Here’s a clip of Elvis Costello with a tip top tune from his early 90s “beard years”, “So Like Candy” as featured on his Mighty Like a Rose album. If you think this tune sounds slightly Beatlesque, it’s because there are bona fide Beatle ingredients in it, and I don’t mean Costello’s Lennon bed-in facial foliage. I’m talking about the song’s co-writer – Paul McCartney.
In 1988 or so, Costello and McCartney got together a wrote a bunch of songs, which was big news whenever either was interviewed. On McCartney’s part, it was significant as he was about to bring out his Flowers in the Dirt album, featuring the Costello-abetted “My Brave Face” as the lead single. McCartney had been saddled with a reputation for being the ambassador of twee when it came to writing pop songs. The last number one he had was “Say Say Say” for gosh sakes! So, the news that the two would be writing together was big news for many a rock fan.
As for Costello, when approached with this opportunity to write with one of his heroes, he was initially and understandably a bit apprehensive. After all, everyone expected him to play the part of Lennon. But in interviews at the time, he revealed that his self-confidence in his own writing abilities (Lennon too had been a Costello fan, mind…) sealed the deal; “why not me?”, mused Costello.
And indeed, the results were pretty great, even if they didn’t set the world on fire for the public at large the way that “I Want to Hold Your Hand” did. Still, the collaboration produced Costello’s hit “Veronica” along with McCartney’s perceived return to form in “My Brave Face”. And other co-written tunes were to follow on subsequent albums by both men into the mid-90s.
This song appeared later in 1991 on the Mighty… record, and a shining gem of tune it is too. Lush in arrangement and heavy on melody of course, I think Costello’s delivery adds to the undercurrents of darkness in it too. Although much like a Lennon-McCartney collaboration, it would be a mistake to think that the ironic elements in the song’s lyrics are down to Costello alone.
Allegedly, the collaboration was not as clearly demarcated along the words and music dichotomy as one might assume. This fact of course is not unlike the assumptions popularly made during the Beatles era that positioned McCartney as the melodist, and Lennon (like Costello) the wordsmith. Not so, not so.
For a bit of contrast, here’s the original demo version of “So Like Candy”, featuring its two writers singing it together.