Monday, November 6, 2017

Cellophane Shrink-Wrapped

Elvis Costello : Watching the Detectives

On November 6, 1977 the new Elvis Costello single, "Watching the Detectives", entered the U.K. charts at #33. It would peak at #15 and be Costello's last single for Stiff Records.

In his memoir, Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink, Elvis Costello writes that he came up with the song after listening to The Clash debut.

“I’d written the song in my front room in Whitton, fueled by nothing stronger than a jar of instant coffee after listening repeatedly to the first album by The Clash for what I told people was thirty-six hours, but was definitely all the way through one completely sleepless, caffeinated night. I was trying to work out why the flimsy but furious sound of this record, with its siren guitars and square, dry drumming, could come across as so powerful. I was trying to gather up the words that the singer sprayed out, sounding hoarse and sometimes as if he were wearing an ill-fitting boxer’s gum-shield....

The song begins with the drums rolling in the style of Culture's "Two Sevens Clash" before settling into its mellow reggae rhythm.

 “After we cut “Watching the Detectives” as a trio, the newly recruited Steve Nason—as he was still known—came in to add spooky little organ figures and as big a piano sound as the dilapidated upright in Pathway could render. I had the idea of a shocking, accelerating figure falling between the words “Shoot, shoot, shoot,” like the sort of things Bernard Herrmann would write for low strings while a woman was being chased up a flight of stairs. I don’t recall if I mentioned the name Bernard Herrmann, I might have just said, “Hitchcock,” but Steve seemed to understand me, and he made the idea into music.

 I persuaded Nick Lowe to join me at the microphone during the third verse for the first of many apparently bizarre background vocal ideas, this one sounding like something from The Twilight Zone”.

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