Hello there! This week our blog features an iconic British Invasion song, Lola. We will first discuss the original version by The Kinks. Next we will review a cover by Andy Taylor, and we finish with a parody cover by Weird Al Yankovic.
The Kinks and Lola:
The Kinks were one of the most influential British Invasion bands. Although they first appeared on the charts in the mid-60s, the band continued on with significant commercial success until they broke up in 1996.
The Kinks were apparently named after their unusual tastes in fashion. Below is a photo of the original lineup of The Kinks from 1965. From L: lead singer and rhythm guitarist Ray Davies, bassist Pete Quaife, Ray’s brother Dave Davies on lead guitar, and drummer Mick Avory. In 1969, the group added keyboardist Nicky Hopkins to their lineup.Embed from Getty Images
The Kinks’ first big hit was the 1964 song You Really Got Me. As with almost all Kinks song, it was written by Ray Davies with lead guitar from Dave Davies.
Lola was written in 1970 by Ray Davies. It describes an encounter in a club between a young man and someone who could be either a transvestite or a trans woman.
I met her in a club down in North Soho
Where you drink champagne and it tastes just like cherry cola
She walked up to me and she asked me to dance
I asked her name and in a dark brown voice she said, “Lola”
L-O-L-A Lola, lo lo lo lo Lola
….Well, I’m not dumb but I can’t understand
Why she walks like a woman and talks like a man
Oh my Lola, lo lo lo lo Lola, lo lo lo lo Lola
Well, we drank champagne and danced all night
Under electric candlelight
She picked me up and sat me on her knee
And said, “Little boy won’t you come home with me?”
As you might guess, there are some interesting anecdotes connected with this tune. Ray Davies claims that the idea for the song arose after the band’s manager picked up a trans woman at a club in Paris.
However, Kinks drummer Mick Avory states that inspiration for the tune came from his habit of hanging out at clandestine transvestite bars in London. He claims that Ray Davies accompanied Avory when Mick visited one of these clubs.
Dave Davies constructed the iconic opening chords for the song by combining the sounds from Dave’s Martin guitar with those from a Dobro resonating guitar played by Ray Davies. As you can see, this produces an epic and unforgettable beginning to the tune.
So here are The Kinks performing Lola.
This was an appearance on the British TV show Top of the Pops in 1970. It looks like The Kinks are merely lip-synching their big hit here. But isn’t this great? Ray Davies’ gritty lead vocals mesh perfectly with Dave Davies’ guitar solos. With Ray Davies spelling out “L-O-L-A” and singing the name repeatedly, the tune can easily get stuck in your head for days.
Not only does the song have a wonderfully catchy melody, but the topic was basically new to rock music. The controversial issue caused some problems – some radio stations would fade out before the line “I know what I am and I’m glad I’m a man, and so is Lola.” Australian radio went even further and temporarily banned the entire song!
Ray Davies ran into even more difficulty with the tune. After it had been recorded, he discovered that the BBC would not play a song that mentioned a product by its brand name. So Davies had to fly back to London from an American tour, just to change the words “Coca-Cola” to “cherry cola” for the single release (the original phrase “Coca-Cola” remained on the album cut).
Lola was a big hit (and rather unexpected), reaching #2 on the UK Singles charts and #9 on the Billboard Hot 100. It became one of the Kinks’ signature songs, a crowd favorite at their live concerts.
Although the Kinks are best known for their hard-rocking style, Ray Davies also wrote a number of more standard pop tunes. Later Ray Davies songs such as Waterloo Sunset, Sunny Afternoon and Come Dancing
exemplified the development of Davies’ songwriting style … toward songs rich in social commentary, observation and idiosyncratic character study, all with a uniquely English flavor.
One feature of the Kinks was their frequent on-stage aggression. At one venue, Mick Avory and Dave Davies got into a squabble that ended with Mick cold-cocking Dave with his high-hat stand. On other occasions, Ray and Dave would get into violent arguments during concerts.
One result of their behavior was that in 1965 the American Federation of Musicians banned the Kinks from performing in the U.S., because of their rowdy on-stage antics. Unfortunately, this kept the group from American audiences for almost five years, during the period of their greatest fame.
The Kinks were one of the most influential musical groups from the British Invasion. Their early music is now heralded as one of the first examples of heavy-metal and punk music. Both the vocal and instrumental contributions from the Kinks were a major force in the development of hard rock, paving the way for groups like The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. The Kinks were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
Ray and Dave Davies are still active. Nowadays each of them mainly produces his own individual work, but they reunite from time to time and either release new material or go on tour. We wish the fighting Davies brothers all the best – what an amazing legacy they have created!
Andy Taylor and Lola:
Andy Taylor was the lead guitarist for the 80s British rock band Duran Duran. The band formed in the late 70s, and took their name from the character Dr. Durand Durand in Roger Vadim’s 1968 sci-fi film Barbarella.
Duran Duran churned through several different lineups before their most successful incarnation, with Andy Taylor joining lead singer Simon Le Bon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes, drummer Roger Taylor and bassist John Taylor (none of the Taylors is related). Below is a photo of Duran Duran.
Duran Duran became famous during the 80s. They had the great good fortune to appear at almost the exact time when MTV burst upon the pop scene. I was not paying much attention to that era’s pop music. From casual exposure to MTV, I was aware of their big hit Hungry Like The Wolf, a release from the band’s second album in 1982.
That single initially experienced disappointing U.S. sales, until the Hungry Like The Wolf music video received almost continuous airplay on MTV. The catchy melody of the tune, slick production values of the music video, and MTV saturation caused the song to rise to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Duran Duran made heavy use of synthesizers in their songs, and were trail-blazers in a “synthpop” movement (not my favorite musical style).
For a while, the band members became pop superstars and teen idols. But my impression was that Duran Duran were pretty much “one-hit wonders.” I remember a second song Rio that cracked the Billboard top 20 singles, but I guessed that the band pretty much disappeared after that.
Imagine my surprise when I learned that Duran Duran placed 21 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and that, over the years, the band has sold more than 100 million records! In addition, they won two Grammy Awards and a Lifetime Achievement Award from MTV Video.
Duran Duran benefited from very savvy marketing. The lads capitalized on their good looks by inking marketing deals with fashion designers such as Giorgio Armani. Their polished music videos were produced using cutting-edge techniques (they were shot by experienced movie producers using 35-mm film, rather than the more common videotape).
For a few years, Duran Duran rode a wave of popularity. Princess Diana joined a small army of adoring teeny-boppers when she announced that they were her favorite band. But while Duran Duran remained superstars in Britain, their record sales in the U.S. fell off dramatically.
The group were headliners in the 1985 world-wide spectacular Live Aid concert that was watched by an estimated 1.5 billion people. In contrast to the Queen Live Aid act from London, now considered one of the world’s greatest live performances, Duran Duran’s Philadelphia appearance was sufficiently bad that the group did not perform live again for another 18 years.
Around 1985, various members of Duran Duran began releasing solo albums. This is almost invariably an ominous sign for a band’s viability, and sure enough in 1986 both Roger Taylor and Andy Taylor left the group.
Here is the music video from Andy Taylor’s cover of Lola.
This was from Taylor’s 1990 album Dangerous, which was a series of covers of songs that influenced Taylor and his guitar style. The song is quite enjoyable although unremarkable. Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect is the video, which was shot using classic MTV-video techniques.
The clip is a succession of rapid jump cuts, combining black and white footage with insertions of color. Quick shots of the musicians are interspersed with snippets showing scantily-clad women dancers (or could they be trans women)? The video takes me right back to the 80s and the zenith of the MTV era.
Well, Duran Duran is still in existence even today. In 2003 the original lineup (with the exception of Nick Rhodes) re-united, issued a couple of albums and embarked on a few successful tours of Britain, Japan and the U.S.
In terms of musical style, Duran Duran is not really my cup of tea. However, one has to be impressed at a group that has shown so much longevity. Over the years, apparently their music has evolved considerably.
In the beginning, Duran Duran was the target of scathing reviews from critics, who considered them a pretty-boy pop band with limited musical talent (it didn’t help that their nickname “The Fab Five” invited comparisons with the Beatles). However, some view them as early exemplars of significant trends in rock music of the 80s and 90s.
Weird Al Yankovic and Yoda:
Think about this: a geeky young accordion player and polka aficionado decides to try his hand at writing rock music parodies. How would you rate his chance of long-term success?
Alfred Yankovic was born in October 1959 and raised in Lynnwood, California. When his parents were offered music lessons for Al on either guitar or accordion, they chose the latter — possibly the only known time where this was the correct choice. Below is a photo of Weird Al Yankovic.
Al was inspired to try his hand at music parodies when he listened to a weekly syndicated radio program, The Dr. Demento Show, the brainchild of ethnomusicologist Barry Hansen. Dr. Demento would play a collection of unusual and weird records, in addition to music parodies by people like Stan Freberg and Tom Lehrer.
When Dr. Demento visited Yankovic’s high school, the 16-year-old gave Demento/Hansen a homemade tape containing some of his parody songs accompanied by himself on accordion. These were immediately featured on the Dr. Demento Show and earned Al some early public exposure.
Then in 1979 during his senior year at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Al produced two parodies. The first was a parody of My Sharona by The Knack (“My Bologna”). This song earned Yankovic a 6-month recording contract at Capitol Records after Doug Fieder, lead singer with The Knack, recommended to his record company that they release the parody.
The second parody was Another One Bites The Dust by Queen (“Another One Rides The Bus”). This song got “Weird Al” a TV appearance on The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder.
In the early 1980s, Weird Al received a big boost from MTV. He was able to produce “music videos” of parody songs that spoofed not only the original song, but also the official music video.
For example, in 1984 Yankovic released a parody of Michael Jackson’s Beat It. Jackson’s music video featured a simulated knife fight between two members of rival gangs. Weird Al’s parody, “Eat It,” showed gang members facing down one another with forks in their hands.
“Eat It” also included a spot-on spoof of the dance routines in Jackson’s video, and of the iconic guitar solo supplied by Eddie Van Halen. Much to everyone’s surprise, Weird Al’s send-up shot up to #12 on the Billboard Hot 100.
After this time, Weird Al Yankovic regularly scored best-selling parody songs. He segued effortlessly from rock ‘n roll to grunge to rap music. Until 1992, his albums and music videos were produced by rock guitarist Rick Derringer, who won two Grammy Awards for his efforts.
So here is Weird Al Yankovic and the music video for Yoda.
This song follows Weird Al’s standard format, taking a popular song (The Kinks’ “Lola”), but completely changing the focus. Here, instead of a song about a transvestite, Yankovic refers to the elf-like guru Yoda who appeared in several episodes of George Lucas’ Star Wars saga. Yoda was first seen in The Empire Strikes Back, part of the original Star Wars trilogy.
The video features clips from The Empire Strikes Back that show Yoda interacting with Luke Skywalker. One of Weird Al’s lines regarding the Star Wars series (“The long-term contract that I had to sign says I’ll be making these movies till the end of time”) was funny when it was written, but now seems quite literally accurate.
Note that Weird Al follows the format and rhyming scheme of the original song very closely. Here are some of his lyrics for Yoda.
I met him in a swamp down in Dagoba
Where it bubbles all the time like a giant carbonated soda
I saw the little runt sitting there on a log
I asked him his name and in a raspy voice he said “Yoda”
…. Well, I left home just a week before
And I’ve never ever been a Jedi before
But Obi Wan, he set me straight, of course
He said, “Go to Yoda and he’ll show you the Force”
One of Yankovic’s most useful skills is that his voice is extremely plastic. He can produce a reasonably close imitation of many of the vocalists that he parodies, and Ray Davies is no exception.
Now, here is an opportunity to see Weird Al Yankovic in concert. Here he is with a live version of Yoda.
Before the song, the audience is revved up with an organ lick reminiscent of a baseball or hockey game. Weird Al and his band are dressed in robes such as were worn by members of the rebel alliance in Star Wars.
Clutching his accordion, Weird Al then launches into his parody routine. As is his custom, Yankovic mimics the instrumental accompaniment almost exactly. In fact, on a few of his parodies he was accompanied by some of the artists who produced the original song.
We get the iconic initial guitar riff, as well as a parody of the repeated phrase “L-O-L-A Lola, Lo-Lo-Lo-Lo Lo-La, Lo-Lo-Lo-Lo Lo-La.” At about the 3:30 mark, the audience is invited to sing the chorus.
After that there is roughly half a minute of nonsensical rock syllables, including “Boom-shaka-laka-laka.” After that, Al returns to the ending of the “Lola” parody, and the audience goes wild. It appears that this is the final song on his program.
Many of the artists that we highlight have faced serious addiction issues, and several have died from drug or alcohol overdoses. So it is refreshing to feature an artist who abstains from alcohol, drugs, tobacco – and even profanity!
Since his parodies are so close to the original songs, it is important that Yankovic get the permission of the artist before releasing a song. In a few cases, artists have refused permission. In one famous case, Lady Gaga’s manager refused Weird Al permission to release a parody of her song Born This Way (“Perform This Way”).
However, since Al had already recorded the song, he released it for free on the Internet. It then transpired that Gaga’s manager had never talked to his client. She enjoyed Al’s parody, and he was given permission to release the song.
Another contretemps occurred with rap artist Coolio. Under the impression that the record label had granted him permission, Yankovic released a parody of a Coolio song, only to have the artist insist that Al had never been granted permission. Eventually the two musicians made up, but since these issues Weird Al has always communicated directly with the artist.
Paul McCartney refused Weird Al permission to release a parody of his song Live and Let Die (“Chicken Pot Pie”). Because McCartney is a vegetarian, he
didn’t want a parody that condoned the consumption of animal flesh.
On McCartney’s suggestion, Al tried “Tofu Pot Pie” as an alternative, but was not satisfied with the outcome.
Weird Al is still touring and releasing albums. His latest was the 2018 “Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour.” He has hosted numerous TV specials, and in 1997 he even had his own Weird Al Yankovic Show on CBS (a children’s show that lasted for 13 episodes). In addition, he has appeared on various TV shows, both live and animated (The Simpsons). He does voice-over work for several animated films, and he has authored a couple of children’s books.
Who would have thought that a novelty song-writing accordion player could have a career that spanned four decades and made him a headliner on tour? Weird Al has recorded over 150 songs and sold at least 12 million records. He has been nominated for 16 Grammy Awards and has won 5 times. An album released in 2014, nearly 40 years after his first release, reached #1 on the album charts in its debut week.
We salute the always-wacky Alfred Matthew Yankovic, congratulate him on never growing up, and wish him a long and happy life.