Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Happy birthday, Elvis Costello!

My Top 25 Elvis Costello Lyrics

So why am I still an Elvis Costello fan, thirty-seven years after that fateful day when I first heard This Year's Model?  (I still owe you, Craig.)

Because I'm a lyrics girl -- and this guy's lyrics still wriggle inside my brain pan as few others do. 

Puns? yeah, he's a punster supreme. But it's more than puns; it's nuance, and allusiveness, and a novelist's nose for character conflict. Every one of these tracks is a finely tuned short story, for those of us willing to devote a morsel of imagination to filling in the blanks.

Oh, and yeah, he gets a pretty solid musical groove on too.

So here are the lyrics; click on links to see previous posts about these songs. (I TOLD you this guy runs deep with me.)  And if you're curious, I'm sure there are YouTube videos of all of these. C'mon, peeps, do I have to do all the work?


And though the passion still flutters and flickers, it never got into our knickers – "Just About Glad" (Brutal Youth 1994)

Don’t get smart or sarcastic He snaps back just like elastic Spare us the theatrics and the verbal gymnastics We break wise guys just like matchsticks.  – "The Loved Ones" (Imperial Bedroom 1982)

I wish that I could push a button and talk in the past and not the present tense And watch this hurting feeling disappear like it was common sense. – "Brilliant Mistake" (King of America 1985)

You either shut up or get cut out, they don’t want to hear about it, it’s only inches on the reel to reel, and radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools trying to anaesthetize the way that you feel – "Radio, Radio" (This Year’s Model 1978)

Why do you talk such stupid nonsense, when my mind could rest much easier?  Instead of all this dumb dumb insolence I would be happier with amnesia – "Riot Act" (Get Happy! 1980)

Let me get this straight -- Did I hallucinate this fine and helpless feeling? – "When Did I Stop Dreaming" (North 2003)

I was down upon one knee, stroking her vanity -- "Big Boys" (Armed Forces 1979)

I woke up and one of us was crying. – "I Want You" (Blood & Chocolate 1986)
Just look at me, I’m having the time of my life, or something quite like it. – "London’s Brilliant Parade" (Brutal Youth 1994)

Charged with insults and flattery Her body moves with malice Do you have to be so cruel to be callous? "Beyond Belief" (Imperial Bedroom 1982)
So you knock the kids about a bit because they’ve got your name -- "Little Palaces" (King of America 1985)
I can’t stand it when it goes to reel to reel, too real too real, I can’t stand when I get those punch lines you can feel – "B Movie " (Get Happy! 1980)

In a perfect world where everyone was equal, I’d still own the film rights and be working on a sequel – "Every Day I Write the Book" (Punch the Clock 1983)

Your mouth is made up but your mind is undone. – "Accidents Will Happen" (Armed Forces 1979)

I’ll build a bonfire of my dreams and burn a broken effigy of me and you -- "Indoor Fireworks" (King of America 1985)

I’m in a foxhole, I’m down in the trench, I’d be a hero but I can’t stand the stench – "Opportunity" (Get Happy! 1980)
I want to chop off your head and watch it roll into a basket. – "Senior Service" (Armed Forces 1979)

I don’t know if you’ve been loving somebody, I only know it isn’t mine"Alison" (My Aim Is True 1977)

And you know what I do, when the light outside changes from red to blue"Motel Matches" (Get Happy! 1980)

She’s filing her nails while they’re dragging the lake – "Watching the Detectives" (My Aim Is True 1977) 
You can’t show me any kind of hell that I don’t know already – "Hand In Hand" (This Year’s Model 1978)

But it’s easier to say “I love you,” than “yours sincerely,” I suppose -- "Big Sister’s Clothes" (Trust 1981)
You lack lust, you’re so lackluster, is that all the strength you can muster? – "Possession" (Get Happy! 1980)

Sometimes I think that love is just a tumor, you’ve got to cut it out – "Lipstick Vogue" (This Year’s Model 1978)\


I don’t wanna be your lover, I just want to be your victim – "The Beat" (This Year’s Model 1978)
And yours?


jerry said...

There are some things you can't cover up with lipstick and powder.- Girls Talk

Holly A Hughes said...

Another great line! And also from that song: "Though you may not be an old-fashioned girl, you're still going to get dated."

Funny, I tend to think of that as a Dave Edmunds song. I always forget EC wrote it!

NickS said...

You've picked many of my favorites, (in particular "Charged with insults and flattery Her body moves with malice Do you have to be so cruel to be callous?" is, in my opinion the best example of what makes EC's writing distinctive) here are a few others:

All my troubles I confess / to another faceless backless dress (The Deportees Club Goodbye Cruel World)

So he bit his tongue / And tried hard to capture his breath / When she said I waited all my life / For just a little death (Kid About It Imperial Bedroom)

As it happens, though, the Elvis Costello lines which pop into my brain most frequently head aren't particularly clever or punny.

Welcome to the workin' week. / Oh I know it don't thrill you, I hope it don't kill you. (Welcome to the Working Week My Aim Is True)

and about half of "Oliver's Army" but mostly the line "[T]he boys from the Mersey and the Thames and the Tyne." The rhythm of those syllables is horribly catchy. That line just wafts into my head fairly often.

Holly A Hughes said...

Oh, yes, agreed with all of those. As soon as I read them, I hear the exact rhythm -- its not just the words but the clever scansion he uses.

And as far as the non-punny lines, I find myself more often than not waking up in the morning thinking, "I am starting to function / In the usual way" from "Big Boys" on Armed Forces...

Squeezing Out Columbus said...

Oh, I used to be disgusted, and now I try to be amused

Holly A Hughes said...

Another choice line. He had the gift right from My Aim Is True.

Anonymous said...

Great list Holly! Two of my many favorites:

She gave a little flirt, gave herself a little cuddle
But there's no place here for the mini-skirt waddle
Capital punishment, she's last year's model
They call her Natasha when she looks like Elsie
I don't want to go to Chelsea

And also from Black and White World:

You never go from moment to moment
You're the living double of a single fiction
You're very colorful with your compliments
As you feel the finger's friction

Whew, you don't want to get EC pissed!


Anonymous said...

There are so many, but one more I wanted to add, a segment from Veronica. The lyric rolls from the verse into the bridge, at the "Empress of India". It's musically stunning and very Beatlesque - always thought Paul may have had a hand on this part.

Well it was all of sixty five years ago
When the world was the street where she lived
And a young man sailed on a ship in the sea
With a picture of Veronica

On the "Empress of India"
And as she closed her eyes upon the world and
picked upon the bones of last week's news
She spoke his name outloud again!

This one almost makes me cry. It's stunning how he captures the passage of time and the persistence of memory.


Anonymous said...

"Was it a millionaire who said "imagine no possessions"?
A poor little schoolboy who said "we don't need no lessons"?"
The Other Side of Summer
Wherein EC eviscerates two of my heroes inside a production inspired by yet another, Brian Wilson. Pure genius, brutal indeed.
$20 Bill

Janne A said...

Great post, Elvis is a master. But I think that he sings "I would be happier with amnesia" ("Riot Act"). /Janne A

Janne A said...

"Don't put your heart out on your sleeve/When your remarks are off the cuff". ("Riot Act"). That's pretty good, no? /Janne A

Holly A Hughes said...

Indeed that is right. I can't even imagine why I typed "anaesthesia" instead, unless I was lazily copying and pasting from one of those lyrics website. I've made the change -- thanks for pointing it out!

freewheelingvagabond said...

"My case is closed, my case is packed
I'll get out before the violence
Or the tears or the silence"

"Little triggers that you pull with your tongue.
Little triggers. I don't wanna be hung up, strung up,
when you don't call up."

"Everyone's got armbands and 3D glasses
Some are in the back row and they're taking those night classes"

"Almost all the things that your eyes once promised
I see in hers too
Now your eyes are red from crying"

"There's no money back guarantee on future happiness"'

"Everybody's talking like they can't sit down
And looking like they can't stand up
It must be the latest style"

"But when I hit the bottle, there's no tellin' what I'll do
'Cause something deep inside me wants to turn you black and blue
I can't resist you, I can't wait
To twist your loving arms till you capitulate"

"It takes two to tumble, it takes two to tango
Speak up, don't mumble if you're in the combo"

"But you tease, and you flirt
And you shine all the buttons on your green shirt"

"Don't start that talking
I could talk all night
My mind goes sleepwalking
While I'm putting the world to right"

"Major roads and ladies smalls
Hearts of oak and long trunk calls
Continental interference
At death's door with life insurance"

"You've got a chemistry class I want a piece of your mind
You don't know what you started when you mixed it up with mine
Are you ready for the final solution?"

"So beautiful and fortunate
You're the one who hates to love
But he's the one who loves to hate"

"The chairman of this boredom is a compliment collector
I'd like to be his funeral director"

"This must be the place
Second place in the human race
Down in the basement
Now I know what he meant
Secondary modern
But there won't be a problem till the girls go home"

"Tears on your blackmail
Written to ransom
A point of the fingernail
Says that he's handsome"

"Down on the mainspring, listen to the tick tock
Clock all the faces that move in on your block
Twice shy and dog tired because you've been bitten
Everything you say now sounds like it was ghost-written"

"Though your mind is full of love
In your eyes there is a vacancy
And you know what I'll do
When the light outside changes from red to blue"

I need to listen more to the mid and later EC albums. Get Happy! is my favourite right now.

His songs are like a library when one can be happily lost for days.