He Wrote the Book Which Makes Him… Well… Awesome
“Everyday I Write the Book” by Elvis Costello from the album Punch the Clock
First Week in July, 1983
By 1983, Elvis Costello — once a “new wave” punk who combined anger with Woody Allen glasses — had already turned hopelessly pretentious in all the ways that count. Not that we all didn’t still dig him, but we had to dig him while knowing that he knew that he was incredibly talented, a regular pop song Shakespeare worthy of comparison to Paul McCartney, Cole Porter, and several of the lesser Bachs. God, you wanted to just smack the guy, except the music was really great. “Everyday I Write the Book” was Elvis’s first Top 40 U.S. hit in a while, and it combined two vintage Costello obsessions: hot women who betray him and his general awesome-osity.
Here Elvis is a grand novelist of some kind, “a man with a mission in two or three editions.” In his creepy way, he lords his artistic prowess over this lady, endlessly noting that their relationship is little more than source material for him. He’s the man: “Even in a perfect world where everyone was equal / I’d still own the film rights and be working on the sequel.” She, of course, is a cutting slut: “Don’t tell me you don’t know what love is / When you’re old enough to know better / When you find strange hands in your sweater.” Then: “You said you’d stand by me in the middle of Chapter Three / But you were up to your old tricks in Chapters Four, Five and Six.” Well, at least he doesn’t shoot her like in “Allison.”
Musically, Elvis is cunningly over-produced here with his usual snappy power-pop (punching basslines, hooks a-plenty) decked out with a bevy of Raylette-esque gospel background singers, some hideously reverb-happy keyboards that jump from the left channel to right channel of your stereo like they were a pair of knockers at a burlesque show, plus this odd, brittle digital clavinet riff that just won’t leave your head. The song’s production sheen really hasn’t aged that well but, like the fashion choices evident in the John Cusack movie Say Anything, you excuse them because (a) the basic craft on display is fabulous, and (b) the way you felt about this piece of art when you were a teenager is just not going to allow you to seriously criticize it.
That said, you probably should at least wag your finger in this tune’s general direction. Lazy Elvis, trying to — “everyday, … everyday” — write himself a hit song, just reshuffled his pop-song-deck and you lapped it up. (Punch the Clock, indeed.) Shame on you for not saying shame on him. But: why isn’t there anything this good on the radio right now?
Best Moment: The out-chorus starting at 2:58, with the keyboard figure, several overdubbed versions of the Raylettes, Elvis on lead (including his howling hound dog bit toward the end) and the whole band, all gloriously overlapped, just bopping their way through the fade.