Song of the Day #1,009: ‘Poison Moon’ – Elvis Costello

I heard this song long before I heard it performed by Elvis Costello. In college, a friend’s band covered it in a very different arrangement (a little punk, a little Prince if I remember it correctly).

At the time I wondered where the guy had dug up this obscure Elvis Costello song. I had all of Costello’s albums by then and considered myself a serious fan, so it was weird to hear “new” material.

Years later, Elvis started reissuing his albums on enhanced CD’s chock full of alternate takes, unreleased singles, live cuts and studio outtakes. And there, tucked away at the end of the reissued My Aim is True, was ‘Poison Moon.’

This demo version couldn’t be any more different from the cover I knew so well. It’s just Costello’s voice and the faintest whisper of an acoustic guitar. It’s a lovely little song and I wish he’d recorded it for an album. But this track is itself a treasure.

Cut loose in a nightmare, cast off in my dreams
If home is anywhere that I can hang my hat
Then it’s coming apart at the seams
My luck is hanging upside down
I try to hold on tight
But money’s rolling out of town
And love slips right out of sight

And these bones, they don’t look so good to me
Jokers talk and they all disagree
One day soon, I will laugh right in the face of the poison moon

You look in the mirror
I’m sorry, but it can’t be replaced
You’re thrown straight out in that cruel parade
Buttoned down and laced
It starts like fascination, it ends up like a trance
You’ve gotta use your imagination on some of that magazine romance

And these bones–they don’t look so good to me
Jokers talk and they all disagree
One day soon, I will laugh right in the face of the poison moon
One day soon, I will laugh right in the face of the poison moon

And by popular demand, here’s the cover version by What Anne Likes:

5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,009: ‘Poison Moon’ – Elvis Costello

  1. Dana says:

    I too first became familiar with this song through the What Anne Likes version (Ned’s band). And, quite honestly, I still like their version better than the original.

    This song must have surfaced somewhere before the re-release of My Aim Is True, because that came out in 1993, and I believe Ned had recorded this before then. I will have to go to the source for the answer to this question!

  2. Amy says:

    Ned, I demand (okay, I sweetly request) that you post your version of the song, which is still one of my very favorite versions of an Elvis Costello song.

  3. Ned says:

    OK, the Costello Weekend Project is awesome as ever, and I’m sorry I never remember to dive in. Everyone’s recollection of my old version of this great song is very flattering. I haven’t thought about this song in awhile, or the What anne Likes… version of it, but since you asked: I dug up an mp3 but I can’t upload it to this site, and BookFace won’t take my upload of it either. I’ll email it to Dana and let’s see if he can do something with it. These are the comments I was going to attach to the song:

    *At the request of a friend in honor of Elvis Costello’s Fabulous Spinning Songbook Tour sweeping the nation right now, a posting of an obscure EC cover from one of my old bands. A little bit Prince’s ‘Kiss’ and some mathrock in the main gtr riff, a bit of the Band’s ‘King Harvest’ in my guitar solo, two singers singing at the same time though not necessarily together … ah, 1990, how young and fresh you sound!*

    In post-1990 bands I would pull out this cover sometimes, and made it more like EC’s demo — quiet country acoustic for the first verse (which EC said at the time was very Randy Newman-influenced, lots of chords and bars of 2/4), and then moving into the Princey mathrock IndieArtPop familiar from this version. (Clay, nice work calling out the Prince reference, btb!)

    Amusingly (perhaps), since you all remember this song from the WaL album, do you recall the other cover on that same record? Yep, a funk mashup of EC’s ‘Pump It Up’ and George Clinton’s ‘Atomic Dog’ — also oddly featuring a triple-tracked trumpet solo. What a strange and eclectic band was Gainesville’s own What anne Likes…, with an out-of-control EC fixation (I mean, really, TWO Elvis covers on one 10-song record? I think we were trying to get sued by Mr. McManus just to get his attention).

  4. Dana says:

    Love that What anne Likes version–thanks Ned!

  5. Ned says:

    Dana, to answer your earlier question: as a (recovered) record collector nerd, in the 80s I had an LP copy of acoustic EC songs titled ‘the Honky Tonk demos’ which he recorded as an audition for the new Stiff Records label. From that sprang the dementedly upbeat What anne Likes… version, somehow. The only line Elvis retained from this lovely song is ‘it starts like fascination, ends up like a trance’ in Little Triggers.

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