Lola is a track that was well ahead of its time back in 1970 but feels very rooted in the modern world’s topics of discussion around sexuality. Far, far ahead of their time, it marked one of the early wins for acceptance in music. In this article, we’ll tackle the history and legacy of Lola, dive into the meaning and content of the song, then take a look at the two very different reasons the track had short bans in both the US and the UK.
The History and Reception of “Lola”
Lola was written in 1970 by Ray Davies, and it would be recorded by The Kinks for their 1970 album Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part One—boy, that is a mouthful.
It was a fairly successful song, being released as a single in both the US and the UK by the band. In the UK, the track would rise to number two on the UK Singles Chart, and in the US, it peaked at number nine on the US Billboard Hot 100.
In the years since Lola has become something of a signature song for The Kinks and is easily one of their most popular records. It’s even been recognized by Rolling Stone and NME on several iterations of their lists of the 500 greatest songs of all time.
The Inspiration and Content of “Lola”
The story in Lola is a bit of a funny one. It describes a romantic encounter between a man and a possible transgender woman or cross-dressing person. He meets them in a club in Soho, London, and is rather confused about the encounter as a whole. They’re described as having walked like a woman but talked like a man in the song.
As for the inspiration for the track, there is more than one explanation out there.
Davies, the writer, claimed he was inspired to write the song after The Kinks’ manager spent an evening dancing with a cross-dresser in Paris. At some point during the night, the producer said he thought he was really on to something, but the others pointed out the stubble on the person in question’s face. According to Davies, the producer was too intoxicated to care.
The inspiration for the track is something else altogether according to The Kinks drummer Mick Avory. He says the song was inspired by the time he spent in London’s bar scene. As The Kinks were famous, they got invited to secret parties and drag shows often, and when Davies received an invitation, it inspired him to write the track.
Some theories pointed to Davies having dated Candy Darling, a well-known transgender performer. He denied those rumors, saying the two had dinner once and he knew the whole time. He did say he did a solid amount of research into drag queens before writing the song.
Whether or not either version is actually true is fairly irrelevant. The track wound up being one of the band’s most beloved singles and helped cement their legacy.
The Meaning of “Lola”
Lola was one of the most successful songs in the history of The Kinks and is regarded as one of the best folk-rock out there. But it was also a huge win for the LBGTQ+ community and probably 50 years ahead of its time. You see, the anecdote about a man having a fabulous evening with what turned out to likely be a transgender person didn’t make light of the situation and was genuinely accepting of ‘Lola’ as a person.
Well, I’m not dumb but I can’t understand
Why she walks like a woman and talks like a man
Make the protagonist’s initial confusion apparent. But he seems to very quickly get over those feelings in the track.
Well, we drank champagne and danced all night
Under electric candlelight
She picked me up and sat me on her knee
She said, “Little boy, won’t you come home with me?”
Well, I’m not the world’s most passionate guy
But when I looked in her eyes, well, I almost fell for my Lola
The man in the song doesn’t actually care whether Lola is transgender or not. The entire focus of the track is on how great a time they had together, how well they got along, and how the sparks flew after he got over not understanding what was going on at first. By the end of the song, it’s implied that he even left the bar to go home with Lola.
Keep in mind, this track came out in 1970 and was a huge hit single. The 70s weren’t exactly a time when LGBTQ+ people were celebrated—I’m putting that mildly—so the lyrics and story of this song were well ahead of their time and much more accepting than one would expect from any successful piece during this time period.
Both the protagonist of the track and Lola were out to have a good time. Their backstory didn’t matter, who they were didn’t matter, and how they identified wasn’t important to the other one. They wanted to have fun and found that in each other. And frankly, that’s the meaning you should be drawing from this song, and it’s an important lesson to learn, even today.
Controversies Surrounding The Song
It should come as no surprise to anyone today that mentioning transgender people in the 70s and celebrating them in any way had a lot of people up in arms. In the US, it came under attack for promoting sex changes. Some radio stations faded out the track before Lola’s gender was revealed in the song while others outright refused to play it.
The line “…I’m glad I’m a man, And so is Lola” would be—badly—edited out for some radio stations to continue playing the track. In response to questions about the song, Davies went on record saying, “It really doesn’t matter what sex Lola is, I think she’s alright.” And that sums up both the meaning of the track and his feelings about whether anyone was offended by it.
In the UK, the song ran into a different controversy. It mentions Coca-Cola several times, which violated the BBC’s rules about product placement. Yep, they didn’t ban it over there for the transgender storyline; it was about ad money. Davies had to go change the song, making a 6,000-mile trip in the process, by editing in ‘cherry cola’ instead of ‘Coca-Cola’ for the UK radio release version.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.