1. “WATERLOO SUNSET” (1967)
Robyn Hitchcock: “Waterloo Sunset” threads through my life. The single came out during my psychedelic bar mitzvah and still has that eerie “the world has stopped, let’s get out and look around” feel. Every place I’ve lived in Britain is on the main line to Waterloo Station. My children currently both live near Waterloo Bridge, where the sunset is witnessed by Terry and Julie as they have their moment in the crowd. I’ve rehearsed in a studio there since the Soft Boys’ time. My wife and I have had many romantic rendezvous there as the sun flared over the Thames. Then there’s the song itself: sad, dreamy, exultant. The singer is happy to look at life rather than participate. That’s a feeling to relate to. Originally, Ray was going to call it “Liverpool Sunset,” apparently. Thank you for changing it, Ray.
Rhett Miller, Old 97’s: “Waterloo Sunset” is my all-time favorite song, not just from Ray Davies’ catalog but from the entire canon of Western music. My wife and I fell in love in London. On our first date, we watched the great Robyn Hitchcock sing this song—backed by his Soft Boys bandmate Kimberley Rew—at sunset next to Waterloo Bridge. It was my favorite song before that because of its rule-breaking chord changes and weird lyrics (love triangle? observant recluse?), but once it became “our song,” it cemented its place atop my personal list. Thank you, Ray, for not conquering America as a young man; I’m afraid it would’ve ruined you.
2. “THIS IS WHERE I BELONG” (1967)
Black Francis: The phrase “This Is Where I Belong” is taped to the side of one of my guitars. While the song can be described as a declaration of love, there’s something deeper for me. It’s a kind of spiritual, a song of acceptance about one’s place in the universe, within the space-time continuum. And for me, at times, it’s there behind my guitar, singing a song, sometimes singing this very song: “I won’t search for a house upon the hill/Why should I, when I would only miss you still?” That is such a heavy statement: about contentment, about truth, about having arrived in the palace of wisdom.
3. “TIRED OF WAITING FOR YOU” (1965)
Robert Schneider, the Apples In Stereo: I have seen Ray play twice, solo with an acoustic guitar, and his singing blew me away. He has the most soulful voice, overflowing with sympathy and charm. I learned to sing from listening to the Beatles and the Beach Boys, but I learned how to be a singer from listening to Ray Davies. “Tired Of Waiting For You” is the ultimate Kinks song. It has distorto power chords, and it has the dreamy, pastoral middle section: a perfect balance of what the Kinks do best.
4. “LOLA” (1970)
Will Sheff, Okkervil River: Anybody who argues that this isn’t one of the best rock songs of all time is just being contrary. Like Lola herself, you don’t have to know what’s hiding underneath the surface of this song to enjoy it. You can just focus on that great riff and typically transcendent Ray Davies vocal melody. “Lola” is rich and complex, though, heroically humanizing a character who could’ve been an adolescent joke (one year after the Velvet Underground’s “Candy Says,” admittedly) before crowning her and seating her at the center of a song that testifies to the primacy of love over all things. “Lola” sparkles with detail and pulses with yearning emotion, and the characters show every dimension of themselves; by the end of the song, we fully agree with the couple dancing “under electric candlelight.” All light is the same, warming and illuminating our way, whether it comes from fire or from a bulb on a club wall.
5. “GET BACK IN LINE” (1970)
Scott McCaughey, the Minus 5: The protagonist of “Get Back In Line” seems like a simple guy: downtrodden, proud, both discouraged and hopeful, and really not asking for much—just the chance to work and make a meager living. The recording is miraculous, a chaotic interweaving of guitars and organ, tempo chan-ges and Ray’s plaintive vocal lifted by Dave’s lovely harmony. It feels almost accidental, yet somehow so perfectly formed, like a performance that could never be repeated. Perhaps it hasn’t been.
6. “TILL THE END OF THE DAY” (1966)
Steve Wynn: “Till The End Of The Day” blows my mind. Just try playing it on guitar. It uses just about every chord in the book. It’s hard to imagine how someone would write a song like this. It’s as complicated as any ’70s prog-rock song, but sounds impossibly catchy and simple. That’s genius in my book.
7. “DAYS” (1968)
Kevin Barnes, Of Montreal: “Days” is the only broken love song I can think of where the writer doesn’t display any animosity whatsoever toward the one who broke his heart. Instead of cursing the girl for moving on, he thanks her for all the sacred times they had together. It makes me realize there doesn’t have to be a villain when a relationship dissolves. If you were close with someone and then splintered apart, you can still feel good about the experience, holding the sweet memories inside as you continue on with your life. You don’t have to become bitter or resentful.
8. “SHANGRI-LA” (1969)
Sam Jayne, Love As Laughter: I have a strange memory of “Shangri-La” that I revisit every time I hear the song. The memory is somewhere on an old videotape, probably stuck in the camcorder it was recorded on. I was playing with the camcorder out the window of a van while returning to Los Angeles after Coachella in 2000. We were listening to the Kinks, and out the window in the hills I saw two people riding horses. There was nothing around, just hills and shrubs and these two people. I zoomed in with the camcorder, and “Shangri-La” was on and at the part where it’s everybody singing “Shangri-La” with the horns and stuff. I was just watching this couple’s hair blow on their horses in the hills through the screen. Every time I hear “Shangri-La,” that’s what I think of: horseback riders in the hills outside of Palm Springs.
9. “TWO SISTERS” (1967)
Neko Case: I’ve always loved “Two Sisters” the most. Ray Davies has this amazing quality that Roger Miller and Carolyn Mark have, where the song is sad and moving along and killing you. Then they say something that sounds like it should be almost comic—like “she ran around the house with her curlers on”—and it sends you over the edge and breaks your heart. It feels so good and so humbling.
10. “COME DANCING” (1983)
John Roderick, the Long Winters: It might not be the “coolest” Kinks tune, but “Come Dancing” managed to make me, at age 14 back in 1983, nostalgic for trying to cop a feel at a big-band concert in Brighton Beach, England, in 1959. That is an amazing feat of songwriting.
11. “SUNNY AFTERNOON” (1966)
12. “SEE MY FRIENDS” (1965)
13. “YOU REALLY GOT ME” (1964)
14. “VICTORIA” (1969)
15. “ANIMAL FRAM” (1968)
16. “THIS TIME TOMORROW” (1970)
17. “ALL DAY AND ALL OF THE NIGHT” (1964)
18. “PICTURE BOOK” (1968)
19. “THE VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY” (1968)
20. “BETTER THINGS” (1981)
As chosen by: Lou Barlow, Kevin Barnes, Charles Bissell (Wrens), Sonic Boom, Britt Daniel (Spoon), Black Francis, Robyn Hitchcock, Sam Jayne, Tommy Keene, Mac McCaughan (Portastatic), Scott McCaughey, Rhett Miller, John Roderick, Robert Schneider, Will Sheff, Steve Wynn and Jon Langford, Steve Goulding and Lu Edmunds (Mekons)