The Kinks’ “Lola versus Powermen and The Moneygoround, Part One” was their eighth and least-snappily-titled album, released fifty years ago, in 1970.
It is best known for the hit single “Lola”, a now much-loved song Ray Davies famously had to fly across the Atlantic Ocean to re-record after the BBC refused to play it. This was, refreshingly, not for reasons you might have expected the BBC to object to (eg.cross-dressing) but rather for their authoritarian views on product-placement, as the song mentions the well-known brand of brown fizzy pop, Coca-Cola.
Davies sang the line “Cherry Cola” instead and the BBC relented, allowing the song to hit number two in the U.K. kept off the top only by Elvis Presley’s “Wonder of You”. “Lola” also went top ten in America, a territory The Kinks had been banned from touring between the summer of 1965 and April 1969. Despite being their biggest hit in America since their debut 1964 LP, “Lola versus Powerman…” failed to chart in the U.K.
But what of the rest of the album?
While other Kinks albums, (yes, that means you “Village Green Preservation Society”) have overcome initial apathy to become much-loved classics, LVPATM Part One (Spoiler: there is no Part Two) has not been so critically acclaimed, possibly because no-one knows what Powermen and Moneygorounds are. It all sounds a bit 5G and QAnon.
But this is unfair. The album is a genuine concept album, recorded the same year as The Who’s groundbreaking “Tommy” but released just four months later.
Opener “The Contenders” sets out the concept – the idea of wanting more than what this life seems to offer. “Denmark Street”, “Get Back In The Line”, “Top of the Pops” and “The Moneygoround”, all on side 1, depict the struggle of a young band trying to be a success in a corrupt industry.
Wherever would Ray Davies have got an idea like that?
For those who haven’t watched “Sunny Afternoon: The Musical”, it’s worth, at this stage, having a whistle-stop review of the crucial, formative moments in the life of Ray and Dave Davies, lead singer and guitarist respectively in The Kinks.
The facts can be summarised as follows:
At five years old, Ray discovers the woman he lives with and believes to be his mother was his sister.
The woman, Rosie, has a son called Terry. Until now, Ray has always thought of Terry as his brother more than his actual brother Dave. Even the Gallagher brothers don’t have this excuse for their behaviour.
When 13 years old Ray’s sister Rene gives him a guitar. It’s her 31st birthday, and she goes out dancing.
Ray’s happiness is cut short as Rene collapses and dies on the dance floor of the Lyceum that very night.
It’s a wonder he ever picked up a guitar again.
Meanwhile brother Dave has his own problems. At fifteen Dave gets expelled from school for playing truant with a girlfriend, an incident which goes from bad to worse as he is discovered while in flagrante delicto. Outdoors.
His girlfriend falls pregnant, Dave buys her an engagement ring but both are told by their respective parents the other doesn’t want to see them any more. It isn’t true, but as a result Dave doesn’t see his daughter for years and is heartbroken.
With traumas like these in their lives, it’s a wonder either brother isn’t a gibbering wreck for the rest of their lives, never mind being able to regularly produce deathless melodies and lyrics.
Away from their personal issues everything is going well. Dave and Ray form a band. At the age of fifteen, they audition a singer called Rodney Stewart. He joins them for a couple of rehearsals, but their friends mum doesn’t like his voice. Rodney and Ray are both footballers but despite the shared interest they dislike each other and it goes nowhere.
Meanwhile Dave gets a job in a music shop cleaning woodwind instruments working alongside Derek Griffiths. They jam together in lunch breaks. It’s one of life’s great tragedies that the stars didn’t quite align sufficiently to bring us a Kinks line up featuring Derek Griffiths and Rod Stewart.
Instead Mick Avory joins the Davies brothers after turning down another group he met and subsequently rehearsed with in Soho.
The people he turned down were Brian Jones and Mick Jagger. It wasn’t until a year later when he saw The Rolling Stones play “Come On” – then just outside the top twenty – he realised it was the same band.
Eventually the group call themselves The Ramrods, and less inspiringly, the Boll-Weevils.
Still, The Beatles sounded stupid at first, right?
They meet Robert Wace in a pub. Wace is posh, from Marlborough College, becomes their lead singer for a time and finds them gigs in the Guildhall and the City, but after an ill-fated gig in the rougher part of the East End, when the crowd turn on Wace’s plummy accent, Wace turns to management, with a friend, Grenville Collins, albeit not before inviting Brian Epstein to run the rule over them.
Epstein sees them play, and shows interest in a solo Ray, but turns down the group.
We now have an alternate history where the Rod Stewart-fronted Kinks are managed by Brian Epstein, and feature Derek Griffiths on tambourine or perhaps even miming like that Jed bloke who used to hang out with Howard Jones…meanwhile The Rolling Stones have Mick Avory on drums.
Now called The Ravens, the band make recordings, and The Kinks name is finally given to them by management after a photo shoot featuring bullwhips – going for an “Avengers” look. It is rather imposed on them, and both Dave and Ray dislike the name, already conceding control, and not liking the feeling.
They get a new booking agent called Larry Page, who tries to fix Ray Davies’ teeth before they go on Ready Steady Go! to promote a debut single. He doesn’t get very far with that suggestion.
At this point they sign a contract with management, Robert Wace and Grenville Collins, plus the booking agent, Larry Page.
It is the terms of this contract that later informs Ray Davies’ writing of “Lola Versus Powerman…”
Larry Page became entitled to 10% of Davies’ earnings. Wace and Collins became entitled to 20% each.
Just to check you are keeping up, that means Ray Davies has just signed half his earnings to his managers. By comparison, Brian Epstein agreed a contract with The Beatles that entitled him to 10%, which rose to 15% if they earned over £120 a week.
In addition, Larry Page owned a music publishing company, Kassner, which was assigned all the publishing rights.
Wace and Collins splashed out on a new luxurious tour bus. Okay, they converted a decommissioned ambulance. And they bought new stage outfits for the band, in the form of red hunting jackets, frilly shorts and Chelsea boots.
How bad were Grenville and Wace? To be fair, they were instrumental in the third song The Kinks recorded – a number called “You Really Got Me”, which needed to be a hit if The Kinks were to avoid being dropped by their record company.
As every good student of pop history knows, Dave Davies had sliced the cone of his amp with a razor blade, resulting in a distorted sound.
However, the song we now know came very close to never being made. They recorded a version, produced by Shel Talmy. It was slower and bluesey and lacklustre: Ray didn’t like it.
With Ray refusing to promote anything he saw as substandard, he insisted Wace and Collins pay £200 (£3,000 in today’s money) to re-record the song, and to their credit, Wace and Grenville found the cash.
The rest is history. It went to number one, and The Kinks didn’t get dropped by Pye.
However, by 1966 Ray wasn’t receiving royalties, The Kinks had been banned from touring the USA and The Kinks’ business affairs were in such trouble only one man could sort it out.
That’s right. Allen Klein.
You can look up Klein on Wikipedia if you haven’t come across him before, but for the uninitiated, getting Allen Klein to sort out your affairs is a bit like asking King Herod to sort out your local crèche.
Klein did negotiate new five year contracts, however, and by October 1968 the contract The Kinks had signed with Wace and Grenville was declared null and void, because Dave Davies was under age when he signed it, and because the band had been deserted by Larry Page when on that fateful tour in the USA.
Although it has never been entirely explained why The Kinks were refused permission to subsequently tour the USA, it is hard not to believe that the incident where Ray Davies fell out with a union official and punched him hard three times, might have had something to do with it.
Thus Ray Davies spent his first years in The Kinks trying to raise a family, pressured to write hit singles, not seeing the money his songs had generated and being badly managed by people who were entitled to half his earnings. He had been banned from touring the lucrative USA, and his albums were under appreciated at home and abroad. Village Green peaked at number 47 in the U.K. and follow up “Arthur…”didn’t even chart.
So by the time it came to write “Lola versus Powerman…” it is little wonder the concept was a satire on the music business. Even “Apeman” – not immediately obvious as fitting into the concept – is a song which depicts a city-dweller craving a simpler life…
Outside the music-biz songs and the singles, there are two gems on “Lola…”. Both, as it happens, appeared on Wes Anderson’s 2007 film The Darjeeling Limited. Respectively they are “Strangers” – a Dave Davies song, and “This Time Tomorrow”.
The first is a song about friendship, and is heartfelt and simply gorgeous, while the second, written by Ray, “was a gentle reminder to my brother… not to forget where you’re from”.
Despite two huge hit singles, a concept and quality deeper cuts, the “Lola…” album failed to chart in the U.K. – a slightly mystifying turn of events.
The album hasn’t been reissued in the U.K. since the turn of the century, so this 50th anniversary reissue is overdue. The gatefold sleeve and excellent and informative accompanying 8 page booklet is nicely done, and given a first UK pressing of this LP currently averages over £100, this is a timely and less expensive opportunity to rediscover a classic Kinks album.