London Observer, May 2006

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London Observer

UK & Ireland newspapers


Soundtrack of my life

Elvis Costello

The singer, composer and occasional wit trawls through his boxes of rarities to write about his inspirations. Just don't go looking for them on eBay — or anywhere else.

The song that taught me not to play with matches:

"That's No Reason To Cry" (From Fire Truck Blues) — Frank Sinatra

Following the critical acclaim for the Bob Gaudio-produced Watertown, Frank Sinatra entered Western Studios in May 1971 to create what was to be the second of four "Elements" concept records for Reprise. Unfortunately, the Santa Ana winds of that year fanned wildfires throughout the Los Angeles area and the project was scrapped on grounds of taste. This incredibly moving reading of David Ackles's "That's No Reason to Cry" is all that remains. It was accidentally released on an Italian compilation of later Sinatra material in 1987.

The song that triggered my obsession with golf:

"I'm Tee-Ed Off With You" — Bing Crosby And Alice Cooper

Someone slipped me a cassette of this back in the Eighties and I couldn't believe my ears. Following David Bowie's hit duet with Crosby on the "Little Drummer Boy," Bing and the shock rocker shared a novelty tune about their mutual passion, golf. It has been rumoured that Alice's gender was kept secret from Crosby in order to lure him away from the golf course but this rehearsal tape consists more of one-liners than any actual singing and it is Alice who is on the receiving end of the crooner's still very sharp tongue.

The song that made me appreciate the genius of interpretative singing:

"Rainy Night In Soho" — Rod Stewart

Before he became a singer of standards, Rod was a fine interpretative artist of songs from further in the shadows. This wrenching version of the Shane MacGowan classic is all that is left of the unfinished Songs of London Town, Stewart's intelligent riposte to the vanities of Britpop. It is thought that he became troubled by the public's identification of him with the subject matter of another MacGowan song, "The Old Main Drag," which was also under consideration, and he abandoned the project.

The song that made me wish that I had been born in Pontiac:

"Staying Alive" — The Detroit Saints

I picked up this 45 in a second-hand shop in Flint, Michigan in the early Eighties and fell in love with it. It has never been collected on any punk compilation to my knowledge. In 1979, a disenchanted Iggy Pop returned to his home state after falling out with RCA over their failure to turn Lust For Life's critical success into substantial sales. Assembling a gaggle of garage band musicians, appropriately enough, in the Detroit suburb of Pontiac, he recorded lacerating versions of current disco smashes, including this profound and profane deconstruction of the Bee Gees' massive hit.

The song I would like played at my funeral but only if I don't have to attend:

"Out Of Left Field" (From Uncle Penn) — Elvis Presley

"When you least expect it, fate stumbles in." From these opening lines, this is a triumph. Recuperating from his near-death experience in the summer of 1977, Presley turned not to gospel but to Southern soul ballads and, specifically, the songs of Dan Penn. His voice unshackled from the pharmaceutical fog of years of abuse, this was his best performance since 1969. His rendition of "Raining in Memphis" would be played at his state funeral, when the end finally came, but it is this moment of self-realisation that is most affecting.

Strange and possibly not true

1. After his dalliance with the songs of Sinatra, the teenage Costello transferred his affections to prog rock. He wrote the sleeve notes to Yes's Tales from Topographic Oceans, but had his credit removed after typographical differences.

2. Costello's golf addiction surfaced on 1979's "Green Jacket," a homage to the US Masters. Producer Nick Lowe, an Aussie Rules fan, forced him to call the song "Green Shirt."

3. Costello produced Rum, Sodomy and the Lash by the Pogues, but only after Rod Stewart had turned it down.

4. Almost Blue, Costello's country album, was so called because in the early Eighties he had seriously considered switching his football loyalties to Everton.

The River in Reverse by Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint is released on Verve next week

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Observer Music Monthly, No. 33, May 2006

EC on his "musical inspirations." (tongue-in-cheek spoof)


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Page scans.

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Photo by Mary McCartney.

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Cover and pages composite.


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