Why Ray Davies Flew Across the Atlantic to Re-Record Two Words in ‘Lola’
Stories about the glory days of the music business often focus on wild excesses of a recreational nature, but rock stars didn't just go over the top with sex and drugs: They could also blow outlandish sums of money on rock 'n' roll, too. Just ask Ray Davies of the Kinks, who racked up an absurd number of frequent-flyer miles just to alter two lines in the band's 1970 hit single, "Lola."
Given that "Lola" tells the tongue-in-cheek tale of infatuation between a hapless young man and the transvestite who steals his heart, you might think the song would run afoul of radio censors on puritanical grounds. But the reality is far sillier: On the eve of the single's release, the band was informed that the BBC wouldn't play it because of a line about drinking champagne that tastes like Coca-Cola, which went against their "no product placement" policy. Given that Davies had been aiming for a hit when he wrote "Lola" – as he put it in his autobiography, he wanted something that would "sell in the first five seconds" – he wasn't about to let it be banned.
Problem was, the Kinks were on tour in the U.S. when they got the news, and since the "Lola" master tapes were back in the band's native U.K., he had to get on a plane to record the necessary overdubs – which, in the end, amounted to two words. According to Thomas M. Kitts' book Ray Davies: Not Like Everybody Else, Davies left after the band's May 23 gig in Minnesota, booking a brief session to change "Coca-Cola" to "cherry cola"; unfortunately, he wasn't able to get the performance he wanted, and had to return to the States so he could make it in time for a show in Chicago – after which, he flew back to London and took another pass at it, finally ending up with a finished version that met his liking and passed muster with the BBC. Then, bizarrely, he had to make a last-minute transatlantic journey all over again when censors decided that a key line in the band's next single, "Apeman," sounded too much like a certain curse word.
All that effort ended up being worth it in the end: "Lola" was a massive worldwide hit that saw the upper reaches of the charts all over Europe and broke the Top 10 in the U.S., and its success afforded the Kinks a level of creative control and financial comfort that helped pave the way for some of their most ambitious works. These days, of course, recording an overdub is as simple as emailing someone an audio file, which is a heck of a lot cheaper but nowhere near as cool. And as for that mythical champagne that tastes like cola? Davies insists it's real. "I have," he responded when a Q reader asked him if he'd ever actually sampled it. "I had a Californian champagne that tasted like it, in some kind of L.A. bordello tourist trap."