Lyrically Speaking: Understanding ‘Lola’ by The Kinks

Although The Beatles were the defining band of the 1960s, it’s important not to overlook the other pioneering rock bands that emerged at the same time, such as The Kinks. Formed in 1963, The Kinks quickly joined the ‘British Invasion’ alongside the Fab Four and groups like The Rolling Stones and The Who.

With songs such as ‘You Really Got Me’, ‘Waterloo Sunset’ and ‘A Well Respected Man’, the band found great popularity, with 1966’s ‘Sunny Afternoon’ even knocking The Beatles’ ‘Paperback Writer’ off the top of the charts. While The Beatles’ time was up by the decade’s end, The Kinks had many years of success ahead of them, releasing one of their most iconic songs, ‘Lola’, in 1970.

Taken from their eighth album, Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One, ‘Lola’ allowed The Kinks to start the new decade with a bang, hitting number two on the UK Singles Chart. However, the song garnered much controversy when it was released due to its subject matter, with Ray Davies singing about his encounter with a woman who is either transgender or a cross-dresser. While the lyrics don’t explicitly reveal how Lola chooses to identify, Davies makes it clear that the song’s subject was not born female.

Of course, singing about a character that defies gender norms as far back as 1970 was going to cause issues for the band, with many radio stations, particularly in Australia, banning the song. Elsewhere, it was sometimes cut short so listeners couldn’t hear Davies sing, “But I know what I am and I’m glad I’m a man/ And so is Lola”.

The song opens with Davies locating the listener in Soho, an area of London known not only for its bustling music scene but also for its historical associations with homosexuality. Here, Davies explains that you can “drink champagne, and it tastes just like Coca-Cola”, alluding to Lola’s identity, appearing female despite being biologically male. Soon, Lola and Davies get dancing, although “when she squeezed me tight, she nearly broke my spine”.

Davies continues to ponder Lola’s identity, wondering “Why she walks like a woman and talks like a man,” yet he cannot help but find himself enticed by her great mystery, calling her “my Lola”.

The contrast between Davies and Lola is continually emphasised by lyrics highlighting their differences. “She picked me up and sat me on her knee/ She said, ‘Little boy, won’t you come home with me?’” he sings, painting himself as infantile and submissive to Lola’s requests. This all takes place “under electric candlelight”, further emphasising the narrator’s encounter with someone deemed by many as ‘unnatural’.

However, he couldn’t care less about Lola’s identity and eventually submits to her, singing, “I got down on my knees.” Of course, this also alludes to a sexual act between the two. The moment provides Davies with a moment of clarity, reassured and inspired by Lola’s confidence in her identity. This is solidified by the lines, “Girls will be boys and boys will be girls/ It’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world/ Except for Lola.”

According to Davies, the song was based on “a real experience in a club. I was asked to dance by somebody who was a fabulous-looking woman. I said, ‘No, thank you’. And she went in a cab with my manager straight afterwards. It’s based on a personal experience. But not every word”.

He added, via The Kinks: The Official Biography, “In his apartment, Robert [Wace, manager] 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 to care, I think.”

Considering the song was released in 1970, ‘Lola’ is a rather progressive look at gender, especially since Davies praises Lola’s identity, embraces her sexual advances and asserts that he is even “glad” that Lola isn’t biologically female. The band frequently played the song live until they broke up, and it remains one of the most iconic hits from the 1970s.

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