His songs have been covered by artists as diverse as Van Halen (“You Really Got Me”) and the Pretenders (“Stop Your Sobbing”), and The Who’s Pete Townshend and the Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten have sung his praises. And of all the British bands that followed the Beatles to these shores, only the Rolling Stones have lasted as long as the Kinks, the London pop quartet he and his brother Dave formed in 1963. Yet Ray Davies, 52, currently on tour with his one-man show The Storyteller to promote his innovative 1995 autobiography, X-Ray, and a two-CD Kinks retrospective on Guardian Records, To the Bone, is not among pop’s household names. Which, claims Davies, is just fine with him.
Are you jealous of your more famous contemporaries like the Stones?
I don’t envy being the biggest in the world. It’s like Oasis, a couple of kids suddenly being hailed as the new messiahs of rock. I could never live under that pressure.
So superstardom doesn’t matter?
My saving grace are my [gapped front] teeth. I had a girlfriend that once said to me, “You know, darling, when you walk in a room you look wonderful. But as soon as you smile, you f—k it all up.”
Did you open for the Beatles in ’64?
Our first record had made the charts, and we thought we were the biggest thing in the world. John Lennon was backstage, and I couldn’t speak I was so in awe. Right before we went on, he said, “Don’t worry about how you sound because they came to see us.” As he left, he said, “If you run out of songs, you can always sing one of ours.” He acted like the head boy in school, but that was his personality.
Do you regret the volatile relationship you have with your brother?
Every great band has an anger, a dangerous energy. With siblings, it’s even more penetrating. It goes beyond the pale. But the creative energy more than makes up for it. I’d like to work on my relationship with Dave but not lose the tension. Without it, we never would have made “You Really Got Me.” I’m stuck with him and he’s stuck with me.