The Kinks – Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround: Part One (1970)
Adam: The Kinks’ early career closely resembled that of most of the other British Invasion bands. They were singing blues-based songs about girls (e.g. “You Really Got Me,” “All Day and all of the Night”). In the late 1960’s, as the themes that rock music addressed became ever darker, the Kinks went the opposite way with the Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, which focused on nostalgia for simpler times. By the time The Kinks released Lola in November 1970, The Beatles were history, the Rolling Stones were a few months away from releasing Sticky Fingers, and most other British Invasion bands had faded into obscurity.
The Kinks were banned from performing in the United States from 1965-69 for reasons that are unclear. By 1970, the band (or at least it’s main songwriter Ray Davies) were bitter at the music business, and this bitterness was channeled into Lola. Case in point, the following lyrics from “The Moneygoround,” about record executives:
Do they all deserve money from a song that they’ve never heard
They don’t know the tune and they don’t know the words
But they don’t give a damn
The album is full of acerbic lyrics like this, but the music industry is just one of the themes on an album that includes songs about disenchantment with modern society, organized labor, and what has got to be one of the first rock songs about a transsexual (one earlier possibility is Van Morrison’s “Madame George” although that’s about a plain old transvestite).
What does everyone else think of Lola? Anyone care to comment on Wes Anderson’s pillaging of the Kinks’ catalog for his film soundtracks?
Phil: The mix on this album is really good; the songs are different enough and placed really well together and they sound really good. Everything is very clear and balanced, with the notable exception of those gd congas at the end of “Lola” (I could go on here for quite a while about my intense disdain for hand drums in rock and roll, but I’ll hold back).
But the thing that really stands out about this album is how much of a precursor it is. Or maybe not a precursor, but a cameo, a nutshell of the sound of this era and things this era would later shape. It sounds like contemporaries (the Stones, but calmer), like immediate successors (Bowie) and like bands they would apparently prove to influence (The Verve). It’s all British-Invasion-Era, but I think the reason the Kinks are so interesting is because they use things like banjo prominently in their songs, and not just as an affectation. Plus Ray Davies’ songwriting is really catchy, even though my favorite song on the record is the only one that Ray Davies didn’t write.
As far as Wes Anderson is concerned, I think maybe the nostalgia-mining that the Kinks are accused of musically is pretty much the exact same thing that Wes Anderson does cinematically. Thoughts?
Jordy: Despite the aforementioned anti-establishment title and a few tracks, there is not a real unifying theme to the Lola album. And although this was the glory days of album rock, this one is not greater than the sum of its parts. Indeed, I find the whole “Moneygoround” thing distracting. Nevertheless, in the individual highlights of this album, the Kinks brilliantly built on an ass-kicking streak that started four years earlier with Face to Face. See:
“Strangers” – Phil scooped me on this one but I’d like to second his adoration. A really touching song that is fun to play on guitar with a friend singing harmonies.
“This Time Tomorrow” – A great vocal performance from Ray and terrific use of both banjo and piano. See the comments section of my earlier post on this song for a debate about Wes Anderson.
“Powerman” – A really muscular, tight tune. Sort of hearkens back to the Kinks’ riffier days.
I also love “Lola.” I know it’s renowned because it had edgy content back in the day but it really is a boner fide rocker.
Phil: I think the last twenty-five seconds “Powerman” sounds like Pavement. Or GBV. Second to Jordy on the cohesion of this record. “The Moneygoround” is a show tune in an album of pre-Britrock and it’s weird.
Glenn: I’m with Phil on the sonic awesomeness of this record. I hadn’t heard the non-Wes Anderson tunes on Lola until about four days ago and was immediately struck by how rock this record sounds. I mean, “The Contenders”? Hell yeah! That’s what I like my rock and roll to sound like! Phil hits it on the nose when he says that Lola is a kind of blueprint, sonically, for ’70s rock. Ray Davies screams sometimes, but he screams on pitch. The guitars are buzzy and skronky, but backed with sweet banjo and steel-top guitar. The drums punch and pound but they also swing.
Speaking of comparisons, last night at a party, somebody put on the Who’s Tommy and immediately, before I recognized it, I thought, “This sounds just like the Kinks…only way worse.” Thoughts?
Adam: It seems we’re mostly in agreement that this is not really a “concept” album. Rather, it’s just an album that happens to have a couple of songs about the same thing. Which is fine. Village Green certainly has a more cohesive concept than does Lola, but despite my undying love for Village Green, I think I like Lola just a tiny bit more. I think that’s because Lola is a bit more musically diverse, which paves the way not only for the Kinks’ contemporaries, but for the Kinks’ own future efforts. I’m specifically thinking here of their next album, Muswell Hillbillies, which I admittedly have only listened to a couple of times.
Also, upon perusing our discussion of Wes Anderson in the So Well Remembered archives (see Jordy’s link above) it seems none of us have any qualms with these songs being used in films (myself included) so my comment above about his “pillaging the Kinks catalog” was meant to stir up angst that does not exist.
4 Essential Tracks-
“This Time Tomorrow”