17 Killer Elvis Costello Song Lyrics

Singer/songwriter’s pen is mightier than most, and draws satirical blood

Many consider Bob Dylan to be our greatest living songwriter.

Others contenders, like Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and Brian Wilson, have their wise defenders, too. 

Few pen lyrics as tart, and as unforgettable, as Declan MacManus, AKA Elvis Costello.

I Hope You're Happy Now (Live From The Spectacular Spinning Songbook Tour / 2011)

The prolific musician never rose to the commercial heights of those aforementioned stars. A quick look at his best songs, though, and it’s easy to see why he belongs in their rareified company.

Here are 17 examples of Costello at his lyrical best. Some stanzas soar, others scorch. They’re all unmistakably Elvis and brutally unforgettable.

“Possession” (“Get Happy!!”)

Now you’re sending me your best wishes
Signed with love and vicious kisses
You lack lust, you’re so lacklustre
Is that all the strength you can muster

“Strict Time” (“Trust”)

Thinking of grand larceny
Smoking the everlasting cigarette of chastity

“From a Whisper to a Scream” (“Trust”)

Taking ev’ry word she says just like an open invitation
But the power of persuasion is no match for anticipation

“Human Hands” (“Imperial Bedroom”) 

Whenever I put my foot in my mouth and you begin to doubt
That it’s you that I’m dreaming about
Do I have to draw you a diagram?
All I ever want is just to fall into your human hands

“I Hope You’re Happy Now” (“Blood and Chocolate”)

He’s got all the things you need and some that you will never
But you make him sound like frozen food, his love will last forever

“Brilliant Mistake” (“King of America”)

He thought he was the King of America
Where they pour Coca Cola just like vintage wine

“The Big Light” (“King of America”)

When the hangover this morning had a personality
And I cast my shattered mind over selected memories
I didn’t even touch the light switch so I knew I’d never see
The Haggard face that would be staring back at me

“Jack of All Parades” (“King of America”)

Now the way that I feel is no longer news
You know my love and how to refuse it
Cause you know where the door is
And how to use it
Oh you know you do

“Veronica” (“Spike”)

Well she used to have a carefree mind of her
own and a delicate look in her eye
These days I’m afraid she’s not even sure if her
name is Veronica

“Other Side of Summer” (“Mighty Like a Rose”)

Was it a millionaire who said “imagine no possessions”?
A poor little schoolboy who said “we don’t need no lessons”

“New Lace Sleeves” (“Trust”)

Good manners and bad breath will get you nowhere

“Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No. 4” (“Mighty Like a Rose”)

We’ll I’m the lucky goon
Who composed this tune
from birds arranged on the high wire

“Sulky Girl” (“Brutal Youth”)

I saw you practising your blackmail faces
Suddenly you’re talking like a duchess
But you’re still a waitress

“Episode of Blonde” (“When I Was Cruel”)

Did her green eyes seduce you and make you get so weak?
Was there fire engine red that she left upon your cheek?

“No Hiding Place” (“Momofuku”)

You can say anything you want to
In your fetching cloak of anonymity
Are you feeling out of breath now?
In your desperate pursuit of infamy

“All the Rage” (“Brutal Youth”)

So don’t try to touch my heart.
It’s darker than you think.
And don’t try to read my mind,
Because it’s full of disappearing ink

“Human Hands” (“Imperial Bedroom”)

Tighter and tighter I hold you tightly,
You know I love you more than slightly.


  1. “’til I step on the brake to get out of her clutches
    ’til I speak double dutch to a real double duchess”
    New Amsterdam from Get Happy
    He absolutely mastered the short catchy track on that album

  2. … Oh, oh I said, “I’m so happy I could die”
    She said, “Drop dead, ” then left with another guy
    From Red Shoes, and one of my favorite couplets of all time!

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