Wednesday, April 20, 2011

30 Songs, 30 Days (2009 Edition), Day Ten: Oliver's Army by Elvis Costello

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you one Declan Patrick MacManus.

This is not from his best album--I still insist that Imperial Bedroom holds that status, which I have been devoted to ever since I found a tape of it in a Quarter Bin during the twilight days of the Queens Boulevard Alexander's Department Store--but this is one of the first songs of his that blew open my mind to his greatness. It still ranks as one of my favorite songs he ever penned, a position it held very, very quickly after I first heard it. Heck, it had such an impact on me that I named a villain group of mercenaries after this song in my Villains and Vigilantes campaign (But, to be fair, I also had another villain named after an Echo and The Bunnymen song...).

A pretty important song, given it almost was cut from the album it appeared on, Armed Forces.

A song about class distinctions being played out in the military, its has the typical Costello word salad gamboling all through it, from the titular reference to Oliver Cromwell to the way the hot spot keeps hoping from Belfast to Hong Kong to Palestine to Johanessburg--and yet its message stays clear. If you're poor, Costello's POV character tells us, you'll fight for us. And if you die fighting for us, you'll just be 'one less white nigger.'

Incidentally--this song is maybe unique in that radio stations usually play it without censoring the word 'nigger.'

I owned a tape of Armed Forces that I wore out, then bought a second hand CD. One of these days I'll buy the Rhino version with the extra disc of outtakes. I'll keep all version, much like I've kept both the Rhino CD and that quarter bin tape of Imperial Bedroom....and I'm sure that Oliver's Army will keep marching through the back of my head.

Here's the video. Incidentally, I'm pretty positive the beach he's singing on at one point is the same that he uses as a setting for his video for "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding?"

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