Songs I Love – Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, “Why I Love Country Music” (1985)

Oh, I cannot help myself. The gears in the brain are turning, turning, and will not stop. And so while this may at some point be a weekly feature, it’s going to be as often as I feel the need to write. (Because Cavanaugh remains unfinished!)

Ever been in love and know it was doomed from the start? Then you probably have some songs to go along with that feeling, songs that helped you get through it, songs that either spoke to that exact feeling or made you capable of hiding in better feelings. Me, I do the first one far more than the latter. And this collection, Easy Pieces, was my late 1985 doomed relationship album.

In fact, Easy Pieces is one of my favorite albums ever. It still is. It is one of a handful of discs I’d take with me to a desert island were I exiled (because maybe that’s what happens to crazy holy men?) to distant speck of nothing. And forced to subsist on fish and copra under the southern sky.

Lloyd Cole was one of the people I discovered watching MTV. The video for “Perfect Skin” on his first disc with The Commotions was played a time or two on MTV (or something did, because I can’t find a video for this song), and it was intriguing enough to buy his first collection Rattlesnakes. Rick Ocasek of The Cars was called in to remix three of the songs for US release, adding his star power (yes, he had that in the early 1980s, which is why he was able to marry a supermodel) in attempt by David Geffen to market this record. How well it worked, I don’t know. Probably not as well as anyone had hoped. That was 1984.

Easy Pieces came out toward the end of 1985. Back when things has sides, I bought the imported cassette on UK’s Polydor label, as it had two additional tracks — “Her Last Fling” and “Big World” — that the Geffen version for the US did not have. (And they didn’t rebalance the tracks, so the first side of the cassette had about five extra minutes on it, the two additional tracks tacked on at the end of side two, so I added OMD’s “If You Leave” on to side one — because I was 18 and that’s exactly where I was, thank you very much.) Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley produced, but managed to keep their trademark slickness to a minimum with these songs, letting Cole and his Commotions do their wonderful thing with the help of some Clanger/Winstanley regulars (Anne Dudley with strings, Gary Barnacle with horns, and Jimmies Helms and Chambers singing some backing vocals).

The sound of this band is the sound I would love to have. The two guitars, the bass and drums, and Blair Cowan’s very accordiony keyboards are almost perfectly balanced on this record. (Those who pay close attention will hear the influence in my recordings.) The music surrounds Cole’s voice but doesn’t drown it out. (The reviewer for Spin at the time described Cole’s voice in almost orgasmic terms.) There’s not a bad song in the whole LP batch, though the A side — “Rich,” “Why I Love Country Music,” “Pretty Gone,” “Grace,” “Cut Me Down” — is about as perfect a covey of five songs could be on a slab of vinyl or two tracks of mylar tape. The B side isn’t bad either, but it doesn’t sink into my soul quite as much as the A side.

So, with five almost prefect songs on that side, why pick “Why I Love Country Music”? Mostly, it’s just everything about the song. Especially the lyrics:

Jane is fine, always fine, we’re unhappy most of the time
We don’t talk, we don’t fight, I’m just tired she’s way past caring
But she says she is fine, she tells lies most of the time
What she needs, I don’t have, that’s not in the hand that I’m holding
So we drink Spanish wine, she plays country records until the morning
This is mine, all of mine, she is not, she is not mine
But I feel fine only when I’m sleeping, only with the tv on
She and I and empty wine and whisky bottles
And she, white beneath crumpled sheets
She is everything I need but she would rather, be anyplace but here

I’m guessing most of you have been in this awkward and unhappy place too at least once in your lives. For me, those last two lines are the emotional core of the song. They are what make this song work for and in me, and Cole’s voice trails off into a small instrumental section, and the notes tumble down (especially the piano on the LP version) that allows the feeling to both just sit there and yet build. And then Cole finishes his story:

Jane is fine, always fine, we’re unhappy most of the time
We don’t talk, we don’t fight, I’m just tired, she’s way past caring
So we drink Spanish wine, we tell lies, we’re killing time
We feel fine, well, what’s the crime?

Well, what is the crime?  For me, there was always an irony in that line, since I always had a sense at the time that the sheer seeming pointlessness of it all was some kind of crime. At least against the self, if no one else. The fact that she’s still here, even though she could be anyplace at all, is less important than the interior world of the story teller. Cole is a fantastic teller of musical stories, and I think the song — like the poem — is an underrated and under appreciated means of telling a very sophisticated and complex story in a very simple way.

I could not find the LP version of “Why I Love Country Music” anywhere on line (I suppose I could have uploaded it), and so I found this recording from a recent Lloyd Cole tour with his Small Ensemble. The sound quality is terrible. I apologize for that.

This is the next song from Easy Pieces, and is also breathtakingly beautiful.

And this ends the collection. Well, aside from the B-sides tacked on at the end of the UK cassette and CD.