Song of the Day #3,764: ‘Burnt Sugar is So Bitter’ – Elvis Costello

Track three of Elvis Costello’s Look Now is another song told from a woman’s perspective. More notable is that it was co-written by one of the great songwriters, man or woman — Carole King.

Costello and King wrote this track 20 years ago and he has played it live over the years, but this is the first time the cut made its way onto an album.

‘Burnt Sugar is So Bitter’ sounds a lot more like the Carole King of the Brill Building 60s than the singer-songwriter of the 70s, particularly when the background singers dive in for the chorus.

This is a great marriage of styles, with Costello’s verbosity sliding neatly into King’s melodicism.

She said, what is it that I’ve done that you want me to be punished
When she woke up one day to find that he had started to vanish
But if you overhear voices
Perhaps you should not be listening at all
Twitch the vigilant lace,
Make a sly, sour face,
Set the scandalous whispering

She’s out on her own with the rest of her riches
As the kids paint him out of their refrigerator pictures
She picks up the bills
Pays off the babysitter
‘Cause everybody knows
Burnt sugar is so bitter

Once there was a time
Before he turned strange
She thought they would be together for more than a lifetime
Look at him now
My, how things have changed

He could tear the sweetheart out of any girl
On just a whim
And turn it from a candy to a caramel
Then make her hate the silly way she used to feel
And say, I know nothing about him

Now what’s left of the birthday cake is very beautifully frosted
An absent father picks up the phone to find the number’s unlisted
But while the kids are distracted
They don’t notice she’s nervous at all
But how long will it take
Not to make a mistake
When a gentleman comes to call

She’s out on her own with the rest of her riches
As the kids tear down their refrigerator pictures
They already know how a woman may advance
From a pretty picture hat to a supermarket trance
But if he’s unkind he might as well forget her
‘Cause everybody knows
Burnt sugar is so bitter

One thought on “Song of the Day #3,764: ‘Burnt Sugar is So Bitter’ – Elvis Costello

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    This was an early favorite upon first listen. I’m sure the Carol King influence is part of it, but I also love Elvis in this Imperial Bedroom/Punch the Clock style.

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