Song of the Day #1,575: ‘Tramp the Dirt Down (Demo)’ – Elvis Costello

Today’s Random Weekend selection is similar to the Lucinda Williams track posted last Sunday — a raw, acoustic demo of an album cut.

In this case the performer is Elvis Costello and the song is ‘Tramp the Dirt Down’ from 1989’s Spike.

This is a song — in both its finished form and as a demo — with which I have lost patience over the years.

It’s simply too long and too monotonous, and lyrically too specifically political, to have much repeat appeal. I’ve always been biased against overtly political songs. I much prefer a satirical approach like that of Randy Newman, or the more universal protest songs of early Bob Dylan.

When singers start name-dropping Margaret Thatcher in their lyrics, I usually tune out.

I saw a newspaper picture from the political campaign
A woman was kissing a child, who was obviously in pain
She spills with compassion, as that young child’s
face in her hands she grips
Can you imagine all that greed and avarice
coming down on that child’s lips

Well I hope I don’t die too soon
I pray the Lord my soul to save
Oh I’ll be a good boy, I’m trying so hard to behave
Because there’s one thing I know, I’d like to live
long enough to savor
That’s when they finally put you in the ground
I’ll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down

When England was the whore of the world
Margaret was her madam
And the future looked as bright and as clear as
the black tarmacadam
Well I hope that she sleeps well at night, isn’t
haunted by every tiny detail
‘Cos when she held that lovely face in her hands
all she thought of was betrayal

And now the cynical ones say that it all ends
the same in the long run
Try telling that to the desperate father who just
squeezed the life from his only son
And how it’s only voices in your head and dreams you never dreamt
Try telling him the subtle difference between justice and contempt
Try telling me she isn’t angry with this pitiful
When they flaunt it in your face as you line up for punishment
And then expect you to say “Thank you”
straighten up, look proud and pleased
Because you’ve only got the symptoms, you
haven’t got the whole disease
Just like a schoolboy, whose head’s like a tin-can
filled up with dreams then poured down the drain
Try telling that to the boys on both sides, being
blown to bits or beaten and maimed
Who takes all the glory and none of the shame

Well I hope you live long now, I pray the Lord your soul to keep
I think I’ll be going before we fold our arms and start to weep
I never thought for a moment that human life could be so cheap
‘Cos when they finally put you in the ground
They’ll stand there laughing and tramp the dirt down

4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,575: ‘Tramp the Dirt Down (Demo)’ – Elvis Costello

  1. Dana says:

    I suppose your feelings on this song aren’t surprising given your dislike of overtly political songs. I, however, do not share your bias and I continue to find this song powerful and beautiful.

  2. Ned says:

    I’m with Dana on this. Also, it’s weirdly fascinating how the main melodic phrase in this song is the same as ‘Isn’t She Lovely’

  3. Amy says:

    I have always found this song compelling, perhaps as much because it name drops Margaret Thatcher as that it does so in such a haunting yet beautiful melody. I prefer the studio version, but, in any form, this song is special.

  4. Shawn says:

    Makes me think of something Woody might write before breakfast. Just get the idea down, not worrying about it musical effectiveness, and have faith that if its any good, hope people will eventually hear it.

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