"Please Stay" -- Elvis Costello
And while we're on the topic of affectionate covers of cheesy old songs . . . our boy Elvis did an entire album of these unearthed treasures, Kojak Variety (a title which, I'm sorry, always makes me envision Telly Savalas in a tux in front of a brocade curtain introducing Senor Wences). I hasten to point out that they're not all ancient obscurities, since one of them -- my favorite on the album -- is an absolutely brilliant cover of the Kinks' "Days." But otherwise, they're a pretty mossy bunch of chestnuts.
"Please Stay" is a Bacharach-David pop tune (Elvis is such a sucker for Bacharach), the sort you could imagine Dionne Warwick or Dusty Springfield doing. With its passionate pleading, this one in particular -- which apparently was a big hit for the Drifters, though I've never heard it (Aaron Neville does a version too) -- would have been so great for Dusty; nobody could abase themselves for love quite like Dusty could. But Elvis is a close runner-up with this song, unleashing all his considerable vibrato in an absolute gush of emotion.
The heart of it is this verse: "If I got on my knees / And I pleaded with you / Not to go but to stay / In my arms," a series of anxious triplets tentatively seesawing from one unresolved chord to another. I can just picture him on his knees -- though somehow my picture of Elvis on his knees seems dangerous and hostile, like he'd be trying to wrestle her to the floor. As the verse goes on, you find out they've got a complicated history: "Would you walk out the door / like you did once before? / Or would this time / Be different, / Would you sta-a-ay." Ah, that accounts for the edge of desperation in his voice. Desperation? More like panic, or hysteria.
Elvis takes it at a slightly plodding, weary tempo, underlaid with some wonderful electric piano diddling, I assume (hope) by Steve Nieve. Between those triplets and the jangly quality of the guitar and piano, it's strung up with tension; it sounds like he's so beaten up with love, he can't stand it any more. Just below the surface, he's still angry about her leaving the time before, and yet he wants her too much to let her go, and then he hates himself for wanting her that much . . .
Nobody plumbs the vicious side of love like Elvis does, that's for sure. Dusty would have done this like she was throwing herself under a train; Elvis IS the train.