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November 23, 2011 9:50 PM   Subscribe

Elvis Costello :: Watching The Detectives.
posted by Devils Rancher (27 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
In Soviet Nashville, Detective watch Elvis Presley, da? wait, that isn't right

I used to think Joe Jackson sang this song, and then upon finding it was Elvis Costello, I thought, "Damn, Elvis Costello sings my favorite Joe Jackson song??"
posted by not_on_display at 10:08 PM on November 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


They both had phenomenal bass players, which adds to the confusion.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:26 PM on November 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


How does he manage to keep his glasses from steaming up in the Watching clip? I'm new to glasses, and as soon as I get mildly warm, I need to take them off and wipe them down.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:28 PM on November 23, 2011


Looking at the '96 clip and thinking "man, he got old" and then realizing I just saw him tear this song up last month in Washington Heights.
posted by nicwolff at 10:42 PM on November 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


"She's filing her nails while they're dragging the lake" is one of my favorite cold as ice lines ever.
posted by willnot at 11:41 PM on November 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


Aging, reinvention, and staying the same. How cool, could/would we all be like that.
posted by Xurando at 11:47 PM on November 23, 2011


How does he manage to keep his glasses from steaming up in the Watching clip?

He manages by being cooler than most mortal beings.
posted by blucevalo at 12:31 AM on November 24, 2011 [10 favorites]


Back in 2007, I was flipping through the San Francisco Bay Guardian and was floored to read that Elvis Costello would be performing My Aim Is True in its entirety for two back-to-back benefit concerts at the Great American Music Hall, performing for the first time with a reunited Clover, the band that backed him on the album. My heart sunk when I realized it was the following night.

I looked online, and it was sold out for months. I was devastated, but hit Craigslist hoping for a scalped ticket. I managed to find one superfan who had a pair of tickets for both shows, offering a single ticket for the late show at face value in exchange for holding his place in the front of the line while he attended the early show.

I showed up two hours early, and was the first person in line for the second show, praying I wouldn't get stiffed. From outside, as the line grew, we could hear strains of Red Shoes and Pay It Back coming through the doors, anticipation building.

When the show ended, the superfan showed up and handed me the ticket. We were first in the door, and I ended up being front row for one of the best concerts I've ever seen.

After Elvis played the whole album, he apologized for its brevity, a scant 35 minutes. So he pulled out an acoustic guitar, dug out his early songwriting notebooks, and treated the audience to 50 more minutes of songs from the pre-1978 era, several never played before or since.
posted by waxpancake at 1:29 AM on November 24, 2011 [11 favorites]


From the awesome liner notes section of the Elvis Costello Wiki:
When I think about how Nick produced this record I have a mental picture of a big cloud of Senior Service smoke and his arms waving wildly about the tiny control booth. He was emotional, hilarious, incredibly enthusiastic and generous, though I certainly wouldn’t have embarrassed him by saying any of this at the time. He was just being "Nick". Whatever he was doing, it worked.

All of this was pretty new to someone living in the suburbs. I got most of my musical ideas from records. With a young family to provide for, I didn’t have the money for going to clubs. The morning after the Sex Pistols created outrage by swearing on national live television, I was in a commuter train carriage full of scandalized tabloid headlines and high blood pressure.

Something was supposed to be changing. I spent a lot of time with just a big jar of instant coffee and the first Clash album, listening to it over and over. By the time I got down to the last few grains, I had written, "Watching the Detectives". The chorus had these darting figures that I wanted to sound like something from a Bernard Herrmann score. The piano and organ on the recorded version were all we could afford.
And also...
Now the process of recruiting a band could begin. I was helped out at the auditions by Steve Goulding and Andrew Bodnar - the rhythm section of The Rumour. We played the same two songs from "My Aim is True" for several hours as the good, the bad and the ugly candidates displayed their talents. Before this drove us to do something rash, we learned a couple of brand new tunes. By the end of the afternoon they sounded good enough for a session at Pathway to be scheduled. One of them, "Watching the Detectives" later became my first serious chart single and was obviously not included on the original U.K. release of "My Aim is True". The newly discovered, Steve Nieve - still going under his family name of "Nason" - added the organ and piano parts at an overdub session a few weeks later.

Although the microphone levels were set very "hot" to create the unique drum sound of "Detectives", we went into a version of "No Action" before any adjustments could be made.
He writes in the liner notes (not available online as near as I can tell, so I'll just type it in from the insert) for his compilation Girls + £ ÷ Girls = $ & Girls:
Written after thirty-six hours of drinking coffee and trying to listen to the 1st Clash album in a slumbering block of flats. Recorded a cople of weeks before "turning professional" at the tiny (but mighty) Pathway Studios in Islington, where "My Aim Is True" had been made in a total of 24 hours spread over "sick days" and "holidays" from my lovely "day job." Andrew Bodnar and Steve Goulding from The Rumour played bass and drums, and a little while later Steve Nieve added his low budget tribute to Bernard Herrmann.
My favorite retelling of this story was related, I think, at his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech. It was originally reported in Rolling Stone, but I can only find the quote sourced in Wikipedia at this point:
I was in my flat in the suburbs of London before I was a professional musician, and I’d been up for thirty-six hours. I was actually listening to another inductee’s record, the Clash’s first album. When I first put it on, I thought it was just terrible. Then I played it again and I liked it better. By the end, I stayed up all night listening to it on headphones, and I thought it was great. Then I wrote “Watching the Detectives.”
Bernard Herrman: Twisted Nerve, Vertigo and (of course) Psycho - the latter of which puts an interesting twist on the "she's filing her nails as they're dragging the lake" line that willnot quoted above.

Costello was listening, of course, to the original pressing of The Clash, not the U.S. version. None of the songs especially sound like "Watching the Detectives," since Costello was a little closer to pub rock than punk rock in those days, but there's an energy they share if not a sound. Costello has never been especially shy about his admiration for The Clash and, of course, was involved in the Grammy's tribute to Joe Strummer.

I have this ongoing project where I write about each song on my in my iTunes library (its been on hiatus for a couple months) and wrote a little more about the song here (obviously, self link).

Yeah, anyhow, I listened to all of your linked versions while writing this up. One of my all time favorite songs apparently.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:27 AM on November 24, 2011 [13 favorites]


Costello was simply the boss in the late seventies.
posted by Decani at 3:30 AM on November 24, 2011


Elvis was the Elvis of his time.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:34 AM on November 24, 2011


No, wait, The Boss was the Elvis of Elvis's time.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:37 AM on November 24, 2011


After Elvis played the whole album, he apologized for its brevity, a scant 35 minutes. So he pulled out an acoustic guitar, dug out his early songwriting notebooks, and treated the audience to 50 more minutes of songs from the pre-1978 era, several never played before or since.

I saw him in Atlanta in 1982 or so on a cold winter day when there was some trouble with transportation and only Costello showed up, or none of the gear showed up, or something. In any case, Costello walks out on stage with an acoustic guitar and put on an impromptu concert with very little by way of explanation.

Which was OK sort of. A lot of the songs he selected to play were obviously not well-rehearsed, some of them were just bad, some were incomplete, but everyone got into the spirit of it when he started playing a few of his standards. Never really sure if I was "treated" or "cheated", but it was memorable.
posted by three blind mice at 3:40 AM on November 24, 2011


Perfect start to the day, THANKS!
posted by Ron Thanagar at 6:04 AM on November 24, 2011


threeblindmice, you were definitely treated.
posted by headnsouth at 6:06 AM on November 24, 2011


Thanks for posting these & I couldn't agree more with this assessment.
posted by safetyfork at 6:15 AM on November 24, 2011


...of the bassplayers, that is.
posted by safetyfork at 6:18 AM on November 24, 2011


This really takes me back...
1978.
Circle Theater in Indianapolis.
Elvis Costello and the Attractions.
Nick Lowe and Rockpile.
Mink Deville.

Just one of the best shows I've ever been to. Period.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:39 AM on November 24, 2011


Joey Michaels, thanks for the fabulous comment - it fleshes the thread out perfectly. This is the sort of thing I love about MetaFilter - you learn stuff, even about your own posts. I understand Elvis and Bruce Thomas have had a permanent falling out, and that makes me sad. His playing on This Year's Model is the absolute pinnacle of what the Fender bass is for.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:41 AM on November 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


My husband wanted to name our then-unborn son Declan McManus Lastname. I thought about it.
posted by pinky at 6:48 AM on November 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I saw Elvis Costello at the Bridgeport Jai-Alai Fronton. Needless to say it was a strange venue for music, and the crowd was pretty much sitting on its hands. He got about eight songs into the set and then threw his hands up in the air and pulled the band off the stage. That got the crowd's attention, and then he came back out and played about 30 more songs. Yeah, that was a good show.
posted by stargell at 6:57 AM on November 24, 2011


One of my favorite songs ever. And chococat did a fantastic over of it a while back.
posted by cortex at 7:18 AM on November 24, 2011


I've seen Elvis Costello live more than any other act, sometimes free, sometimes at a regular concert, sometimes in festivals. And he always brings it. He plays the hell out of songs, and really seems to enjoy playing for people--there's always at least one song in the set in which he's specifically engage the audience. So aside from being a phenomenal lyricist and very competent musician, he's also a hell of an entertainer.

He often plays the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco. If you find yourself in the Bay Area during the festival (and anyone who likes bluegrass or folk really ought to experience this three day free concert at least once), check him out. He often pulls in Emmylou Harris and other folks slated to perform at the festival to join his set. It's amazing.
posted by smirkette at 8:56 AM on November 24, 2011


Damn, cortex, I somehow missed that one. Fuckin chococat, eh? I need to spend more time in Music.
posted by Hoopo at 9:24 AM on November 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Devils Rancher: I understand Elvis and Bruce Thomas have had a permanent falling out...

Costello wrote the song "How to be Dumb" from Mighty Like A Rose about Thomas, though they did play together again later on Brutal Youth. From what I understand, Thomas would be happy to play with The Attractions again but Costello is done with him.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:07 PM on November 24, 2011


I have listened to a lot of Elvis Costello today starting off with this post. Thanks again.
posted by safetyfork at 7:54 PM on November 24, 2011


Joey Michaels: "Costello wrote the song "How to be Dumb" from Mighty Like A Rose about Thomas, though they did play together again later on Brutal Youth. From what I understand, Thomas would be happy to play with The Attractions again but Costello is done with him."

That would be, I think, because of Bruce Thomas' odd (yet, to me, oddly charming) 1990 sort-of-autobiography, The Big Wheel, and the portrayal therein of "The Singer" (as Elvis is called in the book) as a somewhat bombastic and domineering individual. EC has never forgiven Bruce for that, even though it was more than twenty years ago; and though Bruce insists that there isn't any bad blood on his side, he must have known EC would take it this way. Still, a rather more magnanimous fellow might laugh it off and be okay enough with himself to accept that perhaps he's a teensy bit demanding and controlling. EC is, of course, not that fellow.
posted by koeselitz at 9:28 PM on November 24, 2011


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