Elvis Costello Says He Won’t Perform ‘Oliver’s Army’ Anymore; Tells Radio Stations “Just Don’t Play the Record!”

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Rock Cellar Magazine

“Oliver’s Army” is among the most well-known songs in the versatile catalog of Elvis Costello, but the revered singer/songwriter has vowed to not play the track live anymore — owing to its subject matter and, particularly, some of its lyrics.

The song, which was first featured on Costello’s third studio album, 1979’s Armed Forces was written about the conflict in Northern Ireland. Costello at one point in the song says the following:

“Only takes one itchy trigger/ One more widow, one less white n****.”

It’s that line, with a context that can easily be lost to the sands of time if one isn’t familiar with the Troubles in Ireland, that motivated Costello to drop the song from his live repertoire. As he told the Telegraph in a new interview:

“If I wrote that song today, maybe I’d think twice about it. That’s what my grandfather was called in the British army — it’s historically a fact — but people hear that word go off like a bell and accuse me of something that I didn’t intend.”

That lyric caused some radio stations to play a censored version of the song in recent years, a move that motivated Costello to suggest just removing the tune entirely from rotation:

“On the last tour, I wrote a new verse about censorship, but what’s the point of that? So I’ve decided I’m not going to play it. [Censoring that word] is a mistake. They’re making it worse by bleeping it for sure. Because they’re highlighting it then. Just don’t play the record!”

It’s a tough, but reasoned decision, axing one of your best-known songs from your live show — but it’s hard to argue with Elvis Costello’s motivation behind this one.

Costello and his band the Imposters, meanwhile, are gearing up to release a new record, The Boy Named If, this coming Friday, Jan. 14.

Produced by Elvis Costello and Sebastian Krys,  The Boy Named If follows Costello’s recent release of Spanish Model, a reinvention of his 1978 record This Year’s Model.

Of the new record, Costello says, “The full title of this record is ‘The Boy Named If (And Other Children’s Stories).’ ‘IF’ is a nickname for your imaginary friend; your secret self, the one who knows everything you deny, the one you blame for the shattered crockery and the hearts you break, even your own.”

Click here to pre-order The Boy Named If on CD from our Rock Cellar Store
Click here to pre-order The Boy Named If on 2-LP from our Rock Cellar Store

Here’s the track listing:

1. Farewell, OK
2. The Boy Named If
3. Penelope Halfpenny
4. The Difference
5. What If I Can’t Give You Anything But Love?
6. Paint The Red Rose Blue
7. Mistook Me For A Friend
8. My Most Beautiful Mistake
9. Magnificent Hurt
10. The Man You Love To Hate
11. The Death Of Magic Thinking
12. Trick Out The Truth
13. Mr. Crescent

Costello was also featured on an episode of Conan O’Brien’s podcast, Conan Needs a Friend, regarding Costello’s new Audible Originals book, How to Play the Guitar and Y. Listen below.

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