Certain Songs #947: Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – “Rich”

Album: Easy Pieces
Year: 1985

None of the Lloyd Cole & The Commotion albums ever got a simultaneous release in the U.K. and the U.S., so the release date years are all screwed up compared to my memories and various lists.

Rattlesnakes didn’t come out here until 1985 and Easy Pieces didn’t come out until 1986, so all of my memories of those records and the parts of my life they were the soundtrack of are for those years.

So when Scott, Jay, Robbie & I drove to San Francisco to see Lloyd Cole & The Commotions in the spring of 1986 (with Tommy Keene opening!), Easy Pieces had just been out here for a few weeks, and so hadn’t yet woven itself into our hearts the way Rattlesnakes did. Yet.

But it was making some damn good progress, as Easy Pieces was another winner right from the start. “Rich” kicked off with pounding drums and Neil Clarke’s golden guitar almost lost in a sea of horns that probably should have ruined the song but instead provided just the right amount of counterpoint.

Even cooler was the chorus, which wasn’t just reliably melodic, but also dropped a geographic reference near and dear to the hearts of anybody who grew up in Central California:

So waste away to Morro Bay
You never got around to yesterday
But money is for taking yes and
Rich is what to be forsaken grey
And giving it away

Morro Bay! And while the writer in me wonders if it was because “to Morro Bay” is phonetically close to “tomorrow babe,” it doesn’t even matter, because it was still cool, because you knew that most of the people who heard the song wouldn’t automatically know the reference.

A story song that quotes The Beatles in the coda, “Rich” was such a great song it survived the production Clive Langer & Alan Winstanley, who were in the process of helping Elvis Costello make what he long considered to be his worst album.

So “Rich” didn’t have just those horns, but a shitload of extraneous strings and keyboards, to boot. And yet, it somehow didn’t matter, not when Lloyd’s voice hiccuped the way it broke when he sang “a day without a drink,” or “saved your body but your mind hey.”

And so it went: the songwriting and singing were so good that they overshadowed the production on Easy Pieces time and time again, so if wasn’t quite as great as Rattlesnakes, it wasn’t a disappointment, either.

Oh, and I remember Lloyd Cole & The Commotions as being pretty great in concert, too. Definitely one of the better road trips we took that year.

“Rich”

“Rich” performed live in 1986

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