Ray Davies was born in Muswell Hill, North London. He is the seventh of eight children, including six older sisters and younger brother, and former Kinks member, Dave Davies.
Davies was an art student at Hornsey College of Art in London in 1962–1963, when the Kinks formed.
After they were offered a recording contract in early 1964, Davies emerged as the chief songwriter and leader of the band, especially after the band's breakthrough success with his early composition "You Really Got Me," which was released as the band's third single in August of that year.
Davies led the Kinks through a period of musical experimentation between 1966 and 1976, with notable artistic achievements and commercial success. Between 1977 and their break-up in 1996, Davies and the group reverted to their earlier mainstream rock format and enjoyed a second peak of success, with other hit songs, like "Destroyer," "Come Dancing," and "Do it Again." The Kinks disbanded in 1996, and Ray Davies has performed solo since then.
Davies has had a tempestuous relationship with the band's lead guitarist, his younger brother Dave, that marked the Kinks' career as a band.
Davies' compositions for The Kinks' early recordings of 1964-65 ranged from beat music to the more distinctive and influential proto-metal, protopunk, powerchord-based rock and roll which first brought the band to prominence. It was the latter style that characterized their first two major hits, "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night," as well as the B-side "I Need You" and the minor hit "Till the End of the Day."
In addition to American rock and roll and blues, Davies is a long-time enthusiast of British Music Hall, vaudeville, trad jazz and ragtime music; and from about 1966 onward, he composed a number of songs which reflected these latter influences, including "Dandy," "Little Miss Queen of Darkness," "Mister Pleasant," "End of the Season," "All of My Friends Were There," "She's Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina" and "Look a Little on the Sunny Side."
By the mid-to-late 1970s and for the next decade, Davies began to combine elements from all of these styles to create a more overtly commercial sound again with songs like "Sweet Lady Genevieve," "Juke Box Music," "A Rock & Roll Fantasy," "Wish I Could Fly Like Superman," "Better Things," "Destroyer," "Come Dancing" and "Do It Again."
Davies' lyrics often contain elements of topical satire and pointed social commentary about the aspirations and frustrations of common working class and middle class people in England, and as such demonstrate a great awareness and insight about the psychological effects of the British class system. In a 2008 Rolling Stone profile, journalist Charles M. Young called Ray Davies "an anthropologist with a guitar."
Prime examples of Davies' focus include "A Well Respected Man," "Situation Vacant," "Shangri-La," "She's Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina" and "Clichés of the World (B Movie)"—all of which describe the class-bred insecurity and desperation underlying the materialism and conservativism of English middle-class respectability. Similarly, songs such as "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" and "Party Line" mocked the Carnaby Street-based 'Swinging London' scene of the mid-1960s, while "David Watts" humorously expressed the wounded feelings of a plain schoolboy who envies the grace and social privileges enjoyed by a charismatic upperclass student.
Other songs took aim at the corrupt motives of greedy businessmen and self-serving politicians ("King Kong," "Powerman," "Mr. Big Man," and the Preservation Act 1 and Act 2 albums), the heedlessness and ostentation of nouveaux riches soon to get their comeuppance ("Most Exclusive Residence For Sale," "Mister Pleasant"), as well as the complacency and indolence of wealthy playboys and the English upper class ("A House in the Country," "Sunny Afternoon").
Davies also wrote songs which described the bleakness of life at the opposite end of the social spectrum: released as the complementary A-B sides of a single in 1966, "Dead End Street" and "Big Black Smoke" offered grim, neo-Dickensian portraits of the desperate poverty that existed amidst the thriving urban British economy of the 1960s.
Since the dissolution of The Kinks in 1996, Ray Davies has embarked on a solo career as a singer-songwriter. Prior to 2010, he released five solo albums; the 1985 release Return to Waterloo, the 1998 release The Storyteller, Other People's Lives in early 2006, Working Man's Café in October 2007 and The Kinks Choral Collection in June 2009. Other People's Lives was his first top 40 album in the UK since the 1960s, when he worked with the Kinks.
Davies published his "unauthorised autobiography," X-Ray, in 1994. In 1997, he published a book of short stories entitled Waterloo Sunset, described as "A concept album set on paper."
He has made three films, Return to Waterloo in 1985, Weird Nightmare in 1991, a documentary about Charles Mingus and Americana (subtitled "A Work In Progress") which was included on DVD with the Working Man's Cafe disc release in 2008.
In January 2004, Davies was shot in the leg while chasing thieves, who had snatched the purse of his companion as they walked in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana. The shooting came less than a week after Davies was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.
A choral album, The Kinks Choral Collection, on which Davies has been collaborating with the Crouch End Festival Chorus since 2007, was released in the UK in June 2009 and in the US in November 2009.
In 2011, he released See My Friends. the album features an all-star cast of collaborators, including Jon Bon Jovi/Richie Sambora, Bruce Springsteen, Metallica, Mumford & Sons, Lucinda Williams, Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins), Jackson Browne, Spoon, Amy Macdonald, Black Francis (The Pixies), Gary Lightbody (Snow Patrol), Paloma Faith and the late, great Alex Chilton (Big Star).
In 1990, Davies was inducted, with The Kinks, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and, in 2005, into the UK Music Hall of Fame.