They Said It Couldn’t Be Done…And It Can’t!

A few weeks ago JC posted Charged Particles #12, featuring a pair of songs by Graham Parker. In the comments folks got into a discussion about how the ‘angry young men’ of the era–Parker, Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson–had fared since their original heyday. I observed that, while I wasn’t that fond of Costello’s genre exercises and anemic later-career albums, I rated his early LPs so highly that “I don’t think I could narrow down a 10 song ICA from just his recordings with the Attractions.” It was Brian who responded: “Nobody has had the guts to do that so far.”

Of course Brian’s right. I once made a playlist for my daughter of ‘essential’ EC songs and there were almost 100 on it. And how can you pick less than 6 or 7 from Get Happy!! alone? In the past I tried to come up with several possible Elvis ICA’s — Best guests (Green, David Hidalgo, Mick Jones, Emmylou), Best collaborations (Coward Bros., Jimmy Cliff, Bill Frisell, Allen Toussaint), Best ‘color’ songs (Red Shoes, Green Shirt, Blue Chair etc.). I even have a list of songs with my favorite Bruce Thomas bass parts (B-Movie, Pump It Up, I Stand Accused, and so on.) But they were all cowardly. No, there’s absolutely no way to have a 10-song Elvis Costello ICA.

But then I thought there’s so much crappy news these days and the world is so fraught with stress, why not pitch something distracting into the mix that people actually care about? Why deny ourselves the pleasure of a good-natured pub argument, even if we’re thousands of miles apart? In fact, as I’m writing this I’m smirking a little, picturing you lot glaring angrily at your laptops, spluttering, “How could that bastard have left out X or Y or Z! It’s an outrage!”

So, what the hell — with no discussion of the songs at all here’s an ICA of the TEN BEST songs by Elvis Costello and the Attractions:

1. Accidents Will Happen
2. Beyond Belief
3. Clean Money
4. High Fidelity
5. Man Out Of Time
6. Oliver’s Army
7. Pump It Up
8. Radio, Radio
9. Strict Time
10. 5ive Gears In Reverse

BRING IT ON, homies.



  1. I have made the terrible mistake of reading this just as I’m going to bed. Now I’ll just lay here for hours thinking of a rebuttal. A strong effort, brother, particularly your choices from Get Happy and Imperial Bedroom. I’ll be back at breakfast. Cheers.

  2. “why not pitch something distracting into the mix that people actually care about” That’s more like it. I can’t bring myself to read the newspaper today. By the way, these are not The Ten Best Songs of ECATA……….

  3. I’ll start the ball rolling
    I would have to find room for Watching the Detectives perhaps at the expense of Clean Money.
    I suspect this post could break all records with respect to comments
    A brilliant idea for these troubled times Jonny

  4. Nice list – but overall an impossible task. I’m a very big Declan fan! Once you eliminate the genre-jumping BG “experiments” there is still way too much quality to distill down to a proper list of ten.

  5. Re ‘Red Shoes’, it would be left off as it wasn’t, strictly speaking, as song recorded by EC & The Attractions; the same reasoning would rule out ‘Watching The Detectives’

    I’m basing my 10 on ‘This Year’s Model’ through to ‘Goodbye Cruel World; and the later release of ‘Blood and Chocolate’. List is alphabetical…just like Jonny’s

    1. Accidents Will Happen
    2. Clubland
    3. High Fidelity
    4. I Don’t Want To Go To Chelsea
    5. I Want You
    6.Man Out Of Time
    7.Pump It Up
    8. Radio Radio
    9.Turning The Town Red
    10. What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding

    Mind you, I’ll change my mind in 10 minutes time.

  6. ‘Secondary Modern’ is missing, that’s the only real complaint I have! There might be others to come, but those damned customers ring me up here at work constantly today: how dare they? As if I wouldn’t have more important things to do!

  7. Tossed and turned all night. You would have thought I was trying to solve the crisis on the Korean Peninsula. Here are a few near misses: Just a Memory might be top 10 for me, but it’s just Elvis and Steve. Suit of Lights, the Attractions lone contribution to King of America, was my No. 11. Girls Talk got a good airing, but then I couldn’t quite decide whether it was even the best version. I have always had a soft spot for Charm School, but I opted for Shipbuiding and couldn’t quite bring myself to have two from Punch the Clock. Went nuts for Get Happy!! Has always been my favorite album. Riot Act should probably be here somewhere.

    You Belong to Me
    Accidents Will Happen
    Beaten to the Punch
    Love for Tender
    5ive Gears in Reverse
    Fish ‘N’ Chip Paper
    Man Out of Time
    Turning the Town Red
    Next Time Around

  8. My Darling Husband, I don’t care about your technicalities -there is no compelling reason you can ever give me, Attractions or no Attractions for not including Alison, Watching the Detectives and Blue freaking Chair!!! Lucky for you we have been married for so long, cause I might reconsider dating you if you were still my bf.. like back in the day in NY (CHELSEA!!)
    Remember that awesome show in 94 in LA when I was incredibly pregnant with Sam? Good times baby…

  9. Great effort JTFL! And Brian…I could listen to your ICA over and over!.but here’s my contribution…an hour from now it will change…Costello ICA’s are like chameleons… Oh and one other thing…since EC got 20 songs on the magnificent Get Happy! shouldn’t an EC ICA also be 20 songs?

    1. I Don’t Want To Go To Chelsea
    2. Accidents Will Happen
    3. Love For Tender
    4. Radio Radio
    5. Beaten To The Bunch
    6. High Fidelity
    7. Man Called Uncle
    8. Tokyo Storm Warning
    9. Tiny Steps
    10. Riot Act

  10. Right back at you, Echorich. FORW and I both thank you for including Tokyo Storm Warning. And another well represented Get Happy edition of an ICA!

  11. Echorich – I see you’re a “Get Happy” man as well! Half from that one!
    Brian – Extremely good call on “Just A Memory,” my all time favorite EC song. Period.

  12. A fabulous selection JTFL, but then so is Brian’s…and Echorich’s! I started to sketch out what my own version would look like, but had to wave the white flag – it’s impossible to distil down to 10 songs. Anyone for an Imaginary Box Set?

  13. LOL. I agree with everyone else’s ICAs–I said it couldn’t be done! Glad mine provoked a response. And for the record, none of the Attractions are on Hoover Factory.

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