National Ransom lyrics

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National Ransom

Running pell-mell and harum-scarum
Running as hot as they do or dare
Stick out your tongue
And drink down all the venom
From Cut-Throat Cuthbert
And Millicent St. Cyr

From the real old Macau
To the new False Americas
In the liberated territories

Unusual suspects shake down, shake down, shake down various dubious characters

Mother’s in the kitchen picking bones for breakfast
Boiling them down by the bushel and the score
Pull out your thumb and count what’s left of your fist
There’s a wolf at the window with ravening maw

Did you find how to lie?
Did you find out just how to cheat?
The elite bleat, their obsolete
But are your prospects?
Exact, perfect object
Now, if you’d only genuflect

They’re running wild
Just like some childish tantrum
Meanwhile we’re working every day
Paying off the National Ransom

Woe betide all this hocus-pocus
They’re running us ragged at their first attempt
Around the time the killing stopped on Wall St.
You couldn’t hold me, baby with anything but contempt

Letters peal slowly from our speech
The claxton attempts to preach
Stretching for stars still out of reach

Drowning
Flailing
Outside someone’s wailing

They’re running wild
Just like some childish tantrum
Meanwhile we’re working every day
Paying off the National Ransom

1929 to the Present Day


Jimmie Standing In The Rain

Third-Class ticket in his pocket
Punching out the shadows underneath the sockets
Tweed coat turned up against the fog

Slow coaches rolling o'er the moor
Between the very memory
And approaches of war

Stale bread curling on a luncheon counter
Loose change lonely, not the right amount

Forgotten Man of an indifferent nation
Waiting on a platform at a Lancashire station
Somebody's calling you again
The sky is falling
Jimmie's standing in the rain

Nobody wants to buy a counterfeited prairie lullaby in a colliery town
A hip flask and fumbled skein with some stagedoor Josephine is all he'll get now
Eyes going in and out of focus
Mild and bitter from tuberculosis

Forgotten Man
Indifferent nation
Waiting on a platform at a Lancashire station
Somebody's calling you again
The sky is falling
Jimmie's standing in the rain

Her soft breath was gentle on his neck
If he could choose the time to die
Then he would come and go like this
Underneath a painted sky

She woke up and called him "Charlie" by mistake
And then in shame began to cry
Tarnished silver band peals off a phrase
And then warms their hands around the brazier

Forgotten Man
Indifferent nation
Waiting on a platform at a Lancashire station
Somebody's calling you again
It's finally dawning
Jimmie's standing in the rain

Brilliantine glistening
Your soft plaintive whistling
And your wan wandering smile

Died down at The Hippodrome
Now you're walking off to jeers, the lonely sound of jingling spurs, the "toodle-oos" and "Oh, my dears" down at "The Argyle"

Vile vaudevillians applaud sobriety
There's no place for a half-cut cowboy in polite society

Forgotten Man
Indifferent nation
Waiting on a platform at a Lancashire station
Somebody's calling you again
It's finally dawning
Jimmie's standing in the rain

Accrington - 1937


Stations Of The Cross

The tempest blows up from a squall
Past the Cape of Bad Conscience
Into the Gulf of the Cauldron
Roars over the coastline to batter and flatten
Exposing the roots like the dyed hair of slattern

Scrapper and mauler in a rope ring this small
Outside the wind is punching
There's no one left to hear it
No one hears the bell ring
Except the one who comes to fear it
And they continue to brawl

He's buying his way into heaven I suppose
He weeps at the blows
But down in a location that we cannot disclose
He turns the dial slowly
Through the Stations of the Cross

Crowd done up dandy
In diamonds and finery
Baying and howling
All bloodlusty calling
Fists like pistons
Faces like meat spoiling
Haul, boys, haul, bully-boys haul

Later that evening
Molly and her gunman
Go down the stairs to a dive like a dungeon
Meanwhile in the backroom there's a girl like a sponge
Saying, "Bring him in long as a constable's truncheon"

The gunman wants Molly to kingdom come
Then blows them all to the hereafter
Who's scuttling away now and hidden from our view?
Who tightened the tourniquet, turning her blue?

They're hurling themselves into heaven I suppose
Before the gates are closed
But down in a location that we cannot disclose
They'll turn the dial slowly through the Stations of the Cross

The gale of hale laughter
Scales up the ivory
The black keys of her fine whine descend into the minor
Die away breathless
Diminishing behind her
Haul boys haul, bully-boys haul

The water came up to the eaves
You'd think someone had opened a valve

It's too soon to stay now and too late to leave
So spare your remorse all the way up to Calvary

They're hurling themselves into heaven I suppose
Before the gates are closed
But down in a location that we cannot disclose
I'm turning the dial slowly through the Stations of the Cross

In An Undisclosed Location, Possibly New Orleans, 2005


A Slow Drag With Josephine

The snitch, the snoop, the tattletale
Lead a threadbare up stairs
Adieu, my little ballyhoo
You broke my heart in two
And now I haunt the bars and scent those trite affairs
She went home to gather her comb
And caught him unawares

And there was her man enjoying the lay of the land
He took a walk in the dark with a dish from the stand
Girls and their creations
Tight in the brightest grenadine
But I'd take all that I've seen
For a Slow Drag with Josephine

Josephine, Josephine
But I'd trade all that I've seen for a Slow Drag with Josephine

Gavotte, garrotes, Cotillions and slow Arabesques
Drum-rolls and Farandoles were all made in jest
But when you make that move
I can't resist
When will you declare your armistice?

Josephine, Josephine
But I'd trade all that I've seen for a Slow Drag with Josephine

In another time and place a different fate was cast
He tried to skeddle-daddle-do
She might have slapped him
Just for saying "Grant one more chance before you pass"
"Then curse the nurse that named me the first or bury me at last"

And in three-quarter time
The true and the false
Dancing the "Hesitation Waltz"
Then comes the "Flirtation"
And temptation
Hip, hip hooray
Listen to what I say
Then you can take it away…

Under The Napoleonic Code – 1921


Five Small Words

Maybe you'll recognize in time
Maybe one day you will discover
All the pain that lies behind
You and your unfortunate love

Somebody might be more
Unsuitable and strange
With eyes that offer everything
And are capable of danger

My mind turns over lies you told
Things said to your other lover
Sweet as they had been to me
You lay there telling them to each other

Now I stand outside the door
My head is filled phrases
Inside someone's calling out
Their voices rise with praises

Five Small Words
"I don't want you anymore"
Five Small Words
"I don't need you anymore"
Five Small Words
Coward that you are, you would faithlessly implore
"Baby please don't leave me"
"Why don't you believe me?"
"Why did you deceive me?"

It didn't take some shiny dagger
The tattooed fingers grip and hone
I walked under some dark ladder
Heard your final loving moan
All your indiscretions are
So merciful and brief
Genteel poison sprinkled on your Spanish handkerchief

Five Small Words
"Don't you love me anymore?"
Five Small Words
But then who is keeping score?

Coward that you are, you would so faithlessly implore
"Baby please don't leave me"
"Why don't you believe me?"
"Why did you deceive me?"

Maybe in time you'll want me more
Accidentally like this ‘45
This ‘44

Tucson, Arizona, 1978


Church Underground

She stood spotlit in a plain print dress
Came howling out of the wilderness
There beat a cunning and murderous heart
Beneath that calm exterior

"You know my name
You don't know my mind
Don't doubt my eyes
They betray the past
And I've already forgotten
Much more than you will ever know"

And every word that I have spoken is true
Except for those that were broken in two

I'm trying to make peace after a long night of pretend
I need a pawnbroker or moneylender

Why do you do me down, Mister?
Sing "Hallelujah," Sister
Turn up the volume, just to turn it down
The trivial secrets buried with profound
It's enough to put a Church Underground

Deflowered young and then ever since
She's tried to wash off his fingerprints
So every charlatan and prince
Was made to feel inferior

She worked for tips in a 10-cent dance
Said moving pictures might pay perchance
10,000 one-way tickets to the sparkling coast
From the blank interior

Everybody's either talking in code
Or getting ready to explode

Then she was singing with five-piece band
But seems that no-one wants this sound

Why do you do me down, Mister?
Sing "Hallelujah," Sister
Turn up the volume, just to turn it down
The trivial secrets buried with profound
It's enough to put a Church Underground

The shaft of fanlight streaked with rain
Poured through the glass, punched through the pain
A holy picture hidden in the midden of that poisoned stitch
Her lonely voice was just a ruin in these riches

Must have been dreaming this all along
Could she be redeeming herself in song?
“I'm no-one's martyred, plaster saint
Below the grease, beneath the paint”

I'm rolling like barrel
Swinging like a gallows
I'm rising up fast like all hell and all hallows

Why do you do me down, Mister?
Sing "Hallelujah," Sister
I'll be damned or purgatory bound
Before those jokers ever understand
It's enough to put a Church Underground

Utopia, KS, 1915 To The Garden of Allah,
Hollywood, California, 1947


You Hung The Moon

The homecoming fanfare is echoing still
Now tapping on tables
And sensing a chill
Poor families expecting loved one's return
Only summon some charlatan spectre
Oh, when will they learn?

You hung the moon
From a gallows in the sky
Choked out the light
From his blue lunar eye

The shore is a parchment
The sea has no tide
Since he was taken from my side

The lines of the fallen are viewed through a glass
But you cannot touch them at all
Or hear their footfall just as they go past
The drunken ground is where they are bound

You hung the moon
From a gallows in the sky
Put out the light in his blue lunar eye

The shore is a parchment
The sea has no tide
Since he was taken from my side

So slap out his terrors
And sneer at his tears
We deal with deserters like this
From the breech to the barrel, the bead we will level
Break earth with a shovel, quick march on the double
Lower him shallow like tallow down in the abyss

You hung the moon
From a gallows in the sky
Choked out the light in his blue lunar eye

The shore is a parchment
The sea has no tide
Since he was taken from my side

A Drawing Room In Pimlico, London - 1919


Bullets For The New-Born King

No one looks in this place for motive or any hope
But for the dead shot of an amber glass
The blue light of a votive

The rain obscured the window
As the pain was dulled by the grains
Absolved in spoons and flames
In fear in time dissolving

It's not for the faint of pulse
Or anybody false
Those amateurs who only shed their skin
So where are those traitors now, we once called patriots?
Just like those saints who seem to revel in their sins

O my eyes were filled with tears that were stinging
After our assassin's work was done
But hands and bells are only there for the wringing
As we were bringing bullets for the new-born king

The trumpet sounds lamenting
Trampling down the blooms of the deceased
The double agent girl and the fallen priest were heading for the border

Somewhere at the high command there stayed the palest hand
That saw the order countermand
Erased a tape recorder and then they hung him from a window cord

Swallow down that voodoo vial to still your breath a while
Before we spill this tale that has been spun
And so I shall now confide all that I once denied
Oh I'm so sorry for the things I've done

O my eyes were filled with tears that were stinging
After our assassin's work was done
But hands and bells are only there for the wringing
As we were bringing bullet for the new-born king

Somewhere In Central America - 1951


I Lost You

I Lost You
I Lost You
You slipped from your costume
Like an actress in this tragedy
You're just an apparition in a haunting mystery
I fear that you've passed over me...
And there's nothing I can do because
I Lost You

Just like a rich man who is careless of his change
I took you for granted
And then you went to strangers
From deep within my heart I feel a distant fading pulse
A poor woman looking for last coin in her purse

I Lost You
I Lost You
You slipped from your costume
Like an actress in this tragedy
You're just an apparition in a haunting mystery
I fear that you've passed over me...
And there's nothing I can do because
I Lost You

Just like a counterfeit you pass from palm to palm
I chased the one I surely loved to someone else's arms
I mislaid my senses, now that's easy to say
A fool who took his pleasure but then threw his love away

I Lost You
I Lost You
You slipped from your costume
Like an actress in this tragedy
You're just an apparition in a haunting mystery
I fear that you've passed over me...
And there's nothing I can do because
I Lost You

On The Road To Cain's Ballroom, Tulsa – 2009


Dr. Watson, I Presume

I sat in a motel room with the doctor
Just before we were supposed to sing
He said regarding this guardian wing
This black and clipped misshapen thing
Hobbling on from claw to ring
Hung upside down and cawing
Pecking at carrion of the fallen
Battalion
Thawing
On frozen mooring

Blackbird in a crust no more
They fell down 4 and 20
Bloodstained the land of want and plenty
Now raven standing at his shoulder
Stared with eyes of molten solder

Dripping on a lacquer box
Introducing keys to locks
Seven talents there where hidden
Mysterious and some forbidden

Take the honey from the comb
Ravel thread around the loom
Dig the dirt up from the tomb
Dr. Watson, I presume

One will follow
Two unknown sorrow
Three for laughter
Four ever after
Five-foot flood when the waters hit
Six feet deep, the eternal pit

Seven prayers and seven pleas
To eight imagined deities
Cat o' nine tails
Cat of nine lives
Brides turned into old wives tales
Your complexion colours then it pales
And into the sunset it sails

Soon these secrets will be scattered
Heaven knows what lies inside
It took a moment to discover
A lifetime to decide

Take the honey from the comb
Ravel thread around the loom
Dig the dirt up from the tomb
Dr. Watson, I presume

Wilkesboro, North Carolina – 2007


One Bell Ringing

Raining slapping on the window pane
An hour or more of teeming
Storm punching like a hurricane
That tore him out of dreaming

Air screaming through the slightest gap
Rattling between the frame and the sill
Drapes hanging from the final act
When I had you still

One lonely bird is singing
Lower the hood hung of his lament
Dash him down on cold cement
One Bell Ringing

Flies buzzing round strip search light
They've got him down on his knees
He thinks of honey dripping from a spoon
Girls whispering in Portuguese

Between muzzle and the black site
Electrical contact
Deny your name and then carry the blame
Somewhat after the fact

One lonely bird is singing
Lower the hood hung on that last lament
Dash him down on cold cement
One Bell Ringing

The London Underground – 22nd of July, 2005


The Spell That You Cast

The spell that you cast
Seems to be wearing off fast
(The spell that you cast)
Come back baby, cos I don't know if I can last
(The spell that you cast)
And I wonder whether
You got some other kind of lover
That you like to please
Better than me
I don't think I can take it
How am I going break it?
The Spell That You Cast

The spell that you've woven
Seems to be coming undone
(The spell that you cast)
Come back, Baby or at least tell me where you are going
(The spell that you cast)
‘Cos you know quite well
I'm not a jealous kind of feller
But they look in your eyes
And they're all hypnotized
I'm going to miss you madly
'Cos I love you sadly
The Spell That You Cast

Jimmy come quickly ‘cos I feel quite sickly
(The Spell That You Cast)
You're like a gangster's Molly with a cannonade volley
(The Spell That You Cast)

I don't think I can take it
How am I going break it?
The Spell That You Cast

The Castle Hotel, Richmond - 1965


That's Not The Part Of Him You're Leaving

I have a friend
She's just a friend
I tried to comfort and defend
I gave her what you might call advice
But nothing like that comes without a price

The rumour was a cruel surprise
And she dissolved before my eyes
I offered my hand and hers and mine entwined
I thought about back then when I wished that she had been mine

There's no use in shedding any tears
He's no good to you the way he is
He's beyond forgiving and believing
Half of his heart is torn like paper
It's sweet as the syrup from the maple
But that's not the part of him you're leaving

In time they're bound to wonder why
It's just a thrill you can't deny
I offered my shoulder right away
Now people will talk about what I can't say

And yet the whispers still persist
They're getting harder to resist
How am I supposed to stop loving you now I've begun?
And I'm sorry for what I might do more than what I have done

There's no use in shedding any tears
He's no good to you the way he is
He's beyond forgiving and believing
Half of his heart is filled with pain
That's sweet as a lick of sugarcane
But that's not the part of him you're leaving

Love is a many splintered thing
That only cuts roses and ribbons that cling
But that's not the part of him you're leaving

On The Road Between Dismal and Discouraged. Right Now


My Lovely Jezebel

She attracts dark rumours
Travels in blue and other humours
Each time she walks in the room
Brings in much more than you'd assume

Ooo, I looked in her eyes and out through that window I fell
She's My Lovely Jezebel
She neglects you and then ransacks you so very well

She suspects your sweet confection
When you talk in contradictions
Then she walks without detection
Overrules all your objections
Ooo, I looked in her eyes and through that window I fell
She's My Lovely Jezebel

Man is miserable ape and sad pile of sticks
He comes out swinging, gets in a few licks
The longest of drumrolls for the shortest of tricks

So she attracts bad intentions
She distracts all my attention
With her ways and her wild inventions
The facts of life they forgot to mention

Ooo, I looked in her eyes and down through that window I fell
She's My Lovely Jezebel
She neglects you and then ransacks you so very well

Everywhere Until Either 1938 or 1951, According To Some.


All These Strangers

"Mistreat me darling and I might just disappear"
Upon freighter running dark out of Algiers
Put tiny grains in children's tears
While taking 25% of all the flashbulbs and mementoes
From the mechanized divisions rolling over your frontiers

I saw my baby talking to a man today
Speaking softly in a confidential way
I saw a shadow pull his glove off
As a bluebird flew over
Life's is no pleasure
When you doubt the one you love

Who Are All These Strangers?

I never will go back again
Go back into the past
The flood is rising fast
You can break your window and look down
Into a muddy glass
It's mirror or lens to burn…

There was a deal done in Benghazi and Belgrade...
Upon a scimitar or other crooked blade
Ransacks and loots, vacated suits
And a pistol points but never shoots, an army sitting in a locomotive yard without their boots

Upstairs your man is painting rain out in the street
Imagines women that he's destined still to meet
He's trying a sidetrack one to count on
Caught somewhere between countess or a courtesan
And it's only love to feign and then it's gone

Who Are All These Strangers?

He's a privateer as dusk gets near
A brigand after dark, his victim lined with chalk
A corsair, filled with horsehair to the core
Dashed on your eyes of Adamantine, you despised his stripling whine

That little smudger and the mouthpiece that he's with
Using his clause just like a practised fingersmith
I dreamed I took his digit prints
And then sewed then on a villain's hands
Watched him ransom and demand
Until called the flatfoots in

I never will go back again
Go back into the past
For the flood is rising fast
You can break your window and look down
Into a muddy glass
It's a mirror or lens to burn…

Who Are All These Strangers?

All These Strangers

Sat upon on a narrow bed
I thought about the things she said

All These Strangers

How I wished the night would end
So tried to stop the days ahead
I'd carve her name down in the wood
Some small remembrance if I could

On a narrow bed. At the last moment.


A Voice In The Dark

You can read right through a book of matches
But that won't make you smart
You can laugh in the face of watches
But time will only break your heart

Kings reign beneath umbrellas
Hide pennies down in cellars
And money pours down and yet
Not everyone gets soaking wet

When bores and bullies conspire
To stamp out your spark
Listen for…
A Voice In The Dark

Not a moment too soon as we blue the moon
And a wolf begins to howl in tune
I announced for all mankind
A boon
Stand aside you big baboon
Now I'm the a prize invention
You're the image of yourself
Forget your cares
And disapproving stares
I'm not here to try to jump your borders
Just ask your nieces and daughters


I'm flat as sole, I'm happy as a clam
But they don't know the kind of man I am
Little fish swimming in a jealous shoal
Now my net is overflowing
And I suddenly seem to be all seeing and all knowing
I've got something right there
They you need to hear
But have no fear
Lend a hand
Lend an ear
If your rent-money is in arrears

We'll be striking up a symphony bandstand
Long of hair and loose of tooth
There'll be pirouettes and startling handstands
And who but acrobats know how to tell the truth
When is said that then redundant
They gallivant in peg-leg pants
I‘ll be your servant
You'll be my pal
I'll be ever faithful you know I shall
There's no fool like an old fool
Who blames it all upon his youth
When times are tough and you find you're down
Without a star to wish upon
Just listen for…
A Voice In The Dark

I was striking through a box of matches
Hoping that one would spark
I heard somebody calling to me
A voice in the dark
A sound both wild and gentle
Daring and confidential
I thought there was music playing
But it was all and only talk
When liars and bullies conspire to stamp out spark
Fill up that empty space in your heart
Listen up, when the herald says, "Hark"
Believe in just a voice in the dark…

On a Radio Hat - 1931


I Hope

Sometime, somewhere
We're gonna meet again, I know
And I won't love you anymore
I hope

Somewhere, somehow
You're gonna need me
Like I'm needing you right now
I hope

Keep on dancing and let the music play
Tonight's the night I'm gonna dance the night away
Tomorrow, tomorrow
You'll be gone

So long, goodbye
I know that I'm gonna cry
But I'll forget you by and by
I hope, I hope

<< Secret, Profane & Sugarcane Wise Up Ghost >>
National Ransom
National Ransom album cover.jpg
studio album by
Elvis Costello
ReleasedOctober 25, 2010 (International)
November 2, 2010 (US)
RecordedFebruary-March 2010, Nashville, TN
ProducerT Bone Burnett
LabelHear Music
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