Some songs are immediate hits and then fizzle just as quickly from the consciousness of the listening public. Other songs may not make an instant impact but manage to maintain a seemingly unbreakable grasp on music fans. The latter phenomenon occurs when those fans, in the process of living their lives, find something within a song either familiar to them or relevant to their own experiences and emotions.
No experience is as familiar or emotional as bidding farewell to someone you love, which may be why “Days,” a 1968 single by The Kinks that only reached #12 on the U.K. pop charts and didn’t even make the charts in the U.S., is so eternally resonant. Ray Davies’ wistful musings in the song work whether a friend is moving away, a romantic relationship has run its course, or a beloved person has passed away.
Davies himself understands the almost supernatural power the song possesses, confessing in a YouTube clip promoting his 2010 album See My Friends that even he didn’t anticipate what “Days” would eventually mean to people. “The song has grown in intensity over the years,” he said. “I didn’t think much about the song when I wrote it. Sometimes songs occur like that. You don’t think about it, but it’s built up quite a lot of mystique over the years. It certainly left me. It belongs to the world now.”
The song was originally written to be a part of The Kinks’ 1968 concept album The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, but was rushed out by the record company as a single. “Days” indeed has the feeling of a song that belongs to a larger story, since Davies doesn’t really set the scene or say what happened that caused this person to leave; he just gets right to gratitude: “Thank you for the days / Those endless days, those sacred days you gave me.”
As it turns out, the days for which the narrator nostalgically pines weren’t endless after all, since the person he’s thanking is no longer with him. “I bless the light that lights on you, believe me,” Davies sings above a kicking backbeat that never lets things get too melancholy. “And though you’re gone / You’re with me every single day, believe me.”
In the bridge, the sunny outlook to which this guy clings in the face of his heartbreak starts to crack. “I wish today could be tomorrow,” Davies sings. “The night is dark / It just brings sorrow, anyway.” He realizes that the finest moments in life are fleeting and that this relationship was one of his finest moments: “You took my life / But then I knew that very soon you’d leave me.” In the end, the benefits of their time together far outweigh the sadness caused by the parting of the ways: “But it’s all right / Now I’m not frightened of this world, believe me.”
“Days” has inspired some excellent cover versions over the years. Irish folk-pop singer Kirsty MacColl took it into the British charts in 1989 with a breezy arrangement. In 1991, Elvis Costello did a typically inventive take on the song, slowing the pace down and adding some portentous atmosphere to bring out some darker elements, even if those elements are eventually transcended by the positive spirit of the lyrics.
On 2010’s See My Friends, Davies revisited some of his best-loved Kinks songs with music stars young and old helping out. Mumford & Sons joined him for an inventive mash-up of “Days” and “This Time Tomorrow.” The track begins with Marcus Mumford and his bandmates doing an a cappella rendition of the “Days” refrain, stretching over that title word in heavenly harmony.
Without a doubt, the most touching version of the song done since the original recording was a live performance by Davies himself at the Glastonbury Festival in England in June of 2010. Just four days earlier, Pete Quaife, a founding member of The Kinks along with Ray and his brother Dave Davies, passed away after a long illness. Quaife had left The Kinks suddenly in 1969 and, although Ray had entreated him over the years to record again with the band, he chose to stay off the rock music merry-go-round. As Davies prepared to perform his moving song about love enduring even beyond separation, he dedicated it to Quaife. When he sang the first lines of “Days,” his eyes were clearly misting up and there was a telltale catch in his voice. Backed by a choir, he pulled it together to close out a rousing rendition that had the huge festival crowd singing along with every word.
That’s the funny thing about a song like this one: Even the guy who wrote it can get choked up contemplating all that it means. The Kinks can point to a lot of memorable, influential songs in their long rock and roll career, but “Days” stands very tall among them. Only a songwriter as talented as Ray Davies could both give the song life and imbue it with the qualities and emotions that allowed it to take on a life of its own.