Elvis Costello – Oliver’s Army

Armed Forces
Year :
Randy Newman / XTC / Lou Reed

Everyone says Elvis is the king. I don’t disagree so much as I think they got the last name wrong.This is not, however, an argument over Elvises (because there is no argument). This is about my sister.

Today is my sister Emily’s birthday. I have plenty of musical memories attached to my sister, because we grew up together and had similar musical influences/stories early on. We made “assorted” tapes together with the family, mixes culled from my parents’ extensive record collection. We grew up on Sesame Street, the Elephant Show, and Wee Sing. She was in chorus, I dabbled in a cappella, pep bands, and musicals. Music always has been important to our lives. This particular song, however, is all her.

That’s not to say it’s not a great track without the connection, of course. Give it a listen. A peripheral one will hook you with the music; a deeper one will punch you in the gut. How many pop songs do you know that are bouncy and joyous and “ear-delicious,” as Neil Sedaka might say, and also ostensibly a tale of political war intrigue, xenophobia, and the human factor… the hell of the average workaday trying to come to terms with the war machine? I’d argue zero (less than zero?), certainly none that do it like Costello does. He’s got the same literate songcraft of any of the greats in the field, with the snark of the best of new wave and a patina of punk brashness. If you talk about your favorite songs, everyone will have different lists. If you talk about musicians from a sheer “importance” perspective? Costello must come up eventually.

But for my sister, it was that peripheral which was enough to hook her. Prior to the Soundtrack’s birth, some friends and I gathered to count down our favorite songs. When Emily got to “Oliver’s Army” (her #2), she described it this way:

This was my first favorite song. I LOVED it (still do). I would crawl around in circles (my version of dancing) over and over while singing at the top of my lungs. It was such a happy song, or at least I thought it was. That’s probably because I thought Mr. Costello was saying “Oliverzama,” and who doesn’t want some guy named Oliverzama to be here to stay. Right? Maybe hes a magician.

When I was making my first assorted tape, this song would obviously be on it. While making it, I realized that there were two sides on a tape. So logically I told my dad I wanted it on both side. A total mix tape no-no, but I thought it was super smart and it made me love both sides. My family still teases me about it to this day.

It’s true. I do tease her to this day. Still, what a song. It’s a credit to my family that they’d let us listen to such heavy content at such an early age, and a credit to my sister that she’d be so connected to it so young. That’s something she’s been good for throughout her life, actually: I could name a number of albums she went back to and discovered, while I had let them sit abandoned (not the least of which being her eventual #1 song, but we’ll discuss that perhaps next year).

So here’s to you, Em. Hope you’re having a great one. We’ll spin this on repeat at Casa Lupica in your honor.

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Alex Lupica (@Alex_Soundtrack) has been in love with music since he was a toddler, despite its infidelities. (Really, music? Nu-metal? How could you!). Alex is Editor-in-Chief at The Daily Soundtrack.

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