Almost Hits: Elvis Costello and the Attractions, “Everyday I Write the Book” (1983)

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Elvis Costello has released so many albums and singles, it’s astounding that he has never scored a huge hit in America. He came close, however, with 1983’s “Everyday I Write the Book,” a track off Punch the Clock.

While it peaked at No. 36 on the Billboard Hot 100, it has become one of Costello’s most beloved songs. It also holds sentimental value for me, as it serves as my first introduction to his music.

In various interviews, Costello has claimed that Punch the Clock stands as his most overtly commercial album, an attempt to finally crack the pop charts. At the time it received mixed reviews outside of several worthy tracks (“The Greatest Thing,” “Let Them All Talk,” “Shipbuilding,” and “Pills and Soap” to name a few).

“Everyday I Write the Book” contains lyrics using writing as a metaphor for sustaining relationships; thus it remains a standout and essential example of Costello’s love of wordplay.

During an episode of his recent cable series Spectacle, he explained that while recording Punch the Clock he challenged himself to write a song in ten minutes; to his apparent surprise, the track later became a modest hit, even though he claims to be unhappy with the original recording.

Despite his uneasiness, Costello has since included “Everyday I Write the Book” in various set lists, including his periodic “Spectacular Spinning Songbook” tours.

While several ingredients combine to create this perfect pop song, Costello’s clever lyrics are the true stars of the track. He describes himself as “a man with a mission in two or three editions,” then proceeds to summarize a tumultuous relationship using a chapter of content structure:

Chapter One we didn’t really get along
Chapter Two I think I fell in love with you
You said you’d stand by me in the middle of Chapter Three
But you were up to your old tricks in Chapters Four, Five and Six

As the narrator writes, he chronicles the highs and lows of their relationship:

The way you talk, and try to kiss me, and laugh
In four or five paragraphs
All your compliments and your cutting remarks
Are captured here in my quotation marks

In typical Costello fashion, he ends the song on a bitter but humorous note: “With my pen and my electric typewriter / Even in a perfect world where everyone was equal / I’d still own the film rights and be working on the sequel.”

The Attractions provide their usual superior backup, with Bruce Thomas playing a slightly African bass riff. Drummer Pete Thomas lays down the rhythm, while keyboardist Steve Nieve lends soulful chords that accent Costello’s melancholy lyrics. Female backup singers (including future Soul II Soul vocalist Caron Wheeler) further stress the song’s R&B roots.

As with the rest of Punch the Clock’s tracks, “Everyday I Write the Book” finds Costello in fine voice, at some points almost speaking the lyrics, at other times sustaining notes on lines like “the way you walk.” Costello possesses a malleable voice that can express anger, longing, humor, and happiness, sometimes in one song. “Everyday I Write the Book” allows the singer to display his skills to full effect.

While “Everyday I Write the Book” may not have topped the charts, its impact has lingered. The 1983 video has transformed into an early-’80s MTV classic, while the song has appeared in such films as 1998’s The Wedding Singer. His ability to use sophisticated lyrics while incorporating an accessible, catchy melody is a talent I have admired since I first heard this song 30 years ago. Soon after “Everyday I Write the Book,” I became an official Elvis Costello convert.

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Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole is a lifelong music enthusiast who maintains a stand-alone music blog called Listen to the Band. In addition, she is the internet columnist and a contributing editor for Beatlefan magazine. She also holds an Ed.D. in Instructional Technology. Contact Something Else! at [email protected]
Kit O'Toole
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