Song of the Day #1,539: ‘Lovable’ – Elvis Costello

I’ve been simultaneously dreading and eagerly anticipating the chance to discuss Elvis Costello as part of the genome project.

Costello is basically a genome all to himself. It’s hard to think of a genre he hasn’t at least dabbled in, a musical inspiration he hasn’t explored on record.

Chamber music fans can claim him thanks to his work with the Brodsky Quartet. He’s a hero to the adult contemporary set thanks to his collaborations with Burt Bacharach and Sofie Van Otter, not to mention his marriage to Diana Krall.

Like punk? Check out those early albums. Country music fan? He’s released three or four records you’ll flip over. About the only genre Costello hasn’t tackled is rap, and I’m sure that’s right around the corner.

So it’s not really helpful to categorize Elvis Costello because he lives simultaneously in almost every category.

That said, when I dig deeper I find some patterns. I’m not an equal opportunity Elvis Costello fan. While I appreciate his album with the Brodsky Quartet, it’s not one I reach for when I want to hear his music. I consider his Burt Bacharach collaboration, while pleasant, the worst thing he’s ever recorded.

On the other hand, the Costello albums I love best trend more toward my established tastes. King of America sits square in the center of my ‘Country Plus’ and ‘Folk Rock Derivative’ categories. Imperial Bedroom, with its direct lineage to The Beatles, is ‘Pure Pop’ taken to fantastic new places. Costello’s stunning live work accompanied only by Steve Nieve on piano justifies his placement in the ‘Piano’ group.

Interestingly, the category where Costello doesn’t register is ‘Melancholy,’ the one that has shown up most prominently throughout this analysis.

Costello’s music is far more brainy than emotional. And when he does indulge an emotion, it is almost always anger.

This make Costello my first four-category artist, but I suspect that his failure to register in the ‘Melancholy’ category might ultimately hurt him in the rankings. My hypothesis is that some categories count for more than others, and he’ll be my most interesting test case.

It’s going round the town
It’s going round the town
It’s going round the town
You’re so lovable

My baby gave me notice to quit
I just can’t get used to it
She broke my little heart in two
Now somebody else is being the same old you


My baby has Egyptian eyes
And a wicked look beyond compare
If you thought I was a fool for you
Then I must be a bigger fool for her


He’d turn the flowers of springtime into a wreath
He says he’d love you eternally
I say please please can’t you keep it brief

They say they’re going to bury you
Because you’re so lovable
Put your money where your mouth was
You’re so lovable

Each tender mumble brings us closer to bedlam
You’re so lovable
The toast of the town and the talk of the bedroom
You’re so lovable

You’re so sweet
You’re so honest
You say ‘I’ll be true to you boy’
But I won’t promise
Then you say you love me
Then you show me
As you lie there so lifelike below me



14 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,539: ‘Lovable’ – Elvis Costello

  1. The Cool Guy (Daniel) says:

    Almost Blue? Shipbuilding? Don’t you dare suggest Costello hasn’t mastered a genome πŸ˜‰
    In fact, you may have saved yourself some time by starting with Costello and planning your entire investigation around the music of his you love and the music that only slightly interests you πŸ™‚

  2. Amy says:

    Almost Blue? Shipbuilding? Don’t you dare suggest Costello hasn’t mastered a genome πŸ˜‰
    In fact, you may have saved yourself some time by starting with Costello and planning your entire investigation around the music of his you love and the music that only slightly interests you πŸ™‚

  3. The Cool Guy (Daniel) says:

    Way to be original Amy. πŸ˜›

  4. Dana says:

    I ditto the redundant sentiments of Amy and cool guy.πŸ˜ƒ And I think your own commentary reflects the flaw in this genome analysis. You follow Elvis down paths you otherwise might not travel because he elevates the level of every genre he touches, but not because he lives comfortably in any given genre. You follow him down pop roads even though you care little for the king and queen of pop (Jackson and Madonna). You follow him down country roads though you care little for the king and queen of country (Williams and Lynn) you follow him down folk and acoustic roads though you care little for a stalwart like James Taylor. You follow him down punk roads though you care little for the clash, ramones or sex pistols. What is missing here is not why you can shoehorn your favorite artists into sweet spot genomes, but why you do not like so many artists who are considered the pillars of those genres.

  5. Andrea Katz says:

    The album with Burt Bacharach is one of my favorites and is melancholy on steroids. It is the soundtrack of the dissolution of my marriage. just a little Debbie Downer along with Debbie of poor taste?

  6. Clay says:

    Costello’s pop explorations have far more to do with The Beatles than Madonna or Michael Jackson. You keep bringing them up but they perform an entirely different kind of pop music than the kind I’m referring to.

    Michael Jackson and Madonna sound nothing like any of the pop acts I’ve covered over the past several weeks. They aren’t pillars of a musical form I otherwise adore… not in the least. They sit on an entirely different branch of that tree.

    And yes, I’ve followed Costello down punk, gospel, classical and jazz paths, but that’s where my exploration of those paths ends. And those are my least favorite of Costello’s explorations (which backs up my theory).

    I agree that the next step of this project is to look at artists who fit perfectly into these categories yet don’t show up in my music collection. Perhaps I just haven’t given those artists a chance and I really would like them. Or maybe there is some explanation for why I don’t (Neil Young’s voice, for example).

    • Dana says:

      While Madonna and Jackson may be a different type of pop, they are the very definition of pop and, even on a different branch, are ultimately rooted back to the same branches that connect to the Beatles and those who influenced the Beatles. To say you love pure pop, but don’t really like Jackson and Madonna is a bit like saying you love science fiction but dislike Star Wars or that you love steak but dislike filet mignon. It simply makes no sense and so my suggestion is that you do not really like or love pure pop–you like certain artists who do their particular brand of pure pop very well.

      And Andie correctly points out that the Bacharach album wades into melancholy with a pop venere. For you to proclaim this to be Costello’s worst album without reconciling how that could be so given your stated love of melancholy undercuts your thesis.

  7. Clay says:

    The suggestion that somebody who likes The Beatles’ brand of pop music should also like Madonna strikes me as absurd. Perhaps “pure pop” is the wrong label for the sort of pop music I’m discussing. ‘Power pop’ or ‘brainy pop’ might be better phrases.

    The Bacharach album, particularly due to the backing vocals, lands solidly in adult contemporary territory. I actually like the general Bacharach influence in Costello’s music (and others’ music as well), but the treatment/production of it on that particular album turned me off.

    • Dana says:

      I agree that someone who likes the Beatles need not like Madonna or Jackson, but that same someone should not say they like the Beatles because they like pop (whiether it is pure pop, brainy pop, or power pop)

      And while the Bacharach album may be classified as adult contemporary, it is nevertheless largely melancholy. So, are you saying you like or dislike adult contemporary? My guess is that, much like any other genre, genome or category, you love some, like others and dislike others. You like Mayer, but James Taylor and Jack Johnson bore you. I still maintain the more interesting anaylsis is why you like some but not others in a genre you tend to otherwise find appealing. With your Bacharach comment you hit on something–you don’t care for the production, maybe the horns, maybe the 70’s venere….which overrides the craftsmanship of the songwriting for you and the fact that he is collaberating with one of your favorite artists of all time.

  8. Clay says:

    I agree that the “why some but not others” question is an intriguing one, and I plan to explore it after rolling out all of the data.

    One easy answer would be to say I like the “best” of each genre, and those I don’t like are simply worse songwriters or performers. But that’s purely subjective.

    Another possibility is that I WOULD like those other artists but I’ve just never given them a chance, or dismissed them based on too little evidence. That explanation suggests that luck and timing play a big role in who we wind up following closely.

  9. Dana says:

    Well, even though neither is my cup of tea, it is hard to argue that Jackson and Madonna don’t represent the best of pop, whether measured by critical or commercial success, or that you have not been sufficiently exposed to their music to determine your level of like or interest. So, while all of this is, of course, completely subjective, as we have said before, it is not really a sufficient level of analysis for the crazies like you (and to a lesser extent me:)) to simply end the inquiry at “I like what I like” or “I like the best of any genre.”

  10. Clay says:

    I tend to agree, which brings me back to my original assertion that Michael Jackson and Madonna do not live on a branch of the pop tree that appeals to me (label it however you want).

    Michael Penn, Fountains of Wayne, Squeeze, Ben Folds… there is a similarity in pop sound to those acts (all traced back to The Beatles) that I don’t hear in the music of Madonna or Jackson. I’m labeling them “pop,” and maybe that’s too broad a category.

  11. Rob says:

    A very interesting thread. I have to agree with Clay, Madonna and MJ don’t really fit into the same brand of “pop” as the Beatles. Yes, all fall into the “pop” category, but the material is markedly different. The “pop” sound of the Beatles can be heard in Michael Penn, Squeeze and especially XTC in their later years … it is a style of “pop” music, not necessarily aimed at the mainstream. Madonna and MJ are no question great artists, but their “pop” is aimed directly at the music buying public. The same cannot be said of the Beatles, or the artists that Clay has mentioned as “Beatle-esque”. I can’t believe for a second that when writing “In My Life” (a pop gem) that John Lennon was thinking “commercial” – he was writing from the heart with no formula in mind. The same could be said of Squeeze’s “Pulling Mussels From A Shell” (or countless others). Maybe I’m wrong, but when I think when Madonna goes about making music, formula is definitely involved. To Clay’s last point … perhaps “Pop” is too broad a category … perhaps “mainstream pop” and “baroque pop”?

  12. Dana says:

    Okay, Rob, point taken…but I think this basically means that there is Beatles influenced pop artists and other types of pop artists. So perhaps, rather than Clay saying he likes “pure pop” or “power pop” or “brainy pop” or “non-commercial couldn’t buy a hit if I tried and don’t want to anyway pop,” he should just say he likes artists who sound like the Beatles, i.e. “Beatles pop.” .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s