In 1964 I was fifteen and had been playing guitar, or rather trying to play guitar, for about a year. I had an old arch top acoustic guitar (I think it was a Hofner but I’m not sure) which my parents had bought for about £15 from our next door neighbours and had recently persuaded my mum and dad to buy me my first electric guitar. It was called a Caravelle Top Twenty and had, I think, three pickups and was a similar shape to a strat. It was very light and cheaply made but it was an Electric Guitar!!!, the first one I had ever owned and, as far as I can remember, the first one I had ever touched. I loved it, even though I had nothing to plug it into. It was either light blue or a sort of purple colour (I’m not sure on the colour as I am colour blind), but it had six strings and a tremolo arm and looked a bit like the guitars the bands I was watching on TV were playing. Oh, and the action wasn’t too good, probably nearly half an inch at the twelfth fret but as the only guitars I had played had been as bad and my playing was fairly rudimentary this didn’t bother me too much. (I’ve just checked with Steve and it was actually pink). The shop where we got it was at Strawberry Gardens, a little music shop where I also bought my records. I’ve just realised that one of the records I bought there was ‘You Don’t Have to be a Baby to Cry’ by The Caravelles, http://www.45-rpm.org.uk/dirc/caravelles.htm a female duo from London (which was probably not played on a Caravelle Top Twenty). It wasn’t the sort of record I was really into but when I had my six shillings and eight pence in my hand (the price of a single then), I had to go home with something, and I thought my mum might like it. I think she did but I don’t remember her ever putting a record on to listen to; she probably only heard it once when I got home and played it to her. In fact I don’t remember anyone in my family ever listening to music. We were a television family; in the evening we would gather in the front room and watch TV, although there wasn’t much choice in 1964 as there were only two television channels, the BBC and ITV and, now I was fifteen, I had started to spend more time either out with my friends or in my room listening to records and trying to work out how to play them on guitar.
I can remember when I first got the guitar I stood it at the end of my bed so that I could lie there and look at it. The knowledge of possession has always been a big part of the pleasure of owning something new, the pleasure of being able to look at something, imagine holding it and using it, and knowing that it is yours. It’s as though the object takes up a mental space and just thinking about it triggers those feelings of satisfaction and enjoyment. I was thinking about this in relation to my life generally, about how I get a great deal of pleasure from thinking about something I am planning to do, sometimes more than the pleasure of actually doing the thing. For instance, I write and record songs and, when I get a new piece of recording software, what I really enjoy doing is thinking about how I will use it and also reading about it – manuals, tutorials, tips and tricks – in fact anything rather than actually getting down to using the stuff! You could say that it’s a sort of fairly guilt-free procrastination; “when I finish reading this tutorial I’ll be able to do what I was going to do better than I would have if I hadn’t read it” . Or at least that’s the theory.
Anyway, back to the ostensible subject of this post. Occasionally I hear a song for the first time and it’s an almost overwhelming experience. It’s a bit hard to describe but there’s a sense of breathless excitement, a dizziness, a feeling as though new possibilities have just opened up. Sadly it doesn’t happen much nowadays, and I don’t think that this has much to do with the quality of the music but is more to do with its ubiquity – music is everywhere, we are surrounded by it, it’s in shops, in lifts and on adverts (and I don’t want to go into the use of my favourite songs in adverts! If advertising is such a creative medium, why do they have to rely so much on the creativity of others to get their message across? Not to mention the artists who will prostitute their creations for the sake of a few quid!) It’s a bit like with drugs (a subject I know a little about), regular exposure leads to a build up of tolerance so that you need a bigger dose to get the same effect – or at least that’s my theory.
You Really Got Me was one of those songs; I wanted to rush out and tell everybody about it but, most of all, I wanted to hear it again – that raw, brutal guitar sound and sneering vocal. But of course I couldn’t listen to it again, it had been on some TV programme and, in the mid-sixties, there was no internet, no pause and rewind TV, no way of replaying something you had just heard unless you went out and bought the record, which of course I did as soon as I had the six and eightpence I needed to buy a copy. Thinking about it now it was very difficult then to hear the music you wanted to listen to – I don’t think that Radio Caroline had started broadcasting from the Isle of Man at this time and, apart from that there was just the Light Programme on the radio (which had a policy of only playing a certain percentage of recorded music, the rest having to be played live). On television there was Top of the Pops, which had started broadcasting earlier that year, and the occasional variety show featuring a pop performer. Finally there was Radio Luxembourg, but the reception was terrible, with programmes fading in and out and lots of crosstalk from other stations.
But this also meant that the music had a greater meaning; each new song was a new relationship which had to be worked at. You had to physically go out and get a copy of the record, take it home, remove it from the sleeve and place it on the record player. When I bought a new record, whether that was a single, an EP (extended play, usually with four tracks) or an LP (long player, what we now call an album), I would play it over and over, placing the stylus on the run-in groove, then the crackly anticipation, waiting for the song to start and then the thrill of once again entering that new and exciting world (when I first got a copy of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band I played it every night for about six months – but I’ll be writing about that in a future post).
So what was it about You Really Got Me that made it so new and exciting? Well you have to remember that it wasn’t so long before this that the singles chart was dominated by middle-of-the-road acts such as Cliff Richard and the Shadows and Frank Ifield. It was a bit like the explosion of punk in the late seventies, a sudden eruption of loud, aggressive, musically unsophisticated bands (although of course The Kinks were anything but unsophisticated, as later records would show) who were playing music for us, for teenagers. As far as I can remember, You Really Got Me had the most aggressive sound I had ever heard on a record up to then. I couldn’t believe how dirty and distorted that guitar sounded; it was many years later that I discovered it was done by Dave Davies, the guitarist, cutting the cardboard cone of the speaker to make it distort. If Louie Louie was the first punk record then You Really Got Me is not far behind.