ELVIS COSTELLO – ” Shipbuilding ” Classic Songs

Posted: December 6, 2020 in MUSIC
Tags: , , , , ,

From his 1983 album “Punch The Clock”it’s a song that Elvis Costello wrote with Clive Langer during the Falklands War, reflecting the dark irony of profiting off the sales of ships on which their own sons would die.

His recording of it is distinguished forever by the haunting trumpet playing of the late Chet Baker, said to be Baker’s last recorded music. There’s been some confusion over authorship of the song. Most sources agree that Elvis wrote the lyrics to a tune written by Langer for Robert Wyatt, of Soft Machine, to record.

In fact, Elvis confirms this himself in an interview on the UK Channel Four show “Loose Talk.” Elvis said he wrote both the music and words:

ELVIS COSTELLO: “I came up with the melody first, which I put on cassette. I was singing it wordlessly, maybe just humming while playing the melody on an organ. I sang the vocal melody over these beautiful changes. It was for Robert Wyatt. He had the hope that I would write something bright and optimistic that would be the way Robert intended it, sort of like Neil Diamond’s `I’m a Believer,’  maybe something more poignant, but it should be like a conventional pop lyric. Instead of which I wrote a very specific song about something else entirely, and that reflects what was happening at that moment, that particular conflict of all these dilemmas that blew up and came out of the lyric of `Shipbuilding.’ “

In 2008, he told magazine he was proud of the song: “It’s a pretty good lyric, yeah. The key line for me is, ‘Diving for dear life, when we could be diving for pearls.’ That we should be doing something beautiful, better than this. I wrote the lyric before the Belgrano (Argentinean Navy cruiser sunk by British forces during the 1982 Falklands conflict in controversial circumstances). I’ve been to see the monument, stood and read the names of all the men… well, boys who died. Whatever you say about the conflict of war, that crime alone will see Thatcher in hell.”

Chet Baker played live with the band, as opposed to overdubbing his solo, according to co-producer Alan Winstanley “So we had to edit the multi-track just to get the trumpet right,” he said. “What you’re hearing is three different band performances spliced together. Amazingly, they’re all the same tempo, with no click track.”

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