In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!
Sunday is Elvis Costello’s birthday, an occasion where we usually feature covers of an artist’s songs. But seeing as the birthday boy is one of the hardest working songwriter/musicians in the music world, it would be a shame to give him a break now. So we’ll look at some of the covers he’s done and get his birthday weekend started tonight, like we all do when a good birthday falls on a Sunday.
Apparently there never was a stigma for Elvis Costello when it came to releasing cover songs early in his career: “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding,” one of his biggest hits, was written by Nick Lowe and first released incognito the year after his debut My Aim Is True as a b-side on a Lowe 45; it was later appended to his third album, Armed Forces.
Just a few years after that, Costello released Almost Blue, his collection of all-country covers, and in the mid-’90s he released another full covers record, Kojak Variety. Costello covered a number of songs on several television variety shows including late night in the ’90s, culminating in his show Spectacle in the late ’00s. That show, which cemented his love of collaborations with performers in a live setting, showcased musicians who would mutually cover Costello’s and their tunes. For someone whose catalog shows a tremendous amount of range through an exhaustive amount of genres, Costello has always paid tribute to those who have come before him as well as those contemporary performers he openly admires. Let’s take a look at a few.
Elvis Costello – Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (Nina Simone/Animals cover)
Costello breaks out the P12 extra course sandpaper, and the wind whistling through whoever he pines for is just blowing back sawdust. By the time the song hits the bridge, Costello is on his knees saying a lost prayer to lust and sin.
Elvis Costello – The Monkey (Dave Bartholomew cover)
Costello relishes Bartholomew’s monkey-business-of-a-song featuring simians questioning evolution. But it’s for other reasons, as the monkeys turn the tables and become insulted that such a barbaric species of animals — humans — could ever evolve from them. The Norfolk crowd devolves from there into a bunch of party animals.
Elvis Costello – Ship of Fools (Grateful Dead cover)
In 1996, Costello released a small box set highlighting songs from a tour he did with Steve Nieve of the Attractions. It soon went out of print and became one of the most sought after items in his discography. Here’s a track from the San Francisco disc recorded at the Fillmore. Starting out from a shouted request for the cover he recorded for the Dead tribute Deadicated, Costello croons the song with enough velvet to make a painting for another Elvis.
Elvis Costello – I’m Your Toy (Flying Burrito Brothers cover)
Elvis pays homage to Gram Parsons by covering the alternately named “Burrito #1,” from the album The Gilded Palace of Sin. Costello credits the album for jump-starting his interest in country, which he has sporadically kept to this day.
Elvis Costello – Everybody’s Crying Mercy (Mose Allison cover)
When Costello was invited to appear on MTV Unplugged, he utilized his penchant for pissing off television executives (he leads off Allison’s song by criticizing MTV for airing ads for the US Army) and played mostly covers. Sporting sunglasses and a Joaquin Phoenix-like bushy beard on camera, Costello takes advantage of Marc Ribot’s jazzy guitar and Mose Allison’s clever lyrics to protest the apathy of the masses.
Elvis Costello’s collaboration with The Roots, Wise Up Ghost, drops September 17.