2021 SONG DRAFT- ROUND 2 PICK 13- MUSIC CITY MIKE SELECTS- ‘[WHAT’S SO FUNNY ‘BOUT ] PEACE, LOVE & UNDERSTANDING’- ELVIS COSTELLO & THE ATTRACTIONS

45cat - Elvis Costello - My Funny Valentine / (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace  Love And Understanding - Columbia - USA - AE7-1172

2021 Song Draft- Round 2 Pick 13- Music City Mike selects- ‘{What’s So Funny ‘Bout] Peace, Love & Understanding’- Elvis Costello & The Attractions.

“(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding” – Elvis Costello & the Attractions

One of several traits that labels me a bona fide musical nerd is my love of making music-themed lists. In true High Fidelity fashion, I find great joy in behaving just like they did in the record store in the Nick Hornby book and John Cusack film.

So, the fact that I maintain an on-going mental list of my favorite songs puts me right in the groove for this song draft. Of course, my song list is somewhat fluid and subject to change. But, for as long as the songs I have selected for my top two picks in this exercise have existed, they hands down have always taken the #1 and #2 spots.

Following my previous selection of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” as numero uno, my second selection also happens to be another anthem: Elvis Costello & the Attractions’ version of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding.” While there is no doubt that I find this song to be just incredibly irresistible, it also serves as a way of squeezing two of my favorite artists into my top ten amongst the fierce competition.

“PLU” as us Costello diehards call it, was originally recorded back in 1974 by Lowe’s former Pub Rock-era band, Brinsley Schwarz, of whom a young Costello was a huge fan. The Brinsley’s version was sung by Lowe in a rather subdued tempo and was a “tongue-in-cheek” poke at the Hippie peace and love movement. It wasn’t that he didn’t hold the sentiment, he was just having fun in going over the top with some cheeky lyrics.

Lowe of course later became Costello’s producer and five years later in 1979, the Elvis & the Attractions version of “PLU” was covertly released to the world as the B-side of the British Nick Lowe single for “American Squirm.” The song was even credited to “Nick Lowe & His Sound.” If you looked hard, you could find a blurry picture of Costello hiding in the clouds on the back of the sleeve. The song however would soon be loved enough that it was added to the US version of Costello’s Armed Forces LP. It also would get a single release in the US on a red vinyl promo 45 along with EC’s croon of “My Funny Valentine” on the flip side.

It is quite odd that my favorite song by one of our generation’s greatest songwriters is a cover and not one of his originals. (Strange too that Costello’s best-selling UK single is his take on the George Jones chestnut “Good Year for the Roses.”) But dang, the Attractions arrangement of “PLU” is just over-the-top powerful and amazing! In fact, it’s so darn good that Mr. Lowe himself adapted his live version of the song to sound more like Costello’s take on it. Nick even jokes that he forgets sometimes that it is his song!

While I truly savor the song’s sentiment and adore the lyrics, it’s undoubtedly the mighty musical arrangement that does it for me. And thankfully I’ve gotten the opportunity to stand many times pumping my fist in the air while hearing the song at a Costello show, usually as one of the night’s final numbers.

Something that will make a song a classic as this one truly qualifies, is when it gets repeatedly covered by other artists. (In this case is it a cover of a cover that is getting covered?) The list of “PLU” covers is a long one from Midnight Oil to Wilco and the dozens of other artists who have either recorded their version of the song or played it in their live set. One notable version is by singer Curtis Stigers on the My Bodyguard soundtrack LP which reportedly made enough quid for Mr. Lowe (reportedly over a million pounds) to continue with his musical activities when times were lean.   

Finally, the moment I got to miss was one of the dozen times in 2003-4 when Bruce and the E Street Band gave the song a whirl. Maybe someday, worlds will once again collide, and I will be there to hear my three favorite artists represented in a single moment.

8 responses to “2021 SONG DRAFT- ROUND 2 PICK 13- MUSIC CITY MIKE SELECTS- ‘[WHAT’S SO FUNNY ‘BOUT ] PEACE, LOVE & UNDERSTANDING’- ELVIS COSTELLO & THE ATTRACTIONS

  1. The draft gets better with each pick! Not only is this a good song to cover, but it makes a good t-shirt slogan too. Says she who has just such a t-shirt ordered from Nick Lowe’s site. My favorite version of the song is Elvis’s though. I could play it over and over. I enjoyed your writeup, which conveys the rush I too get when the song plays.

  2. A very good one to be sure! Very cool illustration too – I don’t know if I can remember any Columbia singles that didn’t have the standard orange background.
    I love ‘High Fidelity’ too, by the way, the book and the film.

  3. Fantastic pick – classic classic song. It’s interesting that Nick Lowe recorded both this and Cruel to be Kind (my first round pick) with Brinsley Schwarz and both ended up achieving much more success in later iterations.

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