ELVIS COSTELLO AND BURT BACHARACH: 8 p.m. Tuesday. Radio City Music Hall, Sixth Avenue and 50th Street, Manhattan. $42, $52, $67, $77. (212) 247-4777. Box office or TicketMaster.
By ROGER CATLIN
Special from The Hartford Courant
It may have been hard to shock people 21 years ago in England's safety-pinned summer of punk. But Elvis Costello managed to do so by performing a song by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
Singing "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself" all those years ago, the young Liverpudlian songwriter never thought he'd be spending a year writing and recording an entire album with Bacharach, the peerless Sixties pop tunesmith.
It happens on "Painted From Memory," the just-released album of Costello-Bacharach material sung by Costello accompanied on piano by Bacharach.
"Obviously we've had different -- wildly different -- experiences in music," says the 44-year-old Costello.
But their collaboration was made easier by Costello's determination to enter the realm of the 70-year-old pop sophisticate, who wrote "Walk on By" and "I'll Never Fall in Love Again."
"I've always thought of myself as a ballad singer who was accidentally a pretty good rock-and-roll singer when I wanted to be. You can look at the evidence throughout my career, where the strengths have lain always with the ballads."
So it obviously wasn't too much of a stretch to pair with Bacharach on "God Give Me the Strength" for the 1996 film "Grace of My Heart." (The collaboration was so rushed, they didn't meet until they got into the studio to record it.)
"By the time we found ourselves in the studio recording that song, it was just apparent to both of us that whatever preconceptions we or anybody else might have had about it, it did work," says Costello.
When they got together to write the songs on "Painted From Memory," two of the leading writers of their generations found a way to work together despite their different backgrounds.
If he was intimidated by writing songs with Bacharach -- the man whose songs he knew since childhood -- Costello didn't show it.
Costello says Bacharach was taking just as big a chance working with a man he was quoted as calling "king of the punks" in Rolling Stone.
"Not only in working with somebody from a different style of music, but also the fact that he was giving up some of the responsibility writing the music," Costello says. "So I have to pay tribute to him in wanting to do that."
Costello welcomes traditional pop singers to record these new songs. "If a more secure or smoother voice wants to come along and interpret these songs later, I'll be delighted to hear it," he says. "But I'm not absolutely certain that they will get more out of a song emotionally than I can."
It was that emotional basis that carried those Bacharach songs even when he sang them in punk clubs back in 1977. "People couldn't make up their mind whether we were being ironic or something," he says. "When I hear it now, it sounds naive, but it's an impassioned performance."
While the move to pop suits his musical taste -- and middle age -- it doesn't mean that he's abandoned rock for good.
"If I ever get the inkling to have anything that resembles a rock band -- and I'm not saying I never will -- I hope I just wouldn't do it in a way that was disgraceful. There's something kind of lazy about grinding on with a rock band when you know it's not the only thing you can do."