Song of the Day #839: ‘Green Shirt’ – Elvis Costello

In 1979, Elvis Costello released his third album in as many years. Armed Forces was his second album recorded with The Attractions (who were credited on the sleeve for the first time) and a step up from My Aim is True and This Year’s Model in terms of production values.

I’ve underrated Armed Forces over the years because it pales in comparison to its surrounding albums — not just the two it followed, but the two that followed it. I’m quick to dismiss this album as a qualified success.

But a closer look (and listen) reveals the record to be pretty special indeed, both for its collection of memorable songs and its thematic consistency.

Originally titled Emotional Fascism (a name that might have been dismissed for being too on the nose), Armed Forces features some of Costello’s headiest early lyrics. These tracks blur the line between the personal and the political with stifling efficiency.

Never before had a collection of love songs contained this many references to Hitler.

Even when I was initially underwhelmed by Armed Forces, I was immediately drawn to today’s SOTD. ‘Green Shirt’ is as fast and furious as so many of Costello’s early songs and packs quite a wallop in its lean two minutes and 51 seconds running time.

Over an unsettling metronomic beat, Costello starts off describing a television newscaster stripping nuance from the day’s events before spinning off onto torture and justifiable paranoia.

There’s a smart young woman on a light blue screen
Who comes into my house every night.
And she takes all the red, yellow, orange and green
And she turns them into black and white.

But you tease, and you flirt
And you shine all the buttons on your green shirt
You can please yourself but somebody’s gonna get it

Better cut off all identifying labels
Before they put you on the torture table
‘Cause somewhere in the Quisling Clinic
There’s a shorthand typist taking seconds over minutes
She’s listening in to the Venus line
She’s picking out names
I hope none of them are mine

But you tease, and you flirt…

Never said I was a stool pigeon
I never said I was a diplomat
Everybody is under suspicion
But you don’t wanna hear about that

‘Cause you tease, and you flirt…

Better send a begging letter to the big investigation
Who put these fingerprints on my imagination?

You tease, and you flirt…
You can please yourself but somebody’s gonna get it
You can please yourself but somebody’s gonna get it

2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #839: ‘Green Shirt’ – Elvis Costello

  1. Dana says:

    It’s hard to call Armed Forces a lesser album to its predecessors and successors when it kicks off with “Accidents will Happen” and also includes “Oliver’s Army” and today’s SOTD. Still, with the exception of “Two Little Hitlers,” I can’t say that side 2 of Armed Forces does much for me and, quite honestly, I’ve always found “Mood for Moderns” a bit annoying, so perhaps your point is well taken.

    “Green Shirt” has the same compelling feature as a number of EC songs I truly adore. Like “New Lace Sleeves” and “Strict Time,” the driving precise rhythm is wholly compelling.

  2. Ned says:

    I shared reactions with both of you on this album, initially. I secured an early DJ release of thus record and *loved* side 1 immediately. It was months before I flipped the record over (remember records?), but suddenly, the album that was already great became incredible — and twice as long.

    Stunning songcraft, brilliant playing, gorgeous production … absolutely one of his best albums ( remember albums?)

    There’s a good 33&1/3 book on Armed Forces I recommend, too — look for it.

    There’s a very good

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