Tag Archives: Elvis Costello

They’re Playing Your Song: Little Soundtracks For Everyday People

At various times in my life, I’ve taken on different songs as themes. Little anthems that seem so plugged into how I felt that I could almost have written them myself, had I the musical skill/ genius/ time/ ability to stay out of the bar long enough/ ability to withstand solitude/ I could make a million excuses/ ability to stop making excuses…

Theme songs find us in two distinct ways. Or at least that is how it has always been for me. The first way is the best way. A perfect song, discovered in the perfect place, at the perfect time. A lightning bolt. An explosion of your spirit.

The second, more common method is to rediscover an old song when you are ready for it. Sometimes the rediscovery is a happy accident. Other times it is a deliberate seeking out. It’s all good. The mystical romantic falls in love again and it’s all Stevie Nicks Rooms On Fire. The jilted heart wants to break over and over again and so it loops all six minutes and forty-seven bitter seconds of Elvis Costello’s I Want You.

I’m always thinking about music and I’m always over-sharing. Because of this, most of my themes find their way onto the blog or the radio show. But I would love to know what other people’s themes are. Other people do this, surely?

When I was growing up, my Mum would amend the lyrics to Paul Kelly songs to match them up with her circumstances. It was funny and cute. But also sad and beautiful. In ‘To Her Door’, the number of children in the song’s soon to be broken home was multiplied thus:

They got married early
Never had no money
Then when he got laid off
They really hit the skids
He started up his drinking
Then they started fighting
He took it pretty badly
She took seven kids

At the moment, I’m fixated on a Joni Mitchell song. It’s not the first one of hers that I have found myself drawn to, even though it took me many, many years to get over my initial uncertainty about whether or not I even liked her. Certainly ‘A Case Of You’ and ‘Both Sides Now’ have been up there as themes. But at the moment, I’m on vacation and I’m all romantic and wild-eyed and so I’m here:

Joni Mitchell – You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio

If you’re driving into town
With a dark cloud above you
Dial in the number
Who’s bound to love you
You turn me on
I’m a radio
I’m a country station
I’m a little bit corny
I’m a wildwood flower

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From The Vault Friday: (I Love The Sound Of) Breaking Glass

I love the sound of breaking glass
Deep into the night
I love the sound of its condition
Flyin’ all around

The words and melodies of English songwriter Nick Lowe first came to me in the same sweet period as Patti Smith Group, Elvis Costello and The Ramones. Not an unusual story I guess, since all those artists were roughly grouped together in one way or another in the late seventies. Except of course that I wasn’t yet born, so the possibility of being on trend was something of an impossibility. Let’s fast forward. It was about 1989 or 1990, which would have made me eight or nine years old, small framed and freckle-skinned and relieved to have finally grown out the bowl-cut hair disaster of 1987. My favourite item of clothing was a pair of acid wash jeans with floral patches.

I was showing the first signs of some kind of obsessive compulsive music disorder, which was mostly evidenced by the number of times I’d recorded The B-52’s Love Shack on a 120 minute VHS cassette just so I could play it back to back, again and again, in some sort of vague hope that if I watched Kate Pierson enough I’d eventually become her. I must have been driving my parents insane.

Although I’m not too reliable on the memory front – most of my high school years, my senior year excluded, have become a forgettable blur and all of my time at university is a jumble of interchangeable semesters – the period I discovered Nick Lowe is a sunset polaroid: white-framed and golden and permanent. I remember lying awake at night, all night, listening to the radio. I remember my sister’s constant frustration from the bunk above that I wouldn’t turn it off. I remember our lilac painted bedroom, red navigation lights flashing on a not too distant sea outside the window.

We lived in a three bedroom brick veneer home that must have been built in about 1975. It had all the suburban ugliness that that decade would allow. Brown faux wood laminate bench tops, copper coloured door handles, orange carpet… in the kitchen. And living in that space, it seems perfect now to recall that wedded though I was to the chart hits of the day, I was also in the first flush of a love affair with our parent’s haphazard, late seventies skewed record collection and quietly raiding it whenever I got the chance.

Some kids had parents who were precious about things like LPs, but fortunately for me, Ma and Pa’s many drunken parties had meant that almost all the albums (especially the good ones) were scratched beyond belief and I could explore without fear of discipline. Hell, they were hippies. I did everything without fear of discipline. And so away I went, thumbing through vinyl and marveling at the soft hum of the record player and getting musical crushes that would last longer than I could ever have imagined.

Cue: That Summer! The soundtrack to a 1979 film I’ve never seen but whose songs have stayed with me for more than twenty years. The album featured Elvis Costello ‘Watching The Detectives’ and ‘(I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea’, Patti Smith Group ‘Because The Night’, Wreckless Eric ‘Whole Wide World’, The Ramones ‘Rockaway Beach’ and Nick Lowe’s brilliant ‘(I Love The Sound Of) Breaking Glass’.

I (loved) (loved) (loved) ‘(I Love The Sound Of) Breaking Glass’.

It goes like this:

The thrill of the piano trill against the driving bass and the beguiling, detached delivery of an almost pleading lyric:

I love the sound of breaking glass
Especially when I’m lonely
I need the noises of destruction
When there’s nothing new

I’m in New York at the moment and Nick Lowe is everywhere, enjoying a kind of popular resurgence off the back of a new album, an aptly titled return to form called ‘The Old Magic’ and about to play a much publicized North American tour with Wilco. Along with all the many things I look forward to getting around to in this city (thrifting, drinking, getting a tan) I can’t wait to hear the sound of breaking glass.

If you are stateside, you can check out the Nick Lowe/ Wilco tour dates here.

If you would like to download the That Summer! soundtrack, it is available here.

And if you would like to hear more vintage Nick Lowe…

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Filed under FROM THE VAULT, UPCOMING EVENTS