Even amidst all the music in 1964, this song was a breed apart: a phosphorescent photon screaming through inky dark. It took a lot to make the Rolling Stones sound tame, but I think the Kinks managed to do it. “All Day and All of the Night” is everything polite people feared about rock & roll: savage, untamed, relentless.
It wasn’t the first time the Kinks had experimented with distortion—“You Really Got Me” had been released a few months earlier, but I think “All Day” is stronger. Stretches of “You Really Got Me” are just drums and tambourine—as if to give you some breathing room from the two-chord guitar part, and though the harmonies are ragged, they’re not anything more dangerous than the Beatles’ version of “Twist & Shout.”
In “All Day,” by contrast, the guitar doesn’t let up, and the simple addition of the third missing chord gives the whole song a sense of menace that the harmonically safe “You Really Got Me” doesn’t have. The guitar solo, even more than in the prior song, seems to be structured around making as much noise and playing as fast as possible, and the vocals are snarly and bratty in a way that even Mick Jagger couldn’t muster. Another point in its favor: Van Halen never covered “All Day.”
More importantly for young musicians, it’s a dead simple song. Anyone can learn to play it and play it loud—even today, it’s an enduring favorite with beginning guitarists (though maybe not that solo). And that’s where the real power of this song lies. You can hear “All Day and All of the Night” in those first opening chords to the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” or in Sid Vicious’ whine on “God Save the Queen.” This is the Song That Launched a Thousand Bands.
So for the sake of historical importance, and to experience rock & roll at its most visceral, please turn your speakers way the hell up before you hit the link.