This post originally appeared on my Tumblr on July 25, 2012. I go see Elvis live next week. Can't wait.
Perfect Songs - I Want You
Music, lyrics and performance can combine to have an impact that goes beyond what was recorded. That’s the sweet spot for any song, really; to be able to transcend into the emotional, sometimes in gut wrenching ways. It’s the rawness of that emotion, whether it’s personal or not that the best writers and performers can drill into your soul. Ultimately, singers are basically actors, finding the truth in each phrase, each line, each note. One of the rawest songs ever written, in every sense, is Elvis Costello’s I Want You.
It’s the story of a break up where the singer has been cheated on by his girlfriend/wife, and no matter how hurt he is, how angry, how completely destroyed, he still wants her to the point of further emasculating himself before her in his gut wrenching accusations, confessions and pleadings. It’s a complex display of emotions that make the story feel so true, so real, so raw. You can just see this being acted out as a heartbreaking argument, filled with discomfort and confrontation. It exposes so many basic human truths about love, trust, jealousy, hate, desire, and just everything that makes a relationship.
Part of the song’s brilliance is the romantic, nostalgic intro that seems to be from another song and another era completely. It’s sweet and pure and innocent and it gets interrupted by a nasty chord that plunges us into the rest of this breathless diatribe of a song. I think I read somewhere that Costello wanted to write a song similar to John Lennon’s Jealous Guy. Well, in my mind, he surpassed it. I have no idea whether or not the song is based on a real experience or not. I could look it up, I guess, but it doesn’t matter. It is real. Too real.
I could leave it at that, but in this case, there is also a cover of the song that does it equal justice while bringing other elements to the table. Fiona Apple sang the song with Costello on guitar during a tribute show for Costello. Watch for yourself.