A light was switched off when Elvis Presley died in 1977, and the world was suddenly significantly dimmer. It was a reminder that nobody was immortal, and it happened when The Kinks’ Ray Davies was already thinking about the future of his band, which he felt was on the brink of collapse.
The English group were in the middle of recording Misfits when they discovered the heartbreaking news of Elvis’ demise. It coincided with Davies finding out his brother Dave no longer wanted to tour with the group, as well as keyboardist John Gosling and bass player Andy Pyle revealing the album would be their last with The Kinks. These two pieces of news were running wild in Davies’ imagination, and the result was ‘A Rock’ N’ Roll Fantasy’.
Davies explained to Rolling Stone: “The song was almost a homage to them; if you listen to the lyrics, it’s about someone leaving the band because they’ve given up the cause, and the two brothers will find a way through this.”
The singer had already begun writing the song when he discovered that Elvis had moved onto another dimension, triggering thoughts and emotions already plaguing Davies. “I started writing that song about my brother and I breaking up the band – and it’s evident in the lyric. And the next day the television comes on and Elvis Presley’s died,” he explained. “It was like having a film or a story with no ending and that provided the ending and the impetus for us to keep going.”
Davies was staying in New York when he wrote ‘A Rock’ N’ Roll Fantasy’, and being in America to see their collective mourning of Presley first-hand was an eye-opening experience for him. He reportedly looked out of his window to see a light on in a single apartment, which he envisaged to be the home of a diehard Elvis fan who inspired the character of Dan the Fan in ‘A Rock’ N’ Roll Fantasy’.
Speaking about his songwriting process, Davies once hailed it as “a method acting songwriting job.” He added: “I use personal things to get something else out of me… Elvis Presley died last week and it all just added up.”
Davies only had one encounter with Elvis, but it’s a memory that stuck with him. When The Kinks made it out to America in 1969, he attended their show at the Whiskey a Go Go in Los Angeles. “We had a very brief conversation, just brushed past each other really. He said, ‘Hello’, I said, I’ve got to go on in five minutes’,” Davies explained to the Daily Mail.
Listen below to ‘A Rock’ N’ Roll Fantasy’ which captured the devastation of Elvis’ death.