Song of the Day #1,000: ‘I Want You’ – Fiona Apple & Elvis Costello

Back in early July, 2008, the same month I started this Song of the Day series, I posted this video clip. It was the first song I ever posted on Meet Me In Montauk, just weeks before Meet Me In Montauk became dedicated to posting songs.

As such, I figured I’d give it an official spot in the lineup, and the honor of becoming my 1,000th Song of the Day.

My title for the original post was “Best. Performance. Ever.” and I stand by that lofty assessment of Fiona Apple’s interpretation of Elvis Costello’s classic ‘I Want You’ (with Elvis himself on guitar).

This performance was part of a short-lived VH1 series called Decades Rock Live on which a well-renowned artist performs with several more recent artists who have drawn inspiration from his or her work. It’s a very neat idea, but I suppose the logistics of putting on a live concert as well as cutting a TV show, around the schedules of several acts proved too difficult or expensive for the network.

In addition to Fiona Apple, the other participants on Costello’s episode were Green Day’s Billy Joe Armstrong and the indie band Death Cab For Cutie. I’m not particularly into either of those acts so, while their performances with and without Elvis were fine, I wasn’t blown away.

Apple, on the other hand…

She and Elvis sang duets on his ‘Shabby Doll’ and her ‘Tymps’ — excellent renditions in both cases — and he performed a stirring solo rendition of her ‘I Know’ (one of my all-time favorite songs, as I’ve mentioned here several times). This is the kind of stuff you dream up in the equivalent of music lover fan fiction, come to life.

But the true show-stopper was Apple’s ‘I Want You.’ She turned this epic of obsessive love into seven minutes of theatrical magic. Costello accompanies on a distorted electric guitar, teasing out the emotion musically, while Apple lives through every hurtful, jealous moment.

I know that some people (*cough*Amy*cough*) find Fiona Apple too dramatic for her own good and a performance like this off-putting, but to those people I say “pshaw!” And I don’t say “pshaw!” very often. Few singers can deliver a tour de force like this one, and the few who can should be celebrated.

I love Apple’s expression at the end of the song, when she wipes her face with both hands, exhales and gives a quick glance to Costello. She’d gone to a gut-wrenching, difficult place, was back now, and had the guy next to her to thank for the whole wonderful, cathartic trip.

Oh my baby baby I love you more than I can tell
I don’t think I can live without you
And I know that I never will
Oh my baby baby I want you so it scares me to death
I can’t say anymore than I love you
Everything else is a waste of breath

I want you
You’ve had your fun you don’t get well no more
I want you
Your fingernails go dragging down the wall
Be careful darling you might fall
I want you
I woke up and one of us was crying
I want you
You said Young man I do believe you’re dying
I want you
If you need a second opinion as you seem to do these days
I want you
You can look in my eyes and you can count the ways
I want you
Did you mean to tell me but seem to forget
I want you
Since when were you so generous and inarticulate
I want you
It’s the stupid details that my heart is breaking for
It’s the way your shoulders shake and what they’re shaking for
I want you
it’s knowing that he knows you now after only guessing
It’s the thought of him undressing you or you undressing

I want you
He tossed some tattered compliment your way
I want you
And you were fool enough to love it when he said
I want you
I want you
The truth can’t hurt you it’s just like the dark
It scares you witless
But in time you see things clear and stark
I want you
Go on and hurt me then we’ll let it drop
I want you
I’m afraid I won’t know where to stop
I want you
I’m not ashamed to say I cried for you
I want you
I want to know the things you did that we do too
I want you
I want to hear he pleases you more than I do
I want you
I might as well be useless for all it means to you
I want you
Did you call his name out as he held you down
I want you
Oh no my darling not with that clown
I want you

I want you
You’ve had your fun you don’t get well no more
I want you
No-one who wants you could want you more

I want you
I want you
I want you
Every night when I go off to bed and when I wake up
I want you
I’m going to say it again ’til I instill it
I know I’m going to feel this way until you kill it
I want you
I want you

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7 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,000: ‘I Want You’ – Fiona Apple & Elvis Costello

  1. Dana says:

    I actually can see both viewpoints (yours and Amy’s) on this performance (and, by extension Fiona in general). I too find this performance wholly captivating. It is hard to turn away from it. Such passion and intensity. On the other hand, I am not often in the mood to delve into that type of intensity. Once every 1000 songs is just about right.:)

    Oh, and a small confession here–as much as I appreciate “I Want You” on one level, it is really not one of my favorite Costello songs. Just too long, too repetitive and, even when he sings it (perhaps especially when he sings it), it just contains a level of intensity that I can only take so much of. I do seem to recall, however, that when he played this song in concert, Amy really liked it. Am I wrong on that? If she did really like Elvis’ intensity, why dislike Fiona’s version? I’ll leave that for Amy to address:)

  2. Clay says:

    I agree, I’m not a big fan of this song in its original version. In fact, it took today’s performance to get me to really appreciate it.

    I don’t recall if Amy liked this song in concert, but that does sound familiar. Perhaps it’s the male/female difference she hinted at a couple of weeks ago.

  3. pegclifton says:

    Congratulations on number 1000!!! I appreciate that you like this song, but it’s a little too long for me.

  4. Amy says:

    I feel a bit like the woman in the green jersey at the 6:46 mark – polite applause and befuddled expression – “Isn’t this over yet?” she wonders 🙂

    Yes, I can certainly appreciate the talent of a performer like Fiona as she performs this song so utterly. I don’t like it, but I do appreciate it. I think the song that Dana is remembering me loving by Elvis in concert is his rendition of “Spooky Girlfriend,” but I might have liked this song as well. I do find it too repetitive for my taste in general, but that Elvis is one hell of a performer.

    Meanwhile, congratulations on #1000! That is quite a milestone. I’m almost finished with my analysis of the songs you have chosen for this week (I have one more song to consider, of course) and then I’ll enlighten you all.

  5. No-one bares her soul like Fiona.

  6. RJ says:

    To Amy, I counter with the group of girls at 4:07 sunk deep into the trance of Fiona’s intense emotional delivery, especially the girl in white, hand to her chest, head tilted, mouth open with that ‘oh my god I love this’ full smile as she sways back and forth in each wave of sound. In short, one of the elite live performances. I Love it, I do.

  7. Ed says:

    I’ve been a huge fan of Elvis since “My Aim is True”. It is rare that someone can take a song of this disturbing intensity and take it all the way to 11. Still, either rendition works for me. It’s like Charlie’s Angels. Give me the ugly one and I’m just fine.

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