This was originally posted as part of a longer piece. It's separated here for convenience.
I'm gonna go out on a limb here and speculate that AM radio Top 40 playlists in the early '70s didn't generally include an awful lot of songs about transvestites, at least not in regular rotation. There was Lou Reed's "Walk On The Wild Side" in 1972, of course, but beyond that? I can only think of one other example, from a couple of years before Reed's Holly came up from F-L-A. In 1970, she spelled her name L-O-L-A, Lola.
Girls will be boys, and boys will be girls
It's a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world
Except for Lola
Lo lo lo lo Lola
Well I left home just the week before
And I'd never ever kissed a woman before
Lola smiled and took me by the hand
And said, "Little boy, I'm gonna make you a man"
Now I'm not the world's most masculine man
But I know what I am
And I'm glad I'm a man
And so is Lola
The ambiguity is deliberate; in its context, the phrase "so is Lola" allows the possibility that Lola isn't necessarily a male in female guise, but perhaps is a woman, and she's glad that the singer's a man. No one interprets the song's meaning in that way. The clear consensus is that Lola's a dude.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
I was oblivious to all of this. I was just a clueless li'l adolescent during Nixon's first term, and "Lola" was a great song I heard on the radio. Its distinctive guitar opening, its lyrical imagery of a Soho nightclub where the champagne tastes just like cherry cola, and its irresistible singalong chorus made my radio yearn for greater volume to accommodate the song's pop power. And it was the first time I remember hearing The Kinks.
In retrospect, it seems odd that I had no awareness of The Kinks prior to "Lola." Yeah, I was just an elementary school kid in the '60s, but I sure knew The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five, Herman's Hermits, and at least one song ("Get Off Of My Cloud") by The Rolling Stones. And I must have heard The Kinks' "You Really Got Me," since I recall using some variation of a Kinks riff as the melody for a song I made up about Baron Daemon, Syracuse's popular vampire TV personality. (Though it's just as likely I nicked that riff from "Treat Her Right" by Roy Head.)
But I learned, all in due time. By the time I was in high school, I began to read mentions of The Kinks in rock histories, and I was intrigued. I became a Kinks fan in my senior year, hooked by the oldies, by hearing "No More Looking Back" (from the Schoolboys In Disgrace album) on Utica's WOUR-FM, by the Sleepwalker album, by my friend Linda McLaren bringing her "Lola" 45 to school so I could play it over 'n' over, and by seeing The Kinks on Saturday Night Live. The Kinks' first SNL appearance in 1977 never gets mentioned in anyone's list of all-time great Rock On TV moments, but I tell ya: seeing Laraine Newman excitedly introduce the band (Ladies and gentlemen, the Saturday Night show is proud to present THE KINKS!!) as if she were on Shindig! in 1965, followed by a half-second dramatic pause that lasted an eternity, and then the piledriving BA-DA-DA-DA-DAAA! of "You Really Got Me"--well, it's one of my all-time top Rock On TV moments.
The Kinks on Saturday Night, 1977
Within a few days after The Kinks' SNL spot, I was speaking on the phone with my friend Lissa DeAngelo. As grizzled, mature high school students, we now understood the meaning of "Lola"'s lyrics, and Lissa wondered if that meant Kinks leader Ray Davies was gay. I shrugged--yes, one can shrug over the phone--and said basically, I dunno, don't think so, but whatever. The previous year, a guy in the Class of '76 had brought a male companion to the Senior Ball; attitudes were changing--slowly, incrementally, at a glacier's breakneck pace, but changing nonetheless, and changing for the better. There was still a long way to go, and there's still a long way yet to go. The Kinks don't deserve much credit for that. But "Lola" was undeniably a factor in my own evolving realization that gay rights were human rights. Years before Seinfeld made it a punch line, "Lola" demonstrated that yeah, there wasn't anything wrong with that.
Also in '77, Lissa accompanied me to a Rock Of The '60s show at Syracuse University. (Not a date! She made that clear.) The program included video clips of The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Hollies, The Yardbirds, The Lovin' Spoonful, The Buffalo Springfield, et al., and concluded with The Beatles' 1966 Budokan concert. It was an amazing opportunity to see these clips gathered together, and to expand our appreciation of mid-'60s rock 'n' roll. About a year later, in May of 1978, I got to see The Kinks in concert for the first time; that will probably be the subject of a future edition of my Virtual Ticket Stub Gallery series, but for now, suffice it to say that it was magic. I eventually saw The Kinks on two more occasions, but the first time was the best time.
I've written previously about my love of The Kinks, and it seems appropriate to conclude this entry in The Everlasting First by reprising what I've already said about the pride of Muswell Hill. ("Reprise?" "The Kinks?" There's a painful joke in there somewhere.) Here 'tis:
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