Elvis Costello

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My ultimate vocation in life is to be an irritant, someone who disrupts the daily drag of life just enough to leave the victim thinking there's maybe more to it all than the mere hum-drum quality of existence.

Declan Patrick Aloysius MacManus (born 25 August 1954) is an English musician, singer, and songwriter, primarily known by his stage-name Elvis Costello.


  • My ultimate vocation in life is to be an irritant, someone who disrupts the daily drag of life just enough to leave the victim thinking there's maybe more to it all than the mere hum-drum quality of existence.
    • New Music Express interview with Nick Kent (1978); quoted in Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, and the Torch Song Tradition (2004) by Larry David Smith, p. 166
  • WARNING: This album contains country & western music and may cause offence to narrow minded listeners.
  • Writing about music is like dancing about architecture — it's a really stupid thing to want to do.
    • On music critics, as quoted in "A Man out of Time Beats the Clock" by Timothy White in Musician magazine No. 60 (October 1983), p. 52.
    • This has commonly been paraphrased "Talking about music is like dancing about architecture." More info at "Alan P. Scott : Talking about music..."
When the media attention switches away from this story onto the next thing that happens in the world, the circumstances will still be there.
  • I can't actually play any instrument properly. I can't read music. And here's the New York Times calling me the new George Gershwin. It was so ridiculous, really embarrassing. It was embarrassing to watch these people fall into the trap of their own critical conceits.
    • Musician (March 1986)
  • The people with the most resources are the federal government. If you can invade a country halfway across the world in a matter of days, you can surely come to the aid of your own citizens in a shorter order of time.
    • Real Time With Bill Maher (25 August 2006)
  • I had a lot of problems with my name ... my first name Declan is really not very well known outside of Ireland, MacManus is a name they could never spell ... if you think about the names of '76, '77 ... I got of kind of lightly — with a name you could live with, you know, in time. ... I kind of liked the dare of it. Of course we weren't to know that within a month of my first album actually being issued Elvis Presley would die, and it would actually be a talking point. ... Let me put it this way — people don't forget you with that name. It's sort of receded as — and this may sound terribly disrespectful and heretical — but as Elvis Presley has receded as a musical force, people make much less of a case about it. Elvis is a sort of cultural figure but there is no direct line between the music of Elvis Presley and the music of today. There is none whatsoever, he's no influence whatsoever, that I can detect, on music made today. Other than people who consciously retro in styling themselves after his ideas. There is no direct impact in the way that you can hear the influence of The Beatles or Stevie Wonder or numerous other people.

My Aim Is True (1977)

  • Alison, I know this world is killing you.
    Oh, Alison, my aim is true.

    My aim is true.
  • Oh I used to be disgusted
    and now I try to be amused.

    But since their wings have got rusted,
    you know, the angels wanna wear my red shoes.
    • (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes
  • Turn up the TV. No one listening will suspect,
    even your mother won't detect it,
    no your father won't know.
    they think that I've got no respect
    but everything means less than zero.

This Year's Model (1978)

  • She said that's that.
    I don't wanna chitter-chat.
    Turn it down a little bit
    or turn it down flat.
    Pump it up when you don't really need it.
    Pump it up until you can feel it.
  • They say you better listen to the voice of reason
    But they don't give you any choice
    'cause they think that it's treason.
    So you had better do as you are told.
    You better listen to the radio.
  • I wanna bite the hand that feeds me.
    I wanna bite that hand so badly.
    I want to make them wish they'd never seen me.
    • "Radio Radio"

Armed Forces (1979)

  • Accidents will happen
    We only hit and run
    He used to be your victim
    Now you're not the only one.

    Accidents will happen
    We only hit and run
    I don't want to hear it
    'Cause I know what I've done.

  • Theres so many fish in the sea
    That only rise up in the sweat and smoke like mercury
  • And it's the damage that we do
    And never know
    It's the words that we don't say
    That scare me so.
    • "Accidents Will Happen"
  • Oliver's army is here to stay
    Oliver's army are on their way
    And I would rather be anywhere else
    But here today.

Get Happy!! (1980)

  • So beautiful and fortunate
    You're the one who hates to love
    But he's the one who loves to hate.
    • "Love For Tender"
  • Clowntime is over
    Time to take cover
    While others just talk and talk
    Somebody's watching where the others don't walk.
    • "Clowntime Is Over"

Punch the Clock (1983)

  • The boy said 'Dad they're going to take me to task
    But i'll be back by Christmas'
    It's just a rumour that was spread around town
    Somebody said that someone got filled in
    For saying that people get killed in
    The result of this shipbuilding
    With all the will in the world
    Diving for dear life
    When we could be diving for pearls.
    • "Shipbuilding"
  • Don't tell me you don't know what love is
    When you're old enough to know better.
    • "Everyday I Write The Book"
  • I'm a man with a mission in two or three editions
    And I'm giving you a longing look
    Everyday, everyday, everyday I write the book.
    • "Everyday I Write The Book

Spike (1989)

  • Is it all in that pretty little head of yours?
    What goes on in that place in the dark?
    Well I used to know a girl and I would have
    sworn that her name was Veronica
    Well she used to have a carefree mind of her
    own and a delicate look in her eye
    These days I'm afraid she's not even sure if her
    name is Veronica.
    • "Veronica"
  • While you lie in the dark, afraid to breathe and
    you beg and you promise
    And you bargain and you plead
    Sometimes you confuse me with Santa Claus
    It's the big white beard I suppose.
    • "God's Comic"

All This Useless Beauty (1996)

  • There's always something that's smoldering somewhere
    I know it don't make a difference to you
    But oh! It sure made a difference to me
    You'll see me off in the distance, I hope
    At the other end
    At the other end of the telescope.
    • "The Other End (of the Telescope)" (co-written with Aimee Mann)
  • Lie down baby now don't say a word
    There there baby your vision is blurred
    Your head is so sore from all of that thinking
    I don't want to hurt you now
    But I think you're shrinking.
    • "The Other End (of the Telescope)" (co-written with Aimee Mann)
  • What shall we do, what shall we do with all this useless beauty?
    • "All This Useless Beauty"
  • Nonsense prevails, modesty fails
    Grace and virtue turn into stupidity

    While the calendar fades almost all barricades to a pale compromise
    And our leaders have feasts on the backsides of beasts
    They still think they're the gods of antiquity
    If something you missed didn't even exist
    It was just an ideal — is it such a surprise?
    • "All This Useless Beauty"
  • Well there's a line that you must toe
    and it'll soon be time to go
    but it's darker than you know in those Complicated Shadows
    • "Complicated Shadows"
  • Why can't a man stand alone?
    Must he be burdened by all that he's taught to consider his own?
    His skin and his station, his kin and his crown, his flag and his nation
    They just weigh him down
    • "Why Can't A Man Stand Alone?"
  • Now I just don't know who to tell to go to hell
    Who put the old devil in the distorted angel?
    • "Distorted Angel"

dig interview (2004)

"Elvis Costello : Interview And Music" by Brian Wise (4 October 2004)
  • Obviously the people that I admired, like the Beatles, were really into rock'n'roll, but it was already a little past rock'n'roll when I started listening and making my own choices about music. I've been lucky to listen to lots of different types of music.
  • Obviously, when I started out, I had a little bit more curiosity than some, and went seeking out the original artists, or in some cases searching up country music. I followed The Byrds a lot, and then when they did a country styled record it made me curious to know who these people were that they liked.
  • My sense of history in music is much greater than a lot of people's. I listen a lot further back in the whole history of music. It's not just pop music of the last 20, 30, 40, 50 years. I'm listening to stuff from hundreds of years ago as well, because you can learn from everything.
  • We stayed out of Memphis early on in the late 70s for obvious reasons. People were very sensitive about Elvis Presley, and my stage name obviously would be provocative to some people in that area at that time. So we didn't visit Memphis until about 1984.
  • The first song that most people picked up on, particularly in America, of mine, was a ballad, not a rock'n'roll song. It was 'Alison', and that's an R&B ballad. I don't think there's any other way to describe it.
  • These are the sort of things that push you on in music — the curiosity, a passion for new ideas. It's important to keep restoring that, and at the same time, hold on to the core things about music that whenever you pick the simplest form of instrument; guitar or piano, you can find a song that's worthwhile.
  • I've had a lot of different experiences in music over the years. And not everything you do can satisfy everybody's idealised version of you.
  • I don't feel any form of music is beyond me in the sense of that I don't understand it or I don't have some love for some part of it. And if there's something in it that I can respond to, then there's something that I might be able to use as a composer. There are records of mine that have had smaller audiences and have provoked really drastic responses from people — particularly from critics — who maybe don't have quite enough time to live with the record or accept that a piece has its own integrity.


  • As I walk through
    This wicked world
    Searchin' for light in the darkness of insanity.
    I ask myself
    Is all hope lost?
    Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?
    And each time I feel like this inside,
    There's one thing I wanna know:
    What's so funny 'bout Peace, Love, & Understanding?


  • I've always thought of myself as a ballad singer who could sing rock 'n' roll, not the other way around,
  • Maybe I just never learned my harmony part, because what everybody says sounds odd to them sounds perfectly natural to me.
  • Really the only thing holding a lot of records together is the personality of the singer, and the will to write all of these different things.
  • Seems to me, that the worlds are moving closer together rather than one invading the other. I believe that music is connected by human passions and curiosities rather than by marketing strategies.
  • The words that are being spoken are serious, whether you take them at face value or listen to them at all, ... I'm not a preacher, I'm a singer. I can sing about serious things, but I don't think I have to put on a pious face to do it.
  • Women hear rhythm differently than men.

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