That 3 chord riff at the start of Lola, by The Kinks, is one of the most instantly recognisable of all time. The record was a worldwide smash hit, reaching UK#2, US#9 and #1 in Holland, Ireland, Italy and New Zealand. But there are a number of ways in which this song is one of the most significant of all time.
For The Kinks themselves, Lola brought a turnaround in their fortunes. Their previous 6 singles had failed to make the UK top 20 and had failed to chart at all in the US, with the exception of Victoria which only made US#62. The success of Lola was critical and heralded a resurgence in their popularity. This was particularly important in terms of the US, which the band had to conquer all over again following a 4 year touring ban.
Ray Davies has stated that he originally had a fairly lengthy instrumental intro to the song, but then realised the hook in the riff and simply started the song off with it. The simple riff and simple lyrics to the chorus are irresistible. Davies famously had to make a 6000 mile round trip to London, in the middle of a US tour, in order to re-record the vocal to the first verse, replacing a reference to a well known fizzy drink brand, with “cherry cola”, to ensure that the BBC would play it!
The fans of course loved it, and being a fabulous rock anthem, it became the favourite at concerts. Ray would tease the audience through the show by repeatedly playing the intro, stopping and telling them that they weren’t ready for it yet. When it finally came, Lola was the highlight of the show.
The final area of great significance is with the subject matter. The story of an amorous encounter with a transvestite, the song touches upon sexual confusion, ambiguity and homosexuality, and this had never been covered before in a pop song. The song was clearly controversial and a whole debate rages on about whether or not the song is about transgender or homosexuality issues, and whether in a positive or negative light. Nevertheless, the subject matter did not put off the public at large, straight or otherwise, and this paved the way for the subject of homosexuality to be taken further by the likes of David Bowie and Lou Reed, as well as the androgyny that was to come with the advent of glam rock.