The sound of the atom splitting. Break open the basic unit of pop music, the hook, and we discover a mess of gimmickry, noises and ideas so primeval you can often barely describe them, let alone hum one. Find one strong enough and you can top the chart. Find one really strong and you change pop history.
This particular record has two really strong ideas, which makes it a blueprint for everything from Iggy Pop to Eric Prydz. The essence of pop songwriting is finding a strong hook – a riff, a chorus – and repeating it. Between the hooks you have some other stuff, maybe different hooks, maybe some instrumental work, maybe just a bit of charisma. Fine. But what if you don’t bother with the other stuff? What if you just take your hook and hammer it? That’s the first idea.
If you do that, though, people will get bored. Particularly if your ‘hook’ is a four-note stub of aggression that barely even gets as far as a riff. So what do you do? Here’s the second idea – you get louder. The fun in “You Really Got Me” comes from the way Ray Davies switches up from disinterested English wimp to, well, snarling English wimp. Noisy Ray doesn’t quite convince, for all its formal brilliance the song seems to end before it really gets nasty – which is probably why he didn’t make a career out of doing “You Really Got Me” again. Or maybe he just thought enough people were making those careers already.