"When I Write the Book" / Nick Lowe
"Every Day I Write the Book" / Elvis Costello
Someone had to be copying someone else on this one. Nick's "When I Write the Book" appears on Rockpile's 1980 album Seconds of Pleasure, while Elvis's didn't come along until 1983's Punch the Clock -- you do the math. I suppose it's possible that Elvis wasn't thinking about his buddy's song when he penned this slick little pop song, but I sincerely doubt it. (For once, it wasn't Nick doing the stealing!)
I'm sure Nick thought he was working that metaphor for all it was worth, with lines like "when I write the book about my love / It’ll be a heartbreaking story about love and luck / When I get down on the pages all I felt / It will make the hardest-hearted of critics’ hearts melt" -- but really, this genial little number is just another way to self-dramatize a lover's pain and suffering. (I do love that bridge, though, as he describes himself "When I was young love was fun and I was so happy /I looked so good and I dressed so snap-py" -- umm, yes I bet you did, Nick!)
But then here comes Elvis, swooping in on his intro with a swelling power-pop sound and rabid howl of fury, then blasting away with lyrics like
When your dreamboat
Turns out to be a footnote
I'm a man with a mission
In two or three editions
and the absolutely priceless couplet
Even in a perfect world
Where everyone was equal
I'd still own the film rights
and be working on the sequel.
He breaks down their whole jejune relationship into trite little chapters; he dismisses everything about her into his quotation marks. There's nothing boppy or bright about this song, with all its unsettling chord changes and sneering melodic phrases, and the harpy chorus singing back-up. No, he's intent on revenge, and fairly bursting with paranoia and contempt. That book he's writing is a poison-pen hack job, and he's feeding on the chance to hurt her -- it's more important than the relationship at this point.
Sorry, Nick, but Elvis wins this round, hands down.
When I Write the Book sample
Every Day I Write the Book sample