In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week: our favorite songs by or produced by Elvis Costello.
At the peak of his powers, Elvis Costello didn’t just perform some of the best albums of the punk and new wave eras—he produced some of them, too. Traces of the second-wave-ska of The Specials’ self-titled debut, which he produced, can be heard on Costello’s own Get Happy!!, and his work on The Pogues’ Celtic-punk milestone Rum, Sodomy, And The Lash coincided with an increased interest in other forms of roots music, but for the most part, records with a Costello production credit don’t sound like another This Year’s Model. Except, perhaps, for passages of Squeeze’s 1981 LP East Side Story, a record released amid a fruitful period of exchange between Costello and the London-based act.
East Side Story features the Costello-Squeeze collaboration best known to American listeners—the nearly unrecognizable croaking that interrupts Glenn Tilbrook’s verse of “Tempted”—but their partnership carried over to the record’s follow-up, Sweets From A Stranger. It’s a lot easier to make out Costello’s contributions to that record’s blue-eyed soul kiss-off, “Black Coffee In Bed,” his nasally harmonizing serving as one of the Miracles to Tilbrook’s skinny-tie Smokey Robinson. On a purely thematic basis, “Black Coffee In Bed” serves as an illustration why collaborations between Costello and the members of Squeeze continue to this day. “A stain on my notebook” sounds like a metaphor plucked directly from the mind of Costello’s “avenging dork” persona.