Song of the Day #4,202: ‘Pidgin English’ – Elvis Costello

‘Pidgin English’ is the 13th track on Elvis Costello’s briliant 1982 album Imperial Bedroom. This is an album on which Costello was working at the very peak of his powers, channeling his mad musical visions into addicting cerebral ear candy.

As YouTube commenter Vincent Straziuso writes about this track, “How do you imagine this song pull it out of the ether and write this???”

Vincent, you make an excellent point, one that applies to so much of Costello’s output, especially in the 70s and 80s.

[Verse 1]
There’s a young girl with her old man who’s too sick to mention
She’ll be turning twenty seven as she draws her widow’s pension
But he couldn’t catch a common cold, he couldn’t get arrested
Too terrified to answer back, too tired to have resisted

Many hands make light work
Shorthand makes life easy
When he’s out on night work
Make sure no one sees me
It all ends up in a slanging match with body talk and bruises
A change is better than a rest
Silly beggars can’t be choosers

[Chorus]
One of a thousand pities that you can’t characterize
There are ten commandments of love
When will you realize
There are ten commandments of love
I believe, I trust, I promise, I wish love’s just a throwaway kiss
In this Pidgin English

[Bridge]
If you’re so wise use your lips and your eyes
Take it to the bridge she sighs

[Verse 2]
You go cheep cheep cheep between bull-eyes and bluster
Stiff as your poker face, keener than mustard
From your own back yard to the land of exotica
From the truth society to neurotic erotica

Silence is golden
Money talks diamonds and ermine
There’s a word in Spanish
Italian and German
In sign language, Morse code, semaphore and gibberish
Have you forgotten how to say it
In your Pidgin English?

[Chorus]
One of a thousand pities that you can’t characterize
There are ten commandments of love
When will you realize
There are ten commandments of love
I believe, I trust, I promise, I wish love’s just a throwaway kiss
In this Pidgin English

One of a thousand pities that you can’t characterize
There are ten commandments of love
When will you realize
There are ten commandments of love
I believe, I trust, I promise, I wish love’s just a throwaway kiss
In this Pidgin English

[Outro]
P.S. I love you
P.S. I love you
P.S. I love you

One thought on “Song of the Day #4,202: ‘Pidgin English’ – Elvis Costello

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    As many times as I have heard this song, I’ve never had the lyrics in front of me until now. Turns out there are several words/lines I have misheard for decades, including “pities” in the chorus and the clever “take it to the bridge she sighs” in the bridge of the song (I though he was saying something like “take it to the riverside.”)

    Anyway, a brilliant song from a brilliant album.

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