I've never understood why Elvis Costello—an artist intent on re-releasing his entire back catalogue—has turned his back on "Party Party," a tune that he and the Attractions donated to the soundtrack to Party Party, a 1983 British film. "Party Party" has been omitted from Costello's cannon on his official website, hasn't been reissued on any of Costello's numerous CDs, hasn't appeared in digital form at all apart from an obscure singles-compilation on Edsel Records, and has never been played live. The song was released as a limited promotional single by A&M, but that quickly disappeared. Costello himself rarely discusses the song.
I bought Party Party as an import album when it came out—Costello, Dave Edmunds, Madness, Bananarama, and my raging crush on all-things-UK drew me in. I've always thought that "Party Party" is a pretty great song. The lyrics are funny, sarcastic, witheringly accurate and unromantic in their analysis of boy-girl politics and hangover miseries, and the gauche, faux-Latin tune is catchy, appealing, and fun (I especially like the horn section's eye-rolls at some of Costello's jokes). It's a smart song about the mindless complications during and after our best/worst drinking antics.
We're gonna drink enough tonight to drown the average army
By New Year's Day the next door neighbour will be goin' barmy
The milkman arrives at midday with his usual wisecrack
Who knows a girl with Wednesday legs so when's they gonna snap?
Why does everybody have to be so hale and hearty
Can't they see we're tryin' to have a party party party party
The last thing I remember I was talkin' to some fellas
Then she said she'd have a word for me with her good-looking mate
And handed me a pint-pot filled with Advocaat and Tizer
And I woke in the flowerbeds of fear and fertilizer
So shift yourself and shake your bod
You got bullet proof insurance from fire, flood and Act of God
You got to learn from your mistakes
When you got a face like last week's Cornflakes
The doors and the window frames are by Pablo Picasso
The party decorations owned by Michelangelo
The fine music that you hear is by Stravinsky
With overall design by Leonardo daVinci
Two boys are upstairs in your bed
Three girls are downstairs crying
The Alka Seltzer in the glass is roaring like a lion
You think you've aged ten years tonight and still never been kissed
So you overdose on aftershave and try to slash your wrist
Wiki helpfully points out to this ignorant American that "Advocaat is a Dutch drink, sometimes described as the 'Dutch Eggnog'," and that "Tizer is a red soft drink from the United Kingdom," but I don't understand the reference in the last line of the opening verse (anyone?). Beyond that, the narrative is clever and witty, and not cloyingly or obscurely so, the downfall of too many of Costello's songs. What I love most about "Party Party" is the classic Costelloian persona: the nerdy guy, shy with women, but intense and intent on self-destructive romantic tragedy. There's little meanness here, which is nice, just over-drinking, self-disgust, self-aggrandizement, unrequited lusts, bitter disappointments, and suicidal tendencies. All in the context of a party party. I like the "flowerbeds of fear and fertilizer," the face "like last week's Cornflakes," the pretentious but self-deflating "art tour" of the third verse, the Alka Seltzer "roaring like a lion," the last line's mocking denouement of melodrama and ineptitude. Sounds a lot like high school to me.
I'm not sure what accounts for Costello consigning "Party Party" to the dustbin of history. Maybe he's embarrassed by the lightness of the song (though even his "light" songs are spiked with bitterness), or maybe he's embarrassed by the made-to-order nature of the song's composition and history. But he's written far lighter songs than this, not to mention other songs for films, including entire scores. Turning his back on this little gem, I just don't get.
So here's my defense of, and support for, Elvis Costello and the Attractions' "Party Party." May it one day be reissued. Via an appropriately scratchy source: