Goodbye Cruel World (1995) liner notes

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Liner notes

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Goodbye Cruel World


Elvis Costello

Congratulations! You've just purchased our worst album. At least that is the impression I've given over the years and I am sure that you could find many people who would agree with me. However as you are reading this I will assume that you are curious, rather than morbid. I can explain everything....

Many very private and personal concerns influenced the fate of these songs and sessions. A "sleeve note" is certainly not the proper place to discuss them. It must suffice to say that I began the year as a married man and after a fraught and futile period, I found myself living alone by the time this record was released. "Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa", as we used to say in church without being really sure what it meant. I was about to find out.

Musically speaking the year began positively. I decided to stop rushing into songs as soon as a single idea sprang into my head. Instead I collected many fragments and then applied myself to an intense period of writing. Moving a piano and a couple of guitars into F-Beat Records' recently vacated Acton office I went to work during ordinary business hours "Tin-Pan Alley Style". Most of the time writing went quite smoothly and if I got stuck I had installed an easel so that I could attempt a little oil painting.

(In fact "Eamonn Singer" ended up daubing "Pat and Mike" - a very corny visual joke which makes up part of the "artwork". He is still awaiting an offer from the Getty Foundation).

My gravest mistake for all concerned was in asking Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley to produce this record. This is far from a criticism of Clive and Alan's abilities. In truth I didn't need a producer, I probably needed a nurse (or maybe a priest). "Pop Music" was among the things about which I was depressed and demoralized. Despite the success of Punch The Clock I fought every attempt to apply the Clanger/Winstanley method to these songs. That I thought of approaching Richard Thompson to add guitar to a couple of cuts is a clue to dark tone I was really after. Like so many of my notions of the time it came to nothing.

After two tense and fairly unproductive weeks of playing "live" in London's Sarm West Studios we called a truce. I'm almost certain that Clive wished he could get out of the project but stuck it out more as a friend than a professional. I agreed to let them work their magic on a few cuts and give the record company some commercial focus while the rest of the tunes went fairly unadorned. It was a happy, if fatal, compromise.

All of Clive and Alan's techniques went into "The Only Flame In Town". Bruce and Pete were locked to a clatter of mechanical percussion and Steve worked up the dizzy keyboard arrangement (including a little Bach.)

Our first guest musician was Gary Barnacle who added the kind of part that was popular in those days on an instrument that I have come to despise in the hands of all but a few.

(On the subsequent tour Gary was our solitary horn player. In an attempt to duplicate the Punch The Clock section sound he played through an extravagant array of harmonizing and octave-dividing devices, achieving a very passable impersonation of an Italian traffic-jam).

Our second guest was Daryl Hall who added some effortless high harmonies to the chorus. He was also adored by the camera during the shooting of the accompanying "Win A Date with Elvis and The Attractions" video - made by Allen Arkush - director of both Rock'n'Roll High School and early episodes of Moonlighting. Daryl made the rest of us look as if we had just crawled out of a hedge. My humour wasn't helped by the record company representative shrieking at the make-up girl: "Make him look handsome" as I was about to go under the pancake. Ah! The eighties.

(Even though the finished record was a minor hit single in the US it hasn't dated very well. Some of the lines tumble off the tightrope without the justification of the original ballad treatment).

The other big production number on the album was a cover of an extremely rare Hi Records/Willie Mitchell cut: "I Wanna Be Loved" by Teacher's Edition. From the foundation of a cranky sounding drum machine we made one of our very few slow-dance records. The high harmonies on this cut were provided by Green of Scritty Politti.

(Despite a few dated touches this track remains closer to my heart than it's companion, particularly when heard in conjunction with "photo-booth" video which was directed in Melbourne, Australia by Evan English. This is one of the only occasions that a video actually improved one of our records. "I Wanna Be Loved" was also my last U.K. hit single in the company of The Attractions for nine years. In fact we were banished from the BBC's Top of the Pops studio after Pete mimed his final drum-fill by playing it on his head. According to the preening producer this revealed the state secret that we were not actually playing "live".)

There isn't much rock 'n' roll on this record. There is a detached, an almost sedated quality to the remaining songs and performances. However I believe that the words are a big improvement on most of Punch The Clock. Although many of the stories are dense and obscure they can't disguise the fears, doubts and desires. If some of the songs fail to hold up then that is because they are a product of my gloomiest and least inspired days.

"Someone's putting ideas in your head
They took the girl of my dreams and left you here instead"
 "Sour Milk Cow Blues"

I couldn't always muster much technique when feelings were running high. "Home Truth" was the saddest song that I had ever written but it struggled to seem so in the clipped and sterile studio sound. meanwhile the bewildered tales of adulterous life fared much better, which I suppose I was fitting. As someone once said "deep down I'm very superficial".

"Inch by Inch" had a chorus which seemed to be trying to cross Henry Mancini with The Impressions while I started to believe that "Love Field" sounded a bit like a Serge Gainsbourg production. I even tried to make the words sound as if they had been badly translated from another language.

My second songwriting collaboration with Clive produced "The Great Unknown." In it, infamous characters from celebrated songs have spiteful things done to them. I was having my doubts about being "known" at all and this was probably the least awkward way of expressing it. The dolorous mood continues with "Joe Porterhouse" which is about the funeral of a family strong man.

(I adapted the music and some of the words from "I Love You When You Sleep," a song I had written for Respond Records artist Tracie.)

"Worthless Thing" was written when the mausoleum-builders of the T.V. and magazine trade had only just started catching lightning and turning it into a museum piece. It mentions a lot of things in passing: Game Shows, bodysnatchers, "Elvis Presley Wine", obsessives, cable television, and "an obituary... for every clockwork cat and conceivable kitten" but most of all it was about the lack of surprises. It is a pity that self-loathing wasn't more fashionable at the time.

I think I probably wanted to make a kind of "folk-rock" record but instead of an open ringing sound we ended up with a muted background against which events were supposed to occur. When we did attempt to produce a more detailed song we produced "Room Without A Number", which believe it or not started out as a perfectly good country mystery-story.

(I'm afraid we also fell under the spell of fashionable hardware. Steve had always used synthesizers to colour his keyboard parts. They had a rarity because they were not exactly cheap and seemed to bend to the player's style. The latest fad was the Yamaha DX7. This light, inexpensive device seemed ideal for about six months by which time almost every group in the world seemed to have one. It has a tinny, unyielding tone for which I will never be nostalgic. Along with the veneer of Solid State recording the omni-present DX7 does more than anything else to "datestamp" this record).

Sometimes perversity ruled the day. I trivialized the drama of "The Comedians" by my willful decision to re-arrange it in 5/4 time, while "Deportees Club" was simply the wrong music for the right words. Thankfully none of this proved fatal in the long run.

Between the competition and the release of this record I discovered some of the mistakes I'd made. During that time I played my first professional solo concerts on a tour of the United States. I got a chance to reclaim several old tunes that had got lost in the studio but most of all I began to rescue my newest songs from the recorded fog. I even went so far as to re-compose the music of "Deportees Club". Stripping off the over-wrought racket I found a tune more in keeping with an exile's lament. Several years later Christy Moore cut a great version of it for his album The Voyage.

The opening act on the solo tour was T Bone Burnett. We got along like several blazing houses. During the three tours we did together in the following twelve months I wrote the songs that T Bone would produce for my album King Of America. A couple of years after that T Bone asked me if I had a suitable song for Roy Orbison's Mystery Girl album. It didn't take much to return "The Comedians" to its original arrangement, which sounded something like "Running Scared." However I added new words and a few extra modulations before I gave the finished tune to Roy. When the "The Comedians" appeared on Roy's last record I felt that I had done everything possible to rescue what was left of this squandered material.

The last track on Goodbye Cruel World is "Peace In Our Time." If it now seems like a relic of those days of anti-nuclear dread then I hope it stays that way. In the instrumental refrain trombonist Jim Paterson plays the melody from another unfinished song of mine: "World Without End."

Extended Play

"Turning The Town Red" (Double-A-Side of "I Wanna Be Loved" single): This was written for the opening titles of Alan Bleasdale's television series Scully. The basic track was cut during the Goodbye Cruel World sessions but for the vocal and guitar overdubs I returned to AIR studios and worked with Jon Jacobs (who was assistant engineer on Imperial Bedroom).

"Baby It's You": This track was recorded at Nick Lowe's "Ampro Studios." As Nick and his Cowboy outfit were to join us on the U.S. leg of our Goodbye Cruel World tour Columbia Records suggested that we cut something "extra" for a joint twelve-inch promo record featuring each of our latest single releases. Despite all our studio work together this was our first duet on record. Unfortunately the record company deemed the track "too good", fearing that it would draw airplay from the "real" singles. Such was the complex strategy of the modern recording industry. Consequently "Baby It's You" saw very little exposure until it's release on the Demon Records compilation Out Of Our Idiot.

"Get Yourself Another Fool" and "I Hope You're Happy Now": These tracks come from an Eden Studios session during the Goodbye Cruel World tour.

It was a year full of contradictions and a rather erratic tour. There was one night when Sam Moore joined us for a great duet on "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" but on other evenings I struggled to connect with even my own songs. The shows tended to ramble. Sometimes we stayed on stage for over three hours until I found what I wanted in other people's songs. These tunes included "Dark End Of The Street," "I Still Miss Someone," "I've Forgotten More Than You'll Ever Know" and "I'll Make It All Up To You."

"I knew then what I know now
  I never loved you anyhow..."

"I Hope You're Happy Now" was written during a brief summer trip to Italy. I planned to make another "instant single" of this track but it failed to come out sounding quite the way I felt. Instead we cut a brace of r'n'b ballads of which "Get Yourself Another Fool" was the best. I learned it from the Sam Cooke record Night Beat although I later found out that this version paid tribute to the style of Charles Brown.

"Only Flame In Town," "Worthless Thing," "Motel Matches," and "Sleepless Nights": A few snapshots from my first solo tour.

"Deportee": A demo recording of the new melody of this song.


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Goodbye Cruel World liner notes (1995)


Elvis Costello's liner notes for the 1995 Rykodisc/Demon reissue of Goodbye Cruel World.




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