Elvis Costello is a songwriters’ songwriter. He has written some truly special pop and rock songs throughout his lengthy career of over 40 years. If that weren’t enough, in addition to his solo work, he has written with the likes of Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach, Allen Toussaint and even The Roots. Costello is an artist. He is a craftsman. To quote a certain, highly successful Broadway musical, “his power with the quill is undeniable.”

“And it’s the damage that we do
And never know
It’s the words that we don’t say
That scare me so”

-“Accidents Will Happen”

“Oh it’s so funny to be seeing you after so long, girl.
And with the way you look I understand
That you are not impressed.”

-“Alison”

“Down in the pleasure center, hell-bent or heaven-sent
Listen to the propaganda, listen to the latest slander
There’s nothing underhand that she wouldn’t understand
Pump it up, until you can feel it
Pump it up, when you don’t really need it”

Pump it Up”

In his early days, Costello was part of the British punk rock explosion, alongside acts like The Sex Pistols and The Clash. But Costello was different. He was part satirical clown, part elder statesman, part curator and craftsman. It’s not just that he has always known how to write a great song, but he has also always known to pick a great song to cover, which is why maybe one of his very finest recordings is “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” written by the great Nick Lowe.

Lowe wrote this song in the early 1970’s, he says as a reaction to the end of the hippie movement of 1960’s which encouraged peace and love. Costello’s version is as good as the greatest garage band, punk song you have ever heard, but it is so much more. It is melodic. It is powerful and sincere. It is pleading and sad.

When I write my 1PerfectSong blog articles, I listen to the song repeatedly. I read the lyrics, and I study the history of the song. I pick songs that I like, that I think have stood the test of time well, and that I think people will enjoy reading about. I don’t know what made me think of writing about this song, this particular week, but I am.

It just so happens that I am writing this blog article the same week that President Donald Trump encouraged four United States congresswomen of color to leave the United States if they were so unhappy with the way the country is being run. I am writing this blog article the same month that President Donald Trump is threatening massive deportation raids. I did not write this blog article because of the news of the week, but it is remarkable to read these lyrics almost 50 years after they were written.

The song begins with a snare drum attack by drummer Pete Thomas, followed soon by the loud, yet colorful drone of a great riff played on dual electric guitars that soon break off and play opposing arpeggios. This band is tight.

“As I walk through
This wicked world
Searchin’ for light in the darkness of insanity
I ask myself
Is all hope lost?
Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?”

Whatever your political affiliation, when people in charge take actions that contradict your belief system, it is easy to feel lost. It is easy to feel powerless. This was true in 1974. This is true today. When we disagree with the powerful, the powerful make can you feel small for daring to disagree.. Make you feel like your opinion doesn’t matter.

“And each time I feel like this inside
There’s one thing I wanna know:
What’s so funny ’bout peace love and understanding? Ohhhh
What’s so funny ’bout peace love and understanding?”

Politics is most effective when it is theatrical. People like to watch a good show, and if the show gets boring, politicians garner attention by changing the script. With a wink and a grin, they make an accusation. They use the language of “we” and “them.” They are not so concerned if people are upset with them or not, just as long as people react.

“And as I walked on
Through troubled times
My spirit gets so downhearted sometimes
So where are the strong
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony?
Sweet harmony’

Cause each time I feel it slippin’ away, just makes me wanna cry
What’s so funny ’bout peace love and understanding? Ohhhh
What’s so funny ’bout peace love and understanding?”

Reminder. This song was written during the time of punk rock and heavy metal. Cynicism was the language of the day. Young people wanted to tear down, without much concern for building up. Young people wanted the older generation to wake up, or just go away. There was no interest in seeing eye to eye. Punk musicians were destroying their instruments on stage. Mutilating themselves. Spitting on their audience.

And while it may be easy to read the lyrics to “What’s so Funny ’bout Peace, Love and Understanding” through such a cynical eye, I see it as nothing but sincere and earnest. Nick Lowe is sending a message to his friends and colleagues. We don’t need to throw it all away just yet. We have a job to do.

So where are the strong?
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony?
Sweet harmony’Cause each time I feel it slippin’ away,

just makes me wanna cry

What’s so funny ’bout peace love and understanding? Ohhhh
What’s so funny ’bout peace love and understanding? Ohhhh what’s so fun about peace, love and understanding
.”

Nick Lowe may have written this song, but it is wholly and completely owned by Elvis Costello. This song starts, and barely takes a breath for all it’s three minutes and 16 seconds. Costello sings closely into the mic, the bass is in lockstep with the snare keeping the beat, and the guitar slashes throughout.

This is sincerity. This is honesty. This is peace, love and understanding.


“(What’s so Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding”
Written by Nick Lowe
Performed by Elvis Costello and The Attractions
Released 1978

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