This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #44: Lola by The Kinks.
“I met her in a club down in ol’ Soho
Where they drink champagne
Tastes just like Cherry Cola
And, so begins the story of one of Modern Music’s most dramatic, hilarious, scandalous and/or empowering characters of all-time……Lola. L-O-L-A, Lola.
The Kinks are a bit of a funny band in the sense that, all throughout their career, they have gone through periods of great success, followed by periods of fallow. The Kinks blasted out of the gates in the early 1960s with hits like, “You Really Got Me”, “All Day and All of the Night” and “Waterloo Sunset”. But then, they went through a few years of poor sales which, coupled with infighting between brothers, Ray and Dave Davies, brought the band to the edge of collapse. As they began writing songs for their next album called, “Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One”, they decided to draw upon their own, personal experiences as musicians who were living a bit of a rock n’ roll lifestyle. Specifically, the late 1960s were a time of growing experimentation and acceptance of gender fluidity and of different sexual/gender orientations. Songs by Lou Reed, “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” and David Bowie’s whole “Ziggy Stardust/Starman” themed album all pointed to a breaking down of barriers when it came to promoting lifestyles that were an alternative to the standard norms of the day. So, the Davies Brothers thought it a good time to write a song about their manager and his encounter with a transvestite named, Lola. Thus, the song, “Lola” was born.
In the song, Lola”, we follow the “narrator” who, in this case, was the manager of The Kinks, Robert Wace, as he entered into a swinging Soho nightclub and starts having a wonderful evening with the very alluring and inviting and aggressive Lola. Throughout the song, Wace ignores the signs that Lola is a Drag Queen, such as the deep voice, the extra strong, firm hug and the growing stubble on Lola’s face. At the end of the song, the great dramatic surprise is revealed when Wace sings,
“I know what I am
And that I’m a man
And so is Lola. L-O-L-A, Lola.“
The key component of the big reveal is that Wace accepted the news for what it was. There was no revulsion, no anger, no embarrassment at all. In fact, there is acceptance and even, a hint of happiness and pleasure. That reaction was important and went a long way toward de-stigmatizing alternative lifestyles; especially, way back a half century ago.
However, not surprisingly, reaction to the song was decidedly mixed. The song raced up the charts and became a Top Ten hit. The success of “Lola” helped The Kinks to right the ship, as it were, and get their career back on track. The timing of the release was important because its’ success gave them leverage in contract negotiations with the RCA label and enabled the band to sign a much more lucrative contract, going forward. That financial flexibility allowed The Kinks to build their own studio and rehearse/record songs at their convenience, as well as, renting the space out to other bands and artists.
On the flip side, the BBC banned the song but, not for the reason you might be thinking. As it turned out, no one was really bothered by the sexual shenanigans going on throughout “Lola”. What got “Lola” banned, initially, was the unauthorized use of a product name in the song. You may recall the opening verse which speaks of a drink called, “Cherry Cola”? Well, the original version of the song had the drink being, “Coca Cola” which is, of course, a well-known soft drink. The BBC had a policy that banned the use of commercial product placements within songs and so, when “Lola” aired, it was banned for that reason. The timing of the ban was problematic, as well as, advantageous. For starters, the ban came down just as The Kinks were beginning an American tour in support of their new album. So, Ray Davies had to fly all the way back to the UK in order to re-record the first verse; changing “Coca Cola” to “Cherry Cola” before the albums were pressed for final distribution and sale. However much work it was, it paid off handsomely for the band because, like most bans, it spiked interest in the song so, record sales soared. In the end, “Lola” sold several million copies and went on to become one of The Kinks signature songs.
However much all of this background may be true and important, in my home, none of that means anything as far as why “Lola” is a special song for us. One of the things that Keri and I have done all throughout our marriage is to share time together with our favourite tv shows. We don’t watch tv as much now as we once did but, simply being close to each other and winding down from a busy day with a few comedies is something we have found works for us. So, back in the day, one of the shows we watched was a comedy called, “Family Ties”. On that show was a family called, “The Keatons”. The Keaton daughter was named Mallory. As the show went along, we got to watch “Mallory” grow up from a teenage girl, into a young woman, ready to take on the adult world. As part of her maturation process, “Mallory” fell in love with a leather jacket-wearing, earring dangling guy named, “Nick”. The character of “Nick” was gruff and unsophisticated and was meant to act as a foil for “Mallory’s” straight-laced younger brother, “Alex”, as played by Michael J. Fox. At first, the shocking contrast between “Nick” and “Alex” was the comedic point of it all but, as time went on, audiences grew to like “Nick” and the writers of the show gave him some background depth that made his character more stable and likeable. Eventually, as viewers, we could see where this all was headed, as “Nick” and “Mallory” fell in love and eventually decided to get married. To make a long story short, “Nick” and “Mallory” were discussing wedding plans, including what song they would walk down the aisle to. Without missing a beat, “Nick” replied that he voted for, “Lola” by The Kinks”. We all laughed and still smile about it to this day.
So, whether “Lola” makes you think of the social acceptance of alternative lifestyles, the problem of corporate product placements or else, “Nick and Mallory” from the TV show, “Family Ties”, the song often brings a smile to the faces of those listening to it. It helped save The Kinks, as a band which was a good thing because, after another long musical drought, The Kinks roared into the 1980s with the song, “Come Dancing” and became famous all over again for the third time!
***Just for a bit of trivia, as you watch the video for this song, note that Ray Davies is playing a shiny, National guitar…..the same guitar that Paul Simon talked about in the song, “Graceland” and the same guitar that Mark Knofler used while playing “Sultans of Swing”. In both cases, Davies use of the National guitar pre-dates Simon and Knofler.
For now, let’s get this show on the road. Here are The Kinks with one of their biggest and most recognizable hits, “Lola”. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “Lola” by The Kinks, can be found here.
The link to the official website for The Kinks, can be found here.
The link to the video for the scene from the TV show, “Family Ties”, where “Nick mentions the song, “Lola”, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.