Song of the Day #953: ‘Toledo’ – Elvis Costello

In 1998, Elvis Costello followed up All This Useless Beauty with Painted From Memory, a collection of songs co-written with Burt Bacharach. Even longtime Costello fans, accustomed to the man’s musical detours, were understandably taken aback.

My initial reaction to Painted From Memory was along the lines of the old guy at the Past Lives Pavilion in Defending Your Life: “What the hell is this? What the hell’s going on here?” [To see what I’m referring to, check out this clip, and as an aside, if you haven’t seen Defending Your Life, you should do so right away.]

This album isn’t Costello writing Elvis Costello songs with Burt Bacharach… it’s Bacharach writing Burt Bacharach songs with Elvis Costello. These tracks are languid, romantic and square. They feature cheesy background singers and muzak instrumental accompaniment.

But they’re all pretty damn good, somehow. I suspect if I were a big Burt Bacharach fan, I’d love this album. As a big Elvis Costello fan, I merely like it, for the songcraft, wit and intelligence that Costello brings to all of his work. I have to look past the Bacharach trappings but once I do it’s generally a rewarding experience.

‘Toledo’ is one Painted From Memory song that didn’t have to grow on me. I chalk that up to its supremely catchy chorus. Shortly after hearing this song for the first time, I found myself singing “But do people living in Toledo know that their name hasn’t traveled very well?” in my best Costello voice.

I suspect that will happen again after I post this blog entry. My wife’s gonna kill me.

All through the night you telephoned
I saw the light blinking red
Beside the cradle
But you don’t know how far I’ve gone
Now I must live with the lie
That I made

But if I call, I know I won’t have to say it
You’ll hear my voice – something is bound to betray it

But do people living in Toledo
Know that their name hasn’t traveled very well?
And does anybody in Ohio
Dream of that Spanish citadel?
But it’s no use saying that I love you
And how that girl really didn’t mean a thing to me
For if anyone should look into your eyes
It’s not forgiveness that they’re gonna see

You hear her voice – “How could you do that?”
You hear her voice – “How could you do that?”

So I walked outside in the bright
Sunshine and lovers pass by
Smiling and joking
But they don’t know the fool I was
Why should they care what was lost
What was broken?

But if I call, I know you have to guess it
You’ll hear my voice – and I wont need to confess it

But we still have Florence, Alabama
We don’t have Paris, and we don’t have Rome
Or New York or even Amsterdam,
None of those lonely towns will be my home

2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #953: ‘Toledo’ – Elvis Costello

  1. Dana says:

    I had a similar reaction to the release of this album and, while it is not one of EC’s albums in heavy rotation on my CD player (or IPod), many of the songs have grown on me over time. Especially this one. The chorus is, as you mentioned, completely addictive. Thanks for getting it stuck in my mind today, so I can drive my kids (and Amy) crazy.

    Oh, and I, of course, agree that anyone who hasn’t seen (or only saw once in a tired state at a 10PM showing) should see Defending Your Life again:)

  2. peg says:

    I’m hearing you Dana, now find your copy so we can watch it. I actually like this song and I think Elvis sounds really good here.

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