Jun 212024

Head back to the beginning.

10. The Pretenders — Stop Your Sobbing

I remember hearing the Pretenders’ debut album in 1980, when I was a college radio DJ, and like so many, being captivated by the band’s hard rocking sound and Chrissie Hynde’s fuck-off voice and attitude. But there was one song that didn’t seem to fit, “Stop Your Sobbing,” which sounded less like punk and more like it was from a ‘60s girl group. In the pre-Internet days, I scoured the album for hints, and saw that it was written by “Davies,” and unlike the rest of the album, was produced by Nick Lowe. I either figured out, or read, or heard that the “Davies” at issue was Ray, and that “Stop Your Sobbing” was a cover of a Kinks deep cut. I’m going to admit that I never listened to the original until I wrote this, and it is an early ‘60s throwback, not really anything special. The Pretenders’ version, though, is. [For much more on this song, and Hynde and Davies, check out Seth Lorinczi’s excellent piece.] – Jordan Becker

9. Eddie Berman — Nothin’ in the World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl

The Kinks’ second album, Kinda Kinks, was a kinda rush job, built as a bed on which to rest the single-to-be “Tired of Waiting For You.” Still, there were glimpses of Ray Davies’ songwriting growing by leaps and bounds. “‘Nothin’ in the World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl’ may have been a mouthful of a title,” AllMusic said, “but it also put them right in the front of the British Invasion pack for seriousness and complexity, out in front of where the Beatles or almost any of the competition were in early 1965.”

In Eddie Berman’s hands, the song has a back-porch vibe, more contemplative than stressed about that girl and her cheating ways. Berman plays in a higher key than the original, and his quiet guitar is both intricate and very reassuring. Play the original and Berman’s cover back to back, and you’ll be surprised how much more relaxed Berman’s sounds despite being at the same tempo and volume. – Patrick Robbins

8. Kate Rusby — The Village Green Preservation Society

Kate Rusby we know from her covers album of a few years back. This is an earlier work, commissioned for a TV show, and her toothsome tone is just perfect for conveying the sheer Englishness of Davies’ lyric, as a host of entirely plausible, yet mythical, networks, get outlined, one by one. Surely, we believe, this is how America sees this country. (Am I right?) Rusby is, quite rightly, one of the foremost interpreters of traditional folk songs, capable also of exploiting the idiom for her own material. A national treasure, no less, with a voice so pure they call her the Barnsley Nightingale. – Seuras Og

7. Van Halen — You Really Got Me

I’m on record as calling Van Halen’s “You Really Got Me” one of the ten cover songs that matters most to me. Years later, that’s still true. There isn’t a single moment of this song that isn’t exciting. Think about that for a minute. Everything played or sung, right down to the “ch-ch-ch-ch-ch” before the final chorus, exudes fun and joy. The song is alive, pumping dose after dose of dopamine for 160 seconds. The brothers Davies paid it compliments; Dave’s were all left-handed ones (“it must be a good record if people like it”), but Ray called it his favorite Kinks cover, and no Roth-obsessed groupie could have come up with higher praise than that. – Patrick Robbins

6. Swan Arcade — Lola

There are songs that, lyrically, fit, without question, the traditional a cappella folk song tradition. Arguably, “Lola,” a tale of mistaken sexual identity and the consequences, should not be one of them. But Swan Arcade, who have form in and at this, deliver it as if it were a broadsheet ballad, handed down over the centuries. The ragged, near-polyphonic harmonies combine in a spine tingling mélange, of traditions. Only as you hone into the lyric, does memory of the original sweep back. The band also cover superb versions of Elvis Costello, with both “Shipbuilding” and “Brilliant Mistake,” let alone “Paperback Writer” by the Beatles, and Sting’s “We Work the Black Seam.” – Seuras Og

5. Less Than Jake ft. Sooza Brass Band — Come Dancing

Come Dancing was the original version of the show that became Dancing With the Stars, reflecting a culture in the UK of assembling your finest moves in your most resplendent clothes. Across the land, dancing was the highlight of the week for many people. This Kinks’ late-phase classic was a tribute to Davies’ sister Rene, who was particularly close to Ray, but who died young, tragically on the dance floor that she loved.

Less than Jake and the Soosa Brass Band are less ballroom or Latin in their delivery, and more ska, but the music is an enthusiastic invite to “cut a rug.” You needn’t worry about your sartorial style or your dance moves, just get up and have lots of fun. – Mike Tobyn

4. Steady Holiday ft. Bedouine — People Take Pictures Of Each Other

The Kinks were ahead of their time with this song: “People take pictures of the summer / Just in case someone thought they had missed it / And to prove that it really existed.” A precursor to FOMO and our collective addictions to sharing the mundanity of our lives online, perhaps? This is a faithful cover with two vocals first trading off and then joining forces. Towards the end of the song there is an escalation. As “don’t show me no more please” is repeated, the pace increases with the “la la”s now almost frantic. You can picture yourself (ha) being overwhelmed by a photo montage, a doom scroll of sound. – Sara Stoudt

3. The Jam — David Watts

On their punsomely titled All Mod Cons album of 1978, the Jam found the perfect mod sound in the Kinks’ 1967 song “David Watts.” In fact, it was as if the galloping track was just waiting for the British power trio to apply their jittery punk energy to it, which they do in spades. Ray Davies, on the original, is quite rightly envious of the eponymous schoolboy who could pass all his exams, lead all the sports teams to victory and go out with any girl he wished–that is, assuming “gay and fancy free” David Watts wished to. But lead singer Bruce Foxton (with Paul Weller taking second fiddle!) is envious and more some. He actually sounds like he might hurt someone. – Adam Mason

2. Crooked Fingers — Strangers

Crooked Fingers is often billed as a side project to ’90s indie-rock heroes Archers of Loaf, but, if you’re of a more mellow/folky persuasion (present company included), you might consider Archers of Loaf the side project. Eric Bachmann is the main man in both, and, for a secondary gig, Crooked Fingers have been plenty prolific. That includes two wonderful covers EPs, Reservoir Songs I & II. This comes off the second. “Strangers” is an oft-covered Kinks song (we’ve already heard two other versions of this Dave Davies-penned gem), and here Bachmann goes full bedroom-pop, singing it over a chintzy drum loop and his guitar. But, as is often the case with Crooked Fingers, the star is Bachmann’s voice, warm and earthy and full of emotion. – Ray Padgett

1. Fountains of Wayne — Better Things

Ray Davies wrote “Better Things” while in the process of divorcing his second wife, Yvonne Gunner. Assuming that this life event influenced the writing, it has to be one of the greatest olive branches ever extended in rock music, right up there with “I Will Always Love You.” Without even the barest whiff of acrimony, Davies wishes the listener happier days to come.

This general good wish makes “Better Things” an ideal song for helping to face up to difficult circumstances. Fountains of Wayne performed “Better Things” on Conan O’Brien’s show shortly after the events of 9/11, and the ebullience and exuberance of that performance made it the perfect choice. Nearly two decades later, FOW founder Adam Schlesinger died of COVID, and in tribute, O’Brien posted a video of that performance. Once again, there couldn’t have been a better song for listeners who needed to know that there would soon be a better dawn breaking over that horizon. Both twenty and forty years after Davies penned the words “The past is gone, it’s all been said / So here’s to what the future brings,” they still rang as true as true can ring. – Patrick Robbins

Check out more installments in our monthly ‘Best Covers Ever’ series, including The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Willie Nelson, and more.

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  One Response to “The 50 Best Kinks Covers Ever”

Comments (1)
  1. Thanks for the wonderful Kinks covers great work So many good artists and great versions

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