Elvis Costello and Paul McCartney Was One of Rock’s More Intriguing Songwriting Teams



John Lennon was a once-in-a-lifetime talent, and his tragic death in 1980 brought the hammer down on any hopes the Beatles would ever reunite, since he was so totally irreplaceable. But I used to imagine that if the stars ever strategically aligned one day and the remaining Beatles somehow decided to make music together again, the only one who could come anywhere close to replacing John Lennon would have been Elvis Costello.

Not only was he a brilliant songwriter and performer in his own right, but he also has that nasty side that helped make up John’s yin to Paul’s distinctly earnest yang, the magic formula that made the Beatles The Beatles. So it was a pretty exciting event in the late 1980s when Costello and McCartney finally decided to write some songs together.

paulmccartneyelviscostelloI was reminded of this hearing the news that McCartney is re-releasing his 1989 album Flowers In The Dirt which contained four of the Costello/McCartney collaborations. What’s really exciting is that the new package will also include a disc of demos and some video of the collaboration too.

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All told, Costello and McCartney wrote 15 songs together, and all but three of them ended up on one of their respective solo albums. Two of them became hit singles, “My Brave Face” from Flowers In The Dirt, and “Veronica” from Costello’s album Spike. The latter song may be my favorite collabo between the two artists because you can so clearly hear their respective contributions. The middle section of “Veronica” that begins “On the Empress of India…” has got McCartney’s gentle fingerprints all over it.

I also really liked “You Want Her Too” from Flowers In The Dirt because it’s a fun song that they both sing on. But truth be told, I ended up a little disappointed by the McCartney/Costello collaborations, probably because my expectations for them were a little too high. Other than perhaps “Veronica”, nothing really Beatlesque was ever spawned from the songwriting partnership.

The fact is that after 1965 or so, Lennon and McCartney collaborated on very few songs together anyway. Most Lennon/McCartney songs written after that time were written entirely by one or the other. By 1989 I would imagine that both Elvis Costello and Paul McCartney had become pretty comfortable, if not set in their ways, writing songs alone and in in their own way. Maybe we should be grateful that we got what we did from their partnership: a bunch of solid if not spectacular songs.

At least it put to rest any wild speculation from dreamers like me that Costello might one day replace Lennon in some Beatles reunion that, let’s face it, was never going to happen under any circumstances regardless.

Photos: Paul McCartney – By Fiona [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons; Elvis Costello – By marco annunziata from Italy (elvis costello) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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