"Alison" by Elvis Costello, 1977

Thursday, September 19, 2013

There aren't all that many Elvis C. songs more famous than "Alison," his very first single, recorded even pre-Attractions. I guess "Pump It Up" gets more radio play. Maybe "Radio Radio" and "Watching the Detectives" come close. And now and then he records something new, which gets a lot of airplay but then vanishes in to obscurity, where frankly it probably belongs. (Case in point, this new one with the Roots. I think it's horrible.) I'm not actually sure "Alison" is the Elvis song I'd call the best. Not by a long shot. "Beyond Belief." "Shipbuilding." "Big Sister's Clothes." But they didn't make my list. Who can explain these things?

But back to "Alison." I had a dear friend during and after high school by the same name, with that extra common "l," and often, when I was bored, I'd call her up and sing this song into her answering machine. (Sometimes I'd sing "Alison's Starting to Happen" by the Lemonheads, but that didn't make the top-100 list.) When I think about it now--the song, that is--it makes me a bit uncomfortable, but it fits right in with Elvis and his Angry Young Man aesthetic: there's something vaguely misogynistic about these lyrics. While the narrator claims his aim is true, and seems to love Alison, he also wishes she would just shut her silly mouth. He also casts a dark eye on her former loves in a manner not entirely becoming, I'd imagine, to a woman being wooed.

Still it's a fine and brief pop song, deceptively simple, with really strong lyrics.

Next time, another love song, sort of, and a whole lot weirder. Think 1964 World's Fair.