Of the British invaders of the 1960s, the Kinks never received the same accolades of their brethren. This is in no small part due to being forced to sit out the actual invasion while prodigal sons like the Who, Beatles and Rolling Stones made inroads in the U.S. (The band was inexplicably banned from entering the country from 1965 to 1969.) Subsequently, the band took on the collective persona of the more quintessentially British cousin to those acts’ more populist profiles.
But in 1964, the Kinks’ sound was every bit as “American” as their peers. Their self-titled debut shows a healthy interest in blues and rock & roll. The album leads off with Chuck Berry’s “Beautiful Delilah,” and they also tackle his “Too Much Monkey Business.” Additionally, they cover Bo Diddley’s “Cadillac” and delve into the swampy blues of Jay Miller (“I’m a Lover Not a Fighter”) and Slim Harpo (“Got Love If You Want It”). Admittedly, in this mode, the Kinks do sound sub-par when compared with, say, the Stones’ take on “Not Fade Away” or the Fab Four’s version “Roll Over Beethoven.” However, ending the record’s first side was a song that cemented the band’s legacy and surpassed anything those other bands had recorded by 1964. “You Really Got Me” is a tour de force, its opening riff a seismic shift in the band’s MO and unlike anything that had come before it. The Kinks had found their sound.
With Kinda Kinks, released in 1965, the band started to come into its own. This is obvious from the get-go, with a slithery melody and Ray Davies’ coy vocals on the opening “Look for Me Baby” sounding much more assured than heretofore. The band hadn’t abandoned doing covers, but their takes on “Naggin’ Woman” and “Dancing in the Street” are the album’s weakest moments. But those are isolated instances, as the rest of the record is generally solid and conveys a diverse prowess. The pastoral folkiness of “Nothin’ in the World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ’Bout That Girl” and “So Long” reveal another track Davies’ songwriting would take with increased frequency in the future, while “Tired of Waiting for You” is a fetching mid-tempo lament.
Released the same year as Kinda Kinks, The Kink Kontroversy (a reference to the U.S. ban) shows the band once again indulging the many facets of their sound (blues, British folk, mod pop), but now with a new sense of their own identity. This is evident from their forceful reading of Sleepy John Estes’ “Milk Cow Blues” that leads off the record. The record’s highlight (and one of the Kinks’ best), though, comes with “’Till the End of the Day.” While echoing “You Really Got Me,” the song adds more hipshake, and Davies’ strained vocals are particularly riveting. The B-side to “’Till the End of the Day” when it was released as a single, “Where Have All the Good Times Gone” is another standout, full of Dylanesque wordplay and verve.
For the deluxe edition reissues of these albums, Universal has really gone all out, surpassing the versions put out in 2001 and 2004 by a mile. In addition to lavish liner notes, the two-disc sets encompass nearly everything the band recorded during the time period. Kinks includes both the stereo and mono versions of the album, cuts unearthed for the previous reissues and the Picture Book boxset, the Kinksize EP, sides from their singles, BBC sessions, and a handful of alternate takes. Kinda Kinks, in particular, contains a wealth of top-notch material, including the singles “Ev’rybody’s Gonna Be Happy,” “Set Me Free” and “Never Met a Girl Like You Before,” as well as their B-sides, and the Kwyet Kinks EP, which contained “A Well Respected Man.” It’s also flush with demos and BBC sessions. The Kink Kontroversy is equally full of outtakes and BBC sessions and includes hit single “Dedicated Follower of Fashion.” With impeccable remastering, these sets are vivid evidence of the Kinks’ beginnings—and legacy—being equal to that of their often overshadowing contemporaries.