Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Perfect (Cover) Songs - Alison

elvis costello

I'm just going to get to the pretty obvious and well established point: Elvis Costello is one of the greatest songwriters of all time, period. The fact that one of his greatest songs comes from his very first album in a long and ridiculously productive career is a testament to this fact. "Alison" is one of those songs that is brilliantly original and yet, somehow, stupidly obvious in how it taps into musical and emotional ideas that just seem to be part of the fabric of existence. While there have been many covers, few come even close to the original's simple perfection. In fact, most covers are pretty bad, but there's one that I think finally matches the original, and comes close to surpassing it, but first let's hear from the man himself.

This early live version trades in some of the soulful polish for, maybe, even more soulful, raw emotional edge. The droning organ in this version really amps the moodiness where this could be a small bar with nobody in it and Elvis is some nobody who just lived this moment where he saw his long lost love after years and is now just laying it all out for whoever happens to be there to listen. While Elvis can certainly mine new feelings from this or any of his songs with every performance, along comes the one cover that has blown me away, from Lydia Loveless.

I've been listening more and more to Loveless the past couple of years and I'm always moved by how plaintively empathetic her delivery is on everything she does, but here it really stands out to me. Stripped down to just guitar and vocal, this can't get anymore raw and nobody right now does raw like her. It comes across as incredibly open and honest in just the way that Elvis's best work usually does, but her very distinct and natural twang adds both sweetness and edge in a unique combination that makes this hers. Lately, when I feel like listening to this song, this is the version I pull up. Although, occasionally, I go back to back with this and the original. To think this was just a b-side for her. Then there's a Linda Ronstadt version that was a minor hit for her. But, man, it's pretty horrible.

That sax is just completely out of place and it comes across as this light FM thing you'd hear in an elevator. But worse to me is that she changes the whole tone of the song for no reason by altering the best line in the song from "I don't know if you've been loving somebody, I only know it isn't mine" to "I don't know if you were loving somebody, I only hope he wasn't mine." Is Alison the other woman to Linda's husband in this scenario?  I don't know, but the rest of the lyrics don't change, so it makes no damn sense at all. Yet, as bad as that is. . .

Bono is as insufferable as his worst caricatures on this cover and I actually like U2. Had he ever even heard the song before? Bono the Butcher they should call him. Fuck. I don't care that Elvis is there with him, this is a disaster. I mean, I know I celebrate rawness and this is certainly raw and unhinged, but damn, dude, there's a limit. This goes way beyond the guy at an empty bar singing out his heartache and right into drunken ex-boyfriend doing bad, heartfelt karaoke at Alison's wedding while everyone stares in horror - you know what, fuck it, this is actually kind of brilliant now that I think of it like that. The bizarre scatting at the end is the best part. This is now my new favorite version (not really).


  1. Just adore Ronstadt's version now. Sexy and sad. Even Mr. Costello has apologized to the lovely Linda. The Loveless version is fairly sanctimonious IMHO.

  2. Kind of liked all versions. Bono is over-the-top, but it works for me.