Elvis Costello Countdown #66: “The Days Take Care Of Everything”

It’s one of the finest late-period Elvis Costello albums, but if you don’t have it already, you’re going to have to pay a little extra for a new copy. It’s out of print, you see.

I’m talking about the bonus disc found on the 2001 reissue of All This Useless Beauty. The songs contained on that disc are a wild cross-section of material, ranging from stuff written for other artists, to revamped versions of previously recorded songs, to covers, heck, there’s even a remix in there. Although it’s not structured in any coherent way and therefore constitutes a bit of a bumpy ride when heard all the way through, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better collection of 17 songs not just on any Elvis album, but on any album, period.

“The Days Take Care Of Everything” might well be the emotional centerpiece of this non-album, a stirring ballad that raises goose bumps with every listen. Costello’s efforts to write for others are always fascinating, because he doesn’t always realize that his unique style of lyric-writing would put words in the mouths of the intended singers that might not fit. For example, this song was written for Roy Orbison, but can you really hear Roy wrapping his glorious pipes around some of Elvis’ wordier phrases here? (Costello would solve that problem when he re-wrote “The Comedians” to fit Orbison better.)

I suppose there are remnants of Orbisonian drama in the surging melody of “The Days Take Care Of Everything,” but so much where you feel like it’s Elvis doing Roy. That’s OK, though, because you’re left with a ballad that’s pure E.C. and purely brilliant. The song is sung from the point of a view of a guy who has been a shoulder to cry on for a girl going through a bad romance, but he ultimately wants to be something more.
As someone who has been in that situation, the emotions that he conjures up in those lyrics are on-point.

Like any jilted suitor, he veers from hurt feelings to snide remarks to genuine warmth for this girl. Things reach a fever pitch when he realizes that the girl is not to blame for his reticence to show his feelings: “But how could you know that I was longing inside?/Our eyes never met and my hands stayed by my side.” In the refrain, he tries to assure the girl that her woes will not last, but you get the feeling he would have a hard time believing his own advice. Who cares if it was never released and it comes on an unofficial album? “The Days Take Care Of Everything” is wonderful nonetheless.

(The full Elvis Costello list is now available in e-book form. Here is the link:)

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BXLUFN2


Elvis Costello Countdown #70: “Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No.4”

Considering that it came on the heels of it and had the same adventurous approach to assembling musicians and recording, 1991’s Mighty Like The Rose often gets compared unfavorably to 1989’s Spike, which received almost universal acclaim. I think this is because Mighty is a darker record, both in sound and content. Even though Spike had some downbeat material, it generally consisted of bright sounds and punchy rhythms. The follow-up has a dark-night-of-the-soul kind of feel to it, and that can be tough for some people to sit through.

As someone who tends to be drawn to depressive types of music, however, I feel like Mighty Like A Rose is way overlooked. Those people who only know the anthologized stuff like “The Other Side Of Summer” or “So Like Candy” are missing out on some great album cuts, including this track which closes out the album in fascinating fashion. Elvis clearly thinks highly of it, as he often performs it in concert by singing it to the crowd without the benefit of a microphone, a show-stopper every time.

On Mighty Like A Rose, the song takes on a circus quality, aided by the woozy horns of Marc Ribot and Jerry Scheff and the colorful keyboards of Heartbreaker Benmont Tench. Jim Keltner keeps a staggering waltz beat, while Elvis bangs away at a toy piano to boost the surreality of it all. Upon this interesting bed of music he hangs a set of lyrics about the age-old conundrum of figuring out how to fully enjoy life when we are burdened with the knowledge of our eventual death.

The first-verse story of the girl expecting some sort of divine reunion with her dead father might be mocked by some, but the “lucky goon” narrator warns that a time will come for us all when faith in a higher power might be the only way to combat the gnawing fear of losing loved ones. The final two lines are as profound as it gets: “Please don’t let me fear anything I cannot explain/I can’t believe, I’ll never believe in anything again.” They speak to the difficulty of maintaining faith while not letting irrational notions dominate your life.

At least that’s my take. I know there are probably others, because “Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No.4” is the kind of a song that doesn’t provide easy answers, that makes you think. In that way it’s the poster child for the underrated charms to be found all over the difficult but rewarding Mighty Like A Rose.

(The full Elvis Costello list is now available in e-book form. Here is the link:)

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BXLUFN2

(E-mail the author at countdownkid@hotmail.com.)


Elvis Costello Countdown #89: “Having It All”

Sometimes great songs have bizarre origins. In the case of “Having It All,” Elvis Costello wrote it for the movie Absolute Beginners, an only-in-the-80’s type of musical. It was supposed to be delivered by actress Patsy Kensit on top of the Eiffel Tower. As such, Costello wrote a sweeping ballad from the perspective of someone surveying the landscape below them; hence the start of each verse, “Looking down….”

Of course, once the movie was made, there was a song entitled “Having It All” which was sung by Kensit, but instead she was in a nightclub and the song was a jazzy, beatnik kind of thing with a stand-up bass, finger snaps, and the works. I haven’t been able to find out who actually wrote this version, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Elvis; any readers out there who might know, feel free to comment and enlighten me.

Anyway, Elvis apparently kept the song on his personal cutting-room floor with the thought of one day releasing it on his own, but he finally settled for putting it out as an outtake on the Rhino re-release of King Of America, since the demo he did came from around that time. This demo, just Elvis alone at the piano, is fantastic all on its own, and it makes you wonder what those movie producers must have been thinking.

Costello clearly found inspiration from the original movie setting, and the song he composed painted a picture of someone who seems to have lost everything but resiliently vows to get it all back and then some. “If you can’t give me what I want,” he sings, “I’m having it all.” It turns out you don’t need to be on top of some architectural wonder to feel the power of “Having It All.”

(The full Elvis Costello list is now available in e-book form. Here is the link:)

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BXLUFN2

(E-mail the author at countdownkid@hotmail.com.)


Elvis Costello Countdown #97: “Pills And Soap”

Elvis Costello was clearly trying to escape his comfort zone in 1983 with Punch The Clock. Most of the album was devoted to trying to achieve what he hoped would be a more accessible sound; yet “Pills And Soap” went in the opposite direction toward overt weirdness and somehow ended up in the Top 20 of the UK charts.

Elvis’ main inspiration was “The Message,” the seminal rap song by Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel. So he used a drum machine for the rhythm and allowed Steve Nieve to fill in with some jagged piano chords here and there. The resulting song didn’t come out sounding like rap so much but did achieve a kind of avant-garde uniqueness that helped it stand out from the pop accents of the rest of the album, accents that, for the most part, didn’t do any favors to Costello’s songwriting.

The song earned some consternation from the BBC for its withering depiction of both the press and the royal family. I would argue that Costello had taken similar pot shots in previous years, but they somehow stood out more within the spare arrangement of “Pills And Soap,” whereas the adrenalized rush of protesting songs like “Oliver’s Army” or “Radio, Radio” tended to mask the acidic sentiments somewhat.

The amazing thing about “Pills And Soap” is that it maintains its oddness after all these years. In addition, Costello’s theories about dishonest journalists peddling frivolous stories, sadly, have become even more relevant with the passing of time.

(The full Elvis Costello list is now available in e-book form. Here is the link:)

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BXLUFN2

(E-mail the author at countdownkid@hotmail.com.)


On Elvis Costello

I know what you’re all thinking: “Well, it’s about time, CK!” I can’t disagree with you. While I have been busy with the usual family stuff, with my other writing engagements (Quick plug: Check out American Songwriter and my alter ego, Jim Beviglia, and stay tuned for a big announcement concerning one of my previous lists), and with general laziness, I do miss rolling up my sleeves and getting into a new list. So I’m happy to announce that we’ll be starting up a new one beginning tomorrow.

So why Elvis Costello? Well, if I had a personal Mount Rushmore of songwriters, it would include Lennon/McCartney, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Elvis Costello. I have always thought it was a travesty that E.C. didn’t gain as much popularity as the others, but I can assure you, having compiled this list, his song catalog is just as deep and impressive.

What’s more, he has amassed that catalog by constantly changing and evolving, fearlessly trying new things even when some of his fans might have preferred him to rewrite This Year’s Model for thirty years running. Yet unlike Dylan, who seemed to take on new personalities at different points in his career, Costello has imbued all of these distinct genres with his own songwriting personality.

But I’ll get to all of the accolades as the list goes on. First, a few notes. When putting this list together, I did include a lot of songs that weren’t included on original studio album releases. Again, like Dylan, the sheer amount and quality of these songs, which have been available on re-releases and reissues of the original albums for many, many years, were just too impactful to be ignored. The only rule was that Elvis had to have released his own version of the song at some point, even if it was just a demo.

As with the other artists I have done, I did not include songs E.C. recorded that were written by other artists. Elvis has done a lot of great cover versions through the years, so this was a tough loss, but he has more than enough self-written material to compensate.

Finally, I want to warn everyone that I cannot promise a specific amount of entries per day. When I did my Dylan countdown, it was the only thing on my writing plate, so I could devote lots of time to it. My other countdowns were already, for the most part, complete; I just edited them and added them to the site, so, again, it was easy for me to put a handful out a day. This countdown is brand new and I will be writing it and posting it all at once, so, because of the other stuff I mentioned above that occasionally places constraints on my time, there will be some days when I will be lucky to get one or two in. But I feel like it’s better to have the site active than to not write anything at all because I can’t promise a certain number. Be patient with me, and we’ll have a lot of fun with this list as we did all the others.

With that said, I’m really excited to get started. Tell your Costello fan friends about it; I’ll do some marketing of my own to try and bring some new readers aboard, as well. As always, I look forward to comments, even when you think I’m full of it or don’t know what I’m talking about. Talk to you all tomorrow, with #100 (and probably a few more) on the Elvis Costello countdown. And, of course, thanks for reading.


Happy New Year…And Coming Soon

Happy New Year, readers! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season. I enjoyed mine, but now I’m once again getting in the writing groove. I hope you all enjoyed my Tom Petty countdown; Tom is an amazing artist and I can’t wait ’til he comes out with a new album so I can figure out where the new songs fit into his imposing legacy.

I’d really like my next countdown to be an original, that is, one that I haven’t done in some form on any other site. As such, I am working on one as we speak and hope to start writing it in the next few weeks. Since it will be an original and I do have other writing commitments, I can’t promise five entries a day as in the past; it may have to be one or two a day or whenever I can get the opportunity to squeeze them in, but it will keep the site active with new content.

I also have big news regarding one of my past lists, but I’m going to hold off on that ’til we get closer when things come to fruition on that. Until my new list starts, you can tide yourself over by checking the American Songwriter website, where my alter ego, Jim Beviglia, has a mini-countdown going on there related to the album cuts of the Rolling Stones. And, yes, I’d love to do a full Stones list for this site in the future.

In the meantime, thanks to all of those who keep frequenting the site. I’m continually amazed at how many readers keep showing up each day checking out what I’ve already done. It means so much.

So keep watching for a new list (artist to be revealed soon, but I can tell you it’s a personal favorite of mine that I consider on a par with The Beatles, Dylan, and the rest,) and thanks again for reading.

CK