For too long Dave Davies’ name has been almost as big a punch line in Rock and Roll circles as Tito Jackson’s has been among African American comedians and it’s a terrible injustice. I trace a lot of it to John Mendelsohn of Creem Magazine, who made an epic and ultimately successful effort to argue for the excellence of Ray Davies’ softer more idiosyncratic output of 1966-1972, but in turn, Mendelsohn, who rarely showed up without his trademark snark, never failed to take a shot at Ray’s poor brother Dave, and his someone strangulated a cat singing voice.
At its worst, Ray, whose fights with his brother are legendary, took to introducing his lead guitarist as Dave “Death of a Clown” Davies in mocking reference to Dave’s sort of solo hit, which spawned rumors of a solo album that in turn, also became a joke as the years passed..
Well, hopefully, it all ends here because Dave Davies, in sound, style, and lifestyle should instead be known as the first true hard rocker, and his son appears ready to help people remember that. I just listened to Year Long Disaster’s Leda Atomica about eight times in a row. Disaster is fronted by Dave’s son Daniel and Atomica joins Wolfmother’s Woman as one of the best pieces of evidence that Jim Carrey was right, when dressed as a “fat Elvis” version of Jim Morrison at the MTV music awards, he castigated the host network with a mischievous “would it kill you to play a little Foghat every once in a while?”
But what I really heard in Leda Atomica was something wonderful that I rarely have been lucky enough to hear, the sound of a freed Dave Davies. I first heard that sound in the mid-80s. The Kinks were out promoting State of Confusion and Dave closed the show with his Little Richard knock off, Bernadette. I was then hit with four minutes of sheer take no prisoners, yelping, squawking, joyful noise and realized once and for all that all of the attacks on Dave’s voice were one of context, Ray’s context.
During this period in the Kinks’ history Ray Davies was sort of a beaten man. His best work had been ignored and his visions of creating Rock and Roll Broadway turned out to be 20 or so years ahead of its time (Commercial success is never granted to those that are ahead of their time. The big time money instead goes to those who prove to be exactly of their time.) Nevertheless, Van Halen’s cover hit of You Really Got Me, paved the way for the Kinks to rock out again and embrace the 1965 sound that once made people believe they’d be more popular than the Rolling Stones. It wasn’t a bad idea because they were fun live shows and, after all, what other band had an entire greatest hits album worth of material before their leader entered his more critically respected arty period.
Want to hear Waterloo Sunset, Sunny Afternoon, or anything from the now Sainted Village Green Preservation Society, forget it. You were more likely to see Ronald Reagan appear on television with Nancy urging the kids to “Tune in, turn on, and drop out.” It just wasn’t going to happen. Ray was so demolished by his period of failure that he brought a copy of Village Green with him when the reborn Kinks sold out Madison Square Garden, a move I’ve never quite understood. Was he saying “they finally like us again” or was he saying “I’m sorry art, I can’t afford you anymore?”
Ray is playing those songs again thanks mostly to Brit-Pop stars like Damon Alborn, who finally helped make his most cherished work popular. Another Rock Star who loved that work though was none other than Ray’s sparring partner, Dave.
I learned this in the mid-90’s when I saw Dave perform solo at Slim’s in San Francisco. The rave ups were there, but shockingly also were quieter Ray songs like Young and Innocent Days years before Ray would again have the courage to perform material from this period live.
Wait a second. Wasn’t Dave the rocker? Wasn’t Dave going insane all those years that Ray wouldn’t let him turn up his amp?
Hell, yeah he was, but I realized that night that Dave made the sacrifice because he loved what Ray was doing. Dave Davies stuck by his brother when his brother was turning one of the hottest Rock bands in the world into an afterthought. It’s the exact opposite of what Mike Love did when he heard Pet Sounds and Smile, and if you ask me it’s epically noble.
So it’s high time we reappraise Dave Davies. Dave was the guy who stuck knitting needles into his amplifier and invented the distorted power chord, the starting point of both Punk and Heavy Metal. Dave was the first guy around with a Gibson Flying V. Don’t those legendarily “long” Beatles cuts look hilariously quaint now? Well look at Dave because his hair really was dangerous Guns and Roses long. Dave was the guy that got thrown out of school. Dave was the one prowling around town in outlandish dress with a sword. Dave invented hard rock and the sound of Leda Atomica is his sound.
Dave and what he gave the world shouldn’t be ignored merely because he stuck by a brother that was even more talented. The first joyful thing a kid does with a guitar is when he figures out how to overdrive his amp and let loose with one of those exhilarating barre chord riffs. It’s usually Smoke on the Water, but for me it was All Day and All the Night and ‘Til The End of The Day. It’s the joyful sound of being 17.
Dave Davies gave us that joy and we should never forget it.