The poet Stevie Smith once said, “A great artist takes what he did not make and makes of it something that only he can make.” When it comes to ‘Destroyer’, it would seem that The Kinks took what they did originally make but twisted it into something new. For the song, not only did they return to ‘Lola’, but they also revamped the riff for ‘All Day and All of the Night’.
The song begins with an instant unmistakable reference to the past with the line: “Met a girl called ‘Lola’ and I took her back to my place.” Thereafter Ray Davies rattles off an anti-drug anthem about speed-induced paranoia, with a reference to “red” (amphetamine) under his bed and a “little yellow man” who plagues his head. The whole swirling cocktail of his torment leads to a pretty disastrous romantic liaison with the classic ‘Lola’ character that he had crafted 11 years earlier.
However, behind the tale of paranoia is a deeper reflection of America that proves all the more prescient in this day and age. Although ostensibly driven to a state of delirious paranoia by drugs, the metaphor of overstimulation also applies to the American media. Lines like “hidden cameras everywhere” are indicative of the conspiratorial air that gradually gripped the world and Davies seems to argue this is, in part, due to the sensationalising of current events.
At the time that ‘Destroyer’ was released, The Kinks were spending a lot of time in the States trying to reclaim some of the stardom they missed out on in their heyday owing to a UK musician’s union touring ban that stopped them from playing in North America. While hugely influential in the UK and a seismic force when it comes to pushing music in a heavier direction the world over, the touring ban prevented commercial success overseas and much of their influence was felt second hand.
Thus, when the ban was lifted and the later albums came around, they were able to dip back into the past as a way of opening new fans up to the entire oeuvre of their work. Forming the basis of ‘Destroyer’ and its social commentary from two past classics proved to be an inspired move on this front. Whilst the song itself might not have garnered huge success or acclaim, for those who were curious enough, it helped to open the door to their back catalogue and soon a sort of ‘Lola’ renaissance was underway. It might not be a scintillating sequel but it scored a lot of legacy points for the band.
As for the social commentary on the original reference to ‘Lola’, as it turns out, it was based on real experience. In 2016 Ray Davies told Q Magazine: “The song came out of an experience in a club in Paris. I was dancing with this beautiful blonde, then we went out into the daylight and I saw her stubble.” Adding: “So I drew on that but coloured it in, made it more interesting lyrically.” Fortunately, for Davies, it was a run-in that helped to spawn an era-defining classic and a character and riff he would lean on throughout The Kinks back catalogue.
Similarly, the ‘All Day and All of the Night’ riff that features in ‘Destroyer’ is based on the earlier hit ‘You Really Got Me’. This method came from The Kinks’ label pressuring them to double-up on hits to ensure they didn’t fade away after finding initial success. Thus, they took what they had already made and set about a rapid up-cycling. Clearly, this is a method that continued to serve them well.