“Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One” by the Kinks (1970)
One of the quirkiest hits of the Classic Rock era is “Lola,” Raymond Douglas Davies’ tale of an encounter with a transvestite. It reached the Top 10 despite its subject matter and continues to be a listener favorite four decades after the fact.
The album for which “Lola” sort of serves as the title track also brought the Kinks back to commercial viability in the United States, where the band had been absent from the charts for a few years. Much of that can be attributed to the refusal of the American Federation of Musicians to issue permits for the group to perform, but that situation was rectified in 1969.
“Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One” (there never was a Part Two) takes shots at the recording industry as something of a concept album, particularly the first side of the LP. Songs like “Denmark Street” and “Get Back in Line” reflect the odds against a young songwriter making headway in a tough business. “Top of the Pops” chronicles the path to chart success, but much of that is dashed in the brief but stinging song that follows, “The Moneygoround”:
“Eyes down, round and round/Let’s all sit and wach the money go ’round/Everyone takes a little bit here and a little bit there/Do they all deserve the money from a song they’ve never heard?/They don’t know the tune and they don’t know the words/But they don’t give a damn.”
Tell us how you really feel, Ray!
Beyond the industry-ripoff theme, “Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One” is loaded with strong material, starting with “Introduction,” which turns out to be a snippet of the album-closing “Got to Be Free.” The first proper song, “The Contenders,” is a prime slice of Kinks’ power pop that in part serves as a commentary on the partnership between Davies and his brother and longtime bandmate, Dave: “We’re not the greatest when when we’re separated/But when we’re together I think we’re going to make it.”
Dave Davies takes one of his two songwriting turns on “Strangers,” which also seems to address the sibling relationship with the key line “We are not two, we are one.” On his other track, Dave cranks out some heavy rock with “Rats,” a metaphor for the inconsiderate attitude inherent in society.
Ray addresses that same topic in one of the album’s strongest tracks, “Apeman,” in which the subject longs to be part of a simpler way of life: “The only time that I feel at ease is swinging up and down in a coconut tree/Oh, what a life of luxury, to be like an apeman.”
That song complements “Power Man,” which takes the opposite approach with its invoking names like Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Mussolini and Hitler in examining money as the root of all evil.
Ray continues in an escapist vein on “This Time Tomorrow,” a melancholy ballad about getting away “on a spaceship somewhere sailing across an empty sea,” or at least by means of an airplane. “Got to Be Free” also falls into that category, as Davies sings, “We’ve got to get out of this world somehow.”
Despite the seemingly depressing subject matter, the Kinks make “Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One” by employing mostly upbeat music to the lyrics, and by Ray’s vocals conveying a general tongue-in-cheek attitude. The real strength of the album lies with the songs, themselves, which represent a strong, cohesive set of material.
The band was able to sustain its momentum for the follow-up, the country-flavored “Muswell Hillbillies,” before lapsing back into commercial semi-obscurity until the late 1970s, when albums like “Low Budget” and the live “One for the Road” became top sellers.
By that time, the song “Lola” was firmly entrenched in the pantheon of memorable rock songs. Many of the other songs on “Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One” deserve to be there, too.