Song 103: Elvis Costello and the Attractions, “I Want You” (1986)

Elvis-Costello-I-Want-You-102621

This is another one that I’ve been putting off for a while, because how do you choose one Elvis Costello song? (I’ve also been trying to stick with one song per artist, which will probably change at some point, but we’ll see how long I can follow my own rules.) Costello probably rivals the Beatles in providing me with ideas about what a song can be. His lyrics are often master classes in innuendo and double entendre, and his melodies typically offer a sweet counterpoint to his bitter words. Like the best writers, his works are little worlds unto themselves, with living, breathing characters.

In some ways, “I Want You” is an atypical Elvis Costello song. It’s much more straightforward than his songs usually are, which is what makes it so striking. To me, it sounds stark, unrelenting, and direct. Costello, however, apparently disagrees: “The sound of this track was always going to be the aural equivalent of a blurred Polaroid, so no apologies for the lack of fidelity,” he wrote in the liner notes of his Girls Girls Girls compilation. “I Want You” sounds nothing like a blurred photograph to me.

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