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Wild Things

He Really Got Us: Kinks guitarist Ray Davies gave birth to the big riff on 'You Really Got Me.'

'Power Chords' samples the best of guitar rock from the Kinks to Lynryd Skynyrd

By Nicky Baxter

'POWER CHORDS." The very mention of these two words instantly brings to mind guitar gods like Peter Townshend windmilling away at his instrument, Keith Richards coolly ripping off choked chunky licks or Jimmy Page wrenching white magic from his cherry-red Gibson. Surprisingly, none of the above is included on Power Chords (Hip-O), a new three-volume compilation of guitar rock, but those omissions hardly detract from the album's ear-splitting pleasures.

An eccentric mix that hopscotches from cheesy cult classics like the Troggs' "Wild Thing" to mainstream masterpieces such as the Kinks' proto-metal "You Really Got Me" and Queen's "Killer Queen," these volumes are heaven-sent for air guitarists.

The birth of the big riff commenced with the Kinks' "You Really Got Me," released in 1964. Ray Davies' guitar buzzes and crackles, sounding for all the world like it was being played through slashed speakers. There is nothing arty about Davies' fretwork, just pure energy. (Who really played the frenzied solo passage is still in dispute. It was probably Jimmy Page; Davies is a number of things, but a virtuoso he is not.)

In under three minutes, the Kinks sketched out the blueprint for both heavy metal and punk. Never before had an electric instrument made such a racket and sounded so right. So overwhelmingly novel was the sound that the Kinks got away with releasing "All Day and All of the Night," essentially a remake of "You Really Got Me" with different words, just a few months later.

Two years later, Davies' labors bore more fruit in the music of garage rockers the Seeds. "Pushin' Too Hard" is a genuine rock oddity. Besides the singer's laughably tuneless delivery, the guitar careens forward relentlessly. Making irrefutable the ties that bind them to the Kinks, the Seeds lift a couple bars from "You Really Got Me."

For the most part, series assembler and producer John Austin succeeds in controlling his apparent predilection for the arcane. Here and there, however, he does go overboard, coming up empty-handed.

The world could do without another taste of the late and unlamented Music Machine's "Talk, Talk," for instance. And why bother with the utterly atrocious Fever Three, whose version of "Talk, Talk" says even less than Music Machine's. It is a cult item, perhaps, but light years away from classic.

On the other hand, who can argue with Austin's selection of Mountain's "Mississippi Queen," the James Gang's "The Bomber" and star-crossed Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Saturday Night Special"? The latter's triple-guitar attack not only helped define redneck rock but helped elevate riff rock to the upper reaches of speaker-blowing nirvana.

With the exception of groups like those just mentioned and a scant few others, hard rock and heavy metal have been mainstreamed and streamlined, reducing the magisterial sweep of power chording to a lot of hot air guitar.

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From the Sept. 4-10, 1997 issue of Metro.

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