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Song of the Day: Pump It Up, Elvis Costello

Music for cooking to… (I’m doing a roast chicken, but also making some hummus and dahl for lunches.)

Elvis Costello, “Pump It Up” – from This Year’s Model (1978)

This Year’s Model was Costello’s second album, and the first  he recorded with The Attractions. The song marries the twin pleasures of blasting tunes and tossing off.

And here is a great video for the song, which I’d never seen before:

For more…

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Song of the Day: Elvis Costello, “Watching the Detectives”

Since we were talking about it…

Well, it may just be me, and nostalgia, but I think this song still works – that is, if it came on college radio today for the first time, it would not seem hopelessly out of place. Unlike so much music from the late 1970s through 1980s.

Elvis Costello, “Watching the Detectives” – from his debut album, My Aim is True (1977)

And listen to this, from the same album – “Alison” – and this – “Less than Zero”.

Can you imagine how exciting it was to hear all of that on one album, the first album from some scrawny geek with a Buddy Holly fetish and the lyric gifts of a latter-day Orpheus?

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Song of the Day: Joe Jackson, “Look Sharp”

In the late 1970s, like many teenagers of the time I was pretty heavily into punk—but then along came Elvis Costello with a new sound, that ended up somewhat unfortunately being know as “New Wave.” It had a lot of the incisive commentary and driving minimalism that we liked in punk, but it also had more musicality and, it seemed to me at the time, more room to maneuver lyrically and melodically. In three albums over the incredibly short span of three years—My Aim Is True (1977), This Year’s Model (1978) and Armed Forces (1979)—Costello really shook things up, and established himself as one of the most gifted songwriters of his era. Those albums still have the power to knock your socks off, and no doubt tracks from them will be popping up as my “Song of the Day” fairly frequently.

But today I wanted to spin some songs by someone else. Joe Jackson released his first album, Look Sharp!, in 1979, the same year as Armed Forces. It was clearly still New Wave, but with somewhat less of the punk sound and style that was still strong in Costello’s work. Great stuff—singable, danceable, pissed off, funny—with something different to it musically. What exactly that was would become more clear as Jackson’s career progressed, in albums like Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive and Night and Day, with their more overt influences from the world of jazz, and from songwriters like Glenn Miller and Cole Porter, even Burt Bacharach.

But as adolescent boys listening to his first album, what grabbed us was not any quality of the music, really. It was attitude—particularly in songs like the big hit, “Is She Really Going Out with Him?”, with its lament about “pretty women out walking with gorillas.” Raw, smart, sarcastic, disillusioned attitude. Just what we wanted.

I’ve already posted one song from Look Sharp!, “Sunday Papers”—in my double-header of songs on newspapers. Here are some songs on relationships, a subject much on my mind of late (as some of my other song choices must have made clear):

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zerode by nick chapman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

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is an over-caffeinated and under-employed grad school dropout, aspiring leftwing intellectual and cultural studies academic, cinéaste, and former poet. Raised in San Francisco on classic film, radical politics, burritos and soul music, then set loose upon the world. He spends his time in coffee shops with his laptop and headphones, caffeinating and trying to construct a post-whatever life.


What's in a name... The handle "zerode" is a contraction of Zéro de Conduite, the title of Jean Vigo's 1933 movie masterpiece about schoolboy rebellion.

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