Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Kinks' 'Lola versus Powerman...' a great example of a concept album

The idea of concept albums first emerged in the late 1960s. The Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is often cited as the first concept album. However, it was The Who's rock opera Tommy that made this approach trendy. Scores of concept albums were released during that time, and The Kinks' Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One may be the best of them all.

The Kinks succeeded where The Who did not. Despite Tommy's success there can be no denying that the plot of the album was muddled and had huge gaps in its story line. Those problems were resolved when the album was turned into a film and then later a Broadway play.

However, guitarist and main songwriter Ray Davies wrote an album that was a simple story that The Kinks delivered expertly. In fact, the story did not break new ground. It was about a young man trying to make it in the music business. He makes it to the top then gets disillusioned and tries to escape it all. Along the way he meets 'Lola,' which provided the band its first top ten single in years. Songs about transvestites don't often serve as fodder for hit songs, but Davies made it work.

About half the album describes the singer's slow movement toward fame, but once it is achieved, the disillusionment is almost immediate. 'The Moneygoround' chronicles the money flow from when a song is released through all the people who get a chunk of it before it reaches the artist. The fact that Davies could sum that up in only 102 seconds says a lot about his songwriting prowess.

From that point, the album is about getting away from the dream that had become a nightmare. 'Apeman' humorously chronicles the singer's desire to tear off his clothes and go hide on an island to get away from Powerman. The album concludes with a final showdown with Powerman, and the escape of the artist from the machinery that had controlled him.

Concept albums, rock operas, or whatever a person wants to call them are not for everybody. They can be pretentious. However, The Kinks made this one work from both a storyline perspective and a musical one. This album is one of the best examples of this genre.

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