We love the Kinks, and we especially adore Ray Davies.  Ray has been making music for popular culture for over 45 years.  One of the more pristine songs Ray sings is “Waterloo Sunset” and watching him in performance of that song, over the years, tells us precisely what we need to know about longevity, historical station, and how celebrity singers must sustain their craft in performance over a decades-long career — and you do that by bringing something new to the song each time you sing it.

Here is the opening lyric for Waterloo Sunset:

Dirty old river, must you keep rolling
Flowing into the night
People so busy, makes me feel dizzy
Taxi light shines so bright
But I don’t need no friends
As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset
I am in paradise

As you can see, the song is quiet, introspective, and full of longing.  In this first video example, you see a young Ray lip-syncing Waterloo Sunset in a late-1960’s performance.  The song shines, but the performance is just merely there:

Now we’re in 1973, and this performance of the song has more meaning and resonance to the group — you can tell they know it’s already a crowd favorite — and Ray sings the song live and with great resonance:

Fast-forward to the mid-80’s and you have Ray singing Waterloo Sunset, without the Kinks, and he’s playing guitar with a piano accompaniment.  This stripped version of the song brings home the plaintive pain that is embedded in the song with heretofore invisible rivulets:

Finally, we have Ray singing Waterloo Sunset at Glastonbury 2010.  He’s the grand old man of the show, and with the Crouch End Festival Chorus backing him up, the song is given an even deeper and more golden meaning in performance.

In that fine performance, Waterloo Sunset has now become a song about not just a river, but also a raging against getting older while the river continues on, ever young, and full of promise and prestige that we can only admire and sanctify in song.

It takes a great magician and marveler to bring forth the changing essence of a song over time, and as we’ve seen with Ray Davies, each time he sings Waterloo Sunset, he takes us to a whole new landscape of the mind.

10 Comments

  1. He is one of the greatest! i am his fan since 1964! and I will never forget his handshake in 2006 in Hamburg, and speaking with him….But also it was a very happy evening with Dave in Bonn 2001, we are drinking beer and have so much fun and I am very sad, that we never can hear the KINKS live again…but the beat goes on…God save the KINKS
    Peace and love
    Jürgen

  2. It’s obvious the song has come to mean more to Ray as the years have gone by. It can fit into more happenings and experiences in his life. Each time he sings it with more feeling. This has to be one of the most recognized songs in the western world.

    1. That’s right, Elizabeth. As Ray grows older, the song becomes richer for him with layers of experience.

      I don’t think “Waterloo Sunset” is very well known in the USA. If you asked 10 random people in the Midwest to name a Kinks song, 90% would say “Lola” and 9% would say, You Really Got Me.” Less than 1% would be able to name “Waterloo Sunset” — and even fewer would have even heard the song in the first place.

  3. i took my son to see McCartney,huge show,big stage etc.

    took him to see Ray in a local dive,on the way back my son said”That guy is better than McCartney”.

    I was pleased,and my son did’nt even know Rays name.

    1. That’s a great story!

      Where did you see McCartney and Ray play?

      Why did your son like Ray better than Paul?

      I think Ray has aged into his music better than Paul has his — Ray is much more connected and real than Sir Paul.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.