Song of the Day #1,003: ‘A Voice in the Dark’ – Elvis Costello

Today’s selection marks the end of the line for Elvis Costello’s studio album releases, but despite everybody’s assumptions yesterday, I’m not ready to shut down the Costello Weekends just yet.

Over the next couple of weeks I will feature some of the many B-sides and alternate tracks that Costello has released over the years. Each of the CD reissues of his albums contains a treasure trove of material — songs that wound up as other songs in vastly different forms, covers, discarded tracks that are better than the album’s they were cut from, all sort of marvelous odds and ends.

I’ll spend two weeks on those before retiring old Elvis and giving somebody else a shot.

But today I’m featuring the final track of Costello’s last (but certainly not final) album. ‘A Voice in the Dark’ is one of my favorite songs on National Ransom. It has a wonderful early American swing sound and an optimistic outlook that’s rare for Elvis.

Like most of his songs, this one is about a lot of things but my biggest takeaway is that music gets us through hard times. That voice in the dark can help us find the light. Costello has been one of those voices in the dark for me for more than 20 years now. It’s funny to think of it in these terms, but our favorite musical artists represent some of the longest lasting relationships in our lives.

You can read right through a book of matches
But that won’t make you smart
You can laugh in the face of watches
But time will only break your heart

Kings reign beneath umbrellas
Hide pennies down in cellars
And money pours down and yet
Not everyone gets soaking wet

When bores and bullies conspire
To stamp out your spark
Listen for…
A Voice In The Dark

Not a moment too soon as we blue the moon
And a wolf begins to howl in tune
I announced for all mankind
A boon
Stand aside you big baboon
Now I’m the prize invention
You’re the image of yourself
Forget your cares
And disapproving stares
I’m not here to try to jump your borders
Just ask your nieces and daughters

I’m flat as a sole, I’m happy as a clam
But they don’t know the kind of man I am
Little fish swimming in a jealous shoal
Now my net is overflowing
And I suddenly seem to be all seeing and all knowing
I’ve got something right there
That you need to hear
But have no fear
Lend a hand
Lend an ear
If your rent-money is in arrears

We’ll be striking up a symphony bandstand
Long of hair and loose of tooth
There’ll be pirouettes and startling handstands
And who but acrobats know how to tell the truth
When all is said and then redundant
They gallivant in peg-leg pants
I‘ll be your servant
You’ll be my pal
I’ll be ever faithful you know I shall
There’s no fool like an old fool
Who blames it all upon his youth
When times are tough and you find you’re down
Without a star to wish upon
Just listen for…
A Voice In The Dark

I was striking through a box of matches
Hoping that one would spark
I heard somebody calling to me
A voice in the dark
A sound both wild and gentle
Daring and confidential
I thought there was music playing
But it was all and only talk
When liars and bullies conspire to stamp out your spark
Fill up that empty space in your heart
Listen up, when the herald says, “Hark”
Believe in just a voice in the dark…

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,003: ‘A Voice in the Dark’ – Elvis Costello

  1. Dana says:

    What a great way to (not) end Elvis weekends!

    Love this song. Really love the line “I was striking through a box of matches, hoping that one would spark.” I think that, in addition to the notion that a favorite artist can be your companion helping you get through life, Elvis is also talking about how an artist can inspire you to make your art (or do whatever else you might do in life), and he is, at least in the final verse, paying homage to those who inspired him, while he is also playing that role for others.

    Anyway, while the rest of your readers may be groaning for another two weeks, I look forward to keeping this going a bit longer.

  2. Amy says:

    Great song, and I like your interpretation, Dana. Iniitially, I was thinking of it more in terms of which song or album would catch fire for you, but I think your interpretation is better.

    I don’t know if I’ve heard this song before today, but I instantly love it. And I’m not groaning about the next couple of weeks. I’m curious to see what you’ll feature. Bring it on…

  3. Madison D says:

    I just stumbled upon this and I love your appreciation of Elvis, and especially this song! Just thought I should say something 🙂

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