Elvis Costello’s punk snarl took on a whole new meaning back in 1977.
Costello and his backing band, The Attractions, played “Watching the Detectives” and the start of “Less Than Zero” on “Saturday Night Live” on Dec. 17 of that year.
The British rocker stopped the second song cold, upsetting both his label and the “SNL” brass.
“I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but there’s no reason to do this song here,” Costello said before playing “Radio, Radio.” That song, which excoriated commercial broadcasting, got him banned from the show for the next 12 years.
Why would the young singer attempt such a stunt? He later said he found inspiration from Jimi Hendrix, who pulled a similar switcheroo in the middle of a 1969 Cream tribute.
Costello had something else in mind that night.
“And I just wanted them to remember us. I didn’t really have anything against the show. I was more pissed off at being told what to play by the record company than I was NBC, truthfully. I can’t remember whether I said what I was going to do, but I think I just said, ‘Watch me.’”
That was Costello circa 1977. This year’s model takes a very different approach to his work.
Costello told The Telegraph that he no longer plays one of his earliest hits, “Oliver’s Army,” in concert. He also hopes radio stations retire the hard-charging track, too.
A single line using the phrase “white n-word,” which has been played, and sung, for decades, is now under attack, according to the BBC. And Costello himself has no interest in defending it, or the song itself.
“That’s what my grandfather was called in the British army – it’s historically a fact … but people hear that word… and accuse me of something that I didn’t intend.”
He complained about radio stations bleeping the word itself and sang new “Oliver’s Army” for a while.
Now, he’d rather leave the song behind rather than be labeled something awful by the woke press and social media scolds.
“Because when I fall under a bus, they’ll play She, Good Year for the Roses and Oliver’s Army.”
Once again Cancel Culture’s inability to consider nuance and context reigns supreme. And another classic song bites the dust.
Last year, The Rolling Stones agreed to ditch “Brown Sugar” over lyrics some deem “problematic.”
Costello has never been one to play nice. His persona and music eschewed pop music trends over the decades, but he earned the admiration of critics and fans alike thanks to his singular, stinging lyrics and melodies.
Now, he’s just another veteran rocker unwilling to defend his own work for fear of cancellation.