The Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset” Lyrics Meaning

Professional music critics laud “Waterloo Sunset” as one of the best songs ever written. Beneath what appears to be very-simplistic lyrics are rather observations which hit very close to home of the writer and singer, Ray Davies. Indeed the name of one of central characters, “Julie”, is actually a pseudonym for Ray’s sister(s). And the other character, “Terry”, is named after a nephew who he grew up with like a brother (although that fact has nothing to do with the featured story itself). 

And in all, the singer’s brother and former Kinks’ bandmate Dave Davies likened this song to a personal entry from Ray’s diary. Actually at first glance, honestly, some people may be baffled as to why the lyrics of this song are so highly-regarded. But the story being told is deceptively-comprehensive.

For instance, even though many people consider the main focus to be on “Terry and Julie”, the two featured lovers, the wording actually serves more as a reflection of the inner thoughts of the singer than external considerations. In other words, he is making observations and then giving personal feedback on those observances, as opposed to simply chronicling them. 

A Song about the Narrator

Indeed Davies himself has confirmed that ‘in many ways this song is about him’. Moreover at the time he wrote it he was recovering from “a breakdown and… feeling vulnerable”. Indeed the bridge reveals that he was obviously in some sort of lonely state. And the way he finds relief from the situation is by “gaz(ing) on Waterloo sunset”, i.e. looking out across the River Thames from a part of London known as Waterloo while the sun is setting. In fact he goes on to elaborate that doing so is also a remedy to the internal fear he is feeling.

So overall, we can say that singer comes off as sort of an introvertive, intimidated lad. He is devoid of any type of fulfilling peer relationship. Furthermore, he is obviously, to some extent, afraid of the outside world. But that being said, the highlight of his evenings is enjoying the sunset on Waterloo from what appears to be his bedroom window.

And we can also see that he does so regularly, as he is able to observe Terry and Julie meeting up at Waterloo Station “every Friday night”. Besides the singer himself, these are the only other people mentioned specifically in the song. They are lovers who also appear to enjoy the Waterloo sunset or at least chillin’ there at night. 

Importance of “Waterloo Sunset” to the Narrator

And going back to the singer’s own timid disposition, they are also symbolic of the solace the location brings to him personally. For he also observes “millions of people swarming like flies” in the same area. And within the context of the presentation, these people represent the typical franticness of London, apparently part of the reason why the singer generally feels out of place in his surroundings. Yet “Terry and Julie cross over the river, where they feel safe and sound”. 

So it can be said that they find the same type of solace in the river itself that that singer does. Thus it can be further deduced that he is able to perceive that the Waterloo sunset is sort of a natural relief not only for him but some others also.

Waterloo Sunset is a Symbol of Tranquility

Also as stated earlier, Julie is meant to be representative of Ray Davies’s sister. This is not in the literal sort of sense, as in the singer having spied his sister and her boyfriend hanging out together. Rather Ray’s sisters were a generation older than him and as such grew up during World War II. 

And as you may already know, the United Kingdom was heavily and directly involved in that conflict. Accordingly many citizens had to put their personal aspirations, including romance, aside for the greater good of the nation (or perhaps to dodge bombs, especially as far as London is concerned). And Ray has recognized his sisters as such individuals. So Terry and Julie going off to enjoy a peaceful life against the backdrop of the Waterloo sunset actually represents a fantasy the songwriter had. And this fantasy would be one concerning his own sisters being able to enjoy a tranquil life, one that was taken away from them during their youth.

Lyrics of Waterloo Sunset

Who wrote “Waterloo Sunset”?

This song was written by Ray Davies. He was the frontman of The Kinks, a band that had been around from the early-1960s until the mid-1990s. And he also produced “Waterloo Sunset”. He handle the production alongside one of his regular musical collaborators, Shel Talmy.

Davies originally entitled this song “Liverpool Sunset”. He did so because he had developed a strong affinity for the city of Liverpool.  However, he ultimately decided to name it after Waterloo instead due to his personal past in relation to that location.

Yet there was another reason Davies changed the name from “Liverpool Sunset”. He actually penned this song years before he and The Kinks laid it down. In between that time another British band, The Beatles, came out with a track called “Penny Lane” (1967) which is based in Liverpool. So Ray Davies did not want people to think that he was copying The Beatles.

Ray Davies actually stated that this song came to him in a dream.

When was “Waterloo Sunset” released?

This classic from the Kinks was released by Pye Records on 15 September 1967. The song was also recorded at Pye Studios, which is located in London. And it is part of the band’s fifth album, which is entitled “Something Else by the Kinks”.

Achievements

This track is one of the big hits in The Kinks’ catalog. It reached number two on the UK Singles Chart. It was also a top 10 entry in multiple countries. Also, it got placed onto the top 50 of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time as deemed by Rolling Stone in 2003. And it also holds the distinction of being one of the songs which officially closed out the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Indeed whereas the masses clearly liked this song, its composition has been even more highly praised amongst professional music critics and analysts. In fact one journalist, Robert Christgau, even classified it as the English language’s most beautiful song.

The aforementioned rendering of “Waterloo Sunset” at the London Olympics was actually performed by Ray Davies. And it is he who has kept the brand alive, so to speak. For despite the fact that The Kinks have had bigger hits, this is the one song which has been most associated with his long-tenured career in particular. For instance, his debut solo album, which came out in 1985, is entitled “Return to Waterloo”. And he also authored a collection of short stories, which was published in 1998, that is entitled “Waterloo Sunset”.

With that in mind, it’s interesting to note that originally Ray Davies had no intention of making this song public. Rather he considered it to be a gift, if you will, to his family.

More Facts about “Waterloo Sunset”

The most-successful cover of this song to come out during the 20th century was that of Cathy Dennis, another singer from the UK. Her version reached number 11 on the UK Singles Chart.

Ray Davies’ 2010 album “See My Friends” was filled with re-recordings of old Kinks’ songs, though as collaborations alongside other artists. And Davies teamed up with Jackson Browne to cover “Waterloo Sunset” during that outing.

The original version of this song was re-released in 2007 in celebration of the track’s 40th anniversary.

A prevailing rumor that has been associated with the song is that “Terry” and “Julie” are actually references to British actors Terence Stamp and Julie Christie. It’s worth noting that both Terence and Julie were in fact dating at the time. And at one point, Ray Davies even appeared to confirm this theory. However, the more-espoused understanding is that the real-life person the female character is based on would be the songwriter’s sister(s).

Davies crossed paths with Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970) one day, who expressed a strong admiration and appreciation for this track. British singer Paul Weller is also on record as promoting “Waterloo Sunset” as his favorite song.

Did “Waterloo Sunset” win a Grammy?

No. And this is despite being one of the most important songs of all time. Actually, despite being one of the greatest rock bands in history, The Kinks were never nominated for a Grammy.

Was “Waterloo Sunset” released as a single?

Yes, it was. It was the first of two singles that came out of “Something Else”.

What genre of music is this Kinks’ Classic?

It is a psychedelic pop song. It also fits perfectly into the psychedelic rock music genre.

Did “Waterloo Sunset” chart outside of the UK?

Yes. It actually stormed several charts in Europe. And outside of Europe, it reached top 10 in multiple countries, including Australia. In New Zealand, it achieved the same feat. It however, didn’t chart in America. And this was despite being released as a single there.

Summary

In all, this classic is a deceptively-deep song. It is a song centered on the Davies’ perception of the Waterloo sunset as a symbol of tranquility.

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