‘Destroyer’: The Kinks’ most self-referential song

Most rock bands are content with calling back to the music that inspired them. But when you’re as prolific a band as The Kinks, sometimes your own material works as the perfect inspiration. Having made their mark on the ‘Swinging Sixties’, their sound inspired garage rock, punk and heavy metal, and as ‘Destroyer’ is proof of, often the band themselves.

Taken from 1981’s Give The People What They Want, ‘Destroyer’ makes several obvious references to their earlier material. The opening line, “Met a girl called Lola and I took her back to my place / Feeling guilty, feeling scared, hidden cameras everywhere,” is something of a sequel to ‘Lola’. In the original song, we meet the cross-dressing Lola in a club in Soho, but ‘Destroyer’ follows their meeting back home, which is coloured by drug-fuelled paranoia.

It’s thought the lyrics reference amphetamines, as they sing: “I’m really not as cool as I’d like to be / ‘Cause there’s a red under my bed / And there’s a little yellow man in my head / And there’s a true blue inside of me,” and the swirling manic thoughts they cause. In a similar sense to 1968’s ‘All of My Friends Were There’, drugs are not glamorised as they so often were in rock’s ’60s heyday.

Ray Davies’ lyrics have always been blunt about the misuse of drugs and alcohol, and ‘Destroyer’ seemed in keeping with the attitude Davies took on ‘Alcohol’ that came before it (“Oh demon alcohol / Sad memories I cannot recall”).

But its lyrics were not the only thing The Kinks nodded to in the self-referential song. Its most prominent riff was directly lifted from ‘All Day and All of the Night’, one of the band’s earliest hits. Like their other thunderous classic, ‘You Really Got Me‘, it was based exclusively on power chords. It made perfect sense to reference the song because it was the one Davies once claimed helped him find his voice.

It was a lengthy process to establish the gritty tone The Kinks became known for, with Davies explaining that initially, ‘All Day and All of the Night’ wasn’t quite right. “I liked the guitar sound on the second single we had. When they tried to develop amplifiers that had pre-gain and all, I thought it wasn’t quite right, and I struggled with the sound for a while,” he told Guitar Player magazine.

“I never liked Marshalls, because they sounded like everybody else,” Davies added. “Then in the mid-70s, I started using Peavey, and people said, ‘Nobody uses Peavey – country and western bands use them,’ I used to blow them up every night. I used two Peavey Maces together, and it was brilliant.” And so he stumbled upon a sound so iconic it would weave its way into their later work. Combined with the call back to earlier Kinks lyrics, ‘Destroyer’ was a brilliant reinvention of their own songs.

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