See My Friends” is a song by the Kinks, written by the group’s singer and guitarist, Ray Davies. Released on July 30, 1965, it reached number 10 on the UK Singles Chart. The song incorporates a drone-effect on the electric guitar, reminiscent of the Indian sitar and tambura.

Although writer Jonathan Bellman sees it as the first Western rock song to integrate Indian raga sounds (released four months before the Beatles‘ “Norwegian Wood“). Davies biographer Johnny Rogan notes that a preceding single release (“Heart Full of Soul” by the Yardbirds) was “pre-empting Davies’s innovative use of Indian music”.

The song is sometimes mistitled “See My Friend”, because this is how the song was identified on the initial UK single pressing (see picture above). Although Ray Davies clearly sings “See My Friends” throughout the track, the mistake can also be accounted for because he has been heard to say the song is about the death of his older sister, Rene, who lived for a time in OntarioCanada. Upon her return to England she fell ill owing to an undiagnosed hole in her heart and died while dancing at a night club. Just before she died, he has said, she gave him his first guitar for his 13th birthday.

Inspiration for the song came from a stopover in Bombay during the Kinks’ 1965 Asian tour, where the jetlagged Davies encountered fishermen chanting on their way to their morning work.

Ray Davies, at the time of the song’s release, expressed disappointment at the single’s lukewarm reception, saying “[It’s] the only one I’ve really liked, and they’re not buying it. You know, I put everything I’ve got into it … I can’t even remember what the last one [“Set Me Free“] was called – nothing. It makes me think they must be morons or something. Look, I’m not a great singer, nor a great writer, not a great musician. But I do give everything I have … and I did for this disc.” (Wikipedia)

As it happens, young as I may have been, I was a fan of these “philosophical” songs, more than the sort of punk records The Kinks started with (“You really got me” and “All day and all of the night”). A few years later however, I was completely knocked over by Davies’ famous portraits of the English bourgeoisie (“A well respected man”, “Dedicated follower of fashion”, “Mr.Pleasant” and “Dandy”). But there was still more to come: his pictures of the English countryside or city life (“Waterloo Sunset”, “Sunny Afternoon”, “Autumn Almanac”) are excellent. In my eyes Ray Douglas Davies is probably the best songwriter in popmusic, way ahead of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, Elton John, Brian Wilson and so on. In retrospect I now find the “philosophical” songs his poorest achievement, although I do not “deny” them.

Ronny De Schepper

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