The Kinks Misfits

The Kinks’ ‘Misfits’: Connecting with Ray Davies’ Powerful Middle Eights

The Kinks’ Ray Davies is a master of creating a rushing, crashing, emotional middle eight in his songs. This songwriting technique creates that personal connection to the fan experience.

The Kinks
19 May 1978

As a long-time the Kinks fan, I have witnessed band members come and go. During the Kinks’ 1977 Sleepwalker tour, I encountered former bass player Andy Pyle on three separate tour stops. His recording stint with the Kinks ended with 1978’s Misfits. In the midst of a conversation in which he literally gave me the t-shirt off his back, he asked why I liked the Kinks so much. At the time, oblivious to the songwriting term “middle eight”, I could only boil down my fondness to “Because their songs are so personal.”

I had in mind the uniquely vulnerable vocal approach in which the Kinks lead singer and primary songwriter Ray Davies evasively murmured his early songs of adolescent yearnings. “One day you’ll find out when I’m gone / I was the best one you had / I was the one who gave you love” he warbles in “Who’ll Be the Next  in Line?” These three lines, distinctively different in melody and rhythm from the verse and chorus, comprise the song’s middle eight.

What makes a song’s lyrics special enough to be termed a middle eight? And how, in the era of disco, superhero movies, and arena rock, did Davies, the Kinks’ main songwriter, successfully maneuver his almost 34 years of perceived adult wisdom onto Misfits, the Kinks’ second album for Arista Records? Released in May 1978, the Davies-produced album contains nine of his self-penned compositions. “Trust Your Heart”, the scorching rocker that sits as the penultimate track on the vinyl’s second side, is the album’s sole contribution by Kinks lead guitarist Dave Davies. 

How many enthusiastic fans swarming inside massive stadiums could recognize themselves in “A Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy”, Davies’ counterpoint tale of a depressed soul losing himself too deeply inside the music of the Kinks? The irony of the hit song is Davies’ vocal inflection in the last lines as he emphatically decries that there is more music for him to strive towards. That, unlike some of his obsessive fans who proudly wear a badge of self-identification they believe links them with Davies, he is not about to “waste (his) life hiding away…”

The lyrics of a well-written middle eight section are inescapable; words rush and crash with raw emotion, commanding your attention and pulling you into a rapidly swirling funnel of whitewater. A winding tension lifts you inside the middle eight, where you can intimately share a singer’s inner turmoil or share joy and happiness in a light-hearted song. Consider the protest of not wanting to be brought down by a partner’s moodiness in this example of a middle eight from Davies’ 1965 song, “You Shouldn’t Be Sad”: 

“No, you can’t be sad, my darling 
If you say you love me too 
Well, it seems that all the good things I’ve done
Done it all for you”

“You Shouldn’t Be Sad” is a simple but fraught tune of an optimistic young man who is painfully in love and does not want to give up the cause of his heartache. Ray Davies may not have set out to be a songwriter, but his observational character studies connect with fans who relate to the emotions in his songs. “I was interested in song structure, but putting the emotion into the song hadn’t occurred to me until I got feedback from people…”

Tunes crafted on the Davies family’s upright piano usually stayed in the Denmark Terrace front room. “I first wrote songs as a hobby, for my family to see.” In a Fresh Air interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, Davies reveals he had to learn how to write songs as four singles, two albums, and an EP were required from his record company, Pye. “I write the way I think…I generally write songs that are about emotions…that are timeless.” Regarding the Kinks’ first number-one hit single, he tells Gross, “…if I had been an accomplished songwriter, I wouldn’t have written ‘You Really Got Me’. …it’s a very naïve track…”

My ears have long been attuned to a song’s shift in the melody that often signals a decisive mood change. As its name suggests, a middle eight is not always an eight-bar break in the middle of a song whose structure is based on a verse/ chorus/ verse format. Music producer Brian Clark, music engineer Peter Crosbie, and music writer Andrew Hickey each have varying ideas of what a middle eight may contain. Crosbie states that a middle eight is “a moment of reflection (that) appears between the 2nd chorus and 3rd and final chorus.” There is a key change and a different chord progression. He is adamant that the middle eight is not a bridge.

Clark says a middle eight “exists to bring variety to a song.” He agrees with Crosbie that the middle eight is not a bridge as “the bridge usually connects a verse to a chorus while the middle 8 doesn’t serve as a connection but rather as a turning point”. Hickey, author of A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs, dissects several of Davies’ songs, finding that the structure of “Tin Soldier Man” incorporates “two different sections taking the place of a normal middle eight.” He further demonstrates that “End of the Season” “…follows pre-rock song structure, down to the use of an introduction…” indicating “Davies love of playing with the boundaries of normal song structure.”

These observations are critical when combing through the complexity of Davies’ song structure in the Misfits album. Reading the printed lyrics included with the original vinyl edition without hearing the music itself often impedes the location of Davies’ middle eight. Davies’ middle eight sections are oftentimes not obvious as he employs variations in his verses and choruses, often working with two-line couplets that work as a repeated refrain. 

In “Black Messiah”, one of three songs on Misfits that had been rehearsed during recording sessions for 1977’s Sleepwalker [“Hay Fever” and “In a Foreign Land” are the other two], the Kinks’ first album for Arista. The song’s first refrain, “Everybody got the right to speak their mind / So don’t shoot me for saying mine”, begins as a sing-songy introduction. The refrain appears identical at the end of the third verse and concludes the song. Another repeated couplet, this time with variations in lyrics, also packs the final verse. Davies fills the song with multiple variations of lyrics and melody so that the distinction between verse and chorus becomes blurred. I refer to these lyric groupings as sections.

The second variation in “Black Messiah” includes “There’s a self-made prophet living right next to me / He said the Black Messiah’s gonna come and set the world free,” second section; “He said a Black Messiah is gonna set the world on fire / And he no liar, ‘cos he has truly heard the word,”  third section; “They say a Black Messiah is gonna set the world on fire  / A Black Messiah is gonna come and rule the world,” fourth section; and, “Don’t want no Black Messiah to come and set the world on fire / A Black Messiah is gonna come and rule the world,” sixth section. 

Davies further employs yet a third couplet with variations to evoke the call-and-response found in certain African rhythms: “Everybody talking about racial equality / ‘Cos everybody’s equal in the good Lord’s eyes,” first section; “Everybody talk about racial equality / But I’m the only honky living on an all black street,” third section; “Everybody talk about racial equality / Everybody talk about equal rights,” fourth section; and, “Everybody talking about racial equality / you hear everybody talking about equal rights,” fifth section.

In the sixth and final section, these three lyric packages come together with their assigned melodies. The Mike Cotton Sound then highlights the final variation with a delicious flavor of New Orleans’ Dixieland: “Everybody got to show a little give and take / Everybody got to live with a little less hate / Everybody gotta work it out, we gotta sort it out.” These three lines are not so much a variation as they are a re-write, a make-over from a previous pattern, that marks the song’s middle eight.

Thomas M. Kitts, in his book Ray Davies Not Like Everybody Else, calls Davies a “generally hopeful writer” who, although “cynical and distrustful…defend(s) and identif(ies) with underdogs and outcasts.” The album’s title track, “Misfits”, shows this touching encouragement in Davies’ middle eight: “This is your chance, this is your time / So don’t throw it away / You can have your day.” In “Out of the Wardrobe” Davies presents “a chick called Dick” who’s “not a pansy, he’s only being what he wants to be.” Davies’ middle eight smiles with acceptance: “He’s out of the wardrobe and he’s feeling alright / He’s out of the wardrobe and he’s feeling satisfied.””

Davies’ poetic middle eights can also be split into two sections, as suggested by Hickey.  “Live Life” is structured with a two-part verse of four lines apiece, each with a separate melody. The third appearance of the verse actually repeats the pattern of the first four lines twice, with part of a middle eight caught  in between: “They got every solution for every revolution.” The line’s melody is a separate entity. The middle eight then continues with a borrowed variation of the verse’s second section, only utilizing two lines instead of the original four: “You can’t pretend there’s nothing wrong  / It’s not the end, so just carry on.”

The scope and depth of Davies’ songwriting can leave a listener thunderstruck, especially when hearing a newly released Kinks album for the first time. “I don’t intellectualize what I write,” Davies says, “because I think my instinct is smarter than my actual being.” Kitts remarks that Misfits features some of “Ray’s finest actorly vocals” and that his “vocal inflections and tonal shifts” highlight the album. His middle eight in “A Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy” is found not by listening for a change in melody but by tripping over the distinctive vocal urgency in which Davies sings the two lines that end the last chorus. He then alters one word in the third line of a revamped bridge to complete his middle eight: “Oh, but you and me keep thinking / That the world’s just passing us by / …Don’t want to waste my life hiding away anymore.”

The final track on side two, “Get Up”, involves a jangly guitar focusing its middle eight. Davies, as producer, applies his vocal styling to the first three lines and then leaves the fourth line to Dave Davies, whose recognizable voice punches the all-important message of personal involvement to improve a downtrodden situation:

Somebody gotta get up and shout
Somebody gotta give us some cloud
You’re the ones to make it all work out
It all depends on you.

To capture the sound he wanted, Davies reportedly requested that the Kinks play “Get Up” 64 times. The keyboardist then got up and left the studio. Davies says, “I write records…I had the idea of what a record sounds like.” “Ray directs all music and constantly experiments with sounds and styles, reinventing the Kinks sometimes from album to album.” Davies further comments on the Misfits sessions: “…I’m trying to work out what freedom is.”

Although not as prolific a songwriter as his brother, Dave Davies is not a slacker when it comes to producing a middle eight. His one contribution to Misfits, “Trust Your Heart”, rumbles from reminiscing about lost love to combining gentleness with a harsh rant about bringing justice and comforting protection to those trampled by cruel authority. His middle eight croons with unfettered beauty: “Darling Fool, I was with you all the way / Be as the flower that unfolds with each day.”

During their years with Arista, the Kinks became “a highly successful touring band, headlining America’s huge arenas.” Who fills these stadiums and arenas but legions of loyal Kinks fans who perceive the vulnerability heard in many of the Kinks’ songs as a mirror reflecting their own humanity? 

The majority of Kinks fans are well-versed in the Kinks’ history, from their working-class North London upbringing; their struggles with the recording industry – The Observer quotes Davies  “…we were virgins. We’re still fighting for royalties we haven’t been paid”; and, the four years in the late ’60s during which they were unable to tour on American soil. Fans of Ray Davies, in particular, are die-hard. They know he did “a bit of drama” in art school and that his stage performances are driven by the characters he writes about. That doesn’t stop fans from following the Kinks as they toured from state to state, taking in multiple concerts to see their North London music heroes.

No one outwardly mentions that both Davies brothers represented their school in boxing matches. Is it any wonder that the Kinks had quite a reputation for onstage punch-ups, including an off-stage punching of a union official? Even the evasive tactics which Davies employed to re-record several singles to ensure the sound he wanted to become the released version only appeared to further heighten fans’ endearment of the group. Their fans, like the  Kinks themselves, acknowledge their misfit status. It’s not just the rabid fans who often smile inwardly upon hearing the mantra of Kinks fandom in concert, lyrics with which they so heartedly identify, “I’m Not Like Everybody Else”. 

Both Davies brothers accept their fanbase. “…the Kinks always wanted to be approachable and welcoming to people who liked our music… We appealed to people who refused to fit in.” In the “Innerview” series on KMET-FM, Los Angeles, Ray said, “Keeping in touch with (the) audience is very important; music is nothing without people.”

With the release of Misfits, fans already knew of the hardships that reigned during the Kinks’ recording sessions. Andy Pyle, bassist, and John Gosling, keyboards, left the band. Drummer Mick Avory considered quitting but remained for six more years before turning in his drumsticks. “Ray channelled all the insecurity surrounding the band into ‘a rock ‘n roll fantasy’,” Dave remarked, “our biggest hit since ‘Lola’,”

In a combined interview with Ray and Dave Davies on Ultimate Classic Rock, Jeff Slate hails Misfits as the “best album to come from the Kinks’ return to rock ‘n roll in the mid-70’s”, while Ray Davies declares his songs to be”“impressionistic rather than a statement of facts” and “I just wanted to write simple songs that moved people.”  I won’t say Davies is a songwriting genius. I’ve already heard him say that his songs are greater than he is. “Sometimes the songs write me,” he said.

Where do I fit in this land of magical middle eights that can enchant a susceptible soul?

In the summer of 1965, I was there at one of the West Coast venues, where the Kinks performed onstage. Center Section, Row B, Seat 103. Loud screaming from female fans grew deafening when lead guitarist Dave Davies leaned so deeply into a back bend that the top of his head nearly touched the stage. All the while, he continued tearing raucous riffs on his custom Guild, the guitar that went missing when put aboard as luggage at the airport in the next valley town–a concert that would be canceled. I cannot verify if the Kinks actually played a legendary 40-minute version of “You Really Got Me”.

I was there, a week later, inside an enormous venue outside of San Francisco when the Kinks road manager, Sam Curtis, ushered Ray Davies, Dave Davies, Pete Quaife, and Mick Avory onto the stage and informed the audience that the Kinks would not be performing as a promoter had not paid them. I was there, in Section A, Row A, Seat 5, directly in front of the stage, too much in shock to even think of rushing the stage and inciting a riot. I snapped one photo that is probably valuable to the Kinks’ history. I instantly regretted popping my Instamatic flashbulb because as soon as I pressed the shutter, Ray’s smiling face and friendly wave shut down completely. I’ve been trying to make up for that faux pas for decades. That, and the guilt I felt for riding to the concert in a bus chartered by the same promoter who failed to pay the Kinks.

I wouldn’t see the Kinks again, minus original bass player Pete Quaife, until November 1969, when they played three nights at San Francisco’s Fillmore West. I did engage Ray in a discussion about the absent Pete. Several nights later at Freeborn Hall on the University of California, Davis, campus, I again committed a faux pas as Ray proceeded to say he had spoken to “your friend, Pete” and, spacing out, I uttered something stupid like, “Oh, you’re talking to me…” and he turned his face away.

During the Kinks’ Arista years, I hit several huge venues with friends, including Anaheim Stadium and Universal Amphitheatre, where we attended all three Kinks performances.  Did I make a faux pas again? Sorta. At Anaheim, our group had outfield seats. Before the Kinks took the stage, we decided to head for the infield and get closer to the stage — the surge of bodies hit with such force I was caught in a cluster of swirling bodies. I closed my eyes to keep vertigo from pulling me to the ground. I feared being trampled. At the end of the Kinks’ first song, which I didn’t hear, Ray asked, as usual, “Are you all-ri-i-ight?” I hollered, “No!” He must have heard me as he chuckled and asked, “No?” I didn’t answer as the forward surge had stopped to listen to Ray’s audience interaction.

The concert dates at the Universal Amphitheatre happened a month following the release of Misfits. After hearing Ray sing “A Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy” with its “Dan is a fan” reference, one of my friends turned to me and seriously questioned Ray’s songwriting method. “Couldn’t he find anything to rhyme with Mary?” I was known by my middle name, Mary, at the time. I laughed. For all my major faux pas, I couldn’t hold it against Ray for not wanting to use my name in one of his songs. Karma.

I remain enchanted with the Kinks and their middle eights.

Works Cited

Clark, Brian. “What is a Middle 8?MusicianWave. 4 January 2022.

Clark, Patrick. “Amended Legacy: the Kinks’ Ray Davies Interviewed.” Quietus. 11 April 2017.

Cooke, Rachel. “Ray Davies: ‘I’m easy to love…but impossible to live with'”. The Observer. 30 April 2011.

Crosbie, Peter. “Why a Middle 8 isn’t a Bridge“. 2016.

Deusner, Stephen. “Ray Davies, The Salon Interview: ‘I Can Still Perform Most of My Songs with Dignity'”. Salon. 9 November 2013.

Gross, Terry. “Ray Davies: Rock Legend Rocks On”. Fresh Air. 28 February 2008.

—. “Naive Yet Revolutionary Ray Davies on 50 Years with the Kinks.” Fresh Air. 26 November 2014.

Hickey, Andrew. “The Kinks’ Music: Something Else by the Kinks”. Head of State. 7 April 2012.

Kaplan, Ira. “Ray Davies Imaginary Man“. Magnet Magazine. 1 June 2008.

Kitts, Thomas M. Ray Davies Not Like Everybody Else. 2008.

Ladd, Jim. “The Kinks – Ray Davies Interview“. Innerview – Series #11, Show #5. YouTube. 1978.

Slate, Jeff. “Ray and Dave Davies Recall the Kinks‘ ‘Arthur’ at 50: Interview”. Ultimate Classic Rock. 6 November 2019.