Ray Davies explains why The Kinks “weren’t in the same league” as The Who

There are various parallels to be made between the careers of The Kinks and The Who. For a start, they were born out of the same city in the 1960s, grew up on similar records, and the relationships between bandmates were equally tempestuous.

On a musical level, they had their differences, but most notably, both Ray Davies and Pete Townshend were crucial pioneers of the rock opera genre. They’d known each other long before the fame and success, sharing stages across London. However, despite the above, Davies felt the two bands shouldn’t be involved in the same conversation and believed their paths were incomparable.

Although there is plenty which aligns Davies and Townshend, they aren’t particularly close friends, but there isn’t any animosity between the pair. During an interview with The New Statesman in 2017, The Kinks frontman claimed he has “a mutual telepathy” with his counterpart, adding, “I think we listen to one another’s work. When I did have a meaningful chat with Pete, he said, ‘We never talk.’ And I said, ‘Why start now?’”.

This telepathy is highlighted by Davies embarking on his rock opera Arthur simultaneously as The Who made Tommy, which he believes to be two very different productions. For this reason, it would have been easy for the two of them to have become locked in a bitter feud, but they instead kept things cordial rather than resorting to playground insults.

During an interview with MOJO, Davies explained why there’s no bad blood between him and Townshend: “No. We were different. We weren’t in the same league (laughs). The High Numbers opened for The Kinks, on several occasions. I always knew they’d be outstanding someday. When I say ‘a different league’ to The Who, I mean we were playing a totally different game.”

Elaborating on his point, Davies added: “The Kinks were always in their own little world, while The Who, Led Zeppelin, Jimi all went off on that very American journey, very corporate. Pete and I are friends, but we don’t push it. We respect each other, and part of that is respecting each other’s privacy.”

Although they started from the same starting point, The Who changed as they gained international acclaim and expanded their musical horizons. However, in the mind of Davies, neither Townshend’s group nor Led Zeppelin were as experimental as The Kinks, who sometimes, to their own detriment, took risks at every available opportunity.

“The Kinks weren’t afraid to fail, and without any disrespect to The Who and Led Zeppelin, everything about those bands was built to succeed,” Davies said. “I remember in the late ’60s, one American band [The Turtles] phoned me up after they had a Number 1 hit and said, ‘I want you to fly to America to produce an album for us’. I said, Why do you want me? I can’t tour in America, and my records don’t get played in America. All I can bring you is failure. They said, ‘But there’s poetry in that failure.’”

With The Who, there was an expectation that everything they released needed to be a monumental success, whereas that thought never crossed the mind of The Kinks. If they wanted to be equal on a commercial level, they likely could have been, but they’d never have achieved those moments of magic that made the group unique.

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