Saturday, November 23, 2013

Here Are Five Good Reasons Why "Lola" is Still the Greatest Pop Song of All Time

I was ten years old when the Beatles made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.  The only reason I was watching was because my mother, who I guess would have been 33 at the time (funny how she seemed “old” to me back then), had been hearing about them and was curious to see what they were all about.  So, the three of us (her, me, and my younger sister) sat down that Sunday night and watched, along with almost everyone else in the country, as the world was changed forever. 

I remember she loved them, and found them adorable, while my sister Patty and I immediately wrinkled our noses and started giggling about how awful their long hair was.  (Three weeks later, we were both in love with Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, so go figure.)

For the next six months or so, the Beatles pretty much ruled my life.  My classmates and I made life miserable for our bus driver, as we regaled her on a daily basis with fascinating details such as George’s birthday, Ringo’s favorite color, the name of John’s childhood pet, and Paul’s height and weight.  Patty and I even cut out small photos of their faces from the pages of Tiger Beat magazine and taped them over the faces of all of our Ken dolls.  There was no way our Barbies were going to date boring old Ken(s), not with the Beatles so readily available.

(By the way, I feel I need to mention at this point that, in all the years since that time, I have retained in my often-fuzzy memory the birthdays of all four Beatles.  I married a devoted Paul McCartney fan.  Every June 18, I say to him, “hey, you know what today is, don’t you?”  And every June 18, he says, “no, what?”!!)

As the so-called “British Invasion” continued, I started to branch out and listen to several of the other bands of that era.  I recall liking the Dave Clark Five and Herman’s Hermits well enough, but preferred the bluesy singing of Eric Burdon of the Animals, and the brilliant guitar theatrics of Beck, Hendrix and Clapton.  I also really liked the Kinks, whose lead singer and songwriter, Ray Davies, was already making wry social commentary into hit singles (remember “A Well-Respected Man?”).

As time marched on, I began listening to a lot of different music.  I remember at various times being “into” James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, and Buffalo Springfield (especially Neil Young, and I am still a fan).  Janis Joplin, who died two days before my seventeenth birthday, became one of my idols not just for her amazing voice, but also for the fact that she’d grown up an outsider – just like me.

Meanwhile, Ray Davies and the Kinks continued to make great music, but with somewhat less success than before.  Davies became enamored of “concept” albums.  The general record-buying public did not, despite such great songs as “Sunny Afternoon,” “Shangri-La” and “Waterloo Sunset.”

In 1970, the Kinks released a single from their latest album.  The song was called “Lola,” and it reached #9 on the Billboard charts.  To this day, how a song like “Lola” could have possibly been a bona fide hit single blows my mind. 

Which brings us to the topic of today’s blog post.  Not long after its release, “Lola” became my favorite song.  Through the years, it’s held on to the top spot in my heart, despite some serious contenders.  Admittedly, there are songs I love that are more beautiful (“You and Your Sister” by Chris Bell immediately comes to mind) and songs I love that have a better melody (pretty much any of Todd Rundgren’s early stuff, not to mention a number of Davies’ other songs).  There are even songs I love that are just as clever (click here to read my blog post on “Amplifier”).  But, so far at least, nothing has quite been able to replace “Lola” in that top spot for me.

So, if I may, allow me to present Five Good Reasons Why “Lola” is Still the Greatest Pop Song of All Time.

1.  The Song is About...What??!!??

There’s really no getting around it.  The song is about a young man whose first sexual encounter may - or may not - be with a transvestite.  The lyrics more or less leave it open to interpretation.  Still, not exactly the sort of thing a lot of rock and roll songs are written about even now…and certainly not in 1970.

And it’s not like Lola is a particularly convincing woman, either.  To wit:

“Well I'm not dumb, but I can't understand
Why she walked like a woman but talked like a man.”

2.  The Vocal Performance

One of the things I’ve always loved about Ray Davies is the fact that he sings rock’n’roll songs, but, unlike most English rockers, he doesn’t particularly try to disguise his accent when he sings, and in “Lola” he definitely makes this work to his advantage.

After the brief, but instantly recognizable, guitar intro, Ray begins the narrative in his trademark English accent:

I met her in a club down in old Soho,
where you drink champagne
and it tastes just like Coca Cola,
C-O-L-A, cola,”

And he never really shakes the accent, even in the rollicking choruses.  It gives the song the needed innocence that probably got it played on AM radio stations all over the country without any real issues.

3.  The Whole Coca Cola Thing

The U.S. version of the song mentions Coca Cola by name, as quoted above.  However, because the BBC had a policy against product placement, they insisted Davies change the words for British radio.   The English version substitutes the phrase “cherry cola.”  Which, to be fair, still rhymes nicely with “Lola.”

For some reason (probably the fact that I have a lifelong Coca Cola addiction), I’ve always gotten a huge kick out of that.

4.  The Simplicity of the Musical Accompaniment

With lyrics that assault your senses and ignite your imagination from beginning to end, the fact that “Lola” has such a straightforward guitar/bass/drums musical backing works beautifully.  There’s no need for anything fancy, the words are what matters here.  The Davies brothers realized that, and I thank them for it.

In fact, the backing track is very similar to another of my favorite Kinks songs, “Apeman.”  In that one, the simple music is once again matched up with witty, clever lyrics, and, once again, it works perfectly in the context of the song.

5.  That Line

The main reason I fell so hard for “Lola,” and have stayed resolutely in love ever since, is the complete and total brilliance, wit, and just plain genius of its most famous line.

“Well 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.”

I’ve written in this blog before about my affection for lyrical word play, double meanings in songs, and the like.  This, to me, is the apex, the crowning moment of pop song writing, the “it” moment.

It just might be the single greatest song lyric line ever written.

Yes, I know, there have been many, many great lines written in many, many great songs over the years.  Most of them are a whole lot more serious and more earthshattering than this one.  But, as far as I’m concerned, none of them come close to it.

So, what exactly is he saying?  Is he saying that he’s glad he’s a man, and Lola is also glad?  Or is he saying, as seems to be the general consensus, that he’s a man – and that Lola is also a man?

I’ve actually read a number of interpretations, and I think the beauty of the whole thing is that the question is left unanswered in the song.  It can mean whatever you want it to mean.  I’m quite certain this was done purposely by Davies, and to me it is sheer genius.

So, kudos to all the songwriters over the years who’ve written gorgeous love songs, or heartbreaking songs about lost love.  For me, even after all this time, it’s still all about a young boy being seduced in a London bar by a rather manly transvestite named Lola.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Here Are Five Good Reasons Why Everyone Needs a Pet

I am one of those annoying “animal people.”  You know, the ones who get all upset when a news story comes on involving a dog suffering, but can sit there and eat a brownie while watching a story about a grisly murder. 

But there are valid reasons for this emotional response to animals.  And the most obvious one is this: animals are, by and large, just plain better than people.  Period.

Seriously, when was the last time you heard about a cat walking into a school, a post office, a…litter box (?)...and shooting a bunch of other cats?  When was the last time you heard a dog use a racial epithet?  Ever seen a hamster bully another hamster?  I think you get my drift.

I’ve had pets pretty much my whole life.  I can’t really imagine ever not having at least one. 

I always tell Mike I knew he was the one for me when Dominique, my elderly, cranky cat, didn’t hiss at him when he came over.  Mike had always been a dog person, but when Dominique passed away a few years later, he cried just like I did. 

He even let me grieve for a few weeks before bringing up the subject of getting a dog – which I was dead set against.  Right up until the moment we brought Brady home.  (This was in 1993, so, no, he wasn’t named after Tom.)  Brady was an 8-week-old Golden Retriever puppy.  And Brady transformed me into a dog lover.  We had already gotten another cat, a 12-week-old Maine Coon named Wendy, who was so smart, we felt like we were her inferiors in every way (and she wholeheartedly agreed).  The two became instant friends and partners in crime.  They even developed a tag team approach to their mischief.  One day I came home from work to find all of the magnets off of the fridge, and several chewed beyond recognition.  It became clear later on that Wendy had gotten up on top of the fridge, swatted the magnets off, and Brady had taken over from there.  Teamwork.

Sadly, we lost both of them early on, within eight months of each other, each to a different form of cancer.  I still miss them, and I still miss Dominique.

And now, we have Gigi, an extremely sweet 14-year-old rescue cat with more issues than Newsweek (she’s been in kidney failure for about a year and a half now, and I administer subcutaneous fluids several times a week; she also has Inflammatory Bowel Disease, high blood pressure, a missing front tooth, and more neuroses than I can even attempt to catalogue here) and Suzie.  Suzie is an 11½-year-old Golden Retriever rescue.  We adopted her ( - a fantastic organization) at 10 months of age, following surgery to repair two luxated patella (meaning, her kneecaps were messed up at birth).  She is an absolutely awesome dog, and it makes me sick just to think of the two families that gave up on her before we were lucky enough to get her.  She is very smart, very pushy, and very charming.  When we moved from a house to a condo a few years ago, I was worried about how she would adapt.  How she adapted was that, within 48 hours, she acted as though she’d always taken an elevator, and within 72 hours, she was the most popular dog in the building (alas, another Golden moved in last year, so she has to share that honor now, and she does so selflessly).  Gigi amazed me even more.  At the house, she had spent most of her time in the “formal” living room, happily distancing herself from all of us.  Now, she walks around the condo as if she owns it.  She loves sitting by the full-length windows, looking out at the Boston skyline.

Both of these wonderful creatures remind me every day that I am merely human.

Princess Suzie
Princess Gigi

(My husband, who writes a great blog, wrote about Suzie last year.  You can find it here: )

There are so many reasons we humans need our beloved pets that it’s hard to limit it to only five.  But I didn’t name this blog “Untold Reasons Why…” now, did I?  So here goes.

1.  There Are Actual Health Benefits to Owning a Pet

Ever heard of any supposed health benefits to being around another human?  Well, other than the theory that married people statistically live longer than unmarried people, that is.  (Though I’ve heard more than one person suggest that it only FEELS as though they’re living longer…)

In researching this subject, I’ve seen studies that indicate that Alzheimer patients suffer from less anxiety when there is an animal in the room with them.  It’s generally accepted now that so-called “therapy dogs” who visit nursing homes have a favorable effect on the residents.  AIDS patients have been found to be less likely to suffer from depression if they have a pet.  Heart attack patients with pets tend to survive longer than those without them.  These things are hard to argue with. (

Ever heard of a fellow human causing you less anxiety?  Hell, no.  It’s usually the other way around!

2.  Pets Are Chick Magnets (Especially Dogs)

For God’s sake, there’s even a Facebook page dedicated to the subject!

Be honest, ladies.  You’re walking through the park, and two different guys are coming from the opposite direction, both equally attractive.  One of them is walking along by himself, maybe listening to music on his headset, or reading emails on his iPhone.  The other is walking a big, goofy Golden Doodle on a leash.  Which one are you going to strike up a conversation with?  I rest my case.

3.  You’re Never Lonely

My husband travels for business.  He’s not gone every month, but he’s away several times a year.  If I didn’t have my two girls to keep me company, I’m not sure how I’d cope.  But I do, and it makes all the difference in the world.  Sure, I have to get up at 4:30 when he’s away, so I can walk Suzie to the park before I leave for work.  But when I walk in the front door at night, and Suzie’s there, so excited to see me you’d think I had a side of beef in my bag, I forget about that 4:30 walk pretty quickly. 

When I was single, Dominique and I spent many a Saturday evening on the couch together, sharing some Hagen Daz and commiserating about my lackluster love life.

And trust me when I tell you, when you’re feeling down and just need a good cry, there’s nothing like dog licks to wash away those tears.  (This is where the dog vs. cat argument can get tricky.  A cat is more likely to be, like, “Oh Jesus, she’s crying AGAIN?  I think I’ll vomit all over her new shoes.  That’ll give her something to cry about.”)

4.  You Will Exercise More, Whether You Like It or Not

Dogs can’t walk themselves, not even the smart ones.  Plus, there are leash laws.  Sure, after a long day at work, all you really want to do is cuddle up on the couch with a bag of chips and the remote.  But you can’t, not if you have a dog who needs to go out.  So you take out the leash, grab your keys and some doggie bags, and the two of you head out.  And you know what?  By the time you get back, you actually feel more relaxed, and less stressed, than you would if you had just sat and scarfed down that bag of chips.  Trust me, I wouldn’t lie to you.  Especially about potato chips.

(Cats, ferrets, and other small non-canine pets require care, too.  No, you don’t have to walk them.  But you do have to clean their litter boxes.  And that requires a fair amount of bending and stretching.)

5.  You Will Laugh More, Whether You Like It or Not

Animals are funny.  There’s no getting around it.  And unless you have absolutely no sense of humor whatsoever (and if that’s the case, boy have you wandered onto the wrong blog), they make you laugh, sometimes hysterically, sometimes just gently chuckling. 

You’ve all seen the billion or so videos on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.  The cats swinging from drapes, the dogs endlessly chasing their tails.  Hell, I think I’ve watched that video of the dog asking about the maple bacon at least five hundred times.  And I still laugh my head off every single time. 

There are untold numbers of “dog shaming” photos around now, where the poor dog wears a confessional sign around his neck.  “I pooped on my mom’s new dress,” or “I woke up the entire neighborhood at 3:00 AM because a car went by the house.”  They all make me laugh.  And apparently I am not alone, since there is now an entire website ( devoted to these photos.  

Oh, dear...

I think the task of coming up with five reasons NOT to have pets would have to be way more challenging than this one.  The one reason I hear most often is that it hurts too much when you lose them.  And, yeah, it does hurt.  It definitely does.  I’ve been through it enough times to know. 

But the love and joy they provide throughout their lives more than makes up for the pain of saying goodbye.  That old saying is true.  “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

Plus, there are few things better than the feeling you get knowing you've given a dog or cat a really wonderful life, after others had given up on them.