G.O.A.T.: Alison and Watching the Detectives by Elvis Costello (1977)

THE GREATEST OF ALL TUNES (G.O.A.T.) is a series of posts, producing my 100 favorite songs of all time.  The master list is here, and I update it about every two weeks or when I have another 10 songs or so. Right now, I’m adding my 13th and 14th songs to the list: Elvis Costello’s Alison and Watching the Detectives.

Elvis Costello has created over a dozen songs that are most excellent.  Radio Radio.  Veronica.  The Angels Want to Wear My Red Shoes.  Oliver’s Army.  Pump It Up.  Accidents Will Happen.  Everyday I Write the Book.  On and on.  But I’m saying these two songs, both from My Aim is True.  Alison was the “B” side to the single “Welcome the Working Week,” and a line from the chorus served as the album’s title.  Why did I pick this song, one that Costello himself has said is not one of his best?  Because he’s wrong.  It is.

It’s a fairly traditional ballad, albeit one with an opening chord that is beautiful enough to make your heart break and lyrics that still break me every time I hear them.  “I know this world is killing you…”  It just kills me.  Then when he says, “Somebody better put out the big light because I can’t stand to see you this way…”  How many of us put the ones we love centerstage in our lives, only to be disappointed or hurt—and then find we can’t look away?

So it may not be his most influential song, and didn’t even hit the sales charts, but it’s my favorite.

And as for Watching the Detectives, well, it’s terrific.  “She’s filing her nails while they’re dragging the lake.”  “She looks so good that he breaks down and begs.”  “You think you’re alone until you realize you’re in it/now fear is here to stay, love is here for a visit.”  Lyric after lyric.  And that bassline.  It all creeps forward with menace and gravitas.

So, where do these songs fall on my list?  Well, let’s do “Detectives” first.  Right now, Alanis Morisette is sitting at #7, right below Biggie Smalls’ “Juicy.”  I’m putting Detectives between those two.  Then Alison is going a little farther down, just above Clipse.  So here’s how #s 6-11 are changed today:

6. Juicy by Notorious B.I.G. (1994) (link)
7. Watching the Detectives by Elvis Costello (1977)
8. Ironic by Alanis Morissette (1995) (link)
9. Somebody Told Me by The Killers (2004)(link)
10. Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Richard Hawley (2007) (link)
11. Misfits by the Kinks (1978) (link); and: Covers of the top 30 Kinks songs here and here
12. Alison by Elvis Costello (1977)
13. Grindin’ by Clipse (2002) (link)

I’ll update the master list in a few weeks, after I’ve added more GOATs.


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