5 Career-Defining Songs Of Elvis Costello
via Elvis Costello/YouTube
Elvis Costello is a prolific and brilliant songwriter, and a stellar musician whose creativity knows no bounds. He doesn’t confine himself to one genre and throughout his five-decade career, he has branched out into new wave, punk rock, and even power pop. He has also penned several original songs for movies such as “God Give Me Strength” from Grace of My Heart (1996) and “The Scarlet Tide” from Cold Mountain (2003).
It’s not easy summarizing such a long, illustrious career into five songs but here they are, his five finest musical works.
5. Watch Your Step
Still sounds fresh even after all these years! He wrote some of the lyrics when he was just 20 years old. He then drew inspiration from his touring experiences. He originally intended for it to be loud and a straightforward rocker but the version released was rather slower but catchy all the same. It didn’t chart but it remains a fan favorite.
One of his most popular tracks, he used to be vague and coy when asked about the identity of Alison but he wrote his 2015 autobiography Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink that “I’ve always told people that I wrote the song ‘Alison’ after seeing a beautiful checkout girl at the local supermarket. She had a face for which a ship might have once been named. Scoundrels might once have fought mist-swathed duels to defend her honour. Now she was punching in the prices on cans of beans at a cash register and looking as if all the hopes and dreams of her youth were draining away. All that were left would soon be squandered to a ruffian who told her convenient lies and trapped her still further.”
He wrote this during the 1982 Falklands War. It’s from the perspective of those working in the British shipbuilding seaports. The music was written by Clive Langer who played it to Costello at a party hosted by musician Nick Lowe. Costello completed the work in a matter of days, calling it “the best lyrics I’ve ever written.”
2. Man Out of Time
Absolute gold. His vocals are stunning – no wonder why fans go crazy when he plays this during concerts. He told songwriter.com that “Sometimes a song will have a personal meaning and a public meaning. Man Out of Time is one of those.”
1. I Want You
He once called it “the aural equivalent of a blurred polaroid.” It’s hauntingly beautiful but with disturbing lyrics. He added in the liner notes for the Girls Girls Girls compilation album, “No apologies for the lack of fidelity. None are needed, it’s just a pornographic snapshot; lots of broken glass, a squashed box of chocolates and a little blood on the wall.”