1. Elvis Costello – Oliver’s Army

There was a Checkpoint Charlie, he didn’t crack a smile.
But it’s no laughing party when you’ve been on the Murder Mile.

For some reason we remember the first music our children heard. Clementine was delivered to the sounds of Justin Timberlake. [Jean, how could you? When you grow the baby you get the right to choose the music, but JT?] Otto was born to Salmonella Dub. Lucy, our first child, lay in the hospital crib and listened to an Elvis Costello greatest hits CD that started with Allison.

elvis headphones

There are so many great Elvis Costello songs:

These songs have great melodies and hilarious lyrics like, “They call her Natasha when she looks like Elsie. I don’t want to go to Chelsea.” The videos are awful but Bruce Thomas’s bass lines are wonderful – Pump It Up has one of the best lines ever. But there’s no question as to my favourite song: Oliver’s Army:



When it plays, I am compelled to sing along. I know the words but I suspect I don’t really know what he’s singing about. As a kid it felt pro-war but on some level I knew it was anti-war. On the surface it appealed to my military-geek boyhood with mention of the world’s trouble spots like Palestine and Johannesburg and boyhood heroes like Winston Churchill and Oliver Cromwell and his Army. Going deeper there’s a sense of belonging to a broader England because he sings of the boys from the Mersey and the Thames and the Tyne.

As I grew older the England connection meant less but I always loved the song. Elvis Costello writes songs that don’t go out of fashion, probably because there has never been an era when he was in fashion. A Design For Life and Berlin Chair are equally good songs, but I’ve been singing along to Oliver’s Army for thirty years so it takes top spot.

Oliver’s Army is another piano-driven song on my Top 40 list; I am haunted by the instrument I never learned to play.

We played the CD so much we wore it out and bought another.


Next: No more – that’s it! Woo!

Previous: 2. Manic Street Preachers – A Design for Life


3 Responses to “1. Elvis Costello – Oliver’s Army”

  1. 1 Deb Lloyd
    September 2, 2009 at 11:04

    Great choice Brent. Got to be one of the best songs ever written. Such dark lyrics but such a toe tapper. I was convinced you were going to go with XTC for your Number 1!!!

  2. September 2, 2009 at 11:12

    I feel guilty about the absence of XTC. They are one of those bands where I love their albums but can’t pick a song. I went through them all but nothing stood out. Same for the Kaiser Chiefs, Radiohead, Primal Scream, Sonic Youth, Sugarcubes, …

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