After 40 years, one of Elvis Costello’s classic anthems is deemed inappropriate by modern sensibilities and cancel culture.
This was only reported in the fall.The Rolling Stones had the lyrics culled by the Rolling Stones ‘’Brown Sugar’’ from their playlists on their current tour. Although the lyrics are boldly referencing slavery, it’s far from glorifying it. Many people are still hesitant to listen to the songs they don’t have to. In a similar fashion, another artist is trying to sell a song to placate those who do not like it.
Elvis Costello will release a new album and tour this summer. However, he stated that he would forgo the concert. A staple of his discography. Due to persistent griping from non-fans about a scalding lyric, he will no longer play his classic hit “Oliver’s Army”, and he has requested that radio stations refrain from playing it. It is clear that Costello was not trying to show his wakefulness, but rather he was tired of hearing ignorant complaints. “People hear that word go off like a bell and accuse me of something that I didn’t intend,” he said.
Elvis Costello, after getting fed up with the cancel culture goofs. This is his shot. pic.twitter.com/4miTREAz78
— Brad Slager – Incontinent On Another Continent (@MartiniShark) January 12, 2022
The radio has played the word for nearly four decades without having any negative effects. It is now deeply troubling. Ironically, the lyrics of this song do not erase any possible racist connotations. They also ignore the message. The line is what makes everyone so hot.
- It takes only one itchy trigger/ Another widow and one more white [N-word]
Here’s the context. “Oliver’s Army” is a bit of rebellious pop, one with a dose of surreptitious creativity leading to success. Famed producer and songwriter Nick Lowe was producing for Elvis Costello and the Attractions on the “Armed Forces” album, but Elvis was having an issue with this particular song. This was a song he’d just finished writing, and he wasn’t happy with how it turned out in the studio.
Costello was enthralled by the violence and religious conflict in Ireland and wrote the lyrics on his return flight to England. Lowe found the song so compelling that Elvis wanted it to be put aside while laying tracks to their third album. However, Lowe loved it enough to allow him to own it. Then the Attractions’ keyboardist Steve Nieve proposed adding in a piano track similar to those heard on ABBA songs.
Nick Lowe said that this was the time it took., “[S}uddenly the thing went from black-and-white to fireworks.”
“Oliver’s Army” became Costello’s biggest hit, and it is a subversive piece of pop. Matching the bouncy instrumentals, he delivers an off-brand upbeat vocalization, all of which defy the harsh commentary of the lyrics. He sings of both the violent Irish conflict, as well as the British military reliance on recruiting poor and uneducated, blue-collar British males for their efforts.
The titular Oliver is that of Cromwell, the famed British general who led forces against Ireland in the 1600s. Costello delivered the irony of those forces still in effect with the battle between Protestants and Catholics. He alludes to the Murder Mile, a section known at the time for kidnappings that took place between the opposing sides. He also refers to the reliance of the British military on working-class recruits. The line “the boys from the Mercy, and the Thames, and the Tyne” points to the cities on those rivers: Liverpool, London, and Newcastle. These cities in that era were in high unemployment levels, and the army recruitment was heavy in those towns.
He explained this in the liner notes of the 2002 reissue of the album.
“I made my first trip to Belfast in 1978 and saw mere boys walking around in battle dress with automatic weapons. They were no longer just on the evening news. These snapshot experiences exploded into visions of mercenaries and imperial armies around the world. The song was based on the premise ‘they always get a working-class boy to do the killing’.”
This actually all ties into the supposed hateful lyrics. The term used is actually a common one heard in the area between the opposing sides. Costello explained: “That’s what my grandfather was called in the British army — it’s historically a fact.” There is no place for factually accurate portrayals in songs, if someone can be offended while misunderstanding it.
Despite decades of airplay, in recent years the song has become targeted by the censor crowds. About nine years ago, the BBC elected to cut out the offending phrase on the air. In the ensuing years, a growing number of stations either followed suit or pulled the song from their rotation entirely. Costello attempted to address the moves, altering the song himself for a brief period as a commentary to this reaction.
“On the last tour, I wrote a new verse about censorship, but what’s the point of that? So I’ve decided I’m not going to play it. [Bleeping out the word on the radio]This is an error. They’re making it worse by bleeping it for sure. Because they’re highlighting it then. Just don’t play the record!”
The artist is not trying to please a new audience. It’s more like the performer who wants to be noticed. It might be better to keep it off the shelves and to wait for the dissipation of the art venom. Like Keith Richards said itAsk them about removing the song they performed on their tour. “I’m hoping that we’ll be able to resurrect the babe in her glory somewhere along the track.”
Keith is not alone in thinking this way.