I wrote the following post about ten years ago after my wife and I saw Elvis Costello in concert. Last night, I saw a PBS special which showed Costello performing with Burt Bacharach, who he wrote fifteen or so songs with. Bacharach died earlier this month.
If you ever get a chance to see Elvis Costello in concert, please give him a shot as you won’t regret it. He has an abundance of well crafted, sometimes bizarre songs, that are very entertaining both for the music and lyrics.
When we saw him two years ago, he had this large spinning wheel of his play list of some 40 or so songs and he invited someone from the audience to do the spinning. On occasion, he would correct the spin, as he did not want to play his encore too soon. But, his small band, provides quite a big, pulsating sound and you will leave the concert spent.
His biggest hit is one of his more straightforward songs – “Alison.” His words of lament and haunting name of Alison make this a powerful song that resonates with many:
I’m not going to get too sentimental
like those other sticky valentines,
’cause I don’t know if you’ve been loving some body.
I only know it isn’t mine.
Alison, I know this world is killing you.
Oh, Alison, my aim is true.
A more fun song is called “(The Angels want to wear my) Red Shoes” which is about angels getting bored and wanting to paint the town again.
Oh I used to be disgusted
and now I try to be amused.
But since their wings have got rusted,
you know, the angels wanna wear my red shoes.
One of my favorites of his is “Brilliant Mistake” which is looking back with regrets over what the title implies. Here is a neat sampling of his wordsmithing:
Now I try hard not to become hysterical
But I’m not sure if I am laughing or crying
I wish that I could push a button
And talk in the past and not the present tense
And watch this hurtin’ feeling disappear
Like it was common sense
Costello has penned some interesting songs that are quite clever in how he hides some true meaning. “Oliver’s Army” is usually on a short list of his great songs as he comes down against war, by starting out so simply:
Don’t start me talking I could talk all night
My mind goes sleepwalking
While I’m putting the world to right
Some other great songs that I enjoy include: “Man Out of Time” about a bigwig who no longer is such, “New Lace Sleeves,” “Everyday I Write the Book,” and “Watching the Detectives” which is played as the soundtrack for the PBS show “History Detectives.” Yet, I want to close with my favorite three Costello songs, one which he did not write.
My third favorite is his best concert song, “Pump It Up,” which he usually does after a softer song to get the crowd rolling. The words here pale in comparison to the beat, but it is a very catchy tune:
I’ve been on tenterhooks, ending in dirty looks,
list’ning to the Muzak, thinking ’bout this ‘n’ that.
She said that’s that. I don’t wanna chitter-chat.
Turn it down a little bit, or turn it down flat.
Pump it up when you don’t really need it.
Pump it up until you can feel it.
My second favorite is “Radio Radio” about how kids blindly follow what they are being told on the radio. He wants them to think for themselves. Here are a few lyrics:
Radio is a sound salvation
Radio is cleaning up the nation
They say you better listen to the voice of reason
But they don’t give you any choice
’cause they think that it’s treason.
So you had better do as you are told.
You better listen to the radio.
However, my favorite of his songs is one he did not write; it was written by Nick Lowe, a British songwriter – “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding.” I wrote a post early last year with this title as my theme, which can be viewed with the attached link: https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/whats-so-funny-about-peace-love-and-understanding/. I won’t belabor this song, as its meaning is clear in the title. Lowe’s writing and Costello’s singing address squarely what is wrong about talking about peace not war? What is wrong about talking of love not hate? What is so wrong with trying to understand our differences, not use them to divide?
I will grant you, Elvis Costello is an acquired taste. But, listen to the music first, then listen to the words. You won’t regret it. And, please forgive me if I did not list your favorite Costello song. There are many to choose from.