Song of the Day #913: ‘Chewing Gum’ – Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello’s Spike features quite a few political songs — including the capital punishment commentary of ‘Let Him Dangle’ and the anti-Thatcher ‘Tramp the Dirt Down’ — and the personal songs are pretty dark.

Even ‘Veronica,’ the jaunty minor hit co-written with Paul McCartney, is about an elderly woman who has seen her identity stripped away while living out her final days in a nursing home.

So while Costello is dressed as a clown on the album’s cover, he’s most decidedly a sad clown.

But today’s song is a welcome exception. ‘Chewing Gum’ isn’t exactly a feel-good tune — it’s about the dysfunctional relationship between an obnoxious businessman and a “mail-order bride” (perhaps a literal one or maybe just a kept woman) — but musically it’s just giddy.

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band are featured here again, to much different effect than in the elegantly somber ‘Deep Dark Truthful Mirror.’ Here they’re in full-on funk mode, whipping together something that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Prince album.

With their cardboard hands by their sides,
here’s a naked man and lady
And they’re yours to cut out and keep
So you can dress them up maybe

They don’t know just who they are, or who they’re
supposed to be
You can make them happy or sad
Or assume their identity

So here they are in the departure lounge
It’s the Gateway to the East
She is just another mail-order bride
She doesn’t know he’s a kinky beast

So he gives her a picture of Maradona and child
She wants to roll and rock
As he spills his beer over her, bumps and he
grinds, as he repeats Bang-Cock

There must be something that is better than this
It starts with a slap and ends up with a kiss
Begins with you bawling and it ends up in tears
Oh my little one, take that chewing gum out of your ears

She might as well be in the jungle
She might as well be on the moon
He’s away on a business trip, in Dusseldorf , but
she’s becoming immune
To the lack of glamour and danger in a West-
German city today
The nearest she comes to the Dynasty he
promised her
Is a Chinese takeaway


Though he only taught her three little words, it
doesn’t matter if they’re dirty or clean
He can only control what they look like
He can never possess what they mean

Now he wants to whisper in her ear
All the shrinking nothingness
But something always comes between them,
I wonder if you can guess


3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #913: ‘Chewing Gum’ – Elvis Costello

  1. Dana says:

    well, you’ll make Amy happy with this pick:)

    In addition to being a flat out fun song, this is one that makes me just sit back and marvel at EC’s songwriting, arranging and performance. I mean, just listen to what is going on in this song! The dissonant notes and chords, the funky syncopated counter rhythm, with EC’s lyrics layered over the top to pull it all together. I spoke earlier when writing about “Human Hands” about EC’s ability to compose a song under the song. This is another instance, although with “Chewing Gum,” it’s as if he layered the parts upon each other and then twisted it a bit to give it that extra funk. Pure genius.

  2. Amy says:

    Well, for some very annoying reason, the “file is not found,” and I can’t seem to access the song anywhere else on the web. Of course, I know it well enough to comment, but I was so looking forward to hearing it while I did so 😦

    Yes, I am very pleased with this pick, as it was one of those songs on mega repeat back in the day. I simply could not get enough of it. I have no idea what it’s about, or how many songs he’s writing or layering or whatever, I just know that it got under my skin like CRAZY. From a strictly musical perspective, this is probably one of my favorite songs of all times. Pity that I haven’t listened to it for years – and that I can’t listen to more than a 30 second My Space teaser now!!!

    No worries, I’ll be pulling out Spike to appreciate the song – and the album – in its entirety. Thanks for featurning this one and bringing me back 🙂

  3. Amy says:

    The file is back!!!!!! Ah, happiness 🙂 🙂

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