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Welcome back to the Elvis Costello Song Of The Week®, our ongoing attempt to drive you ever-deeper into the catalog of the musician who most embodies the Trunkworthy mission. Elvis has spent almost 40 years using every means at his disposal to turn his fans on to the artists, songs, and genres that inspire him. For that reason (and, well, because we can’t think of another artist who has written 500 songs as good as the 500 he’s written), we’re making this our humble attempt to return the favor to an artist who’s inspired us so much for so many years.
This week’s pick: “Either Side of the Same Town” from The Delivery Man (2004)
Gary Stewart: There aren’t many songs that open with a line like “Nothing will ever be the same again” and really live up to what those words, at their most devastating, really mean. This is one of them.
It was originally written for cult soul legend Howard Tate, but Elvis’ version, from the very underrated and very Trunkworthy album The Delivery Man, might have the edge here. He’s singing and writing at the top of the great tortured soul ballad food chain, where songs like James Carr’s “The Dark End of the Street” live and breathe. At the same time, it’s far from just a genre exercise. You’ll know that the instant you hear the pain in his voice when the words “It’s hard to act like strangers” announce the transition from verse to chorus. That’s when you’ll be experiencing the same emotional intensity and complexity of “This House Is Empty Now,” “Almost Blue,” and “God Give Me Strength,” or, for that matter, anything from the Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, or Percy Sledge songbook. And you’ll know you’re sharing an experience with someone who knows separation and divorce—what that feels like—and what that should sound like coming though your speakers.
David Gorman: For a guy who made an entire Stax homage album [Get Happy!!], and who’s been covering Southern soul and Motown records since the beginning of his career, “Either Side of the Same Town” was the moment when he first equaled his idols . . . probably because he was working with one of them. Gary mentioned Elvis wrote this song for Howard Tate, but more importantly, Elvis wrote it with Tate’s producer, Jerry Ragovoy—a dream-come-true collaboration for me. Ragovoy wrote some of the best, deepest soul records ever cut, and while some people reading this might’ve never heard his name before, I bet everyone reading this has heard his songs. We just did a piece about the Trunkworthy track “Stay With Me,” but this guy also wrote “Time Is on My Side,” “Piece of My Heart,” and “Cry Baby.” He and Elvis work together seamlessly here, and this is my absolute favorite of all Costello’s collaborations. If this song had been written 45 years ago, I’d be in a bidding war on eBay with a dozen other soul fanatics, hoping to get an original copy. It’s that good. It’s that real.