strife and drama than most daytime TV soaps. Apparently there was significant tension between Roth, who was more interested in maintaining the band’s popularity in the pop charts, and Eddie, who wanted to concentrate on experimental technical music.

In 1986, David Lee Roth was replaced by Sammy Hagar as the band’s lead singer. The group remained at the top of the charts, and enjoyed a number of top-selling records with Hagar as their vocal frontman.

However, in 1996 Hagar left the band in an acrimonious split. At this point, Roth re-joined the group. But Dave’s first re-appearance with the band, at the 1996 MTV Video Awards show, did not go well. You can see part of that show here.

From the video, it is apparent that Eddie was irritated that Dave was hogging the limelight. More or less immediately following this show, the group announced that Roth was once again out of Van Halen.

Van Halen has now continued for more than four decades. A brief and unsuccessful period with lead vocalist Gary Cherone was followed by further appearances with either Roth or Hagar on lead vocals. From time to time, Eddie Van Halen has been sidelined with drug or alcohol addiction issues.

Van Halen has been one of the giants of heavy metal. They generated an impressive collection of pop hits, and Eddie Van Halen’s guitar work has been exceptionally creative. With either David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar as lead vocalist, they produced quite a legacy.

Toots and the Maytals and You Really Got Me:

Toots and the Maytals were one of the most famous reggae groups coming out of Jamaica. They were formed in the early 1960s and featured lead vocalist Frederick “Toots” Hibbert.

In 1966, the Maytals won the first Jamaican Independence Festival Popular Song Contest, and for a brief period it appeared that they were headed for stardom. However, this took a detour when Hibbert was jailed for 18 months for drug possession.

Below is a photo of Toots Hibbert and the Maytals from the late 1960s.

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However, once Hibbert was released from prison the group’s fortunes took a positive turn. Working with producer Leslie Kong, Toots and the Maytals recorded some of their most famous songs, including Pressure Drop and Sweet and Dandy. In 1971 they were signed by producer Chris Blackwell to Island Records, the most prestigious record company in Jamaica.

Their association with Island Records brought international exposure to Toots and the Maytals. Two songs by the group were included in the movie The Harder They Come, a 1972 Jamaican film that features one of the greatest movie soundtracks of all time.

So, here is the audio for Toots and the Maytals covering the Kinks’ song You Really Got Me.

I think this is kind of neat – a Caribbean take on You Really Got Me. Surprisingly, the song also works as a reggae tune, even though it is almost unrecognizable from the Kinks’ original.

This version by Toots and the Maytals features all of the reggae staples – the horns; the Caribbean rhythms; the funky backup singers; but primarily here, the terrific Jamaican-style drumming.

And perhaps most of all, this song benefits from Toots Hibbert’s terrific vocals. Hibbert’s vocal style has been compared to that of the great R&B performer Otis Redding.

Toots and the Maytals opened for The Who during that group’s 1975 North American tour. One would have assumed that this would provide the group with tremendous positive exposure. However, the tour apparently did not go well, and the group never achieved anything like the stature of the most famous reggae band, Bob Marley and the Wailers.

The group broke up in 1982 but then re-formed in the 1990s. For many years they continued with a fair amount of commercial success, and remained an impressive touring band.

However, in 2013 Toots Hibbert was struck in the head with a liquor bottle while performing onstage. Not only did he suffer a concussion and require several staples to close his head wound, but the injury left Toots with lasting health issues, including headaches, dizziness, and memory loss.

Since that time, Hibbert has experienced a debilitating fear of performing, and he has been unable to take part in live concerts. What an unfortunate end for one of the most successful and long-lived reggae bands.

Source Material:

Wikipedia, You Really Got Me
Wikipedia, The Kinks
Wikipedia, Van Halen
Wikipedia, Toots and the Maytals

About Tim Londergan

Tim Londergan is professor emeritus of theoretical physics at Indiana University-Bloomington. He studies the properties of the quarks and gluons that form the internal structure of protons and neutrons. He also writes a blog "Tim's Cover Story" that compares covers of important songs in rock music history. From 2002 to 2018, he and his wife shared their college-town experiences with two delightful cats, siblings Lewis and Clark, who enormously enriched their lives. Together with his colleague Steven Vigdor, Tim is co-author of a blog "Debunking Denial," that discusses the difference between skepticism and denial as manifested in various current issues. He is also co-founder of "Concerned Scientists of Indiana University," a group that supports evidence-based science, funding for science research, and policies based on the best available scientific information. His hobbies include tennis and ornithology, and he is a life-long fan of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.
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2 Responses to You Really Got Me: The Kinks, Van Halen, Toots and the Maytals

  1. Pingback: Dancing In The Street: Martha & the Vandellas, Van Halen, David Bowie & Mick Jagger | Tim's Cover Story

  2. Pingback: Take Me Home, Country Roads: John Denver; the Osborne Brothers; Toots & the Maytals | Tim's Cover Story

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