Elvis Costello is not above tipping his fedora to other artists. He’s topped the bill at various tribute concerts and covered numerous artists (even Prince!) through the years, contributing tracks to tribute albums for the Grateful Dead, Yoko Ono, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, June Carter Cash, George Gershwin and more. In his live shows, it’s a safe bet he’s tossing in at least one cover, and he’s released more than one covers album (Such Unlikely Covers and Kojak Variety, both two discs). From songwriting icon Burt Bacharach to, most recently, country newcomer Jamey Johnson, Elvis has also collaborated with a wide breadth of artists on cover duets. In honor of all this, let’s take a look at five of Costello’s best covers.
Tuesday night (October 16), Costello will honor another rocker, Steven Van Zandt, at the Little Kids Rock’s annual Right2Rock event at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom, where he’ll take on something Van Zandt had a hand in.
“(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding,” Nick Lowe
Most people don’t even realize the original was released by Nick Lowe’s band Brinsley Schwarz, since Costello’s version was the one that achieved hit status. Costello and the Attractions’ cover of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” was first issued as a Nick Lowe B-Side in 1978, but soon took off independently. The song was then featured on Costello’s album Armed Forces. His amped-up cover has gone on to appear on most Costello best-of compilations and be named the 284th song of all-time by Rolling Stone. And of course, it makes the cut for nearly every Costello setlist.
“Brilliant Disguise,” Bruce Springsteen
Earlier this year, Costello helped Late Night With Jimmy Fallon celebrate its Springsteen week with his poppy yet soulful “Brilliant Disguise” cover, which you can watch here. The song first surfaced on the 2003 Springsteen tribute album Light of Day and later showed up on the bonus disc for a reissue of Costello’s Kojak Variety. Costello and Springsteen have also performed together numerous times.
“Days,” The Kinks
Costello turned an upbeat British Invasion-style ditty from the Kinks into a meandering, almost-magical track that ends with a dramatic crescendo. The song first appeared on the soundtrack to the 1991 film Until the End of the World and later showed up on Costello’s Kojack Variety.
“Ship of Fools,” The Grateful Dead
Numerous Grateful Dead tribute albums have featured Costello’s country-fied “Ship of Fools” cover, which later appeared on the bonus disc for a reissue of Costello’s Kojak Variety. It’s showed up in Costello’s live shows since 1987, typically with equal love from Deadheads and Costello fans who aren’t familiar with Jerry Garcia and co.
“Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” Nina Simone/The Animals
Many artists have covered 1964’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” first made famous Nina Simone and shortly thereafter, the Animals. Costello’s gritty, slightly Asian-inspired rendition in the style of The Animals’ cover appeared on his 1986 album, King of America, and was a single. It has remained on Costello setlists through the years.
– Jillian Mapes, CBS Local