The Kinks' first two records sold poorly, but their third single release, "You Really Got Me", hit #1 on the U.K. record charts in 1965. With a loud, distorted guitar riff, (achieved, according to legend, by Dave Davies sticking pins in his amplifier) "You Really Got Me" helped to launch hard rock.
They had a string of UK hits in the 1960s, some of which (including "All Day And All Of The Night" and "Tired Of Waiting For You") were also popular in the States. But as Ray Davies' songwriting matured, the group found themselves becoming more and more of a "cult" band, praised by critics but little-heard in the USA, and increasingly less in the U.K. (although they did have a #2 hit there with "Waterloo Sunset", a ballad regarded by many as one of the most beautiful in rock). The situation wasn't helped by a musicians' union ban on them performing in the USA from 1965-1969, for various and sketchy reasons.
During this period, The Kinks produced a string of albums that have come to be regarded as pop masterpieces, including Face to Face, Something Else By The Kinks, The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, and Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire). Shortly before the latter, Pete Quaife left the group and was replaced by John Dalton.
In 1969, The Kinks resumed performances in the USA, and in 1970 had a worldwide top 10 hit with "Lola". They also wrote and performed the soundtrack for the film Percy. A series of rock operas followed, such as Preservation Act 1, Preservation Act 2, and Schoolboys in Disgrace. They added keyboard player John Gosling, and then went through a series of other bass and keyboard players before stabilizing their lineup in 1978 with bassist Jim Rodford (formerly of Argent) and keyboardist Ian Gibbons. It was this lineup that returned to increased popularity in the late 1970s/early 1980s with hit songs like "Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy" and "Come Dancing", and albums like Low Budget and the live One For The Road (which also became the first rock long-format video release).
The mid-1980s saw The Kinks return to cult status, getting fewer and fewer hits while still garnering critical praise. Mick Avory was fired from the band in 1984, replaced by Bob Henrit. (Avory stayed around to run The Kinks' London studio, Konk.) Changes of record companies saw The Kinks' output slow down, apparently ending with the release of To The Bone as a live single-disc in the U.K. and a double disc release with two new songs in the USA.
Throughout their career The Kinks were infamous for conflicts, both public and private, within the band, particularly between brothers Ray and Dave Davies, which often degenerated into fistfights.
In the early 2000s, talk of a Kinks reunion has circulated, but for the past several years, both Ray and Dave Davies have been preoccupied with their own projects. They have each released solo albums and toured extensively.