Song of the Day *3000* – “Watching the Detectives” – Elvis Costello

It’s hard to figure exactly, because I’ve repeated a couple of songs accidentally and I always post George Winston’s “Thanksgiving” on that day, but this is very near the 3000th song I’ve posted on Song of the Day!

Nice girls, not one with a defect
Cellophane shrink-wrapped, so correct
Red dogs under illegal legs
She looks so good that he gets down and begs

Brilliant, paranoid song about a man mixing up a detective show with his own life. In the studio version on My Aim Is True and early live versions with the Attractions like this one and the ones at Hollywood High and El Mocambo, the four musicians take off in different directions. The skittering drums of Pete Thomas and Elvis’ vocals impart the paranoia, bassist Bruce Thomas is playing a ska tune, the keyboards of Steve Nieve gives it a TV soundtrack vibe, and Elvis’ low guitar is almost like a spaghetti western.

Long shot of that jumping sign,
Visible shivers running down my spine.
Cut to baby taking off her clothes.
Close-up of the sign that says, “We never close”
You snatch a tune, you match a cigarette,
She pulls their eyes out with a face like a magnet.
I don’t know how much more of this I can take.
She’s filing her nails while they’re dragging the lake

In later versions the TV detective show elements are played up, like in the Costello/Nieve version at the Park West in Chicago that is all keyboards, or the jumped-up version on My Flame Burns Blue with a full horn section. Any way it’s done, it remains a remarkable song.


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