Certain Songs #945: Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – “Rattlesnakes”

Album: Rattlesnakes
Year: 1984

As an album, Rattlesnakes is so full of great moments, it’s actually hard to just pick a few songs from it, so because I know that somebody reading this loves songs I’m not going to write about, I just wanted to shout out to things like the wordless first chorus in “Speedboat,” the setting-trees-on-fire guitar outro to “Forest Fire” and “all we ever shared was a taste in clothes” from “2cv.”

All of those songs got tons of play: on the radio, at parties, in my car, just about anywhere us college students were gathering in the mid-1980s.

Anyways, as usual, it was the more up-tempo songs that jumped out at me, like the title track, which matched strings against Neil Clark’s deep acoustic guitar as Lloyd describes one of his eccentric love interests.

Jodie wears a hat although it hasn’t rained for six days
She says a girl needs a gun these days
Hey on account of all the rattlesnakes

Normally, mid-1980s Jim wouldn’t have been interested in a song that layered that many strings on top of my beloved jangly guitars, especially one that has a breakdown that is pretty much all swirling strings and acoustic guitar. I mean, my turntable was littered with the corpses of bands like Aztec Camera and Prefab Sprout that were just too twee to make it all the way to my speakers.

But not Lloyd Cole. And I’m not even sure why, honestly. Maybe it was the wit of putdowns like “Must you tell me all your secrets / When it’s hard enough to love you knowing nothing” in “Four Flights Up.” Maybe it was the utter irresistibility of a name-dropping chorus like:

She looks like Eve Marie Saint in On the Waterfront
She reads Simone de Beauvoir in her American circumstance

Of course, the internal rhyme in that first line is a cheat, as Lloyd willfully and playfully mispronounces “saint” as “saunt,” which clearly clearly influenced Neal Stephenson when he wrote Anathem, a reference that about 3 people are going to get.

And references were also part of why we loved these songs so much: felt like Lloyd Cole was discovering the same things we were discovering — the same places, books, films, music (there are Beatles, Velvets & Dylan references galore in his songs) — and was able to naturally insert them into songs the same way we were inserting them into our day-to-day conversations.

Official Video for “Rattlesnakes”

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