Song of the Day #271: ‘God Give Me Strength’ – Elvis Costello

memoryCostello put all of his recent vocal training to good use on his next release, a collection of crooner ballads written with Burt Bacharach. This is far and away the squarest release of his career — even The Juliet Letters feels like punk next to this one.

But it’s definitely a solid song collection. Songs such as ‘Toledo,’ ‘This House is Empty Now,’ ‘In the Darkest Place’ and today’s Song of the Day are right up there with Costello’s best solo work. My biggest fault with Painted From Memory is the production, which is much heavier on the Bacharach than the Costello. The backing vocals alone make this a rather labored listen.

Today’s song was written for the film Grace of My Heart, a fictionalized account of songwriter Denise Waverly (whose career closely resembles Carole King’s). Discouraged from singing because she lacks flash, Waverly becomes the lead songwriter for a girl group that achieves instant success. Costello, Bacharach and other acclaimed musicians penned Waverly’s songs in the style of the Brill Building tunes King and her contemporaries churned out.

This song is a stunner that, like Bruce Springsteen’s theme for last year’s The Wrestler, was inexplicably overlooked by the Academy Awards. How cool would it have been to see Elvis Costello on that stage?

Now I have nothing
So God give me strength
‘Cos I’m weak in her wake
And if I’m strong I might still break
And I don’t have anything to share
That I won’t throw away into the air

That song is sung out
This bell is rung out
She was the light that I’d bless
She took my last chance of happiness
So God give me strength
God give me strength

I can’t hold on to her
God give me strength
When the phone doesn’t ring
And I’m lost in imagining
Everything that kind of love is worth
As I tumble back down to the earth

That song is sung out
This bell is rung out
She was the light that I’d bless
She took my last chance of happiness
So God give me strength

God if she’d grant me her indulgence and decline
I might as well
Wipe her from my memory
Fracture the spell
As she becomes my enemy

Maybe I was washed out
Like a lip-print on his shirt
See, I’m only human
I want him to hurt
I want him
I want him to hurt

Since I lost the power to pretend
That there could ever be a happy ending
That song is sung out
This bell is rung out
She was the light that I’d bless
She took my last chance of happiness
So God give me strength
God give me strength

2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #271: ‘God Give Me Strength’ – Elvis Costello

  1. Dana says:

    I think both Juliette Letters and Painted from Memory suffer from the same problem, which is that there is only so much of a particular style of music that I feel like hearing in one sitting with one album. If these songs had been sprinkled over various other Elvis albums, I suspect each would have actually enhanced the album it was on by marking a departure in style. Almost Blue and Shipbuilding are some examples of a relatively similar style that breaks away from the more rock elements of the albums they are on and, in doing so, stand out as incredible songs.

    Because of this shortcoming (as I see it) in both albums, I generally find it more satisfying to hear one or two songs from each without plowing through the density of the whole album. That being the case, I can honestly say that there really isn’t a very weak song on Painted from Memory, and the songs you mentioned, including the one you highlight today, are really quite wonderful. Elvis’ voice is in top form and his lyrics add some edge to the smooth Bacharach melodies.

  2. Kerrie Rueda says:

    This song was my favorite part of Grace of My Heart (and I liked the movie very much!) and this version is just as powerful as I remember from the film.
    Thank you for featuring such a great song.

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