Tuesday, March 28, 2017

"The Only Flame in Town" by Elvis Costello & the Attractions

Song#:  1992
Date:  07/28/1984
Debut:  83
Peak:  56
Weeks:  9
Genre:  Rock

Pop Bits:  Although Costello scored a couple of hit albums late in the 70s, he was never able to get a single on the US Pop chart. That changed when "Every Day I Write the Book" from his 1983 LP Punch the Clock broke through. It got to #36 while hitting #33 on the Rock chart. The album was a bit more commercial leaning than his previous efforts and when Costello went back into the studio to record the follow-up, he wanted to change things and do something in the folk-rock vein. But soon after the sessions began, it all kind of nosedived. The producers he had for Punch stayed on and they (and most likely the record company) wanted to continue down the more slick, pop-friendly route established by "Every Day." Costello was against that and tried to forge his own path. However, Costello himself really didn't have a clear vision of what he wanted and the lack of direction made the sessions miserable for everyone. He finally relented and did give the reins fully over to the producers for a couple of songs, which included this first single. But the messy execution of the tracks made for an album that was not well received. This single stalled early at Pop and Rock (#44) with the album quickly peaking at #35. It would be two years before Costello would release another LP and five years before he would return to the Pop chart.

ReduxReview:  This is kind of a mashup of blue-eyed soul with hints of ska. It's a good song, but the weak part of it is the production. It just sounds so stiff and there is little excitement. Even the vocals are bland. It's too bad. The track could have been a solid jam if it hadn't been given a near-Karaoke backing track production. You can bet that if this had been a Hall & Oates song (see below), it would have been pumped up and jammin'. The accounts written about the making of this album have it sounding like a tortuous process and just based on this track, I can nearly hear that.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) So what did Costello think of the album in retrospect? Although he thought the songs had merit, everything else was a mess. When a reissued of the album came about, Costello started his liner notes with "Congratulations! You've just purchased our worst album."  2) This song features vocals by Daryl Hall. With Hall & Oates' career at a high point, the addition of Hall could certainly draw in some of that duo's fans. Hall even appeared in the video for the tune. However, having him on board didn't guarantee success and indeed the song fizzled.


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