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.
The week’s pick: “Couldn’t Call it Unexpected No. 4,” (though originally recorded for the album Mighty Like a Rose, we’re highlighting the live, unamplified version of the song with a clip pulled from A&E’s Live by Request in 2003)
Gary Stewart: “Couldn’t Call it Unexpected No. 4” is lush, elliptical, and immediate, combining elements of chamber classical with traditional pop (the kind you find in the best works by mid-period Beach Boys and more complex works by Randy Newman). But the gorgeous nature of the melody doesn’t distract in the slightest from a very personal, almost existential experience.
It first appeared as the closing spot on Mighty Like a Rose with a more complicated arrangement, including backing by The Dirty Dozen Brass Band. But the song really shines in this unamplified piano-and-vocal-only version, which often closes his solo-oriented shows. It’s stunning and simple, with nothing between him and the audience. And there’s something in this approach—the nature of the melody, the directness of the vocal, the mixture of pain and beauty—that just feels so immediately captivating.
David Gorman: The first time I heard this song performed this way—unplugged in the most literal sense, no microphone, no amplification at all—it gave me one of those sensations addicts spend their lives vainly trying to recapture. It was the final encore of an already great show. Elvis came back onstage, asked that all the house lights be turned on and all the amps turned off. He stepped to the edge of the stage, clasped his hands together and started singing. And this wasn’t a small club; this was a sold-out, 6,000-seat amphitheater. It’s quite possible that nobody in the audience breathed for the duration of the song. I’m certain I didn’t. While this was the way all music would have been heard in 19th-century music halls, I’d never experienced the pure, soul-shaking power of a singer’s voice—uncolored by microphones, electronics, or speakers—hitting the back wall of a theater that size. The hope of hearing him close the show with “Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No. 4” is reason enough to see him perform any chance you get.
Catch up on all the Elvis Costello Songs Of The Week (so far) with this handy playlist: