Nearly Perfect But Not Quite: Lloyd Cole’s Favourite Albums
The years have been kind to Lloyd Cole. Meeting him on a spring afternoon in an Aldwych pub in London, it strikes me that if it wasnt for the silver fox grey hair, you would be forgiven for thinking we were back in 1984 when The Commotions’ debut Rattlesnakes was released.
For anyone that remembers the much-missed institution of Top Of The Pops in the 80s, Lloyd Cole And The Commotions were one of those bands that stuck in the memory. The years have passed, Lloyd Cole went solo in 1989 and has continued to make music to critical acclaim. Quietly spoken, self-deprecating and still amazed that my female friends of a certain age were rather excited that I was interviewing him, Cole knows his musical nuts and bolts. A fan first and foremost, his musical knowledge and love is clear from the start. His queries around how to use Dropbox and iTunes I’m convinced are just to start polite conversation: Maybe I should start naming my tracks, instead of having them by date, what do you think? Is there anyway I can stop it uploading everything… every single time. After having an embarrassing long ten second fan girl moment, I manage to mumble a reply. I hope its the right one.
His influences are mainly 70s and range from punk to glam to prog rock. We bond over the genius of Prince and his love for The Walkmen [as an aside: if by chance The Walkmen find themselves reading this, please get in touch: Mr Cole would like to work with you. Very soon]. Pulling in technical knowledge combined with passion, it is an hour-long master class in music. When I ask him what connects these 13 albums his response is: Nothing really, except that there is virtually no noodling in any of them.
T. Rex – The Slider
I was given T. Rex’s Electric Warrior on my eleventh birthday. The first single I bought was The Chi-Lites’ ‘Have You Seen Her?’. The second single I bought was ‘Telegram Sam’. One of the most amazing memories of my childhood is when Tony Blackburn played ‘Metal Guru’ and said, “Wow, that’s amazing. I’m going to play it again right now!” And he played it again! Have you ever heard anyone do that on the radio? I remember thinking: “I know this guy’s corny but I love him. What a thing to do!”
By the time The Slider came out, I already knew I loved T. Rex. Bowie and T. Rex’s music meant the most to me as a young adolescent. I was 11, but I had a girlfriend and I knew that there was stuff going on in music that was to do with sex. Even though they were dressed up like girls, it was clearly sexual music.
At school, I used to wear velvet pants called loons. I don’t think I ever had ones that were really wide, but in Derbyshire – “sheep country” – I’d get called a “poof” by the boys. But the girls liked me.
When The Slider came out, it was probably the first album that I was just old enough, and into music enough, to just do nothing but listen to over and over again and completely take it in. I sometimes forget the words to my own songs but I think I know the words to all the songs on The Slider off by heart.
For the sound of a rock & roll band, T. Rex playing ‘Telegram Sam’ is as good as anything I’ve ever heard. It’s as good as Led Zeppelin playing ‘Kashmir’. It’s as good as The Clash playing ‘Complete Control’. Every time I hear it I go: “Oh God, I could never do that!”
The combination of T. Rex 1971 to 1972 with Tony Visconti producing is just perfect for me.
David Bowie – Diamond Dogs
It’s not as good as Ziggy Stardust… or Low, but from a songwriting and sound point of view, he makes a huge leap from Aladdin Sane. He did Pin Ups in between, but Aladdin Sane was his last proper album with The Spiders From Mars, and then Diamond Dogs. He didn’t have Mick Ronson to lean on anymore. Mick did a lot of the string arrangements and was like the musical director. Bowie would maybe give him ideas, but this was the first album where Bowie was really on his own. He plays all the guitars on the record – except the wah-wah’ed one on ‘1984’ – so all that mad guitar is Bowie. There’s a rawness to it that I think Ronson never quite had.
I loved both of them, but I was really surprised – and I think Bowie was as well – about how good he was. He probably didn’t think of himself as a lead guitarist. The ‘Rebel Rebel’ riff is fantastic. You’ve got this rawness on the one hand, but on the other hand there’s an amazing sophistication to the chord structures and melody structures of songs like ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll With Me’ or ‘We Are the Dead’, and ‘Big Brother’. I think they were written on piano. They’ve got a real sophistication to them at the same time as having this kind of slightly raw rock & roll sound, so I think it’s a unique record,
It was the middle of the 1970s for Bowie, and there are hints of Young Americans in songs like ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll With Me’. There’s still the rock & roll from the early times of ‘Rebel Rebel’. The lyrics in ‘Sweet Thing’ are really rock & roll. I quote ‘Sweet Thing’ on my new album: “then jump in the river holding hands” is on my new record.
I’ve never met him, unfortunately. He was working in the same studio we were working in one time, but it was around the time that he was doing ‘Dancing In The Street’ with Mick Jagger. Not really his finest moment.
I asked him to sing on my most recent record. His management people were very nice but said: “David’s not really doing any singing right now.” I found out this was because it was only a month away from him doing the big release of his song, so I’m pretty sure he was pretending that he might be sick [laughs]!
Isaac Hayes – Hot Buttered Soul
There’s a lovely Silver Jews lyric: “Punk rock died when the first kid said ‘punk’s not dead’”. By 1978, punk rock was pretty much dead, even though 1976 and 1977 were very exciting for me.
I loved punk rock, and we weren’t rich. I said to my mum: “You’ve got to cut these trousers and stop them being flared”. So she made them straight leg. My dad used to have a motorcycle and she used to ride in the sidecar. She had a leather jacket and gave it to me so I had a leather jacket which, sadly, I put safety pins and things into.
Even though I loved groups like The Clash, groups like The Raincoats carried on making great music. A lot of punk rock died out in 1978 and the bands that were trying to do punk or were ‘bandwagon jumpers’, which was awful. I started looking for different things. I was still at school when I discovered Stax, and I bought a couple of albums. I think they were The Best Of Stax, volumes one and two. There were a couple of Isaac Hayes tracks on there and I was like: “Wow, what’s this?” I bought Hot Buttered Soul when The Commotions were getting started.
I loved the idea that somebody would take a song and make an eight-minute intro with it; one chord, talk over it, and what happens with that? If you’re willing to go with it and listen to it, the minute that chord changes is huge! ‘Walk On By’ is maybe the best cover version ever. Isaac Hayes is an amazingly smart guy who had a vision for what he wanted his music to be like, and was able to pull it off.
Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
I don’t hear the ‘old school’ in that record. I love this record because of the moments where there are hints of it on Bringing It All Back Home. There are some great songs there, but it still sounds like an electric folk record. This record is something completely different.
Even though Dylan’s work will always be based around the Chicago blues, he was able to make it into something else which is purely his own. For me, it’s a timing thing. I grew up with a copy of Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits volumes one and two – maybe my parents had bought it – but we didn’t have his other records and I didn’t really think that much about Dylan until I started writing my own songs. ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ takes its source material and twists it just enough that it’s almost pop. It’s almost blues. But it’s none of those things. It’s just basically Bob Dylan.
The first time I really appreciated the album may have been in the flat of the woman in the song ‘Charlotte Street’. She used to play that record, and to be honest, I only just remembered that this second.
Cluster – Sowiesoso
The sound is really unique. When people talk about things sounding analogue, it’s kind of a meaningless phrase these days because it gets used so much. There is something lovely and fuzzy and warm about the sound of the instruments on this. It’s what you want an analogue synth to sound like. I read somewhere that the drum machine on this kind of sounds like a coffee percolator [mimics percolator sounds]. And yeah, it kind of does. It’s beautiful. I love the simplicity.
The songs aren’t trying to be overly complex, and at the same time, they aren’t feeling like they have to develop quickly like, say, a lot of the more progressive type bands at that time. I don’t like progressive music. For me, it almost sounds like classical music embracing the minimalism of pop music.
Steve Reich – Music For 18 Musicians
I just think this is an incredibly beautiful album. It emphasises what it is that I like about music. I love it when music is complex in its way. That it takes simple things against simple things and places them next to each other in ways that create complexity, without having to have massive harmonic complexity.
Rhythmic complexity to me is interesting, but it’s only interesting when it doesn’t sound clever. For me, this doesn’t sound clever. Reich studied in Mali for several years. He worked with African drummers. Great polyrhythmic stuff comes from two very simple things put against each other. The whole essence of this record is polyrhythms with very simple arpeggios played by multiple instruments. Nobody’s playing anything complicated, but the combination of the 18 people together makes something which is harmonically sonorous, and maybe slightly complex, but not difficult. The way that it changes almost imperceptibly going from a D minor chord to an A minor chord without you really knowing when. But then all of a sudden you know it’s changed.
Mott The Hoople – Mott
It’s the only great record they made. They made lots of great singles. This album is flawed. Mott The Hoople were a massively flawed band but when they were good, they were just so good.
I don’t think the production on this record is better than All The Young Dudes. I think the production is perfect for Bowie, but they learnt from working with Bowie and with Guy Stevens, who produced London Calling. They were smart enough to absorb what was good from those people and they’d been able to finally do it themselves.
Mott The Hoople made about five albums before this one that had not been that great. Even the All The Young Dudes album isn’t that great. This album has a couple of weak songs, but the sound of the band, especially the sound of Mick Ralphs’ lead guitar against Ian Hunter’s piano and song structure is great. Hunter was leaning heavily on Bob Dylan in terms of how a song can be soulful at the same time as being angry at the same time as being rock & roll. There are a couple of moments where the guitar solo comes in where the song almost breaks down completely, and Hunter says something like: “You know you realise that you’re… you’re just a punk.” And then the guitar comes in. Every time I hear it I still think, “Ah, this is amazing”. Just moments of how great rock & roll can be. Like ‘Complete Control’ by The Clash.
Prince – Dirty Mind
This isn’t my favourite Prince album ever, but I chose it because I was in this mood where I loved how amazingly minimalist this record is.
He was still trying to impress the world and go “look at me”, it was hilarious. I stood next to him once. He’s smaller than I thought possible. My girlfriend at the time was 5’ 1” and it looked like she towered over him.
The three high points on the album are, I guess, the sound of the record. He’s got that really cheesy synth which is not pretty but he uses it so well. Probably the high point of using that synth is the beginning of ‘1999’. He’s able to use these cheesy, cheap synth sounds and make brilliant stuff with it, which is kind of the opposite of what progressive rock people were doing with synths. He was making minimalism in pop using the sounds that we associate with what The Human League did.
I love the beginning of the song ‘Dirty Mind’ where it’s just [sings rhythm intro]. ‘When You Were Mine’ is one of the best pop songs ever. One of the best pop lyrics ever is: “You didn’t have the decency to change the sheets.”
I didn’t actually know about Prince when this album came out, I used to read the music press so I was aware that he existed, but somehow or other, the wrong people were writing about him at that time. I didn’t really get into him until my friend bought 1999, and I don’t think I really got into this album until after I’d owned Around The World In A Day. Then I decided I should own all his records. I’m probably more attached to Around The World In A Day because that’s the album that came out when we were on tour. I bought it and listened to it every day.
Kraftwerk – Computer World
I don’t really care if this was considered a concept album. What I do like is how they have motifs moving from song to song, in the same way a film soundtrack would maybe take a motif and have it not just in the one piece, but going through different pieces with the same motif running through it.
What I like most about the album is how it’s about computers. But it was made before we were using computers to make music. These little rhythms aren’t created by computers, they’re created either by analogue synthesisers or drums are actually played.
I saw them in Glasgow when this album came out. Two of the guys were playing the drums. The concert was amazing. There’s one song that I don’t love, ‘Numbers’. ‘Computer Love’ is one of the best songs ever written by anybody and it’s a great lyric as well: “I want to rendezvous”. Very simple but beautiful melodies. That’s the one Coldplay made that awful version of – the less said about that the better!
You have great songwriting and maybe the best sounding record made with synthesisers ever. You have this minimalism which is a combination of everything I love on one record [laughs]. When people ask me what my favorite record is, depending on what day it is, it’s either Highway 61… or Computer World.
It’s the perfectly constructed album. Even though one of the tracks is weak, it doesn’t really matter because contextually, that track works within the album. Even though I don’t like it as much as the other tracks, if I was playing Computer World, I wouldn’t skip the one that I don’t like because I like the way it works in context.
The Only Ones – Even Serpents Shine
They sound in the right place at the right time. If you write down Peter Perrett’s lyrics and pay too much attention to them, they’re awful. He sounds like any other junkie songwriter. [He got away with it] because he had this lovely voice. Even though it’s weak, it’s got this fragility to it which just works with his junkie whining.
[The New York Dolls’] Johnny Thunders could almost do that but not quite. ‘From Here to Eternity’ is just perfect. The lead guitar in that song is one of my favourites ever. And it’s all clichés, all strung together perfectly. I remember there was a Glasgow band who were doing quite well. They were working with this American producer and said: “We want a fresh cliché”. This is what this album sounds like to me. You can still feel the vitality in it, that kind of curious rock & roll thing that you can’t quite say what it is until you hear it. The Only Ones had that.
The Walkmen – Lisbon
I think, in the last ten years, that they are the best rock band in the world. I don’t think there are many good ones. Most good music today is not trying to be rock. I think there’s lot more good pop music.
When I first heard them, I thought they were willfully meandering, and I thought that the single was too close to Bob Dylan in its delivery. But I’ve just grown to love them. I still think that they are willfully meandering sometimes, but I think the sound is electric. They are so sure about themselves and I love to see that in a band. They look like they really don’t care what anybody else thinks and they’re like: “Here we are, we are The Walkmen. We’d kind of like it if you like us, but if you don’t, we’re gonna do this anyway”.
If there were maybe one or two songs less I might like it better, but the strong songs on the record are so strong. The title song is great. It opens with ‘Juveniles’ which is a beautiful song. And again, it’s one of those songs that I sometimes think they write to annoy me on purpose, because that song is nearly perfect but not quite.
I sometimes don’t know if they’re lazy or if they’re just willfully perverse. If you like them they are gonna frustrate you every now and again, but you’re gonna love them because you know it’s their way or the highway.
They should let me produce them. I would love to work/play with them [laughs]. I think I’d need to open for them these days, and I think by now they probably know that I like them. They haven’t contacted me so they probably don’t want me to support them, but I’ve mentioned them in enough interviews where I’ve said they are the best rock band out there right now.
Wire – Pink Flag
It was difficult to pick a punk album. The reason I love Wire is because they were around at the same time as punk, but they were to the side of everything. They were part of the punk movement but they were doing something which was just a little bit different.
The whole album has a sound, I think they tuned the guitars down to make them sound ‘grungier’. In the day we’d say grungier because there had never been a movement called grunge back then. They sound heavy without sounding rock. So it’s heavy, but it’s art, and it’s very much an ‘art rock’ record. The lyrics are brilliant and the delivery is so deadpan. Without Wire, so much of punk rock was really just pub rock turned up.
The best punk album is probably Never Mind The Bollocks. But I don’t love it in the way I love this record. I don’t play Never Mind The Bollocks, whereas I do still play this occasionally.
I might not make music without punk rock because it was the thing that made us go “oh yeah, we can do this”. In the back of my mind I wanted to be Marc Bolan or I wanted to be David Bowie. But it was punk rock that told me I could be. The whole punk movement was the reason I started doing music in the first place.
Chic – Risqué
I almost chose [Sister Sledge’s] We Are Family because the good songs on that might be a little better. But ‘Good Times’ is so quintessential on this record.
I bought this, I bought Isaac Hayes records, I bought Funkadelic’s One Nation Under A Groove, and I really tried to learn to start playing guitar in a different way that wasn’t just punk-based. I started listening to Steve Cropper. Have you heard Daft Punk with Nile Rodgers? It’s wonderful. I’m buying the Daft Punk album.
They had a couple of templates it seems like they had worked on. It seems like there’s a good version of all their template songs on this record. They’re minimalists. They’re not about virtuosity. They’re about taking simple ideas and arranging them in a way that they keep your attention while still being groovy, which is really quite difficult.
I think Nile is an absolute genius. He plays the guitar in [Betty Wright’s] ‘Clean Up Woman’. That was his first gig. He’s a bonafide genius guitar player. Daft Punk are unashamedly paying homage to Chic. ‘Good Times’ is the sample. The sleeper is ‘My Feet Keep Dancing’, a kind of piano-based song which is really groovy, so it’s an amazing record.
I tried to pick records that I bought at certain times that meant a lot to me. I think I might have bought this before Hot Buttered Soul, around the time I was buying the Stax compilation records. I discovered Hot Buttered Soul later, when I was about 17. We were bored with punk rock and looking for something else. My parents had moved to Glasgow and I was living in a house on my own which is a little strange at that age. There was a record store on the street and I could just go in and say, “can I listen to this, can I listen to that?” There was no internet so the only way to listen to stuff was asking them to play it.
Publication: The Quietus
Publication date: 21/06/2013