My Favorite Elvis Costello Lyrics (Part 1)

by Emilio Pérez Miguel on August 20, 2009

Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello

What a task it is to pick favorites from Costello’s lyrics! I will say again what I said when reviewing my favorite Keith Moon’s drum breaks – this is just a list of lyrics I truly connect with, or that hold some kind of thematic poignancy to me. I could have a list made up of 80 lyrics and I would still feel like I omitted a worrying amount of excellent lyrics from him. I will see how many installments I end up running as regards this topic. In the meantime, these are (in no particular order) 5 of his lyrics that I relate to the most. I chose some obscure songs to start, too, so as to avoid quoting the ones everybody knows to the bone.

1)

“But if I’ve done something wrong there’s no “ifs” and “buts”
Cause I love you just as much as I hate your guts”

If someone asks you what a paradox is, do not give them a tome on rhetoric – give them this lyric. It is from the song “Alibi”, which is included on the “When I Was Cruel” album. That single song justifies purchasing it.

2)

“..As you check your effects and check your reflection,
I’m so affected in the face of your affection”

This is from the song “Men Called Uncle”, a song that is often listed (erroneously) as “Men Called Uncles”. The song is found on the “Get Happy!!” disc, and it paints Elvis as a superlative wordplayer from start to finish.

3)

“Under an archway
On a road of white linen
In a love field
Feel the anxious rhythm of a functional stranger
In a love field

In a love field
In a love field
She’s so tense but it’s never mentioned
In a love field”

Now, this is from the song “Love Field” (included on the album “Goodbye Cruel World”). Costello explained he wanted to create a song with lyrics akin to words from a foreign language badly translated into English. Is it because my first language is not English that I find the song in general and that passage in particular highly evocative? Mmmh, what do you think?

4)

“Don’t tell me you don’t know the difference
Between a lover and a fighter
With my pen and my electric typewriter
Even in a perfect world where everyone was equal
I’d still own the film rights and be working on the sequel

And I’m giving you a longing look
Everyday, everyday, everyday I write the book”

I had to include a lyric from “Everyday I Write The Book”, probably one of my favorite songs ever. I chose that part, but the whole song is pure genius – the degree of characterization is awe-inspiring.

5)

“But if I’ve done something right then don’t be surprised

There are soldiers who will kill but refuse to die”

Yet another lyric from “Alibi” – if you haven’t listened to the song try to do so as soon as possible, it is a true gem. What I like about this lyric in particular is how he takes a common conceit (“he who will kill is he who will die” – The Clash sang it that way on “The Equalizer” from the triple album “Sandinista”) and turns it around. It seems that Costello is saying that the one who goes to extremes will not necessarily meet an extreme fate, yet he is going to cause others meet one. Just my personal interpretation. I also like the irony that using a conditional (“if”) adds, especially taken as a whole with the elucidation that follows.

As I said, these are some lyrics I really like. There is a trillion more I am adding soon for all of us to discuss and comment. Now, it’s your turn! Let us all know which lyrics penned by Costello make you think and feel a lot. And check back soon for a second installment.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Get Happy!! (Elvis Costello) – Album Review | MusicKO
August 27, 2009 at 12:46 pm
Goodbye Cruel World (Elvis Costello) – Album Review | MusicKO
September 11, 2009 at 11:28 am

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