Remember when Tom Baker wrapped that lovely voice of his around a certain Kinks classic?
Yes, it really happened! But how, & indeed why?
For a time, the great man was the voice of BT's 'text to speech' service- enabling callers using mobile phones to send text messages to landlines, & they came up with a plan to raise money for Shelter's Christmas Appeal for 2006. And thus one of the oddest pop nuggets ever to grace listening ears was born, with Tom reading Ray Davies' original lyrics via text.......
Interviewed by Uncut magazine to mark the release of the single, Mr Baker seemed in a mood of great festive cheer:
“I'm delighted to have been asked back by BT as the voice of text-to-landline. It's rather like being Santa Claus, delivering all your festive greetings - I only wish I could hear what I’m saying! I find it fascinating all the things they can do with technology these days – I never would have imagined in my wildest dreams that I’d be a pop star, virtual or otherwise.”But indeed he was! And Wendy McMillan of BT was thrilled to have him on board:
“To get people into the spirit of the campaign we’ve brought back Tom Baker as the voice of our text-to-landline service and used his computerised voice to launch him as a virtual pop star, performing a new dance take on an old Kinks classic!”Alas, following a single release for You Really Got Me, the text to speech service was quickly withdrawn- its end arriving on January 8 2007 - and Tom's pop career ended too.
But what of the song the man who was once "all teeth and curls" chose to cover? The original was released on August 4, 1964, as only the third single by the still-young Kinks- preceded by their cover of Little Richard's Long Tall Sally & You Still Want Me.
American musicologist Robert Walser called it "the first hit song built around power chords''. And how did it come by its distinctive distorted sound? Guitarist Dave Davies, Ray's brother, did a little creative damage to his amplifier! He remembers the handy amp well, too, going by his 1996 autobiography, Kink-
''I bought this in a radio spares shop in Muswell Hill in 1962. I couldn't afford a Watkins Dominator or a bigger, posher amp! I went home and plugged the Elpico loudspeaker's output leads into the input of the AC 30 , in effect using the smaller amp as kind of a pre-amp. It sounded great, but I wasn't satisfied.Speaking to Ultimate Classic Rock, he said"
The crowning glory of my simple yet effective experiment was to slash the speaker cone of the Elpico with a razor blade so that the material, although now shredded, still remained intact with the outer side of the cone. As it vibrated it produced a distorted and jagged roar. In fact, the original set-up was so crude that the main amp's hum was almost as loud as the sound I had created. A sound was born, but I didn't know it at the time.
Immediately I started using my set-up in live shows that I performed with Ray and our band, in the time leading up to the creation of the Kinks. Ironically, it was that sound, which we used on 'You Really Got Me,' that got the Kinks our first hit. ''
"It was my Elpico amp that I bought, and out of frustration I cut the speaker cone up with a razor blade, and I was so shocked and surprised and excited that it worked that I demonstrated the sound to Ray and [Kinks bassist] Pete [Quaife] … Ray liked the sound, and he had written a riff on the piano which formed the basis of the song ‘You Really Got Me,’ and I played the riff on my guitar with MY new sound. I ALONE CREATED THIS SOUND."That's that then. And what compelled him to do it in the first place?
"I wanted something that I felt would help with the interpretation of my anger and my emotions, and that’s what did it — when I made that little green amp sound like it did by using the razor blade on the cone of the speaker. It resonated the way that I felt at the time. It just occurred to me. I don’t know why. I just thought, “Oh, I’ll try it and see what happens.” And I was surprised it even worked. I didn’t expect it to, really.''You can even see the guitar he played on You Really Got Me, a 1962 Harmony Meteor in his guitar gallery!
His brother used his own autobiography, Storyteller, to put across his own recollections of the recording of the single.
"Halfway through the song it was time for Dave's guitar solo. This moment had to be right. So I shouted across the studio to Dave, to give him encouragement. But I seemed to spoil his concentration. He looked at me with a dazed expression. 'Fuck off.' If you doubt me, if you doubt what I'm saying, I challenge you to listen to the original Kinks recording of 'You Really Got Me'.Charming, eh? Ray would later revisit the song with the help of Metallica- again, yes, really- on his 2010 solo album See My Friends.
Halfway through the song, after the second chorus, before the guitar solo, there's a drum break. Boo ka, boo boo ka, boo ka, boo boo. And in the background you can hear 'fuck off'. You can, you can. When I did the vocal I tried to cover it up by going 'Oh no', but in the background you still hear it- 'fuck off'. And it's even clearer on CD, it's really embarrassing."
No matter what draws you to the song itself, there's one thing that's for sure - the real selling point of Tom's cover was his gloriously eccentric voice, of which he himself once opined:
"Well, I think people don't recognise my face because I'm so much older now, but it is astonishing that people can recognise a voice."What a voice, what a man, & what a star!