The “Listen Again” series was so well-liked that your favorite music man has decided to follow the lead of some entertainment executives and do a spin-off. In this series we’ll once more examine previously-released albums BUT the discs we’ll discuss in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) FIVE-STAR albums. Some recent recollections of the first rock concert ever attended by yours truly brought back pleasant memories of a couple of barely-legal, nubile blonde co-eds, cheap beer, good weed and an excellent 1980s performance by a legendary, hit-making English group. Therefore, this time we look at The Kinks’ Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround.
Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround is a 1970 concept album by the influential Brit rock band The Kinks. The Kinks were originally made up of brothers Ray (lead vocals/rhythm guitar/harmonica/keyboards/songwriting) and Dave Davies (lead guitar/vocals/banjo) in 1964. Also in the original group were Pete Quaife (bass/vocals) who was replaced by John Dalton in 1969 and Mick Avory (percussion). John Gosling would be added to the in studio group on keyboards, organ and piano. Their music was a mix of Brit music hall, country, folk and rhythm and blues.
Even before the release of Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, there had never been a rock ‘n’ roll sound anything like the one introduced by the Kinks with their first hit song “You Really Got Me”. With but one truly simple riff, the brothers Davies basically invented power-chord rock. One only need compare that sound to the ruffle-shirt, velvet-suit outfits band members wore at the very start of their career which did admittedly demonstrate the Kinks were a complete unit.
By the late 1960s, however, although the Kinks had been crafting some uncannily fine records, “their audience had all but disappeared” as Creem magazine’s Billy Altman said “heading toward the psychedelic sounds of the late Sixties.” With the band hitting an all-time commercial low as 1970 opened, Davies was hired to compose a score for a BBC special on the decline of the British Empire. The album’s soundtrack, titled Arthur, put the Kinks right back on the map.
Things began to look up again as the Kinks began to rock. Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround was released in 1970 during what was a transitional period. (A ban from the American Federation of Musicians in 1965 and illness after the ban was lifted in 1969 prevented the Kinks from properly touring America.)
The album, however, had benefitted from the band’s downtime. Indeed, it was both a commercial and a critical success and reached 35 on the American charts and 24 on the Australian charts. It was most certainly a comeback album and included two hit singles: “Lola”, which reached the top 10 in the US and UK, and “Apeman”, which peaked at number five in the UK.
The 14-track platter is a satirical look at the different facets of the music industry, including accountants, business managers (“The Moneygoround”), the press (“Top of the Pops”), song publishers (“Denmark Street”) and unions (“Get Back in Line”). The actual music here is nicely varied, drawing on the genres of folk, hard rock, and even traditional British music hall. The projects contrasts haunting ballads like “A Long Way From Home” against hard rock numbers like Dave Davies’ “Rats” and the Davies brothers’ collaboration “Powerman”.
The album was said by Rolling Stone magazine to be “the best Kinks album yet”. With this album the band would score their first hit in five years and with a song about a transvestite at that. Robert Christgau of The Village Voice, Robert Christgau remarked that “Lola” had been an “astounding single”.
Indeed, the hit song received numerous positive reviews, and, due to its success, an interview with Ray Davies was featured as a cover story for Rolling Stone that same year. Yes, it seems that long, hard work had paid off for the band. “Lola” (along with “Powerman” and the outtake “Good Good Life”) was one of the first songs the group crafted.
According to Davies the recording sessions for “Lola” alone were very long. Davies would later tell the press just how he finally decided on and created “the clangy sound” at the beginning of the song: “I remember going into a music store on Shaftesbury Avenue in London when we were about to make ‘Lola’. I said, ‘I want to get a really good guitar sound on this record. I want a Martin.’ And in the corner they had this old 1938 dobro (resonator guitar, in this case a National Steel) that I bought for $150. I put them together on ‘Lola’ which is what makes that clangy sound: the combination of the Martin and the dobro with heavy compression.”
Additionally, Ray Davies had to overdub the word “Coca-Cola” with “cherry-cola” for the single release because “Coca-Cola” is trademarked. According to product placement rules, the BBC—considered to be a public service broadcaster at the time—would not have been able to play it. The lyrics in the gatefold sleeve of the original release use the “cherry-cola” line but the album itself actually still contains the “Coca-Cola” version.
This would not be the only instance of enforced editing or censorship. The other Kinks’ classic-to-be, “Apeman”, would also come under scrutiny. One particular line in this tough, tongue-in-cheek tune was “the air pollution is a-foggin’ up my eyes”. The word “fogging” was mistaken for the word “f*cking” and Ray Davies therefore had to re-record this line prior to the single release.
Oddly enough, the actual album itself, Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround did not chart in the UK, the single “Lola” topped the New Musical Express charts in the UK, and reached #2 on Melody Maker. Indeed, “Lola” became The Kinks’ biggest success since the 1966 tune “Sunny Afternoon”. This would be the only Kinks song to reach this position in the UK.
“Lola” was also a hit in the US market. It reached number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, remaining there for almost 4 months. It also hit number 7 on the Record World charts. The album itself reached number 35 on Billboard, and number 22 on the Record World charts, making it the Kinks most successful album since the mid-1960s.
This success gave The Kinks the power to negotiate a contract with RCA Records, build their own studio in London, England and take more managerial and creative control. It even inspired others musicians such as Tom Petty who said he “especially liked it” and noted that it had been a specific influence on The Last DJ which was also critical of the music business. Numerous songs from this record, including Dave Davies’ “Strangers”, “Powerman”, “Apeman” and “This Time Tomorrow”.
A later re-release by the Castle/Sanctuary label would also include 3 bonus tracks. There was a mono mix of the single version of “Lola” and acoustic demos of both “Apeman” and “Powerman”. This would add almost another 13 minutes of music to the recording.
Before the release of Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround the Kinks had talked about the possibility of it being released as a double album and had actually originally added a “Part One” to the title. In fact, a sequel disc was planned for release the following year (1971) but was eventually scrapped because the group chose to record Muswell Hillbillies instead. Since the band decided to move on to the next idea the proposed follow-up album’s title was never confirmed.
Some rock journalists suggest that the band began preliminary writing sessions in late 1970 or early the next year. Still, it is unknown if any completed songs were ever recorded other than a few unreleased backing tracks. It seems very likely that no numbers were ever mastered. Both because a sequel never saw the light of day and more importantly because of its commercial and critical significance, Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround/Rep.6423, once considered to be only half of a two album release stands alone to this day.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.