Song of the Day #1,152: ‘Jack of All Parades’ – Elvis Costello

Best Songwriters – #4 – Elvis Costello

I’m sure it’s no surprise that a man who posted half a year’s worth of Elvis Costello Weekends would have Elvis Costello on his list of favorite songwriters. The surprise is probably that he doesn’t place higher than fourth.

Costello is what I consider the quintessential songwriter. He’s the guy you hear every aspiring pop star list as an influence. He has mastered his art form in a dozen different ways, working in every conceivable genre. From punk to opera, country to classical, you name it and he’s done it.

He is a student of the craft who has become a master. Costello often slips fragments of obscure favorites into his own music — a snippet of a melody here, a borrowed phrase there. His love of music — his love of songs — shines through everything he does.

I’m often in awe over Costello’s craft, from his intricate melodies to his verbal acrobatics, and here’s the thing… I’m sure I’m not even getting half of what he’s doing musically or lyrically. He’s on a plane all his own.

So why is this songwriting genius not at the top of my list? Costello’s music can be a little dense and a little cold. Sometimes his lyrics are clever to the point of incredulity. He often hits me in the brain more than the heart or the gut.

But here’s a track from Costello’s warmest album, in both sound and mood: King of America.

When we first met I didn’t know what to do
My old love lines were all worn out on you
And the world walked round my mouth
They lit me up and they snuffed me out

[chorus]
And I was everybody’s boy
But soon that thrill just fades
To be the love of one true heart
Or the Jack of all parades

You won’t know who to thank
You won’t know who to blame
It’s just a part of the Murdering Game
‘Cos down in the fleshpots
Where they pay you in pounds
They’re laughing like drains
And baying like bloodhounds
For the Jack of all parades
The Jack of all parades

Once I knew a girl
That looked so much like Judy Garland
That people would stop and give her money
And everybody was Frankie, Jimmy or Bobby
Not the Jack, the Jack of all Parades,
Oh the Jack, the Jack of all Parades,
Oh the Jack, of all Parades.

Now the way that I feel is no longer news
You know my love and how to refuse it
Cause you know where the door is
And how to use it
Oh you know you do
But from my chequered past
To this shattered terrace
Where you can’t keep your mind off
the Crimes of Paris
And you can’t keep your peace
And try to forget it
And I can’t forgive you
For things you haven’t done yet

Oh I was anybody’s boy
But soon that thrill just fades
To be the love of one true heart
Or the Jack of all parades

When we first met I didn’t know what to do
My old love lines were all worn out on you
And the world walked ’round my mouth
I didn’t mean to say it
I just blurted it out
As you pretended not to notice
Or be taken aback
And I loved you there and then
It’s as simple as that

Oh I was everybody’s boy
But soon that thrill just fades
To be the love of one true heart
Or the Jack of all parades
To be the love of one true heart
Or the Jack of all parades
Oh the Jack of all parades

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2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,152: ‘Jack of All Parades’ – Elvis Costello

  1. Dana says:

    Well, yes, I am surprised that he is not sitting on top of your list, as he certainly would be sitting at the top of mine. I suspect I know at least a few of the people you will be ranking higher than Costello and it will be hard to quibble too much with their rankings. Still, for my money, nobody has a more diversified and accomplished portfolio of work over a thirty year career than Elvis.

  2. Amy says:

    Based on the criteria you mention in today’s post, it’s a safe bet who your #1 songwriter will be. :)

    I agree with your estimation that Costello’s music can be a bit cold. I find he is often times an artist I appreciate more than I love. That said, there is nothing cold about the man. When we watched his wonderful “Spectacle,” his warmth and enthusiasm for the artists he interviewed coudln’t have been more genuine or contagious. He may be clever and an intellect, but he doesn’t come across as a snob.

    And he has written a fair share of absolutely accessible songs – that hit me in my gut as well as my brain. Sometimes they hit me in my gut even when my brain doesn’t know WHAT to do with them!

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