Saturday, December 06, 2008

"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

15 comments:

willdeuel said...

You nailed this one. It's not that often I like covers better than originals, especially when the original is by a genius like Costello, but Edmunds (and the 'pile) clearly knew exactly what to do with that song.

Yes, that's a run-on sentence but I absolutely gush about the 'pile.

Natsthename said...

Dave and Nick and Elvis and Graham Parker, Brinsley Schwarz are my Holy Grail artists of Pub Rock. I love this post!!

Betty C. said...

This has always been one of my favorite Dave Edmunds tunes, and I totally agree that Elvis somehow didn't get his own song. But maybe that's one example of how Elvis Costello is a true songwriter -- had he been in an earlier generation, he might have made his career just writing songs for others.

All of the Lowe-Parker-Edmunds-Costello connections are so fascinating.

When I was a college DJ, I once did a three-hour show of only their music (including Brinsley Scwarz and so forth.) I remember the music director marked it "PLAYLIST OF THE YEAR!"

Holly A Hughes said...

Ooh, Betty, I'd have loved to hear that show. What a time for music this was! And me, I was so naive, I thought that the music world would always be full to bursting with talent like this. Who knew we'd be hanging onto their music 30 years later as the only saving grace in a cultural wasteland!

The good thing is they're all still working and still fantastic. I miss Ian Dury, though.

Betty C. said...

Are things really that bleak on the current music scene? I always assume there is a lot of great music still going on out there, but that I just haven't had time to learn about it or get into it.

Holly A Hughes said...

True, I was exaggerating -- as always, there are dozens of talented indie artists out there toiling away in relative obscurity, and there's a handful of UK bands (the Fratellis, the Kooks, the Kaiser Chiefs, etc) that seem to be keeping rock & roll alive. But it does make me sad that hip-hop and bad R&B are dominating the mainstream nowadays in the US. It really isn't just nostalgia that makes me listen to much to these guys from my past!

Natsthename said...

THere's just so much dire indie music these days, and it's so post-rock. I love to hear the bands rocking away with gusto and smiles, which is why I love The Hold Steady.

Anonymous said...

The Fratellis and The Kooks make music for louts and boors.

Holly A Hughes said...

Your point being --? Since when were louts and boors not allowed to buy music? Their money's as good as yours. I'm sure the Fratellis and the Kooks aren't conducting entrance exams to decide who's clever and refined enough to buy their records.

There sure is a lot of indie dreck out there, Nat, most of it unbearably precious and neurotic. (My own term for it is "skinny-jeans music.") High-concept songs with no heart. Still, hunt around and you'll find some good bands. Most of the 1979 bands I loved were under the radar then as well. It helps that I have a teenage musician in the house who's always got his ear to the ground. I should check out the Hold Steady, they sound like a band I'd like. Any suggestions for which albums to home in on?

Anonymous said...

I think this is the best pop song ever written. Kudos to both Edmonds and Costello. Great review from you as well

Dan in DC

Anonymous said...

Just found this song again, after not hearing since......???
Been cranking it up on YT for almost a week now.
Forgotten how addictive this stuff can be.
When I was younger and much better looking, some people said I kinda looked like Rockpile's drummer, Terry Williams...=)
Now I want a Silver Sparkle Ludwig Big Beat kit with nice old A's. =D

Holly A Hughes said...

Indeed, it's a very crank-worthy tune! Lemme know if you get that Ludwig kit....

Anonymous said...

Holly,

I'll send you a pic, if I do that Big Beat kit.
...liking Silver Sparkle just a little more now. =)

Anonymous said...

Six years late but what the hell. First time I heard this song, on the radio, it was Linda Ronstadt (Mad Love). Then tracked down the Edmunds versions and about 3 different versions by Elvis (live and studio). Love them all.

Holly A Hughes said...

Funny, I never heard Linda Ronstadt's version -- but she always did have a good ear for great tunes to cover.