Ray Davies was NOT particularly happy with the music industry, and certainly let his feelings known on The Kinks’s 1970 album Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One — which will hereby be shortened to Lola vs. Powerman for the purposes of this review, because even with cut-and-paste, it’s still a bother to reproduce the entire official title. It’s my blog, and I get to make the rules. Anyway, so the new decade begins and The Kinks’s commercial fortunes have been on the wane. Their last two albums received massive critical acclaim (and remain the two best albums of their discography, in this schmuck’s opinion) but didn’t sell worth much of anything. They were banned from performing in the US for a good four years, the majority of their career thus far, so US promotional efforts were minuscule at best. And then of course there were the usual music-biz complaints: greedy executives, lack of control over their publishing, fast-and-loose accounting practices, the pressure to write hit singles and sell zillions of albums… well by gum, Davies was gonna let the music industry have it: a mountainous heaping of scorn, derision, and contempt that would burn every bridge and then some! And by doing so, inadvertently release their best-selling album in YEARS, with a HUGE-selling single that went Top 10 around the world. Chokin’ on the rage is good for business, as it seems.
OK, but is the album any good? I’d say hell yeah. Lola vs. Powerman lacks the unifying character of VGPS or Arthur. Even if the album does have a loose overall “theme”, the songs don’t hang together as well. Which is fine; not every release has to be conceptual. As long as the songs are good, right? Sure, and there are plenty of good songs to be found here. A few great ones. But also some mixed, skippable tracks as well. Still, overall this is another fine release from the band, and in a lot of ways a foreshadowing of their later Arista / so-called “Arena Rock” era. While there are many acoustic, folksy, or introspective tunes on the album, and fine songwriting all around from Davies, there is a lot more ROCK!!! to be found here than on previous albums. The album seems like an anomaly sandwiched between Arthur and Muswell, which makes it stick out more as somehow being not emblematic of the late 60s Kinks sound. There’s anger, some rawness and and a looser feel, but there’s cheekiness as well. Plus a dip in the warm waters of she-male interactivity. Yay! Lola vs. Powerman, while recognized as one of the band’s “classic albums”, isn’t often held in quite the same high regard as its 1967 – 1971 brethren. Sure it lacks the groundbreaking ambition of the previous two albums, or the chimey pop craftsmanship of Something Else and Face To Face, but as a collection of songs it’s also a satisfying and often exciting album. Definitely not a masterpiece, but a real good record nonetheless.
Let’s get the 800-pound garbonzo out of the way first: the rock classic Lola. Three things to say about this one: (1) Classic rock radio has overplayed this sucker to holy hell and beyond, (2) My first exposure to the song was in 1980, via Weird Al’s “Yoda” parody, and (3) I’m sick to DEATH of whenever I sing this song at karaoke, and some drunken redneck saunters up to me, belches his Coors Light right in my face, and then says to me, he says, “Ya realize this song is about a GUY, right?!?!” Thanks Aristotle. It’s only been around for 42 years, I’m sure *someone* might have picked up on its Where’s Waldo-esque complexity of subject matter. So anyway, bla bla bla, huge hit, big seller, top 10 single. Probably the most well-known Kinks song of all-time Have at you. Also, as long as we’re discussing the singles from this album, I always loved Apeman quite a bit. I wish the vocals in the opening verse were mixed higher, but you can’t have everything. Ray always maintained this talent to take a novelty song and make it work as a song, first and foremost, and he does this quite well here.
The album opener (aside from the intro which will be revisited later) is The Contenders… which is a solid rocker, a good tune and something of a barn-burner to open the album. The lyrics are a bit quizzical and it’s entirely a surface-level conceit, but if you’re in the mood for some agreeable rock it works. Also notable is Dave’s Strangers, a beautiful little number that represents one of his best songs to date. I still cringe a bit at his straining vocals, but either you accept that as part of his shtick or you don’t. The song is good enough to overlook such transgressions.
I’m kinda meh about Denmark Street, Ray’s indictment of music publishing houses. The vaudevillian feel is enjoyable, but the song doesn’t amount to anything much, and then it’s over in about two minutes. Wha? Well things improve considerably with the solid Get Back In Line, an anti-union lament with a strong melody and fine lyricism from Ray.
Top Of The Pops is another hard rocker (with a musical nod to “Land of a Thousand Dances”), this time skewering the constant pressure to keep on pumping out those big-time hits, and it’s an OK tune as well, but nothing memorable. On the other hand, the music hall Moneygoround is exquisitely awesome. I think of all the tunes on the album attacking the biz, this one works best. The lyrics are sharper, the music more enjoyable, the overall feel and imagination of it putting it a head above most of the competition.
Another superlative tune, This Time Tomorrow, attacks the drudgery of the exhaustive touring schedule. This is one of the best songs on the album, perhaps THE best song, and one of the band’s overall highlights. The harmonies between Ray and Dave are pitch perfect, I love the interaction between piano and acoustic guitar during the solo. Wonderful tune. The winning streak continues with A Long Way From Home, Ray’s self-assessment set to a mellow but driving acoustic accompaniment. This is a beautiful number, pretty powerful stuff.
That song’s vibe is blown up by the hard rockin’ Rats, another solid tune from Dave which, while not a standout, delivers the goods with a fast driving beat and plenty of distorted punch. But when it comes to this kinda material, I prefer the superior Powerman, a proto-metal tune that just cooks. Pure hard rock catharsis. Is it Ray’s final word on the brutal inequities of the music biz? Probably not, but it caps the album’s themes off well before we get a taste of their next album with Got To Be Free, a good closer. The first verse actually opens the album before it segues into The Contenders, but here we get the whole song. It has a nice country/western feel, a down-home flavor that really makes this yearning to escape the idiocies and inanities of life a sweet little tune. Sure it’s not epic, but it’s a darn tootin’ good way to close the album.
Lola and Apeman were the album’s big singles, a concerted effort to create the type of airplay-inviting singles that had eluded the band over the past few albums. Both are great tunes, but you also have really strong material with Strangers, Moneygoround, This Time Tomorrow, A Long Way From Home, and Powerman. Got To Be Free, The Contenders, Get Back In Line, and Rats are all reasonable as well. Denmark Street and Top Of The Pops, I can basically live without.
Overall, Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One works as a really good slab of late 60s/early 70s album rock. It doesn’t reach the artistic majesty of their previous two albums, but it still packs a strong punch. I think where one ranks the album kind of depends on how or why you listen to The Kinks in the first place. If you’re more a fan of their harder rock tunes, you’ll have a stronger response to it than, say, someone who adores Muswell Hillbillies or Village Green as the pinnacle of their recording careers. I think it’s a really good album, often a great one, certainly a top Kinks album, but missing some of that essential magic that elevated the previous four records.