Thursday, August 2, 2012

Music To Write By: "Psycho" by Elvis Costello

Why Listen? For a divergence from popular songwriting's lyrical conventions; a well-told narrative; a nice twist of an ending .

When William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge published Lyrical Ballads in 1798, their little collection of poems fell outside of the literary mainstream. Most verse of their day featured a high, exalted style and skewed away from emotional exploration. Fast forward two-hundred years, and it's nearly impossible to find poetry -- or music -- that doesn't conform to lyrical conventions. That's why I find Elvis Costello's cover of the Leon Payne ditty "Psycho" a fascinating listen. Mellow grooves and chiming piano riffs belie its chilling content. Though Payne kept the standard first-person perspective typical of lyrics, "Psycho" tells a tale as creepy as anything written by Robert Bloch:
Oh, you recall that little girl, mama?
I believe her name was Betty Clark.
Oh, don't tell me that she's dead, mama,
'Cause I just saw her in the park.

We were sitting on a bench, mama,
Thinking up a game to play.
Seems I was holding a wrench, mama,
And then my mind just walked away.
Spooky stuff, and like Bloch, Payne knew the value of a good surprise. "Psycho" twists like a serpent in the end, and the unwary listener may find himself stung by the final line.

(Hat Tip: Neil Gaiman's Journal)

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