Elvis Costello – Watching The Detectives

26th May 2022 · 1970s, 1977, Film, Music, Punk, Reggae

I never get tired of this song. It’s probably my favourite by Elvis Costello – certainly up there with Oliver’s Army and Accoidents Will Happen. A miniature film noir in song, it’s brimming with tension, musically and lyrically. And Nick Lowe’s production gives it the element that all the best songs exhibit. Space.

It’s also got a deep understanding of reggae, thanks to the rhythm section of Andrew Bodnar and Steve Goulding from The Rumour, who had already demonstrated that on Graham Parker’s epic Don’t Ask Me Questions.

Meanwhile the loping rhythm is punctuated by Costello’s bursts of twangy Sixties-style electric guitar, and the Hitchcock film-soundtrack keyboards of Steve Nieve.

Then there’s Costello’s clever and cynical lyric, filled with smart wordplay (“She’s dragging her heels while they’re dragging the lake”), apparently written after he spent an entire night listening to the first Clash album on headphones.

It’s also the first recording by 19-year-old Steve Nieve, whose keyboards were added later. According to Costello: “He was 19, straight out of the Royal College, and we’d only just met. I said, “This is about detectives, I want a piano thing that sounds like Bernard Herrmann,” and, of course, he didn’t know what I’m talking about.”

It brought Elvis his first hit single and he never looked back.