For those who felt the cold force of the Iron Lady’s reign, exultation was the reflex response. That was what fuelled the campaign to propel ‘Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead’ to the top of the music charts.
No doubt those who suffered the ravages of her policies, scarcely believing the day would ever come, felt entitled to this outpouring of cartoon glee, but could a number from a Hollywood musical ever quite hope to essay the true feelings of fear and loathing towards the former British Prime Minister? A more measured riposte would have been ‘Tramp The Dirt Down’. Written by Elvis Costello, one of the finest wordsmiths and songwriters of his or any generation, ‘Tramp The Dirt Down’ articulates the revulsion the narrator feels when he sees a photograph in a newspaper of the politician kissing a child. “Can you imagine all that greed and avarice coming down on that child’s lips?” he asks.
It’s not the first time Costello entered this territory. His 1981 album Trust reflects his antipathy towards the recently elected Conservative government, and his 1983 album Punch The Clock features the eloquently expressed ‘Shipbuilding’, a piercing commentary on the horrors of war inspired by events in the Falklands. ‘Pills And Soap’, which featured on the same album, was another memorable skewering of Thatcherite Britain.
If this form of commentary, and its acidic delivery, was familiar to Costello’s fans, so was his facility for crafting breezy, uplifting three-minute pop gems — often a sweetener for the bitter pill contained within.
The album Spike produced one of Costello’s biggest singles, ‘Veronica’. The success of that album and the single were fitting recompense for what was up to then his most ambitious record. Having just signed to Warner Bros, Costello decided to make full use of his budget and the album was recorded in Dublin, London, Hollywood and New Orleans with around 30 different musicians. His period in Dublin saw folk luminaries such as Derek Bell, Frankie Gavin, Dónal Lunny, Davy Spillane, Steve Wickham and Christy Moore contribute.
By this stage Costello was becoming adept at working with others. Nine of his previous eleven albums featured The Attractions, a trio comprising Steve Nieve and Bruce and Pete Thomas (no relation). By any standards this was a particularly prolific era for the songwriter. That nine-year-period spawned a wealth of classic new wave singles such as ‘Alison’, ‘Watching the Detectives’, and ‘Oliver’s Army’.
In 1981, he went to Nashville, where he recorded Almost Blue, an album of country covers.
He released two major albums in 1986, King Of America, on which he worked with members of Elvis Presley’s TCB band, while he reunited with The Attractions for Blood & Chocolate.
The Juliet Letters, Costello’s 1993 collaboration with the acclaimed modern classical group The Brodsky Quartet, was another success. His forthcoming album with hip-hop outfit The Roots shows his spirit for musical adventure continues undimmed.