“I’m The Person Staying Behind…” The Kinks On The Making Of Waterloo Sunset

Ray, Dave and drummer Mick Avory speak to MOJO about their seminal 1967 track, Waterloo Sunset.

The Kinks 1968

by Andrew Male |
Published on

By 1967, The Kinks’ Ray Davies had become even more of an outsider within the English pop landscape, longing to withdraw from the limelight and become a producer and songwriter. Simultaneously, his songs became a safe haven for the writer. Nowhere is this more explicit than on Waterloo Sunset. Beyond the lyrics, it’s a curious song of hope narrated by a lonely, lazy, friendless agoraphobic. Those “la-la-laaa” backing vocals seem to mock and comfort our shut-in narrator, and Ray’s vocals are delivered almost too quietly, as if the lyrics are too precious, too private and singing any louder might shatter them. It’s now the defining sound of Ray Davies as a songwriter: removed from the action he’s observing, lonely, alone, but content in his secret kingdom of song. In this extract from MOJO’s exclusive interview with the three surviving members of The Kinks, Ray, his brother Dave and drummer Mick Avory, they discuss the making of one of their most seminal songs, Waterloo Sunset…


Ray Davies: “By 1967 the songs defined me. They gave me a personality. I don’t talk very much to people. I never did. But I’d discovered songwriting. That was my only communication with the world. So my songs defined me. Was I creating a secret kingdom? Yeah. That’s a very fair way of putting it. Ray’s Kingdom. He’s a cult. It’s funny you should mention the softness of my singing because when I first played them that song I didn’t let them hear the lyrics because I thought the backing track should convey the atmosphere by itself. That’s why Dave’s guitar part works so well. It’s around the vocal. Then you have the backing vocals, the different layers of sound then this quiet voice peeping over the top. I did have a cold as well. The production is part of the identity of the song. The meaning of that song is bound up in the atmosphere it creates. It’s a love song. It’s about people I’ve met, people I know. It’s also about people in the future, the people crossing over the river for a better world. What about the people that don’t cross over? Well, that’s my perspective. I’m the person singing, I’m the person staying behind.”

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Dave Davies: “Ray’s singing it as if he doesn’t want to sing it, trying to solve lots of mysteries. That rhythmical guitar style on Waterloo Sunset was learned from a lot of the old ’50s records. Sometimes these things emerge when you don’t know what you’re doing, when you’re searching and you don’t know what you’re searching for.”

Mick Avory: “It all fits into place on that song, everything we were trying to do, everything Ray was trying to do. Things peek through in the right places and it flows. You don’t want any hard dynamics. I didn’t try to do anything funny or flash. It doesn’t call for that. Ray once said about my playing it never gets in the way. It’s a bit of a backhanded compliment, isn’t it? But he means it adds something to the song. John Bonham was a miles better drummer than me but maybe he wouldn’t have suited Waterloo Sunset.”

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