Listen now on:
JORGE FARAH: “Wednesday week” is a British expression meaning “a week from Wednesday.” I thought I’d get that out of the way first, since, being a non native English speaker, the title of this song puzzled me for the longest time. What is a Wednesday week, anyway? A week made up of only Wednesdays? Like an interminable week where every day is “Hump Day” and the promise of a weekend’s respite seems forever out of reach? What is it??
I’ll tell you what’s not interminable: The manic blast of energy that carries that title. “Wednesday Week” is an outtake from 1979’s Armed Forces, Elvis’s early commercial peak and his most decidedly “New Wave” sounding album. As catchy and melodic as the previous record’s songs were, he was now approaching a new level of pop craftsmanship both in songwriting and in production; marrying ABBA arrangements and Bacharach melodies with the last few vestiges of the “pub rock” sound, the acerbic grit and menace of This Year’s Model all but scrubbed out, slicked over, dressed up. It’s no wonder songs like “Wednesday Week” and its equally kinetic little sister “Clean Money” were left out of the final tracklist; by this point, they represented a sound that Elvis seemed itching to leave behind.
Sometimes your victory lap amounts to little more than an aspirin-and-seltzer cocktail
As I suspect a lot of super-fans do, I get a big kick out of sharing a song with the uninitiated and prefacing it with “look, here’s an obscure B-side! Very few people even know this one! Isn’t it great?” The reality of it is that the enormous majority of fetishized outtakes are entirely deserving of their status as rarities, and are only really special to those who are highly attuned to the specifics of the artist’s history. But I’ve yet to come across someone who hasn’t found a lot to love in this little rave-up. I love the construction of it, like two distinct half-songs stitched together where one feels like the natural dramatic resolution of the musical and thematic threads laid out in the other. The first half is a rollicking thrill ride, bouncing along in a way that no Elvis Costello song really had at that point, Steve Nieve’s organ sounding at once like the sped-up refrain of a 60s spy theme and an accordion being thrown down a flight of stairs. Elvis is at his most unhinged here, spouting fractured lines about a sexual rendezvous that seems to be charged with as much desire as contempt as he strangles the life out of the two-note guitar line in the verses. Between the shakers and the rolling bassline and Pete Thomas banging the heck out of that ride cymbal, this is about as close to rockabilly as Elvis ever got. Well, this Elvis, anyway.
Then the song very starkly shifts to a semi-acoustic, mid-tempo section that probably would have fit nicely into Armed Forces, with its drowsy chord progression settling the song into morning-after melancholia. “Oh, what a letdown when the battle was finally won,” is the kind of post-coital ennui that Elvis would later explore in songs like “New Lace Sleeves.” Not every conquest is a triumph, and sometimes your victory lap amounts to little more than an aspirin-and-seltzer cocktail. Steve Nieve’s chiming keys, as always, sweeten this very bitter pill.
The song has a lot to offer in its explosive, jubilant two minutes
KEVIN DAVIS: I find it interesting that Jorge hears this song as a sort of lingering taste of This Year’s Model, though after reading his comments I follow his logic: The first half of this song especially sounds like an even more frantic version of “You Belong to Me,” a raucous rave-up pitched to Steve Nieve’s playful organ blasts that is certainly more in the spirit of This Year’s Model’s punk-ish snarl than it is of the crystalline pop of Armed Forces. But I’ve actually always heard this song as a glance forward towards Get Happy!! and its cavalcade of Stax-inspired rhythms; in fact, when I called up the song on YouTube, their algorithm took me directly from “Wednesday Week” to an audio-only clip of the entire Get Happy!! album, and the transition from “Wednesday Week” to “Love For Tender” feels not only seamless but inspired. It just serves to illustrate what a unified language the Attractions were speaking in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s – most of the songs from their first three records together could be arranged in any fashion and still make sonic thematic sense, an achievement no doubt attributable at least in part to their breathless productivity during this period. EC and his band barely came up for air between 1978 and 1984, producing at least an album a year and leaving (very, very conservatively) an entire album’s worth of leftovers and retakes on the cutting room floor along the way (the name of this U.S.-only album of outtakes is Taking Liberties which was released in 1980 and is “Wednesday Week”’s original home). This band had such a kinetic creative energy that it’s no wonder the train couldn’t start up again once it stopped rolling. I mean, how do you get that kind of momentum back?
A lot of EC’s early B-sides were right to have been left off their respective potential records—and indeed, I wouldn’t change a single note of either This Year’s Model or Get Happy!!, two of my three favorite EC records overall (the third item on that list is North). But I’ve always felt that some of Armed Forces’s outtakes could have served the album well—“Wednesday Week” in particular could have offered the record’s B-side a shot in the arm. The song has a lot to offer in its explosive, jubilant two minutes—in fact, I can think of no other Costello track that morphs so distinctly, prog-like, from one “movement” to the next like this (“I Want You,” perhaps), an impressive feat for a song which is not only so short but which bears so little evidence of the compositional deliberateness that would come to define Costello’s writing just a few albums down the road. Like many of Elvis’s early songs, the finer nuances of the songwriting here take a distinct backseat to the overall energy and presence of both the Attractions’ spot-on ensemble performance and Costello’s own sneering delivery, yet here the abrupt shift in rhythm and tone immediately demands that the listener realize that there is more happening than meets the ear. One might say its excellence is almost scientific.
Our Elvis Costello Song Of The Week just got two minutes longer . . . and two minutes better.