“This must catch on”: How Ray Davies’ two-year-old daughter confirmed ‘Lola’ would be a hit

The innovative sound of Ray Davies and The Kinks were firmly rooted in the swinging sounds of 1960s London. Classic tracks like ‘You Really Got Me’ and ‘All Day and All of the Night’ are as synonymous with the era as mini skirts and young Englishmen riding around in flash Italian suits on two-stroke scooters. Without the songwriting genius of Ray Davies, the band might have struggled to overcome the signature sound of their early material. Still, the smash hit of ‘Lola’ confirmed that The Kinks were anything but a one-hit wonder.

As the swinging 1960s gave way to the discontent and economic decline of the ’70s, the need for The Kinks to adapt their sound became obvious. After all, there were no longer the rag-tag bunch of working-class modernists ready to tear down the musical establishment. They were de facto rock stars, living off of champagne and royalty cheques. As the rise of glam rock and radical new styles hit the music scene, The Kinks decided to move with the times, saving themselves from the dark depths of obscurity. Affirming their adaptability, the band came up with the seminal single ‘Lola’.

Taken from their 1970 album, the catchily titled Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One, the song was a fairly daring effort from Davies. Telling the romantic story of a young man and a woman who later turns out to be a cross-dresser. Apparently, the plot is based on a true story – though it’s debated whether the protagonist was Davies himself or The Kinks’ manager.

‘Lola’ paved the way for more radical explorations of gender non-conformity within music, adopted by the likes of Lou Reed and David Bowie, among countless others. For all its radical content, ‘Lola’ provided The Kinks with one of their most successful tracks. Triggering a rebirth of the quintessentially British band in the USA, being their first hit across the Atlantic since ‘Sunny Afternoon’ four years prior. In their homeland, the single peaked at number two in the singles chart, but it was kept off the top spot by Elvis Presley’s ‘The Wonder of You’.

The single was an unlikely hit for The Kinks, who had usually favoured adrenaline-fuelled adolescent rock and roll rather than daring sexual tales of cross-dressers and club nights. According to the songwriter himself, he was first alerted to the hit potential of ‘Lola’ by his two-year-old daughter, Victoria, who was often present at the studio. Before the band had even seen Davies’ lyrics, his daughter was singing along to the tale of ‘Lola’

It was Victoria’s infantile karaoke that convinced Davies that he was on to a winner with ‘Lola’, revealing in The Art of Noise: Conversations with Great Songwriters, “I wrote ‘Lola’ to be a great record, not a great song.” Expanding, “Something that people could recognise in the first five seconds. Even the chorus, my two-year-old daughter sang it back to me. I thought, ‘This must catch on.’”

The smash-hit single became one of The Kinks defining songs, spawning countless covers by legendary figures like The Raincoats and Madness, with the character of ‘Lola’ reappearing in Davies’ 1981 track ‘Destroyer’. In spite of the controversial topic, as well as the issues surrounding the name-dropping of ‘Coca Cola’, the songwriting brilliance of the piece could certainly not be kept down – as Davies’ daughter first alerted him to.

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