REDUX: The Great B- Sides – Elvis Costello + The Attractions – Just A Memory


July 16, 2014

A big chunk of what makes me the person that I am is that I seventually learned about the ins and outs of record collecting, though it was an arduous trek on my on in the wilderness with no other hands to guide me. When I discovered import singles, I became aware that [especially in the UK] there were lots of songs that got recorded by artists that I liked that never made their way onto the actual albums. The lure of non-LP B-sides eventually grew to eclipse my fervor for albums as the primary focus of my attention. After all, singles were ephemeral. They got released and then got harder to find over time, unlike their associated albums, which could remain in print indefinitely. It’s past time to give some attention to the songs that were released almost as an afterthought for connoisseurs of fandom to discover like the gifts that they were.

F-Beat | UK | 7

F-Beat | UK | 7″ | 1980 | XX5E

Elvis Costello + The Attractions: New Amsterdam UK 7″ EP [1980]

  1. New Amsterdam
  2. Dr. Luther’s Assistant
  3. Ghost Train
  4. Just A Memory

“New Amsterdam” was the third single to be released from Elvis Costello + The Attractions’ song-packed album “Get Happy!” in 1980. This single was available in two different configurations. A normal two track 7″ [which retained for 50 pence – the price was printed onto the sleeve] and a four track full EP. We won’t mention the four track picture disc all the better to influence the charts with. Savvy consumers should have bought the full EP version. Cheaper fans would have missed out on what is my personal favorite Elvis Costello song ever; the heart-wrenching ballad “Just A Memory.” The spartan track contains just Costello, his vocals double tracked to pad out the arrangement, and the sturdy Steve Nieve on piano [with a smattering of organ]. There are no rhythm instruments or guitar to intrude here.

The song was written for Dusty Springfield to sing, and with the addition of a third verse, she eventually did. I’ve never heard the Springfield cover of this song, but I can’t imagine it being any more potent a song in even her capable hands. The bittersweet, late night intimacy of the song’s delivery packs a wallop far more devastating than its 2:15 length would indicate on the face of it. One listen to this number and the thought “now this is songwriting” comes to mind. There is nothing to hide behind here. The melodramatic piano is downplayed from Nieve’s often busy hands with a severe economy that I don’t usually associate with his often ornate playing. It’s all about Costello here, and the one bet he hedged was in double tracking his vocals on the chorus.

I sometimes think that his decision to do that gave even this fine song a hint of compromise. The later recording of this on the Costello + Nieve boxed set as recorded live on their magnificent Lonely World Tour in 1996 strips it down to its essence, though Costello sang the longer Dusty Springfield arrangement of the tune instead of the brief, but  even more memorable 1980 EP version. This original version is a succinct emotional haiku in comparison. Its power is in inverse proportion to the amount of energy expended in its performance.

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33 Responses to REDUX: The Great B- Sides – Elvis Costello + The Attractions – Just A Memory

  1. Cary Berger says:

    Great meeting you in person!

    Looking forward to continuing our association and correspondence!

    PS–we never spoke about Prefab Sprout.  I think you like them?  They are big in my book

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  2. Tim says:

    I would love to see a Prefab Sprout GPA on here.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – I still need “The Gunman And Other Stories.” I’ve never seen it! Should we include the Paddy MacAloon solo albums?

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      • Tim says:

        By all means – just because I want to hear people gush about I Trawl the Megahertz. I’ll even read other (er, wrong and misguided) opinions about Let’s Heal The World With Music for an ITtM post.

        The b-sides, do we get the b-sides? I think the b-s from Andromeda Heights are better than a lot of what was on the album.

        More than anything I want to hear the opinions of the regulars here on Steve McQueen, Protest Songs, Langley Park to Memphis and Jordan The Comeback. I know the Sprouts started up at the tail end of the Post Punk/New Wave movements but they made the back end of the 80’s a much better place to be musically.

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  3. Echorich says:

    It’s worth saying again – my favorite 7″ EP of all time and Just A Memory is a song that the great 60’s songwriters from Bacharach/David to Jimmy Webb would have been more than proud of. It is just universal. The first time I heard it, I was struck by it’s haunting, emotional beauty. When Costello wears his emotional truth on his sleeve, there are few who can match the rawness of his candor. It is quite possibly the most accomplished song of his career.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Well, if you are writing for Dusty, you’d better make it count!

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      • Echorich says:

        I’m afraid Dusty’s version is poorly produced. It avoids all the wonderful orchestral trappings that you would want from a Dusty song and Dusty’s voice isn’t at it’s finest. The song attempt to take on a sort of Rock Torch song feel. Honestly I can’t stand the way she sings the word “memory” which is really sort of key to getting the song right.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Echorich – Now you have me curious about Dusty’s version. [checks on iTunes] Oh yeah. That was pretty awful. I completely understand what you mean by her staccato phrasing of the word “memory.” Had I not had intimate knowledge of the original version, I would have never guessed that to be an Elvis Costello composition!

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          • Tim says:

            There’s also a take of it by Marti Jones out there, it’s not bad but it’s pretty, and I don’t think that this song is meant to be pretty. If you put the Marti Jones version in a blender with the Dusty one you would probably get a good cover of it with a woman singing it. Marti’s is slower, Dusty’s is, well, Dusty’s voice.

            While looking for covers of this I found a song with the same name (but not the same song) with vocals by Regina Spektor, it was quite nice and a pleasant little drive by meeting in the search. I thought that I would mention it if there are others on board who like Ms. Spektor’s voice.

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            • postpunkmonk says:

              Tim- I am a huge Marti Jones fan and her taste in covers is exemplary! I have to sit on the Echorich side of the fence regarding the normally unimpeachable Dusty Springfield.

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              • Tim says:

                By Dusty in my comment I meant the voice and not the delivery/enunciation of the lyrics. I am on board with both of you regarding her version. I have the parent album in question, it’s from a low point in her career and the album in question isn’t that great.

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  4. diskojoe says:

    When I first heard that song, I was thinking that it would have been great for the Four Tops to cover. Can you imagine Levi Stubbs doing the lead? You do know that those songs on that EP were on the Taking Liberties compilation? I remember picking up my copy @ the Harvard Coop for the princely sum of $3.99 when it first came out. I recently found a CD copy @ my local record store which was great.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      diskojoe – You have a great point! This song should be the “Downtown Train” of its time! There should be many excellent covers to experience. It’s such a powerful song.

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  5. Brian says:

    Just a Memory is the best B-side Costello ever did, and that’s saying a lot considering the quality of Taking Liberties. That comp stands side by side with all of his albums from that era. I bought all of the Ryko reissues in the early ’90s and sold off my old copies, but I kept Taking Liberties even though all of the B-sides appeared on those reissues. I couldn’t part with the order of the songs. I had listened to them that way so many times.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Brian – Amazingly enough, I never owned “Taking Liberties” in any form. For years there was the intention, but I had many EC+TA albums in the UK pressings, and would have wanted “10 Bloody Marys + 10 How’s Your Fathers” at the time.

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    • Echorich says:

      Brian you are so right. Columbia was kinda brilliant in releasing it just after Get Happy! And it is all about the running order – that’s the best reason to keep it in any collection. Just the fact that it includes Big Tears, Tiny Steps and Radio Sweetheart is worth the price of admission.

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  6. SimonH says:

    I’m going to put in a vote for Hoover Factory as one of the great Costello b sides. Some may say it’s lightweight but there’s something about it that I love, maybe it’s just great to have a song extolling the virtues of an Art Deco building!

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  7. Tim says:

    Listening to the new album from Mr Costello (Look Now) and only three tracks in all I can say is WOW.
    I haven’t been hugely impressed with anything that he’s done for years now and I can say if the rest of this sounds like what I’ve heard so far this is going to be on heavy rotation for a while.

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  8. Tim says:

    It came out today, i don’t use any streaming services. It starts really, really strong, there’s a bit of sluggishness in the middle and then finishes strong,. Puree the best bits of the Brodsky Quartet album with the essence of Painted From Memory and garnish with seasonings from All This Useless Beauty. If you find yourself at this end of the Costello buffet you’ll like this one.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – I only have “Painted From Memory” of those but it was a good, strong album. Color me intrigued. The song EC recently did for the movie “Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool” was definitely in the BB/EC mold.

      Like

  9. SimonH says:

    Look for the deluxe version with the extra four track ep! Very impressed with this so far.

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    • Tim says:

      Uh, huh, that’s why it went straight into my collection, there’s two more Bacharach collaborations on this one. And corroborating reviews are starting to come in…..

      Like

  10. Tim says:

    Forgot to say, the deluxe 2 cd or deluxe download has the soundtrack track that you like.

    Like

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