Lloyd Cole
and the Commotions

TrackAlbum / Single
Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?Rattlesnakes
Perfect SkinRattlesnakes
Forest FireRattlesnakes
Lost WeekendEasy Pieces
Brand New FriendEasy Pieces
Her Last FlingPolydor COLE 4
My BagMainstream
Hey RustyMainstream
Jennifer She SaidMainstream

Lloyd Cole photo 3
(Geffen Records 1984 promo photo)



Lloyd Cole and the Commotions playlist



Contributor: Chris Dodge

The Commotions is a great band name to partner Lloyd Cole but ultimately doesn’t accurately reflect the fine musical accompaniment the band make. Unlike their likely musical influences such as Lou Reed/VU and Television, the music doesn’t appear to have a note out of place (on record at least) but Cole’s vocals share the detached coolness of both Reed and Verlaine. Cole’s literary references and bittersweet delivery also invite welcome similarities to the Go-Betweens who were also adept at intellectual and witty cultural lyrics. Both bands were unsurprisingly embraced by college students during the eighties. However, in the process of deciding on a band name, one can only presume that ‘Lloyd Cole and the Literary Compositions’ was wisely not considered.

I was fourteen or fifteen when I first heard one of the Commotions’ songs. I was sitting in a mini bus on the way to a school sporting fixture when Forest Fire came on the radio. The older student in front of me was mouthing along to the lyrics:

If you don’t slow down
I swear that I’ll come ’round
And mess up your place
Let’s go for a spin
They say we shouldn’t even know each other
And that we’ll be undone
Don’t it make you smile
Like a forest fire

I was immediately hooked and a lifelong admiration for both the band and for Lloyd Cole’s solo work ensued.


One of the finest debuts of the 1980s in many people’s opinion, Rattlesnakes was released in October 1984. Forest Fire was the second single which followed on from the success of their classic signature song Perfect Skin which reached number 26 in the UK charts a couple of months earlier. Beautifully produced by Paul Hardiman, Perfect Skin arrived at a time when indie music was positively thriving. Cole was fresh out of university, having studied philosophy and this was certainly a young person’s song: full of longing, desire and wry asides. As Rob Jones writes on his excellent The Delete Bin site:

Perfect Skin is about ideals and misconceptions and how they tend to become blurred when we’re young. It’s about feeling outside of something, and wanting to get in somehow. It’s a love song by someone who doesn’t know the first thing about love, and is bound to have another think coming when he makes his move toward it.

The rich guitar textures courtesy of Neil Clark gave Cole’s lyrics an intensity and maturity which levitates the song to classic status.

Inexplicably Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken? was overlooked as a single presumably because both singles Forest Fire and Rattlesnakes failed to equal the relative success of Perfect Skin. This was somewhat rectified by its inclusion on the 2004 compilation The Singles as an honorary single!

My first actual record purchase was the lead single Brand New Friend from the second album Easy Pieces, which I can recall receiving as a Christmas present in 1985 a month after its release. Brand New Friend was somewhat of a departure from the first record, partly due to the soulful backing vocals but also due to the production style of Langer and Winstanley, who had similarly fashioned their pop-soul sound on Elvis Costello’s poorly received Goodbye Cruel World the previous year. The issues with Costello’s album also seemed to plague Easy Pieces. In both cases, the songs were generally not as strong as the previous album. However, they were not helped much by a commercial mainstream sheen to the production. In subsequent interviews, band members have been dismissive of Easy Pieces, reflecting on how different the record may have turned out had the record company been more patient and allowed the band time to regroup. Despite a few weaker songs and unhappiness over the production, the album still holds up relatively well and is boosted by some memorable songs.


The second single the jaunty Lost Weekend is a minor classic (just don’t get Lloyd started on the piano solo …). Rich, Perfect Blue and Why I Love Country Music are all great album tracks. The excellent Her Last Fling (B-side to Brand New Friend) was more sympathetically self-produced by the band and therefore sonically closer to the first album hence its inclusion on the playlist.


The band resurfaced two years later with a new album, Mainstream. Despite a cracking lead single My Bag, which deserved a higher chart placing (UK:46), the album again received mixed reviews. Lloyd’s lyrics once again retreated into introspective and, in spite of a much more sympathetic production courtesy of Ian Stanley, critics were divided. Personally, it’s my favourite of the three records. Admittedly it doesn’t reach the same dizzy heights as Rattlesnakes but, due to the more complex melodic arrangements on a number of songs, the record has an atmosphere and sophistication which is deeply appealing.

Sales were decent enough (UK:9) and the record remained in the charts for 20 weeks, largely thanks to Jennifer She Said, with its infectious refrain and jangly guitars, detailing youthful infatuation that quickly dissipates.

By the time the record was released, keyboard player Blair Cowan had left the band and the writing was on the wall in some respects. After touring the album for a year, Lloyd headed off to the States and teamed up with respected musicians Robert Quine and Fred Maher, both formally with Lou Reed.

It would be another 15 years before the band regrouped to play a handful of concerts to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Rattlesnakes. I was there at the Hammersmith Apollo to mark the occasion and a great show it was too and, yes, the disputed piano break in Lost Weekend remained intact!







Lloyd Cole official website

Collected Recordings 1983-1989 (5CD + DVD)

Lloyd Cole solo discography

Lloyd Cole and the Commotions biography (AllMusic)

Having discovered With The Beatles in his parents’ record collection at the tender age of 7, Chris become an avid music fan and his musical tastes are eclectic to say the least although a sizeable portion of his records are from the 1980s to mid-1990s when he didn’t have a family to spend his money on. Chris has written on Blue Aeroplanes, Green on Red, Hall & Oates, The Police for this site. He is on twitter @chjdod.

TopperPost #1,056


  1. David Lewis
    Jan 28, 2023

    It pretty much goes without saying that it is a rare or non-existent Toppermost that disappoints. This is another magnificent article. Very pleased to see Brand New Friend, with those incredible backing vocals that perfectly balance Lloyd’s lead. Lloyd will hate this but I like the piano solo in Lost Weekend. Sorry not sorry.
    Again great Toppermost.

  2. Andrew Shields
    Jan 29, 2023

    Excellent Toppermost on a fine songwriter -we saw Lloyd play here (with his son on second guitar) in Sydney in 2017. Was a superb gig and a reminder of what a good songwriter he is. Last time I had seen him was in 1986 when he played – along with The Waterboys and Simple Minds – in Croke Park in Dublin.
    On another point, I think that any discussion of ‘Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?’ should also include a reference to this.

  3. Chris Dodge
    Jan 29, 2023

    Thank you both for the feedback, much appreciated.
    Andrew- you’re right. Inexplicably forgot to include reference to the Camera Obscura song even though it’s one of my favourites! Great video!
    Here’s another article with some great quotes especially ‘From the hip, by the hip for the hip’ courtesy of Jo Bartlett.

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