Overdose On Aftershave
That Fatal Mailing List #34: Lost Song, Pondering - "Party Party"
Elvis Costello has recorded so many songs at this point that it’s easy to imagine how a few have slipped through the cracks. In “Lost Songs, Pondering,” we’ll jump out of our random song reviews and examine a “lost” song from EC’s vast catalog of recorded performances.
I am a “Party Party” apologist.
I feel no need to justify my enjoyment of this song. I don’t care what the singer and writer of the song think. It’s a great track.
Elvis Costello contributed “Party Party” as the title song to a 1983 film of the same name, although the soundtrack saw release early, in 1982. The soundtrack album includes a nice grab bag of UK new wave acts, some of them produced by my own personal Jesus of pop music, Dave Edmunds. Lots of unexpected covers, too; Sting tackles “Tutti Frutti” and Edmunds himself performs “Run Rudolph Run.”
EC has remained notoriously silent about this line item on his discography. It was on the soundtrack, and it was released as a single; since then, its only re-release has been on a compilation called Singles, Volume 2, which appeared in 2003. It’s never been a bonus track on any of the multiple reissues that Costello has supervised from Rykodisc and Rhino.
“Party Party” deserves to be celebrated. It’s a note-perfect slice of early-eighties ska-tinged horn pop with sarcastic lyrics that stack clever upon clever. Is it slight? Sure. Is that bad? Absolutely not!
In his own extensive canon of songs, EC has plenty of tunes that are equally as clever as “Party Party,” yet he’s never tried to shy away from those songs. I’d go so far as to argue that “Party Party” is as good as “Everyday I Write the Book,” for example. Maybe the latter has a better unifying metaphor, but at the end of the day, Costello’s just riffing on every conceivable angle of that metaphor until he’s bludgeoned it to death. Great song, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not some paragon of depth and insight compared to “Party Party.”
There are also plenty of artists I respect as much as EC who have songs just as stupid as “Party Party,” if not moreso. For his 1980 album The River, Bruce Springsteen famously sidestepped some incredibly powerful and rocking cuts to instead include filler like “Crush on You” and “I’m a Rocker” instead. The latter tune name-checks Kojak, Columbo and the Batmobile. Yet Bruce still pulls out that tune in concert and seems happy to perform it alongside “Thunder Road” and “Born in the USA.”
I do wonder why EC has dismissed “Party Party” so completely. Maybe he just thinks it’s a dumb song. Maybe he doesn’t like the way the production turned out. Or maybe it’s a product of a time in his life he’d rather forget. Whatever the reason, “Party Party” is a good example of how an artist is sometimes the worst judge of his own work. Damnit, Elvis, let us party (party).
Programming note: I’ve been posting on roughly a Tues-Wed-Thurs schedule, on the weeks I haven’t been sidetracked by work or life. But I’m moving now to a Tues-Thurs-Sat schedule, just to give myself a little space between the posts and provide a little somethin’ somethin’ for you to digest on the weekend over your tea and crumpets. Let me know what you think!