Friday, 3 September 2010
The Kinks "Lola Vs Powerman And The MoneyGoRound" (1970) (Revised Review 2015)
The Contenders/Strangers/Denmark Street/Get Back In Line/Lola/Top Of The Pops/The Money-Go-Round/This Time Tomorrow/A Long Way From Home/ Rats/ Apeman/ Powerman/Got To Be Free
"He's got my money but I got my faith, Powerman Powerman I'll never be your slave!"
You really don’t want to get on the wrong side of Ray Davies. That supporter of the everyman, whose clever hawk-like eyes tell us more in a line of a song than we’ll see in a lifetime of looking with our own eyes, is generally portrayed as the quintessential gentlemen, the Victorian scholar in a world of yobbos whose above such things as petty fights and is, to quote another song from another era, a Well Respected Man. But time and again across the Kinks' Kareer we see Ray giving it straight whenever he thinks his target deserves it: the powerful businessmen who could be doing so much more, the faux rich who buy new houses and go on fake holidays simply to keep up with the Joneses, the office worker who lives his life to punctuality and thinks he's better than everyone else even though he's missing out on what life's really about, the flippant dedicated followers of fashion and dandies who base their lives around clothes, the gossipy reporters spreading lies and rumours, the people who don't get 'it' and yet insist on everyone else making their life what 'it' is about too. The big people trapping the little people has long been a Kinks theme and really came to a head on last album 'Arthur' but it's here on 'Lola' that The Kinks go to war by demanding changes and damning power-plays to hell. Though often delivered with humour, Ray's tongue-lashings became legendary and packed a bigger punch than even his brother's blistered amplifier, leaving 'Lola' sounding quite unlike anything else the band ever did.
Navigating these songs isn’t easy for even the biggest Kinks fans, partly because of this sheer switch in styles and partly because even though Ray sings about his own life in his songs every bit as much as, say, John Lennon or Pete Townshend, he rarely talks about it outside his work (even his ‘unauthorised autobiography’ was written in the third person to make it sound even less revealing!) Chances are we'll never know the full extent of the pressure The Kinks were under at the time. What we do know is that the band’s finances were a mess in this period. What we do know is that by 1970 Ray has oh so many reasons to feel bitter, with a series of 'hollow victories' that year. The court cases he's been fighting on and off since 1966 (against original producer Shel Talmy who claimed a percentage of rights from every song The Kinks made after sacking him; with his publisher) he's come to a sorry end and Ray's been told what he knew all along four years ago: that he was 'right'. Far from feeling happy, though, Ray is annoyed - he's just been through hell for the return of a tiny pile of money he didn't want anyway and everyone else involved seems to have been merely mildly inconvenienced. Elsewhere the band that prevented The Kinks from performing in the States after various misdemeanours involving air hostesses and the Musician's Federation Union (though mot on the same night!) has at last been lifted, leaving the band free to tour from October 1969. The bad news is that The Kinks have to now effectively start all over again, performing in tiny clubs at the bottom of the bill for an audience that doesn't remember them and can't identify with the more 'English' songs they've been singing; many of the original booked dates were cancelled after slow ticket sales.
The band's relationship with record label Pye has also gone sour in the most spectacular way, after the mix up over the many editions of 'Village Green' and the label's refusal to back the 'Village Green' stage script or the 'Arthur' film one. The Kinks never found the switch between record companies easy throughout their long career (they end up owing two companies an album within the space of a few weeks come the mid-70s) and the cut from Pye was a hard and difficult one, protracted and slow with recriminations on both sides. Ray was also badly served by the BBC in this period, seeing his plans for both ‘Village Green’ and ‘Arthur’ cancelled at the 11th hour, even while Ray was receiving plenty of accolades for his other work on the channel, contributing a song a week to the TV programmes ‘Where Was Spring?’ and, ironically, ‘The Eleventh Hour’, not to mention his acting work on ‘The Long Distance Piano Player’. No wonder, then, after all this work for other people while watching ‘Arthur’ fall flat The Kinks deliver an album that simply couldn’t have been shown on television at the time – it would be far too bitter and cruel for viewing audiences of the day! Ray’s marriage to his first wife Rasa at the age of 22 was also beset with problems from the beginning (not least because still at school when the couple first met and some five years younger) – a story that’s about to go into overdrive come the whole ‘Preservation’ shenanigans in a few records’ time (see News and Views 60). So, in all, Ray really isn’t a happy bunny and everything he feared during the 60s – that the ‘victory’ by the youth of the day and the ‘little people’ taking power – might well have been corrupted and finished by 1970. ‘Lola Versus Powerman’ is about power struggles from the title on down, but - depressing as much of it is – there’s still plenty of that typical Kinks short-term pessimism, long-term optimism to see this album through.
'Lola Versus Powerman' is an album written in bits and pieces on the way to court hearings and in the back of crummy hotels between poorly-attended sets and sounds like it too - never have The Kinks sounded more despondent or more ready to throw in the towel. After six years of gradually falling record sales, a fanbase that seemed to be disappearing and the end of a ridiculously cruel and heavy contract with Pye records, this is Ray Davies finally unleashing all that venom and bitterness he’s been saving throughout the rest of his career. With The Kinks all set to make a clean sweep of things and seeing out their days on Pye with only the 'Percy' film soundtrack waiting to be handed in, the band can now at last tell the truth about how they feel they've been 'betrayed' - and boy does Ray tell it like it is across this bitter, relentless album. This record should, by rights, be the least commercial thing The Kinks ever did.
However, something strange happened to turn the album into the band's strongest seller in years and by chance put the band in a great position to negotiate with other record companies, of whom Arista seemed the most interested. 'Lola', written after an accidental meetings with a transgender party-goer in a club, is catchy yet subversive enough to become the band's biggest hit since 'Autumn Almanac' three years before. 'Apeman' quickly follows 'Lola' into the charts and almost performs as well. For the first time since 'Something Else' a Kinks album comes complete with two top ten hits (and in fact 'Lola' will go on to be the only album with two major hits credited to the band in their entire history). Thousands of new followers on both sides of the Atlantic flocked to this new-sound Kinks, most of them probably hoping for a whole album as catchy as the two hit singles. Those two songs dominate this album’s reputation but in truth they’re almost nothing like the other songs here. They’re Ray Davies’ vision diluted, story songs written about people or incidents in Ray’s life exaggerated for the sake of song and given a happy ending up to a point, whereas the other songs here are openly vulnerable and angst-ridden. The Kinks never had as easy a ride with hit singles as their other contemporaries (even now-heralded classics like ‘Days’ and ‘Celluloid Heroes’ were huge flops when they first came out) and the irony of Ray’s timings must have been amazing: the most uncommercial, uncompromising record of Ray’s career was nothing like the collection of story-songs album label and fans though they were getting.
However even these songs 'belong' on this album, as part of what is really another Kinks Koncept album (the title hints as much with its worrying statement that this is merely 'part one' - although as things turned out there never was technically a part two, even if the darker and starker sequel 'Muswell Hillbillies' shares a similar 'post-code' to this album, as it were). The theme of the record is effectively standing up to bullies and doing what you have to do anyway. There’s a real struggle going on across this album, where individuals are trying to live their lives without doing harm to anyone - and society keeps saying 'no!' Lola, for instance, wants to express herself and break free of societal boundaries - but life keeps saying 'no!', especially in Ray's songs. The two similar songs that bookend the album plead and then celebrate freedom and define what it means to be free - but society keeps saying 'no!' 'Demark Street' damns record publishers who think they know best but don't even care about the music - they're only interested in something if it sells. 'Get Back In The LIne' is a gorgeous song about unemployment and the stigma of people in charge of welfare having power over you where they know you're desperate and they can basically do what they want to you - it's all of Ray's fears about what might happen if The Kinks dry up rolled into a gorgeous song sparked by the memory of a post-college Ray meeting his dad in the dole-queue (neither had ever spoken to the other about signing on). 'Top Of The Pops' is a delicious damnation of everything the hit-maker Kinks once were and the way bands sell out their integrity - which must have been fun when, after two years away, the band were invited back on that very programme to perform 'Lola'! 'The Moneygoround' is a weary flag of truce after a court case that's nearly cost Ray his sanity as he damns people he doesn't even know for 'taking from a song they've never even heard'. 'A Long Way From Home' is a warning song from an older brother to a younger one about believing in fame too fast. 'Apeman' is a comedy song with a very real message: that mankind took a wrong turning somewhere and we need to return to happier, more innocent days with less greed. Finally, 'Powerman' damns everyone who ever took a position of power as its own reward and pulled the strings to keep themselves safe and decide what was 'right' in the first place. Even Dave's songs fit - the world-weary 'Strangers' berating the world for keeping people apart and the 'Powerman' like 'Rats' tearing into the parasites living off the misery of others. (Only 'This Time Tomorrow' sounds as if it doesn't fit, a potential third hit single with a longing for the future more like the 'old' Kinks although even this may refer to the hope of Ray setting off on an aeroplane to the tour the States again, little knowing his hopes are - for now - going to be dashed). Even the tongue-twisting title refers to the sheer battle it takes to stay individual in a world full of people playing by the rules: in the human corner are the courageous trendsetters like Lola who flout society's rules and the 'Apemen' who live simpler, ignoring mankind's games - and in the 'power' corner lives money, corruption and madness. Strangely enough the division is reflected in the music too: the two singles (and 'Gotta Be Free') are the 'up' songs to this album's sighing, depressed rants (although 'Apeman' isn't exactly a cheery single either when you analyse it properly, despite its sunshiney calypso licks). For once Ray's seen what's being 'preserved' and turned into an 'institution' and he plainly doesn't like it. Every Kinks album is about change and the ‘old’ guard being taken away to some extent, but on this album more than any other its business empires and greed that are most at fault for taking away our individuality and forcing those on the fringes of society to be seen as misfits.
Many fans and critics scratch their head over this album. It sounds nothing like the ‘Percy’ film soundtrack of orchestral ballads and dodgy instrumentals that’s about to come along in a few months time. It also sounds nothing like the finely wrought and tightly planned ‘Arthur’ (see review no 30), which is an epic in every sense of the word. But to the true Kinks-fans, who love and worship those moments of human weakness and fragility that Ray celebrates so often on records, then despite all the anger and huffing and puffing, you really couldn’t own a better album than this one. For someone who spent so much of his adult life a blistering success (‘You Really Got Me’ hit when Ray was just 22), he isn’t half an amazing composer when it comes to writing about failure, his own and other peoples, forever reminding himself of people's low expectations for his future: at home, at school, at art college, the people who half-heartedly signed the Kinks up for just three singles and hated 'You Really Got Me'. Ray never seems to have forgotten that he wasn't meant to have led the life The Kinks have given him and his brother and friends: unlike many rock and roll writers in their sixth year of success he still remembers whose awful life was before the fame. Which was is what makes 'Lola' more than just another 'whinging rock millionaire' album: Ray instead comments on the people he left behind in the unemployment queue whose lives are just as miserable - and his frustration that, for all his relative power and respect he'll never have the influence that 'Powerman' has over the world.
Not that Ray is working alone on this record. The always-under-rated Dave Davies has finally put his plans for a solo album – first mentioned in 1967 – aside and has saved two of his finest songs for the record which, as ever, act as the ‘conscience’ to Ray’s rather grander statements and tackling the themes of isolation and angerness much more directly than his elder brother. His guitar-work is as stinging as ever too, on tracks like his own ‘Rats’ and the surprisingly heavy part added to ‘Lola’ and ‘Apeman’ (without which these two would just be more of Ray’s occasional ‘joke’ songs – just check out how much the alternate version of the latter, with a retro guitar part rather than a contemporary one, falls flat). New bassist John Dalton is already settling in well, adding to his sterling work on ‘Arthur’ with yet more amazing bass runs (the joke within the band was that they hired Dalton because he looked like Paul McCartney; actually he’s more of a ringer for him musically than physically, especially the mid-60s version where the bass line taken is never the most obvious and yet is never intrusive either). Reliable drummer Mick Avory sounds less involved somehow - as we said on ‘Arthur’, Mick is very much a ‘feel’ drummer who can really channel the emotion in Ray’s songs but there’s not as much autobiography here as in the past for him to get his teeth into. Still, though, his handling of the sheer amount of switches in style across this record (rock, pop, ballad, blues and even a touch of Vaudeville) would have left many other drummers hanging up their drumsticks in despair. New member John Gosling doesn’t get much to do yet (interestingly he’s not counted as a ‘full’ member until the next record – hence his absence from the curious Da Vinci-like front cover – but he plays on pretty much all the record) and is given a 'Baptist' baptism of fire promoting the album where he was made to dress up as an 'apeman' at least twice. Even more than usual, though, this is a 'Ray' record and the sound that makes the most impact is Ray's audibly pained vocal – never the most commercial or tuneful voice in music it nevertheless is a perfect fit for his material: half feisty, half vulnerable and everything these fragile but determined characters should be. The third straight 'Ray' record in a row, this might well be the elder Davies' brother's best in sheer terms of performance: every song demands something a little bit different and Ray delivers on everything, from the delicious irony of 'Money Go Round' to the merry sarcastic hoot of 'Denmark Street' to the sheer joy of 'Lola', this album stretches Ray's talents to the limit and he passes with flying colours.
Many Kinks albums have a slightly nostalgic feel (so unusual for a period when everyone looked forwards and dreamed of tomorrow), whether it's for music, society or friends from a bygone age, but this one in particular feels like an album that's tying up many loose ends despite the fact that the line-up will (for now) be relatively stable (or at least as stable as The Kinks ever were!) Never again will the band ever sound quite this 'English' again; never again will they display quite so many 'sixties' influences: the R and B roots of 'Rats', the music hall of 'Denmark Street', the folk of 'This Time Tomorrow'. When The Kinks regroup in 1972 they'll be a much bigger band, with a horn section and in time female backing singers - you'd never have guessed either move listening to this record (hearing these albums in sequence, it's enough of a shock that they've brought in a new piano player with his own distinctive style!)
So much for the past - but this album also concerns itself with the future. Music business and particularly publishing was the one last stranglehold the 60s musicians never broke (even The Beatles never made decent money on their songs - and still don't to this day), but if this album is anything to go by Ray clearly felt it his duty to do his best to rid the world of them in particular, but also more of a general sense of a society that's spending too much curtain-twitching and wondering what the neighbours will think. As we know now change came slow and the late 70s and 80s, particularly under Thatcher, undid much of the good work bands like The Kinks had done, loosening up the industry and society at large. I’m glad Ray didn’t know that then, though, because the one thing that prevents this album from being a complete misery is that, occasionally, the people do win. 'Lola' is a natural winner - she's not like the other 'losers' on this record because she can 'get away' with her hidden secret of really being a bloke and is free enough to be herself without caring what others think. 'This Time Tomorrow' dreams of a new future 'out across the sea', so vivid in its metaphor of a plane taking off to an exciting new land that you can just imagine The Kinks, cases packed, returning to a land that's now only a distant memory, setting off to goodness knows what journeys (what really happened is yet more of a love-hate Kinks relationship with America, the land where the band's records took off like never before in any other country in a decade or so's time and yet in which the band will never really feel like they belong; Ray muses over these thoughts and being shot by a mugger and seeing the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans with nothing being done to help despite it being a state in the richest country in the world in his book 'Americana' in 2012). 'Gotta Be Free', a song first written for 'The Long Distance Piano Player', ends the album on a really positive note, dreaming of a world where no rules apply - a world that will, briefly, turn into 'Preservationland' (at the start, at least). This record might have been even more acerbic if Ray had known what was really to come: even greater powers for the rich, more attacks on the poor, a society that still refuses to tolerate people who are 'different' in the main with mixed attempts at equality across the board and a world that can eventually lead to the contrived artificiality of The Spice Girls (yuk!)
As the front cover, with the traditional Leonardo Da Vinci drawing of mankind divided into four people who just happen to mirror the four main Kinks, implies this is a eulogy about mankind’s past and what he fears in his future, a neat time capsule of fears in 1970 when the 1960s seemed to be over in more ways than just chronologically. In a neat shift, which Ray couldn’t have possibly known about in 1970, this Da Vinci-like cover (clockwise from top left: Dave, Mick, Ray and John Dalton) has its own codes throughout the record, things that are as close to the knuckle as Ray can get without being banned or annoying the censors (I still marvel at how 'Lola' got past the nervy censors of 1970, even in 'Cherry Cola' non-product placement re-recorded form) although, technically, the book Dan Brown got all his rubbish from was released in 1972 and written by Henry Lincoln, the man who invented the yeti in Doctor Who). When it works, this album is a brave insight into Ray’s turbulent world, where everyone is out to get you unless proven otherwise and the moral that the people they tell you to mistrust are probably the ones who deserve our trust most (I’ve mentioned it here before, but the tale of the ‘hunchback’ in Ray’s autobiography, a figure who terrified the young Ray before discovering that he too may end up with a hunch and began feeling sympathy with the man rather than teasing him, rests heavy on the whole of his adult work). When it doesn’t work, this is a tired and uninspired album that is as generic and un-ambitious as any The Kinks ever made with 'The Contenders' in particular the band's weakest song in some time. The two sides fighting each other don’t really sit together that comfortably, but then Kinks albums are never meant to be comfortable – they’re revealing, heartbreakingly observational glimpses into our topsy-turvy society that rewards the powerful and punishes the small. And ‘Lola’ the album is one of the best example of that in the whole Kinks Katalogue. A small step down from the perfection of the last run of albums then, perhaps, but a tiny step down from perfection is still head and shoulders above practically everything being released in 1970.
Just take the opening song  ‘The Contender’, for instance. The song starts off as delicate folk, a typically Kinks-like song of the period about the birth of a baby. In practically anyone else’s hands this song about a newborn and hopes for their future would be a real ‘aah’ or a real ‘yuk’ moment depending how you feel about these kinds of songs. What you probably don’t expect is for Ray to be the narrator for this song, effectively telling his ‘mammy’ to shut up crying because its time for him to see the world, before switching to a long ranting list of things the narrator doesn’t want to end up doing with his life. The sudden switch to electric rock is all the more nasty and hard-hitting for the sheer surprise when it cuts in, mowing down the innocence of the opening before the listener has really had time to notice it was there. The more you listen to this short three-verse song, the more you realised this isn’t actually about Ray’s first daughter Victoria (the hit single of the same name from 1969 was named after her, incidentally, even if it did turn into a song about Victoriana) but Ray himself. The Kinks were facing defeat in the face during this period and Ray’s desperate attempts to re-launch the band and the last verse in particular seems to be a statement of intent on Ray’s behalf on how the band are going to overcome their difficulties and ends with the declaration [Don’t want to be] a saint or a sinner, want to be a winner’. In most fans’ eyes, this song isn’t exactly a winning moment in the Kinks canon. Dave Davies’ guitar is just that bit too shrill and out of control for most tastes and the juxtaposition of that unusually ‘heavy’ sound with a twinkling piano – clearly imitating the innocence of the newborn babe – doesn’t really come off. Where this song succeeds is in setting up the album by giving us an unexpected twist and turn as early as 30 seconds into the record – and the twists and u-turns on this record keep going for the next 40 minutes! You also feel as if you really have gone on a ‘journey’ on this record, what with the birth going on in this track and the repeat of this song’s sentiments in the closing ‘Got To Be Free’ and the killer line ‘I don’t want to be a constructor of highways, gotta do it my way’ is the message that’s been under-running most Kinks songs since 1965 in the most naked and vulnerable way possible. Ray may also have been looking back fondly on The Kinks’ past and the split with original bassist Pete Quaife two years before with the line ‘we’re not the greatest when we’re separated, but when we’re together I think we’re going to make it’ – a line that makes no sense in the context of the song if it’s not autobiography. Hear this song outside the context of the album, however, and it does sound a little bit clumsy for a Kinks song.
 ‘Strangers’ is an unfairly overlooked Dave Davies song that makes for interesting reading when compared to Ray’s ‘reply’ in ‘Long Way From Home’. Being four years younger, Dave’s songs for the band in the 1960s are – generally speaking – much simpler and more direct versions of the complex songs Ray was writing. But 1970 is the point where it all changes. Ray’s anger has given him more energy and made him sound younger than he had in a while, without the weight of a ‘betrayed society’ or the ‘fall of the British Empire’ on his mind as in the last two albums. Dave is the one who wounds old before his time here – both in the sense that this song’s slow pace pushes his fragile vocal to its limits and because of the mature and wise words about reconciliation. Dave often gets dismissed as an arrogant brat always looking for a punch up, but that’s what comes of having success when you are 17 and in pay to your brother – actually there’s huge spiritual side to even Dave’s angrier, messier songs and ‘Strangers’ is one of the biggest examples of that. Like much of this album, the sound is a real bare-bones production without the horns and brass of the past, with just an acoustic guitar, organ and piano part until some military drumming at the end. This really suits this tired, weary song about isolation which veers between ‘a love of life that makes me weak at my knees’ and ‘for many men there is so much grief’. Dave might well be writing about his brother here in this tale of two people who share so much time together and yet seem so far apart they barely know each other (it wouldn’t be the first time the brothers’ relationship was written out in song). If so, then Dave is noticeably kinder than his brother, acknowledging Ray’s new found anger and homelife misery in the line ‘so you been where I just come’ and the moving line that, despite their differences, ‘all the things I own I will share with you’. It’s a moving little song this, if a little melodramatic in parts, forsaking the usual verse-chorus-middle eight structure for a long rambling outpouring of unconnected thoughts that wander, completely lost, down a melodic structure in search of something just out of reach. Dave’s vocal is magnificent too, no longer the wide-eyed punk of the band’s early songs or even the new-look balladeer or ‘Death Of A Clown’, but a poet in the Dylan mould. What a shame there aren’t more songs like this on The Kinks’ back catalogue.
 ‘Denmark Street’ is the first of two songs on this album that are Ray Davies’ absolute damnation of music publishers. The opening verse starts out as a spoof of the sort of tin pan alley productions that music publishers traditionally excelled in before The Beatles and acts started writing their own songs, telling us to ‘follow our nose’ because the street is hopping ‘to the tapping of toes’. The second verse tells us the reality – most of the publishers the 1960s AAA bands dealt with were middle-aged men from the 1940s and 50s who had absolutely no belief or interest in the music they dealt in with the kids of the 1960s and looked on in distaste while they still pocketed the money. Ray’s devastating lyrics about the publisher hating his song and his looks but desperate to go out and play it to the kids to see if he can make some money out of it is one of the funniest in his career, absolutely dripping with venom and perfectly delivered by Ray at his only-just-in-check-of-my-emotions best. His knowledge that the rights to this song would have gone to exactly the people Ray lambasts here is all part of the fun. However, all that grief and anger doesn’t leave much space for an actual song and – like many on this album – it’s worth a chuckle every now and then instead of being something you’ll want to hear regularly.
If ‘Denmark Street’ is Ray at his most bitter and angry, then  ‘Get Back In The Line’ is him at his most sympathetic and humble. The clear highlight of this album, ‘Lola’ included, this is a typically Ray-like song about lost opportunities and the struggle of the ordinary man against difficulties. The song was inspired by a real incident, before The Kinks’ success when Ray found himself signing on at the labour exchange (an event that haunted him ong afterwards, with songs on the subject as late as 1983) and noticed his father in the queue. Mr Davies Senior had been too proud to tell his family he had been made redundant and hid it successfully for quite some time – the wonder, then, is why it took Ray so long to turn such a poetic and intriguing turn of events into a song. Everything about this song is perfectly crafted, with a world weary opening verse about how hard it is to keep going when nothing is there to support you, before turning to a breathtaking chorus that takes us from our minor-key prison to an unexpected major key change, which really is the aural equivalent of Ray’s line ‘the sun begins to shine’ when the union man walks over to him. However, all is lost because Ray’s narrator finds the song shifting backwards again as the man ‘walks right past and I know that I’ve got to get back in the line’. The humility of people competing for the same rotten job coaxes one of the best lyrics of Ray’s career, especially in the second and final verse of this short song where Ray’s narrator, sticking to his guns despite the advice of those around him, sighs in exasperation ‘but all I want to do is make some money and bring you home some wine’. This song is scarily close to what Ray was going through in the early Kinks days when the band, stuck with a name they hated and a cover of The Beatles’ ‘Long Tall Sally’, really did look like they would be out of work. Ray’s braveness of sticking up for his then-new song, ‘You Really Got Me’ and insisting on recording and re-recording against the best advice of his record company got the Kinks out of a tricky situation – but ‘Get Back In The Line’ is a wonderful song about how different things might have been had that song been a flop. Alas, despite being in the band’s song list for much longer than most of their other songs of the period, I’ve never heard a recording of this song which is the equal to the writing of it: the studio version here is too rushed, too vague and subdued, while the concert versions of the day are slowed down to a funeral pace and sound painfully melodramatic. Still, in any version of it, the sheer beauty and cleverness of the song shines through. One of Ray’s all-time best.
[158a] ‘Lola’ is an evergreen of radio stations everywhere, which is surprising when you consider how daring it is now, never mind 40 years ago. As any fan from the time will tell you, this song about a transvestite was indeed banned at the time – but because Ray used the word ‘coca-cola’ rather than for any of the gender issues of the song (it was seen as advertising you see!) Ray had to fly halfway across the world where The Kinks had – finally – gone on their second US tour after a four-year ban to change it to the less worrying phrase ‘cherry cola’, but ironically its a good thing for him he did because the fuss about advertising overshadowed the sheer audacity of this song in its day. We’ve heard this song so often it seems second nature to us now, but think how many other songs about switching genders you know that aren’t outwardly homophobic? Fionna Perry’s ‘I Kissed A Girl’ is about it as far as I can tell – and that came some 39 years after! Where Ray excels in this song is by making the risqué lyrics as upfront as he possibly can get away with without outlining who exactly Lola is, with the listener in on the joke as early as the second couplet with the talk of her ‘deep brown voice’. However, the narrator never actually realises that his new beloved is a transvestite – indeed, he tells us in the last verse that he’d only just left home and ‘I’d never ever kissed a woman before’ so is clearly a naive at large in a world that’s out of his comfort zone. The best line, however, is when ray distances himself from the song, with the typically Kinks-line about ‘girls will be boys and boys will be girls, its a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world except for Lola’. Right away we get the weird title of this album – that those who dare to be different are worthy of our respect not cruel jibes and that, perhaps, is the reason ‘Lola’ is as popular as it is – it somehow manages to be a joke song about a transvestite without making her/him the subject of our mirth. However, while the lyrics are clear if you want to hear them, they are hidden behind a snappy nine-note opening riff and a powerhouse production that’s definitely the strongest on the record in the way it ebbs and flows. The whole band do this song proud, from Dave’s sensitive backing vocals to the clattering rhythm section driving the song along and the song does well to navigate it’s way from a soft and edgy beginning to an outright epic by the middle without the sudden power of the sound getting in the way. Ray’s vocal is rather varied in this one – on some verses he really is the lost innocent, on others he’s in a passionate full-blown romance, on others he’s sounding like a dirty old man (and if you don’t know what that sounds like, then Neil Young practically repeats the chorus of ‘Lola’ for his own song ‘Dirty Old Man’ on ‘Chrome Dreams II’). It also sounds pretty lost here, adrift in the middle of the record (perhaps Ray would have done better to keep the ‘versus’ theme of the title and put the ‘Lolas’ on one side and the ‘Powermen’ on the other?) Yet hear ‘Lola’ coming out of your radio, at random between the other mixed baggage you always get on ‘nostalgia’ programmes and I’ll guarantee it will catch your ear straight away and hold your attention to the end, just like the perfect pop song should.
[159a] ‘Top Of The Pops’ is the album’s other highlight, a tremendous spoof of the typical fame-ridden newcomer to the music business and Top Of The Pops and all the people waiting in the wings waiting to squeeze money out of the unnamed band the minute they look like being a success. Ray saves his most damning lines for this one, sarcastically reducing the whole impact of such influential institutions as Top Of The Pops and Melody Maker magazine into money spinners. The killer line here is ‘I might end up a Rock and Roll God – it might turn into a steady job!’ – the narrator may have started off as a ‘Lola’ with his convictions and morals intact, ready to make some meaningful music, but it doesn’t take long for corruption of his position to fit in. Along the way, the narrator gets waylaid by a music magazine who, ignorant of who he was until two minutes ago, now wants to know his opinions on ‘politics and theories on religion’. He also gets ‘invited to a dinner by a prominent queen’ - two stunning lines, completely forsaking the past three Kinks mega-concept albums to tell us that the opinions of measly pop stars shouldn’t count for anything – that it’s not their job to run the world. It’s as if Ray, reminded of the past that could have been in ‘Get Back In The Line’ has gone back to what happened to the band when ‘You Really Got Me’ became big against the wishes and lack of support given by the record company. He even ends with the similarly devastating line about how people ‘want you when your record’s high’ and how he’s got friends he’s sure he ‘never had before’. The bottom line is this – all of the people who thought Ray would never get anywhere made more money from the band’s run at Pye than the band did, despite Ray’s determination to plough his own field and now, about to be freed from his contract with the label, Ray wants us to know how things really were in 1964 now that it won’t affect the band’s career (though his next record label RCA probably weren’t that amused). The band turn in some generic rock posing behind Ray and yet, close as this song is to parody, there’s some genuine pioneering in this song’s weak-kneed ‘You Really Got Me’ spoof – notably the middle eight, instrumental on the record but given words when sung live about the performer ‘in the clouds’ whenever the music plays. Ray’s vocal is an absolute gem, sung completely tongue-in-cheek and halfway between the naiveté of the narrator and the knowingness with which the listener shares about him being taken for a ride. The one part of the song that doesn’t work is the very end, where the record slows down to s gospel spoof and a decidedly Jewish-sounding manager (actually Ray putting on a silly voice) tells us that now its ‘time to make some real money’. This is a woefully anti-Semitic line from a band who are, after all, talking about rights and equality throughout the rest of this album and the song arguably doesn’t need this ending section at all, even if the ending cascade of guitars from an overdubbed Dave Davies is great fun.
Things don’t lessen up for  ‘The Money-Go Round’, an acerbic two-minute riposte to Ray’s music publishers, imagining his back catalogue as a spinning merry go round where his two managers and an unknown foreign publisher take their money out first, leaving the band with a pittance. Ray’s manager Granville Collins was not amused at all by this song, claiming in many interviews at the time that neither he nor Robert wade ever received a penny directly from Ray’s songs, but if so you have to wonder what Ray was told. He never broke with old associates lightly – though goodness knows there’s enough bitter acrimony festering for years stories by the band’s last years – and his lyrics and vocal sound genuinely pained here. Just check out the line: ‘I thought they were my friends...I can’t believe that I’m so green!’ Ah Ray, as his brother Dave points out in his autobiography Kink its deeply unfair that musicians have to be good businessmen to even vaguely know what’s going on in their finances – after all, managers don’t have to write songs in addition to their living, do they? The whole point of this track is how quickly things unravel – despite having more words than almost any other song on the record, this whole track is over within 100 seconds, the whole thing coming out in one long, hurried rush with barely a pause for breath (Ray really struggles in the middle of the song, with the line ‘earning money from a song they’ve never heard, they don’t know the tunes and they don’t know the words, but they don’t give a damn’. The song then ends with a classic Ray Davies joke – ‘by the time I ever get my money, I’ll be too old and grey to spend it!’ As it turned out, Ray received his money not long before this album came out, but winning didn’t make him feel any better about things, with the publishing dispute an undignified mess that pretty much sounds the end for The Kinks as we know and love from their 1960s incarnation.
After all these acid attacks, side two’s opener  ‘This Time Tomorrow’ comes as something of a relief. The few critics who do analyse this album generally dismiss this song as a badly recorded, generic song far from the pioneering sarcasm of Ray’s other songs. But taken on its own – and if you accept the poor recording which seems to have the musicians playing down a tunnel – this is a fine pop song, a real outward-looking where-are-we-all-going? Song in the best Kinks tradition but which is unusually rare on this album. There’s even a typically Ray Davies-like line about seeing roads and houses from his window and wondering where all the countryside has gone – could this song have genuinely been written on a plane (during the Kinks’ much-delayed American tour, perhaps?) The tune is sweet and simple, driven by an acoustic guitar part that sounds like a first draft of the one for ‘Lola’ (which came first I wonder?...) and a tinkling piano riff that really rolls the song onward to its destination. The song also has a surprisingly good middle eight that kicks in only once, seemingly out of nowhere, with a bouncy staccato rhythm behind the line ‘I don’t know where I’m going, I don’t want to see’, almost as if the plane we’re on has hit some unexpected turbulence. Yes there’s not much of importance going on here and this is hardly the most crafted or deepest song on the album, but this is a delightful journey nonetheless and a truly overlooked song in the Kinks’ Kanon.
 ‘A Long Way From Home’ is a curious song. Ray never revealed what it was written about at the time, yet years later surprised us all by saying it was about his brother. Considering the long list of put-downs in the Kinks catalogue to come this shouldn’t be a surprise – and yet it is. Ray and Dave were getting on better than ever in this period and this song’s put-down about a person thinking he’s ‘wiser’ just because he’s ‘older’ and a person taken in by the lures of money sounds a world away from the lyric in ‘Strangers’ (even with the similar line ‘but you don’t know me’). This song also sounds decidedly un-Kinks like, what with the piano-based circular riff and almost sickly opening verse about remembering what made the person in the song ‘smile’. Ray even goes so far as to lampoon his own vocal, doing his best Mick Jagger impression circa 1967 in the way he sings the title. It’s as if Ray has written the song almost without realising and is embarrassed by it, even though the sentiments in the song sound very honest about someone (even if it isn’t about Dave) and hardly the sort of thing a generic hack writer working on this sort of song would put. The idea of being ‘a long way from home’, for instance, is very Ray Davies, suggesting that roots and past are the making of all of us and something we should keep in our present (the more outgoing AAA types like Roger Daltrey and John Lennon probably never even gave it a thought, although it’s interesting what LSD unlocks in Lennon’s brain over his past and childhood circa 1967). I can only guess what Dave thought of this song when and if he did realise it was about him, considering the sheer work he puts into it – his acoustic guitar playing is lovely and his harmony vocal, always a great contrast with Ray’s more troubled songs, is picture perfect here.
 ‘Rats’ is Dave Davies’ second song on the album and it sits in great contrast to ‘Strangers’. This is Dave the rocker we know from old, taking the themes of power-hungry parasites his brother has been writing and turning them into his own spikier, more basic protest song. Those who say that Black Sabbath are the first ever ‘heavy metal’ group are clearly wrong – not content with the guitar part in ‘You Really Got Me’ and its many follow-up copies, Dave Davies goes as far into heavy rock as the era and his band will let him. Like ‘Strangers’, Ray probably isn’t on this track which some think was written about him in return for the last track, although it sounds more to me like this is Ray facing the same faceless power-schemes as his brother and coming up with his own take on the subject. The theme of this song is how ‘hate spreads like an infection’, of how to most normal people left to their own devices the thoughts of the Lolas and fringes of society people out there aren’t worrying at all, and yet when a mob gets together they seem to always get nasty. While Dave is clearly still struggling a bit with this lyrics – they won’t came as naturally to him as melody until the 70s are well underway - the song ends with the classic statement ‘once he was warm and kind, now all he’s got is a pinstripe mind’. Yep, definitely about business power struggles this one. An ambitious two-minute burst of adrenalin that does much to break up the slower songs of this second half, but I think its clear to everyone but Dave that his future lies with more songs like ‘Strangers’ than ‘Rats’.
[164a] ‘Apeman’ is the song’s second best remembered number and its an extension of both the Kinks message of the late 60s/early 70s (why did we ever get down from the trees? Life was better before industrialisation!) and the opinions of the day (mankind is just an animal). To my ears, this song sounds so close to the ‘Percy’ soundtrack song ‘Animals In The Zoo’ its like hearing a long lost ancestor, which begs the question which came first? For all its novelty value and catchy chorus, I have to say that ‘Zoo’ is the better song on this subject, with the telling line of how the animals are looking back at us as if we’re in the zoo far more powerful than this song’s sentiments about not wanting to die in a nuclear war. The slight reggae feel about this song is new for The Kinks of 1970 – in fact, thinking about it, its new for everybody in 1970 when all manner of unsuitable white musicians give it a go - but will soon become normal for them, embracing every song from 1972’s ‘Supersonic Rocket Ship’ to 1985’s ‘Good Day’. Alas, Ray’s Jamaican accent is never convincing on record and sounds worse than normal here, as if he’s developed some strange tick (the comparing of reggae/Carribean music with jungle rhythms also seems rather unfortunate now, although it was perfectly normal then). On the positive side, the catchy riff might not mean much but it doesn’t half knock a punch when you don’t know its coming and the closing lines, where the whole song gradually spins out of control like our modern world according to the lyrics, is impressive. This single is also another one, like Lola, that seemed to prove the censors were in either a lax or uncharacteristically progressive frame of mind – Ray clearly sings the line ‘the air pollution is a fuckin’ up my eyes’ but re-wrote the word as ‘foggin’ in the lyric sheet.
[165a] ‘Powerman’ is that good old fashioned 60s protest song dressed up in all its turn-of-the-decade finery. Ray has dropped his half-sarcasm replies now and sings this song deadly straight, upping the emotional level by having the backing band play just the one money-grabbing riff over and over while the vocalists carry the melody. That puts most of the emphasis of the song on the lyrics, but in common with many on this album they’re actually quite hard to hear. That’s a shame because – for the most part – they’re fantastic, a simple yet nevertheless challenge to the next power-mad bunch of men who try to take things away from the band. The faceless figures, who live only for making money and don’t care who they step on to get it, inspires another of Ray’s greatest vocals, really barking out the words in a manner more like Roger Daltrey than his usual style. The way the chorus sweeps in from nowhere every so often, with Ray finding a new rhyme for ‘the same old game’ each time, is excellent, with an uplifting melody acting in complete contrast to the repetitive backing and letting the song soar like a kite before coming back to land with a bump come the next line. The end result is one of the band’s best rockers, as autobiographical as anything else on this troubled album but more universal and accessible in the way it’s delivered here. Only the more generic lines about it not mattering if the narrator’s got his girl let’s this song down. If you happen to own a CD copy of this alb um, make sure you listen to the ‘demo’ version added as a bonus track – while ‘Apeman’ sounds the same until the closing solo and ‘Lola’ has a grand total of one line’s difference, ‘Powerman’ sounds very different, ragged and raw and even more enjoyable than this slightly tightened version, even if the synch between guitarists is slightly out.
 ‘Got To Be Free’ takes us back to where we began, with Ray now in the parenting role, comforting his new baby and telling them that, against all the odds, ‘soon the sun is going to shine’. He’s also talking to us in a wider sense, summing up this album’s other theme of rural life versus urban with the couplet about ‘running wild’ in the trees a reference not just to the lack of physical order in the countryside but also the lack of order in the mindsets of those who are free of the pressures and corruption of the money-mad world of the towns. Alas, after these strong opening lines which do much to make sense of this album, the song soon degenerates into a long list of Ray saying he’ll ‘walk if I want’ ‘talk with I want’ ‘say what I want’ etc (plus the surprising line ‘swear if I like – if anyone was least likely to swear on record its Ray, though see above) while being as ‘free as the birds’ ‘butterflies’ etc. There’s also a decidedly low-key end where the song simply fades, with a much rawer and single-tracked Ray singing very quietly, as if mocking the rather lesser harmony version we have here instead. Nothing we haven’t hundreds of times before, then, meaning this album fizzles out on a very unoriginal note which is a great shame given how pioneering about 75% of this record is. It does make for a bit of a communal singalong to end the album with, though, and a fitting ‘proper’ end to the band’s Pye catalogue on which they did more than almost any other band to pave the way and let future generations of musicians do ‘what they want’.
'Lola Versus Powerman' is a record of contradictions. It's one of the deepest Kinks albums with layers here that would have surprised many fans who bought it just to hear the hits and yet it's not as deep as many of the more fully fledged concept albums before or since. The album is largely bitter and full of irony, but many of the songs are as honest and open as any Ray or Dave ever wrote: 'Rats' and 'Powerman' are as angry and 'This Time Tomorrow' as sweet as any Kinks song out there. It's an album where The Kinks can damn the sort of pop band who write catchy songs and sell out to appear on 'Top Of The Pops' and then precede that song with 'Lola', one of the band's catchiest and best known tracks. It's an album that tells us all the many reasons why we will never ever be free and that the powerman's hold over us is just too tight - and then encourages us to keep on fighting anyway. It's an overlooked, overshadowed, misunderstood album that nobody ever feels as if they quite understand despite the fact that it says everything blunter than on any other Kinks album. It's an album that damns Ray's accountants, managers and music publishers with several piercing lyrics - and then sold so many copies it made them all more money than they'd seen in years. It's a record of hellos and goodbyes that catches The Kinks at the exact point where they metamorphosise from the old ways to the new ways and finds them right at the middle of that crossroads. It's an album of highs and lows, of lost battles and little victories, of saints and sinners, a record set such a long way from home that yet hits closer to home than many others. It is - and it isn't - the record you're expecting all at the same time. It is the individual locked into a battle with society. It is Lola versus Powerman and the Money Go Round. And against all odds the battle is a stalemate, the might of the individual holding their own against the society who wants to suppress them. Join us here for another Kinks re-match between the pair soon!