Night Music: Elvis Costello, “Heathen Town”

My flurry of Declan McManus posts earlier in the week started with a search for a great B-side non-album cut called Heathen Town, that was recorded in the Punch the Clock sessions, I think.

Heathen Town is a great song, melodic and moody, elegant and dark, damning and just a little proud, too. But, amazingly, I could not find a youtube version up right now. I thought. Then, after I found that fabulous video of the Hoover Factory, and after I fell into the delightful rabbit hole of Radio Sweetheart and that excursion into George Jones’s world, things changed.

Tonight I went to see a friend of my daughter’s in his high school musical version of Guys and Dolls. Julian was Nicely Nicely Johnson, which meant he sang the show’s showstopper, “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat.” Which has the line, “The devil will drag you under, by the…” which is also a line in Costello’s Heathen Town. So I searched again and was pleased to find this demo recording of Heathen Town on YouTube, an apparent English-y b-side to the English-y single of the fantastic pop song (but not so popular tune) Everyday I Write the Book.

The great thing about the demo is the Elvis overdubbed harmonies, which are lovely. The great thing about the actual produced recording that isn’t out there for free consumption, at least, is that those harmonies are encased in a psychedlicious mix that I’m sure the Flaming Lips would be proud of–a quarter century later.

But, more importantly, it all started with Guys and Dolls. Please pass the Bacardi.

7 thoughts on “Night Music: Elvis Costello, “Heathen Town”

  1. Carnac for Saturday – “OK, Bad, Worse. . . OK, Bad, Worse.”

    Tears open the envelope.

    “This Costello song, Broadway shows, Judy Tzuke.”

  2. Good, Better, Best.

    But then Guys and Dolls has always been one of my favorite musicals, and that’s the best song in it. Ever hear Don Henley’s cover?

    • I think it’s a great song, but I can’t get over just how much the intro to Henley’s version sounds like Watching the Detectives, then turns into an anodyne version of I can see clearly now.

  3. Don Henley sucks mule testicles and has no place on this site. Thank you for letting us know he used to be an acolyte, Peter.

    • Can anyone tell me what the repetitive sound is at the end of the song. It is almost like a poker machine being activated over and over. I was just wondering what it wad.

      • I don’t know, but to me it sounds like a loop or splices of a mocking laugh from some kinds of carnival attraction. A poker or slot machine? Why not?

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