Thursday, July 31, 2008

Elvis Costello & the Attractions - Radio Radio

Today, we take a look at Declan MacManus, or more commonly, Elvis Costello and that punchy little single he put out in 1978 that got a bunch of people (especially the United States) all hot and bothered, "Radio Radio."

Although it hadn't made the cut on the UK version of his landmark album This Year's Model, Columbia Records decided to tack it on the US version that came out 2 months later. Columbia didn't, however, want Elvis out there on US television doing a song that openly criticized major broadcasting and payola.

Kind of an obvious thing for Columbia to request, really, but why they thought Costello and the Attractions should instead perform "Less Than Zero," a song about Oswald Mosely on "Saturday Night Live" is less apparent. Famously, Elvis stopped the song a few bars in, told the audience there was no reason to do the song here and, in very punk fashion, ripped into "Radio Radio." Infamously, it got him kicked off the show for 12 years.

Then in very non punk fashion, he bought into the nostalgia and kitsch of it and recreated the moment for "Saturday Night Live"s 25th anniversary special. Still, pretty good performance.

If there's any problem with the infamy of the song, it's that it serves as people's first intro to Elvis Costello and therefore, what to base your first impression on. Not that it's a bad song to take that mantle, but you gotta feel kinda sorry for the kids that hear it and go, "No thanks," and miss out on the likes of "Pump it Up," "Big Tears," "Shipbuilding" or even "God Give Me Strength."

Elvis Costello & the Attractions - Radio Radio

There was something to be said for young Elvis, who could spit out songs as politically confrontational as this with as much as ease as he could a song like "Alison." Say what you will about the crop of young artists that came out of the late 1970s British punk movement, but few (even Weller) were dropping words like "anaesthetise" onto A-sides of potential Top of the Pops material. The byproduct of its punk flagship status is that every young up and coming garage band inevitably learns the song and now you got kids with frosted tips and iPods singing about how their radio dial broke 'cos it's old. Really? Nevertheless, whatever miserable byproducts iconic songs bring with them, it still is an iconic song.

Elvis Costello & the Attractions - Tiny Steps

A charming enough song that works as a nice yang to "Radio Radio"s yin, even if mellowness is only found in the song's music. The entertaining part of this song is that it folds right into almost every other song recorded during the This Year's Model era. You listen to this and it really doesn't sound so far off from another B-side from the era, "Big Tears." Thank God Elvis was the lyricist he was -- few people can pull about 20 songs from the same musical idea.

The A-side can now be found on The Very Best of Elvis Costello and the Attractions while the B-side recently showed up on Rock and Roll Music.

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