“Waterloo Sunset” is a song by British rock band The Kinks. It was released as a single in 1967, and featured on their album Something Else by The Kinks. Composed and produced by Kinks frontman Ray Davies, “Waterloo Sunset” is one of the band’s best known and most acclaimed songs in most territories, later being ranked number 42 on “Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. It is also their first single that is available in true stereo.
The record reached number 2 on the British charts in mid 1967 (it failed to dislodge the Tremeloes’ “Silence Is Golden” from the number 1 position). It was also a top 10 hit in Australia, New Zealand and most of Europe. In North America, “Waterloo Sunset” was released as a single but it failed to chart.
The lyrics describe a solitary narrator watching (or imagining) two lovers passing over a bridge, with the melancholic observer reflecting on the couple, the Thames, and Waterloo station. The song was rumoured to have been inspired by the romance between two British celebrities of the time, actors Terence Stamp and Julie Christie, stars of 1967’s Far from the Madding Crowd. Ray Davies denied this in his autobiography and claimed in a 2008 interview, “It was a fantasy about my sister going off with her boyfriend to a new world and they were going to emigrate and go to another country.” In a 2010 interview with Kinks biographer Nick Hasted, he said Terry was his nephew Terry Davies, “who he was perhaps closer to than his real brother in early adolescence.” Despite its complex arrangement, the sessions for “Waterloo Sunset” lasted a mere ten hours; Dave Davies later commented on the recording: “We spent a lot of time trying to get a different guitar sound, to get a more unique feel for the record. In the end we used a tape-delay echo, but it sounded new because nobody had done it since the 1950s. I remember Steve Marriott of the Small Faces came up and asked me how we’d got that sound. We were almost trendy for a while.” The single was one of the group’s biggest UK successes, reaching number two on Melody Maker’s chart, and went on to become one of their best-known.
The elaborate production was the first Kinks recording produced solely by Ray Davies, without longtime producer Shel Talmy.
In 2010 Ray Davies stated the song was originally entitled “Liverpool Sunset”. In an interview with the Liverpool Echo, he explained: “Liverpool is my favourite city, and the song was originally called ‘Liverpool Sunset’. I was inspired by Merseybeat. I’d fallen in love with Liverpool by that point. On every tour, that was the best reception. We played The Cavern, all those old places, and I couldn’t get enough of it. I had a load of mates in bands up there, and that sound – not The Beatles but Merseybeat – that was unbelievable. It used to inspire me every time. So I wrote ‘Liverpool Sunset’. Later it got changed to ‘Waterloo Sunset’, but there’s still that play on words with Waterloo. London was home, I’d grown up there, but I like to think I could be an adopted Scouser. My heart is definitely there.’ 
The song derives from the period 1965-73 when Ray Davies lived at 87 Fortis Green, the semi-detached suburban home where almost all his songs were written at this period. “I didn’t think to make it about Waterloo, initially”, Davies said in a 2010 interview, “but I realised the place was so very significant in my life. I was in St Thomas’ Hospital when I was really ill [when he had a tracheotomy aged 13] and the nurses would wheel me out on the balcony to look at the river. It was also about being taken down to the 1951 Festival of Britain. It’s about the two characters – and the aspirations of my sisters’ generation who grew up during the Second World War. It’s about the world I wanted them to have. That, and then walking by the Thames with my first wife and all the dreams that we had.” Davies’ first wife was Rasa Didzpetris, the mother of his first two daughters. They divorced in 1973.
in 1985 Ray Davies released an album entitled Return to Waterloo, a soundtrack for the movie of the same name.
Davies also wrote a collection of short stories called Waterloo Sunset which revolve around an aged rock star called Les Mulligan and a cynical promoter planning his comeback. All stories are named after Kinks/Ray Davies songs.
In the UK, the song is commonly considered to be Davies’ most famous work, and it has been “regarded by many as the apogee of the swinging sixties”. Highly esteemed for its musical and lyrical qualities, the song is not uncommonly the subject of study in university arts courses. Davies largely dismisses such praise and has even suggested that he would like to go back and alter some of the lyrics; most professionals, however, generally side with the observation of Ken Garner, a lecturer at Caledonian University in Glasgow, who said: “Davies, like all the best singer-songwriters is intensely self-critical.”
Pop music journalist Robert Christgau has called the song “the most beautiful song in the English language”. Pete Townshend of The Who has called it “divine” and “a masterpiece”. AllMusic senior editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine concurred, citing it as “possibly the most beautiful song of the rock and roll era”. On his album The Interpreter: Live at Largo, singer Rhett Miller calls it “the greatest song ever written by a human being.” In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine placed the song at number 42 on their list of the 500 greatest songs of all time, the highest-placing Kinks song on the list.
Ray Davies performed “Waterloo Sunset” at the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics. A subsequent reissue of the Kinks’ original single entered the UK charts at #47.
David Bowie covered the song around 2003. The cover was released on some editions of Reality and as a B-side to the “Never Get Old” promotional CD single.
Barb Jungr recorded the song and used it as the title of her 2003 album Waterloo Sunset.
English band Def Leppard covered the song for their 2006 covers album Yeah!.
The Jam included their previously unreleased demo version of the song on the 2010 deluxe edition of Sound Affects.
Colin Meloy covered the song on his 2013 Colin Meloy Sings The Kinks
In her novel, White Teeth (2000), Zadie Smith references a central character fantasizing herself “demanding Waterloo Sunset be played at [her boyfriend’s] funeral.”
Cathy Dennis recorded a version of the song, which was released as the second single from her 1997 album Am I the Kinda Girl?.