Why Ray Davies Hid His ‘Waterloo Sunset’ Lyrics
In a recent interview with Mojo, the singer explained his intention with the 1967 single, which often appears in lists of the greatest songs of all time.
“By 1967 the songs defined me,” Davies said. “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.”
Asked about the softness of his voice in the song, he responded: “[W]hen 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.”
He added: “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.”
Listen to the Kinks’ ‘Waterloo Sunset’
Guitarist and brother Dave Davies noted: “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.”
Drummer Mick Avory added that the band had managed to achieve everything they wanted to do with the track, saying he hadn’t played “anything funny or flash” because there was no need. “Ray once said about my playing [that] it never gets in the way," he explained. "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.’”