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Waterloo Sunset
The Kinks
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Ray Davies

Ironically, this most London of songs started its life as ‘Liverpool Sunset’: Ray Davies’ reflection on the decline of the Merseybeat boom. But while the head Kink was still mulling his song over, The Beatles released ‘Penny Lane’ and Ray was prompted to look to his own London roots.

As an art student in the early 1960s, Davies had regularly travelled from his north London home, way down south to Croydon. The journey took him across Waterloo Bridge - and a few years later it was to Waterloo that the Kinks returned for this, their best-loved song.

Even before the Kinks recorded ‘Waterloo Sunset’ early in 1967, Ray Davies had established himself a reputation as a wry chronicler of English society. Hit singles like ‘Dedicated Follower Of Fashion’, ‘Sunny Afternoon’ and ‘Dead End Street’ had seen him hailed as pop’s Samuel Pepys, but it was the mournful and melancholic ‘Waterloo Sunset’ that would become enshrined as the great London song.

Ray Davies
Ray Davies talks about Terry and Julie, the characters who featured in the song and the inspiration of the River Thames in Waterloo Sunset.

“When the record was finished and it was coming out,” Ray Davies remembered, “I got my wife Rasa to drive me down to Waterloo Bridge to see if the atmosphere was right… I’ve never worked with a song that has been a total pleasure from beginning to end like that one.”

The song’s evocative opening “Dirty old river…” rooted it firmly in the metropolis while the names of its two protagonists, Terry and Julie, linked it indelibly to the Swinging 60s - and the glamourous couple who came to epitomise that era. The more famous Terry (Terence Stamp) and Julie (Christie) were starring in Far From The Madding Crowd when the Kinks single appeared.

“It doesn’t mean anything” Ray Davies has said about the song, “but when you hear the record, it means a lot.”

Surprisingly, on its release in May 1967 ‘Waterloo Sunset’ only made it to No.2 - kept off the top by Sandie Shaw’s Eurovision winning ‘Puppet On A String’. But Ray Davies remained fascinated by the south London district - in 1984 he appeared in a film, Return To Waterloo, while a collection of his short stories was published in 1997 as… Waterloo Sunset.

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