Sixties City presents a wide-ranging series of articles on all aspects of the Sixties, penned by the creator of the iconic 60s music paper  Mersey Beat

Waterloo Sunset - The Kinks



Although a 2004 radio poll announced ‘Waterloo Sunset’ as ‘the greatest song about London’ and Time Out was to call it ‘the anthem of London’, when Ray Davies was originally composing the number he was initially going to call it ‘Liverpool Sunset’. When ‘Penny Lane’ by The Beatles was released around that time, Ray then decided to change the location to London.

Ray was to reveal that the Englishness of his compositions was inspired because The Kinks had been banned from appearing in America by the American Federation of Musicians, who objected to the fact that British bands such as The Beatles and Rolling Stones were dominating the American charts, so they began to ban further British bands, including The Kinks.

Ray recalled, "I remember they were concerned about a lot of English people coming over, making money in America.
Of course, it was their culture and all of a sudden these Limeys came over and the charts were taken over by Brits. I thought I'd never get back into America again. They said they wouldn't ever give me a visa again, and certainly not for work, so I withdrew into my own Englishness and songs like ‘Waterloo Sunset’ came out. That's not such a bad thing".
The number was initially a track on the Kinks' fifth album ‘Something Else’ and when issued as a single it reached No 2 in the British charts.

In addition to composing the song, Ray produced the single, the first Kinks number not produced by A&R man Shel Talmy. Ray’s first wife Rasa provided backing vocals and Ray was to recall, “When the record was finished and it was coming out 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 . . . "


Waterloo Sunset - The Kinks The story depicts a romance between a couple, Terry and Julie, who are observed crossing Waterloo Bridge by the narrator. This led people to believe that the lovers Terry and Julie referred to Terence Stamp and Julie Christie, the two British film stars who were living together at the time, but Ray denies this and said "No, Terry and Julie were real people. I couldn't write for stars”. Later on he was also to add, "It was a fantasy about my sister going off with her boyfriend to a new world and they were going to emigrate and go to another country".

In an interview in Uncut magazine in January 2009, Ray was to elaborate on the creation of the song: "It came to me first as a statement about the death of Merseybeat, but I realised that Waterloo was a very significant place in my life. I was in St. Thomas' Hospital when I was really ill as a child, and I looked out on the river. I went to Waterloo every day to go to college as well. The song was also about being taken to the Festival of Britain with my mum and dad. I remember them taking me by the hand, looking at the big Skylon tower, and saying it symbolised the future. That, and then walking by the Thames with my first wife and all the other dreams that we had. Her in her brown suede coat that she wore, that was stolen. And also about my sisters, and about the world I wanted them to have.

The two characters in the song, Terry and Julie, are to do with the aspirations of my sisters' generation, who grew up during the Second World War and missed out on the '60s. Sometimes when you're writing and you're really on good form, you get into the frame of mind where you think, I can relate to any of these things. It's something I learned at art school - let all the ideas flow out. But if you listen to the words without the music, it's a different thing entirely. The lyrics could be better but they dovetail with the music perfectly".

There have been nine other recorded versions of the song, one by Ray with Damon Albarn, released on 2nd April 2002. The others were by Affairs of the Heart in 1983, Cathy Dennis in 1996, Barb Jungr in May 1999, the Fastbacks on 6th November 2001, David Bowie in 2003 (On February 23rd, 2003 David Bowie was joined on stage by Ray Davies and performed a duet of this song at Carnegie Hall in New York City for the Tibet House Benefit), Scrabbel on 26th July 2005, Peter Bruntnell in March 2006 and Def Leppard on 22nd May 2006.
When Barb Jungr recorded the number she commented, “Ray Davies is just a brilliant song writer. I have loved this song for such a long time, and sung it for years. Living near the river, it’s a sunset I know”. ‘Waterloo Sunset’ is also the title of a book by Ray published by Viking in September 1997.


Waterloo Sunset - The Kinks
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
Every day I look at the world from my window
But chilly, chilly is evening time
Waterloo sunset's fine
Terry meets Julie, Waterloo Station
Every Friday night
But I am so lazy, don't want to wander
I stay at home at night

But I don't feel afraid
As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset
I am in paradise
Every day I look at the world from my window
But chilly, chilly is evening time
Waterloo sunset's fine
Millions of people swarming like flies 'round
Waterloo underground
But Terry and Julie cross over the river
Where they feel safe and sound

And they don't need no friends
As long as they gaze on Waterloo sunset
They are in paradise
Waterloo sunset's fine



Mersey Beat Magazine Bill Harry attended the Liverpool College of Art with Stuart Sutcliffe and John Lennon and made the arrangements for Brian Epstein to visit The Cavern, where he saw The Beatles for the first time. Bill was a member of 'The Dissenters' and the founder and editor of 'Mersey Beat', the iconic weekly music newspaper that documented the early Sixties music scene in the Liverpool area and is possibly best known for being the first periodical to feature a local band called 'The Beatles'. He has worked as a high powered publicist, doing PR for acts such as Suzi Quatro, Free, The Arrows and Hot Chocolate and has managed press campaigns for record labels such as CBS, EMI, Polydor. Bill is the critically acclaimed author of a large number of books about The Beatles and the 60s era including 'The Beatles Who's Who', 'The Best Years of the Beatles' and the Fab Four's 'Encyclopedia' series. He has appeared on 'Good Morning America' and has received a Gold Award from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.


Article Bill Harry 2017               Original Graphics SixtiesCity 2017

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