Friday, December 19, 2008

"You Want Her Too" /
Paul McCartney & Elvis Costello

Well, if anything's gonna knock Ray Davies out of my head, this double-whammy should do it. I'm fascinated by the all-star friendship between these two guys, two of the major forces in my rock fan life; when they started collaborating with each other in the late 80s, it blew my mind. The night I went to Carnegie Hall to see the American debut of Paul's Ecce Cor Meum, when I looked back at Paul's box and saw Elvis sitting there as his guest, I just about LOST IT.

Once upon a time, Elvis and Paul represented two competing eras to me, but as time has passed, the difference between British Invasion and New Wave seems irrelevant. What these guys have in common matters more -- incredible virtuosity, insatiable musical curiosity, and an uncritical enthusiasm for show biz. Sure, Elvis has managed to preserve a degree of hipster cool (even duetting with Burt Bacharach in an Austin Powers movie couldn't shake that) while Paul . . . well, he wrote "Silly Love Songs" -- need I say more? But when all is said and done, he was a Beatle. Nothing in the world could ever be cooler than that.

One of my favorite tracks on Elvis' Spike is their co-written song "Pads, Paws, and Claws," but their work together on Macca's 1989 album Flowers in the Dirt is the stuff that really gets me. This album helped to restore McCartney's critical reputation after a run of pretty lackluster albums, and I can't help but think that Costello was responsible for knocking Paul back into this better groove. (Later, I'm convinced, Elvis helped pull Paul out of his grief after Linda's death by getting him to record Run Devil Run.) Well, clearly I spend an unhealthy amount of time speculating about the private lives of these two men; but hey, if this is what it takes to make me stop thinking about Ray, so be it.

But back to the song. This one's a proper duet, most of it call-and-response, with both singers also principal characters in the story. Like the title suggests, they're both lusting after the same woman, which charges the whole thing with dramatic tension. After a jittery synth intro (it sounds like a string section playing frenzied chase music), it launches into an aggressive 3/4 tempo, like some kind of manic waltz, underlaid with whacking drums; Paul soulfully wails the main melody, while Elvis carries on a sarcastic patter underneath. "She makes me go so wrong," Paul begins, drawing out those long vowels, then Elvis butts in nastily, "yeah, you kept me awake, you know you did" (I picture them talking all night, drunk, on some crappy sofa). "I've loved her oh so long," Paul goes on moping, and I can just see Elvis rolling his eyes as he interjects, "so why don't you come right out and say it, stupid?" Paul is in full-throated Oh! Darling mode, while Elvis has got on his muttering I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea attitude -- and yet, yoked together this way, it totally works.

In verse two, there's even more face-off: "My intentions are quite sincere," the ever-sincere cute Beatle declares, but Elvis snipes, "that's not what you said the other night"; hurt and annoyed, Paul comes back with, "And all you can do is sneer," to which Elvis sneers, "Go ahead and kid yourself you're right." They're worse than Joey and Chandler on Friends.

It seems Paul has the edge with the chick. (Well, duh!) In the bridge, he even says so -- "I've got a better chance than you do" -- but is he just trying to convince himself? He lashes back at his snarky friend by telling him, in a patch laid down with oddly Beatlesque exotic texture, "You're such a hopeless romantic / She told me you're so predictable and nice, / She only did you a favour once or twice, / Once or twice." A favor? Ouch. But that "once or twice" is suspiciously vague, isn't it? I mean, let's be honest, once is a favor -- twice is something else.

Back to the waltz, and the guys are at each others' throats: "She makes me go so wrong / (so why don't you lie back and enjoy it)? / My conscience is clear and strong / (Yes, she says I'm just the boy for it)." By the third time the chorus rolls around, when Paul sings, "She makes me do things I don't want to do," I really believe it. The weird thing is, I pick up plenty of affection between these two guys, but neither of them really seems to like the woman at all. The worst thing she makes him do is to keep on torturing his lovesick buddy with this crap, and yet there he goes again -- "I don't know why I should be telling you / I know that you want her too." What kind of a woman is this -- and why is it that the bitches always get the cute boys??

You Want Her Too sample


Uncle E said...

Great post, as always, Holly. Have you checked out Paul's Fireman album yet?
Also, received a response on my blog from a writer in France who seems to be another Kinks obsessive.
Check her out at the below address...

Holly A Hughes said...

I'm getting Fireman for Christmas (bought it myself and handed it to my son to wrap up and label it to me from him -- no way was I leaving that up to chance).

Betty, a Kinks obsessive? No way -- merely a woman of good taste.

Nancy said...

Looking foward to hearing your thoughts about Fireman. Good thinking not leaving it to chance. I have to say Macca introduced me to Elvis.

Anonymous said...

Fireman is the name of the collaboration, Electric Arguments is the album.

They've already done 2 albums together.

Betty C. said...

Thanks for cluing me in on this collaboration, which I was totally unaware of. That's what one gets for having babies in 1993.

I somehow have never forgiven Sir Paul for "Silly Love Songs."