Song of the Day #4,250: ‘The Great Unknown’ – Elvis Costello

I don’t have much to say about today’s song of the day, a cut from the album universally considered the worst of Elvis Costello’s career.

Costello’s 1984 Goodbye Cruel World was sandwiched between Imperial Bedroom and Punch the Clock on one side and King of America and Blood and Chocolate on the other, so it’s hard to begrudge the man one misstep in the midst of such greatness.

Costello had this to say about the album’s failure, which he attributed to a complete shift in the style and sound of the material that happened just as he and The Attractions hit the studio:

I made [producer] Clive Langer’s life impossible, and I take full responsibility for the failure of the production, ’cause I was asking them one time to do one thing and the next to do another, and changing my mind every 15 minutes and driving everybody in the band mad. And really just getting it as wrong as you can in terms of the execution of what are basically a bunch of really good songs.

They took old Danny Boy for a ride
From the arms of his bride to be
Threw him into the murky waters
By the dog biscuit factory
Quick dry the tears and stifle the cheers
As he sinks just like a stone
Footprints set in sentimental cement
Now burden down his bones
Lest we forget
Here lies the Great Unknown

My my my Delilah
Who’s the butcher that you harbour
Take the rich man to the cleaners
And the strong man to the barber
From her face down to her torso
Sort of gruesome, only more so
Hooks and eyes, fingers and thumbs
Ladies and gentlemen, here she comes
The Great Unknown

What shall we sing at a wedding or a wake
Whose name shall we cherish and for whose sake

Now this year’s cannon fodder
Tell the future general’s jokes
They were keeping the home fires burning
As we slipped out for a smoke
Though the VIP’s sang “Wooden Heart”
The band played “Hearts of Oak”


And come the day I shall perish all alone
Say here lies the Great Unknown

One thought on “Song of the Day #4,250: ‘The Great Unknown’ – Elvis Costello

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    I’ve never owned this album, though with Appleplay, I guess we now have access to everything. Still, I have no desire to delve into this record.

    It might be interesting for Elvis to re-record parts or even all of this album if the bones of the songs are good and the fault lies with production.

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