Listen now on:
This week’s pick: “Blue Chair,” originally released on Blood & Chocolate (1986) and then as a completely re-arranged and re-recorded non-album single (1987)
Gary Stewart: Which version do we feature? That conundrum reminds me why we’re doing Elvis Costello Song of the Week in the first place.
Do we go with the poppy, almost bouncy version from Blood & Chocolate that’s filled with jealousy, regret, and recrimination? Why not? It makes a good case for that album, and splits the difference between the toughest songs on This Year’s Model (“No Action”) and the ultra-catchy sides on Armed Forces (“Oliver’s Army”). And while I’m listening to this again, I still can’t decide if the song is about getting over/not getting over a romance and confronting a rival, or if it’s actually something more disturbing: a dark night of the soul’s internal monologue.
Or maybe you’re still dancing (or bobbing) to “Getting Mighty Crowded”—a SOTW pick from a few weeks ago—and you’re in the mood for the Motown-inspired version that sounds like it came bounding out of a time machine from the Get Happy sessions (it didn’t). Though it sounds nothing like anything on Costello’s mostly-acoustic King Of America, this version of “Blue Chair” was actually recorded with that album’s core band (and produced by T Bone Burnett), and they absolutely kill it. Check out the way that double-time march beat segues right into a perfect Booker T. impression.
After marveling at the way E.C. takes this square peg of a song and beautifully pounds it into a round hole, you’ll be wondering what he can do with the triangle, and then you’ll probably want to hear a torch version, a country version, and hell, maybe even a polka version of “Blue Chair.”
David Gorman: I’m gonna take a stand for the go-go soul “single” version—not going to intellectualize it one bit and I don’t know if I could. It’s just a great record that’s all groove and glitter and propulsion, and I can’t hear it without waving my arms like an air-drumming idiot. (NOTE: While I have faith in the glorious diversity of the human race and its infinite potential, I don’t know if anyone could possibly look cool air-drumming—and I’m no exception.) This is crazy Booker T & The MGs territory, but then Elvis does this little “whoa-oh-oh-oh” thing that I swear is him getting all Ronnie Spector/“Be My Baby” on us. He’s singing so hard that I’m pretty sure you can hear him lose his breath halfway in. He’s tugging at the melody like it’s a chew-toy and is so in the pocket he becomes part of the rhythm section in parts. And speaking of the singing, what the hell are those harmonies Elvis layers on top of himself? It’s nuts. He’s his own Pips, whooping, hollering, witnessing, stuttering, bobbing and weaving around his own lead vocal. He’s the preacher and the choir. I just can’t get over the vocal arrangements. That “down, down, down, down . . .” bit is genius, but so is the “Weeeell” that opens up the second verse. I could pick the vocal apart all day long, but the song is too much damn fun to let me. And then the drum break with the falsetto “whooooooooooooo” hits and . . . well . . . here comes my idiot air-drumming again.
This is it for me. A song I can listen to a dozen times in a row (which I did when we settled on writing about it) and it never loses its punch and never fails to get some part of me moving. For what it’s worth (both my opinion and the trivial nature of such statements in general as it relates to someone taking in the song on its own merits), this is the best singing the man has ever done.
So that’s TWO songs added to our ever-expanding Elvis Costello Song Of The Week Playlist? Well, kinda. But we still think it makes for a swell listen: