“Revisiting Lola Versus Powerman” by Lee Vowell

(Author’s note: This is the first of many, many extremely important pieces written about classic, or in some cases “should-be” classic, albums that will show up from time to time on the BBB website. These articles will change your life. Possibly.)

Full disclosure, the first band I chose to see live was The Kinks in 1983. I was 12 years old. Before that I had been dragged to concerts by my parents for bands I did not particularly like or need to hear. Those bands had no influence on my lifelong taste in music as far as I can tell, and I am thankful for that. My father used to tell me, “When you get older you will listen to this and that,” but I don’t and I won’t and at 44 I am assured that I never will.

The Kinks in 1983 were not at the peak of their undervalued and enormous musical powers. However, they were reaching a zenith as far as their commercial appeal in the United States. They had recently released “Come Dancing” and it was a surprise to everyone just how big a hit it became. It peaked at #6 in the U.S. and was the group’s biggest hit since 1965’s “Tired of Waiting for You.” “Come Dancing” is not my favorite Kinks song. I like it, but it’s not in my top 10 of their catalog. What the song was to me, though, was a gateway song to the rest of their career.  This isn’t about the entire career of the band, but about one album.

But first a side note. I will tie this back together, trust me. The Kinks have had a major influence on any music to which you listen. If you listen to good music, and I am assuming you do. However, I could be wrong. For example, I also love the comedian Eddie Izzard. He is beyond hilarious (which, of course, means you might literally die from laughing while listening to him), but he is the type of comedian other comedians listen to and learn from. I also assume that people like yourselves (or, what might sadly be true if I have an idea to how many people read my writings, “yourself”) like funny people. But I was surprised to learn lately that a colleague whose tastes I respected until recently does not like Izzard. This colleague (who I will call “Whitney Heaston” because that is her actual name) borrowed some Izzard DVDs from me and came back with them saying, “I don’t think he is very good; he doesn’t seem confident in front of people.” Whitney is now, for all intents and purposes, dead to me as far as my respect of her artistic opinion. Plus, she is short and smells funny. But what I am trying to say to you, dear reader(s), is please don’t become Whitneys after you check out the album of which I am about to give you knowledge.

Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One

The album was recorded at Morgan Studios, Willesden, London and was released by Pye Records in the U.K. and by Reprise Records in the United States on November 27th, 1970. It contains 13 songs on the original edition. The run time is 40:26. The highest chart position in the U.S. was #35 on Billboard and reached #24 in Australia. The album did not chart in England. The album does contain one song that everyone knows, “Lola.” It also contains a couple of songs that some people know well, “Apeman” and “This Time Tomorrow.” For sake of this column, I will assume you need oxygen to live and you have heard “Lola,” but maybe not the others.

The album is one of many Kinks concept albums, and this one is really about the awfulness of the music industry. Trust me, it sucked in the 1960s-70s and it still sucks today. The industry itself has never treated the Davies brothers, Ray, the wordsmith and singer, and Dave, the excellent guitarist, well. They were banned from touring in America for a time in the 1960s and never given a real reason as to why. The record companies the band had just cared about the money and not the product (sound familiar?). Specific songs on “Lola…” deal with different issues in the industry, including song publishers (“Denmark Street”), unions (“Get Back in Line”), the press and music charts (“Top of the Pops”), accountants and business managers (“The Moneygoround”) and touring (“This Time Tomorrow”). The lyrics are Ray Davies lyrics, so they are smart and funny and well-shaped. The sound varies from a country-tinged rock feel to a more straight forward hard-rock to English dance hall.

The vinyl edition is the one you want to get. I don’t say this because I am some audiophile who wants you to buy a good turntable and spend money on good sounding records, but I am. It’s worth it. But in the case of “Lola…,” you get a different experience. The first side contains three great songs: 1) “Lola,” of course, a guitar-driven song about a transgender man who Ray fancies until finding out the truth, 2) “Top of the Pops,” which is very tongue-in-cheek and is really making fun of groups who only care about hits and not substance, and 3) “Strangers,” a song sung by Dave that feels very much in its element of late 60s-ish country influenced rock. The rest of the songs on side one are very good. There are no bad songs on the album, trust me. But when you have such an excellent group of songs, some are better than others, of course.

Side two is where the album really takes off, starting with song eight, “This Time Tomorrow.” The song is about the mindlessness of touring and burning out. Basically, where the singer is tomorrow he doesn’t know, won’t remember and won’t care. The entire song you can sing to. It’s a delicious piece of music incorporating banjo and piano at just the right times. The next song, “A Long Way from Home,” continues the theme and the sound. “Rats” follows and is sung by Dave. The song is a perfect example of what a true rock sound should be: guitar heavy and fast paced. It’s truly brilliant. “Apeman” is next and talks about people being the root of all earthly problems. Ray can be very comical with lyrics, but also cut to the bone at the same time. “Apeman” achieves that nicely. “Powerman” follows and leads into the album’s finale, “Got to Be Free.” “…Free” begins with the same lyrics as the opening song (“The Contenders”) of the album, but turns into the happiest song about longing you might ever hear. It’s a perfect closer to the album: its feet are still in the world it wants to leave, but still has hope for a better future.

Philosopher Huey Lewis once said there were only two types of music, good and bad. The Kinks mostly made good music. If you are looking for a new piece to your record collection, yet one that is not brand new, get this album. You won’t be disappointed. Unless you are a Whitney, and then there is no hope for you.

The Kinks:

  • Ray Davies – lead vocals, guitar, harmonica, keyboards, resonator guitar
  • Dave Davies – lead guitar, banjo, backing vocals, lead vocals on “Strangers” and “Rats”, co-lead vocal on “Powerman”
  • Mick Avory – drums, percussion
  • John Dalton – bass guitar, backing vocals
  • John Gosling – keyboards, piano, organ

Track listing:

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “The Contenders” 2:42
2. “Strangers” (Dave Davies) 3:20
3. “Denmark Street” 2:02
4. “Get Back in Line” 3:04
5. “Lola” 4:01
6. “Top of the Pops” 3:40
7. “The Moneygoround” 1:47
Side two
No. Title Length
8. “This Time Tomorrow” 3:22
9. “A Long Way From Home” 2:27
10. “Rats” (Dave Davies) 2:40
11. “Apeman” 3:52
12. “Powerman” 4:18
13. “Got to Be Free” 3:01

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