"Girls Talk" / Dave Edmunds
Elvis Costello himself admits (in the CD insert for the Rhino reissue of Get Happy) that he gave this song to Dave Edmunds "in a moment of drunken bravado." I'd sure like to have been a fly on the wall witnessing that moment in rock history. Edmunds wound up with a UK #2 hit, whereas Elvis -- whose career was just beginning to spin away from being the critics' darling -- never could quite get the song right. Listen to his anxiety-addled version on the bonus disc of Get Happy; Dave, however, nudged the tempo down a notch and gave the whole thing a genial, bouncy rockabilly twang that works perfectly. Yeah, he knows that all the girls are gossiping about him, and he knows he'll end up screwed by it. Still, you get the feeling he loves the girls anyway. As a girl myself, I know whose record I wanted to buy.
The lyrics do have that devilish Costello double-meaning twist; I can't help but giggle when I hear some of these lines. "There are some things you can't cover up / With lipstick and powder," he begins accusingly. "Thought I heard you mention my name / Can't you talk any louder?" (Love the sarcasm.) Then he shifts through a series of uneasy chromatic chord shifts, as if circling and edging his way around the room -- "Don't come any closer / Don't come any nearer / My vision of you can't / Come any clearer." But at the end, Dave's honey-sweet voice lands almost joyfully on the final line, "Oh, I just wanna hear girls talk." He can't keep away from them.
The lyrics swirl around with a lot of vague insinuation; you never really find out what the girls are saying, or who the victim of their gossip is. "If they say that it's so / Don't they think that I'd know / By now" -- what does that mean? Of course, it wouldn't be an Elvis Costello song if there weren't a vicious jab or two, like "You may not be an old-fashioned girl / But you're gonna get dated" (and the way the line lands darkly on that "dated," you know he's steering you towards the uglier of the two meanings). At one point he hauls out some really odd charges: "Was it really murder / Were you just pretending / Lately I've heard you / Are the living end." It's all fairly baffling, that's for sure.
I don't know whether the girls are making him sour on a girl he was interested in, or whether they've tainted his girlfriend's mind against him, or whether he just feels bad that the girls are putting his girlfriend down. But hey, that's the way overheard gossip and hearsay makes you feel -- even when you don't get the facts straight, you react to the underlying malice. Yet somehow Dave Edmunds rises above the bile-spewing nature of this song and turns it into a upbeat pop gem.
Of course, I'm a little prejudiced in Dave's favor. This track appears on 1979's Repeat When Necessary, which is, after all, the sort of partner album to Nick Lowe's Labour of Lust. (Edmunds' back-up band, Rockpile -- in which Nick played bass -- at the time was contractually required to play only on Edmunds' or Lowe's solo albums, not on their own.) You can hear Nick's voice chanting "Girls talk" in the back-up chorus. Ah, you knew I'd get to the Nick Lowe connection eventually, didn't you? But I swear, I'd have loved this song anyway. Listen to it; who could help but love this song?
Girls Talk sample