Dave Eggers theorizes that the reason you listen to a song over and over is because you feel you need to solve it. When you first listen, it’s foreign pieces you aren’t sure whether they fit together or not, and the more you understand and listen to the song, the pieces come together, and you’re done with it. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was once so floored by the first time he heard the song “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes, he had to pull the car he was driving over to the side of the road and just listen. Over fifty years later, it is still his favorite song. Why? Because he cannot solve it.
For the life of me, i’ve never been able to solve the song “Lola” by The Kinks. Seems like such a casual, boring song, heard on the oldies station time and time again. No one bothers with it anymore. But have you actually LISTENED to it? I honestly think it may be one of the most beautiful songs ever created, mostly because I cannot solve it.
I’ve listened to it different ways (listening solely to Dave Davies background vocals. Only the guitars. The Top of the Pop’s version where everything has been pre-recorded except their vocals), and each time i’m so fascinated and so confused. The song starts calm and unruffled, a naive boy, having just moved from his parents house only a week before meets and starts chatting with a mysterious woman with something about her he can’t put his finger on (why did she walk like a woman but talk like a man?). They become friendly, and then everything heightens. There is a chemistry all of a sudden, and then those clever sharp notes step in. When the Davies brothers hit that first bridge (“we drank champagne and danced all night, under electric candlelight…”) its past the point of return. Sometimes i’ll listen to that part on my headphones and rewind it three or four times because it kills me over and over.
Meanwhile, things are getting heavy. Champagne is consumed, there is much dancing, the mood and the lighting and the people around them are at the perfect tone. Lola goes for it and asks the narrator to come home with her! Wow! Lola is bold! All the while the narrator is still so unsure of himself (“i’m not the worlds most passionate guy/i’m not dumb but I can’t understand/i’m not the worlds most physical guy”). He denies her, shoves her away, and dramatically goes for the door. But then he realizes his mistake! Thankfully before he even exits the building. He goes for it. She takes him back, and tells him, essentially, that she’s going to show him something he’s never experienced before. You go, Lola.
The repeated spellings of “L-O-L-A” and “C-O-L-A” are so genius, I wish the Davies brothers could have used it in all their songs, if that meant that every song he wrote were as clever and beautiful as this one and you never got sick of it and you never solved those either. And can we also please mention the perfect grammar of the lyric “I looked at her, and she at me”?
Although Top of the Pop’s sort of cheated with all their “lives” performances, I still find The Kink’s performance of this song to be one of their best (even if they’re trying to stifle their laughing throughout). Plus you get to see a good example of “drummer mouth.” (Just watch.)