“Lola” is a song written by Ray Davies and performed by English rock band the Kinks on their album Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One. The song details a romantic encounter between a young man and a possible transvestite, whom he meets in a club in Soho, London. In the song, the narrator describes his confusion towards a person named Lola who “walked like a woman but talked like a man”. Although Ray Davies claims that the incident was inspired by a true encounter experienced by the band’s manager, alternate explanations for the song have been given by drummer Mick Avory.
The song was released in the United Kingdom on 12 June 1970, while in the United States it was released on 28 June 1970. Commercially, the single reached number two on the UK Singles Chart and number nine on the Billboard Hot 100. Due to its controversial subject matter and use of the brand name Coca-Cola, the single received backlash and even bans in Britain and Australia. The single version (mono) used the words “cherry cola” while the album version (stereo) uses the name “Coca-Cola”. The track has since become one of The Kinks’ most iconic and popular songs, later being ranked number 422 on “Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” as well as number 473 on the “NME’s 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time” list.
Since its release, “Lola” has appeared on multiple compilation and live albums. In 1980, a live version of the song from the album One for the Road was released as a single in the US and some European countries, becoming a minor hit. In the Netherlands it became #1, just as in 1970 with the studio version. Other versions include live renditions from 1972’s Everybody’s in Show-Biz and 1996’s To the Bone. The “Lola” character also made an appearance in the lyrics of the band’s 1981 song, “Destroyer”.
Ray Davies has claimed that he was inspired to write “Lola” after Kinks manager Robert Wace spent a night in Paris dancing with a transgender woman. Davies said of the incident, “In his apartment, Robert had been dancing with this black woman, and he said, ‘I’m really onto a thing here.’ And it was okay until we left at six in the morning and then I said, ‘Have you seen the stubble?’ He said ‘Yeah’, but he was too pissed [intoxicated] to care, I think”.
Drummer Mick Avory has offered an alternate explanation for the song’s lyrics, claiming that “Lola” was partially inspired by Avory’s frequenting of trans bars in west London. Avory said, “We used to know this character called Michael McGrath. He used to hound the group a bit, because being called The Kinks did attract these sorts of people. He used to come down to Top of the Pops, and he was publicist for John Stephen’s shop in Carnaby Street. He used to have this place in Earl’s Court, and he used to invite me to all these drag queen acts and transsexual pubs. They were like secret clubs. And that’s where Ray [Davies] got the idea for ‘Lola’. When he was invited too, he wrote it while I was getting drunk”.
Despite claims that the song was written about a supposed date between Ray Davies and Candy Darling, Davies has since claimed this rumour to be false, saying that the two only went out to dinner together and that he had known the whole time of Darling’s gender identity.
In his autobiography, Dave Davies said that he came up with the music for what would become “Lola”, noting that brother Ray added the lyrics after hearing it. In a 1990 interview, Dave Davies stated that “Lola” was written in a similar fashion to “You Really Got Me” in that the two worked on Ray’s basic skeleton of the song, saying that the song was more of a collaborative effort than many believed.
Written in April 1970, “Lola” was cited by Ray Davies as the first song he wrote following a break he took to act in the 1970 Play for Today film The Long Distance Piano Player. Davies said that he had initially struggled with writing an opening that would sell the song, but the rest of the song “came naturally”.
Initial recordings of the song began in April 1970, but, as the band’s bassist John Dalton remembered, recording for “Lola” took particularly long, stretching into the next month. During April, four to five versions were attempted, utilizing different keys as well as varying beginnings and styles. In May, new piano parts were added to the backing track by John Gosling, the band’s new piano player that had just been auditioned. Vocals were also added at this time. The song was then mixed during that month. Mick Avory remembered the recording sessions for the song positively, saying that it “was fun, as it was the Baptist’s [John Gosling’s] first recording with us”.
The guitar opening on the song was produced as a result of combining the sound of a Martin guitar and a vintage Dobro resonating guitar. Ray Davies cited this blend of guitar sounds for the song’s unique guitar sound.
Despite the chart success “Lola” would achieve, its fellow Lola vs. Powerman track “Powerman” was initially considered to be the first single from the album. However, “Lola”, which Ray Davies later claimed was an attempt to write a hit, was eventually decided on as the debut single release.
“Lola” was released as a single in 1970. In the UK, the B-side to the single was the Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society outtake “Berkeley Mews” while the Dave Davies-penned “Mindless Child of Motherhood” was used in the US. It became an unexpected chart smash for the Kinks, reaching number two in Britain and number nine in the United States. The single also saw success worldwide, reaching the top of the charts in Ireland, New Zealand, and South Africa, as well as the top 5 in Germany, Austria, Belgium, and Switzerland. The success of the single had important ramifications for the band’s career at a critical time, allowing them to negotiate a new contract with RCA Records, construct their own London Studio, and assume more creative and managerial control. In a 1970 interview, Dave Davies stated that, if “Lola” had been a failure, the band would have “gone on making records for another year or so and then drifted apart”.
Although the track was a major hit for the band, Dave Davies did not enjoy the success of “Lola”, saying, “In fact, when ‘Lola’ was a hit, it made me feel a bit uncomfortable. Because it was taking us out of a different sort of comfort zone, where we’d been getting into the work, and the writing and the musicality was more thought about. It did have that smell of: ‘Oh blimey, not that again.’ I found it a bit odd, that period. And then it got odder and weirder”. Mick Avory said that he “enjoyed the success” the band had with “Lola” and its follow-up, “Apeman”.
Originally, “Lola” received backlash for its controversial lyrics. In a Record Mirror article entitled “Sex Change Record: Kink Speaks”, Ray Davies refused to tell Lola’s biological sex, saying, “It really doesn’t matter what sex Lola is, I think she’s alright”. Some radio stations would fade the track out before Lola’s biological sex was revealed. On 18 November 1970, the song was banned in Australia because of “controversial subject matter”.
The BBC banned the track for a different reason. The original song recorded in stereo had the word “Coca-Cola” in the lyrics, but because of BBC Radio’s policy against product placement, Ray Davies was forced to make a 6000-mile round-trip flight from New York to London and back on June 3, 1970, interrupting the band’s American tour, to change those words to the generic “cherry cola” for the single release, which is included on various compilation albums as well.[nb 1]
“Lola” received positive reviews from critics. Upon the single’s release, the NME praised the song as “an engaging and sparkling piece with a gay Latin flavour and a catchy hook chorus”.[nb 2] Billboard said of the song at the time of its US release, “Currently a top ten British chart winner, this infectious rhythm item has all the ingredients to put the Kinks right back up the Hot 100 here with solid impact”. Rolling Stone critic Paul Gambaccini called the song as “brilliant and a smash”.[nb 3] Music critic Robert Christgau, despite his mixed opinion on the Lola vs. Powerman album, praised the single as “astounding”. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic lauded the song for “its crisp, muscular sound, pitched halfway between acoustic folk and hard rock”. Ultimate Classic Rock ranked “Lola” as The Kinks’ third best song, saying “the great guitar riff that feeds the song is one of Dave’s all-time greatest”. Paste Magazine listed the track as the band’s fourth best song.
The song was also well-liked by the band. Mick Avory, who noted the song as one of the songs he was most proud to be associated with, said “I always liked ‘Lola’, I liked the subject. It’s not like anything else. I liked it for that. We’d always take a different path”. In a 1983 interview, Ray Davies said, “I’m just very pleased I recorded it and more pleased I wrote it”. The band revisited the “Lola” character in the lyrics of their 1981 song, “Destroyer”, a minor chart hit in America.
Satirical artist “Weird Al” Yankovic created a parody of the song called “Yoda”, featuring lyrics about the Star Wars character of the same name, on his 1985 album Dare to Be Stupid.
Since its release, “Lola” became a mainstay in The Kinks’ live repertoire, appearing in the majority of the band’s subsequent set-lists until the group’s break-up. In 1972, a live performance of the song recorded at Carnegie Hall in New York City appeared on the live half of the band’s 1972 album, Everybody’s in Show-Biz, a double-LP which contained half new studio compositions and half live versions of previously released songs.
A live version of “Lola”, recorded on 23 September 1979 in Providence, Rhode Island, was released as a single in the US in July 1980 to promote the live album One for the Road. The B-side was the live version of “Celluloid Heroes”. The single was a moderate success, reaching number 81 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was also released in some countries in Europe (although not the UK) in April 1981. It topped the charts in both the Netherlands, matching the number one peak of the original version, and in Belgium, where it exceeded the original’s peak of three. It also charted in Australia, peaking at number 69 and spending 22 weeks on the charts. Although not released as a stand-alone single in the UK, it was included on a bonus single (backed with a live version of “David Watts” from the same album) with initial copies of “Better Things” in June 1981. This live rendition, along with the live versions of “Celluloid Heroes” and “You Really Got Me” from the same album, also appeared on the 1986 compilation album Come Dancing with The Kinks: The Best of the Kinks 1977–1986.
Although it did not appear on the original 1994 version, another live version of “Lola” was included on the 1996 US double-album release of To the Bone, the band’s final release of new material before their dissolution.
Ray Davies – vocals, resonator guitar
Dave Davies – electric guitar, backing vocals
Mick Avory – drums
John Dalton – bass
John Gosling – piano
Ken Jones – maracas