25 Essential Elvis Costello Songs And Fan Favorites

Elvis Costello Songs

Photo: By Stuart Sevastos [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Our 25 Essential Elvis Costello Songs is an attempt to list some of the most critical works Elvis Costello has contributed to classic rock history. With a tremendous body of work and a reputation among the finest, it is no easy feat to choose just 25 Elvis Costello songs. We did a lot of research looking through thousands of fan comments to help u put this list together. Elvis Costello has played a vital role in rock and roll history. Our 25 Essential Elvis Costello Songs list will cover the entire 40-plus year career of Elvis Costello, picking out some of the highlights and undoubtedly missing so many because of our 25-song limit.

MY NAME IS ELVIS

Elvis Costello burst out onto the rock and roll scene in 1977 with his debut album My Aim Is True. With a look that resembled Buddy Holly, Elvis Costello appeared visually in stark contrast to bands like The Sex Pistols and The Ramones, who at the time were the headliners of the mid to late 1970s punk rock movements. While My Aim Is True may have been bathed a bit in new wave sentiment and style, the melodies and chord changes were more inspired by the brilliance of artists like The Beatles, Elton John and Burt Bacharach. Any critic or fan with half an ear could hear that My Aim Is True defined the arrival of a major new talent.

AMAZING BODY OF WORK

Since 1977, Elvis Costello has released thirty one studio albums. Over the years, his studio albums have featured backing bands known as the Attractions and the Imposters. Elvis Costello has displayed great versatility as a songwriter, collaborating on albums with Burt Bacharach, The Brodsky Quartet, Richard Harvey, Allen Toussaint, and The Roots. From a commercial standpoint, Elvis Costello had far more success in the U.K., breaking the top 40 over forty times. In the U.S, Elvis Costello only broke the top 100 just three times. His highest charting song in the U.S. was “Veronica,” which reached number 19 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1989. The highest charting top 40 pop song of his career was “Oliver’s Army,” which reached number 2 in the U.K. in 1979. However, on the modern rock charts, he has had several number-one records.

We hope you find our 25 Essential Elvis Costello Songs list a great celebration of one of classic rock history’s greatest artists. This is a mix of our picks and popular fan favorites.

25 ESSENTIAL ELVIS COSTELLO SONGS

# 25 – Toledo

We open up our Essential 25 Elvis Costello Songs list with a great track written by Burt Bacharach for the fantastic album Painted From Memory. Two of the greatest songwriters of all time merged their talents and created an incredible record of some of the strongest pop songs written in the past twenty-five years. Sadly, most people don’t know anything about this fantastic collaboration.

# 24 – Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter

“Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter” is the most recent Elvis Costello song on this list. The song appears on Elvis Costello’s most recent album entitled Look Now. The album was released in 2018. Once again, Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach collaborated on three tracks. The album also featured Elvis Costello’s band The Imposters, a group of musicians first named on the 2004 Delivery Man album.  “Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter” is a song by Elvis Costello and Carole King. It was the first time the two legendary artists ever collaborated.

# 23 – High Fidelity

From the album Get Happy. Released in 1980. Those great pumping piano riffs that bounce off the straight-ahead snare drum playing wrap around that voice with such perfection. This is Elvis Costello!

# 22 – You Little Fool

From the album Imperial Bedroom. Released in 1982. (If we were to include YouTube videos for each track, readers would have a hard time loading the page, so the videos do not accompany some of the songs on our Essential Elvis Costello songs list. However, the top 10 has every track.) 

# 21 – Complicated Shadows

From the album Secret, Profane & Sugarcane. Released in 2009.

# 20 – For Other Eyes

From the album The Juliet Letters, released in 1993. It is an amazing record that helped define the genius of Elvis Costello to an entirely new level.

# 19 – Monkey To Man

From the album The Delivery Man. Released in 2004.

# 18 – Mystery Dance

From the album My Aim Is True. Released in 1977. It’s an early favorite! When I first brought this album in the 1970s, this one jumped out above all the others.

# 17 – Man Out Of Time

From the album Imperial Bedrooms.

# 16 – This Year’s Girl

From the album This Year’s Model. Released in 1978.

# 15 – Watching The Detectives

From the album My Aim Is True. Released in 1977.

# 14 – 13 Steps Lead Down

From the album Brutal Youth. Released in 1994.

# 13 – Oliver’s Army

From the album Armed Forces. Released in 1979.

# 12 – “Tear Off Your Own Head (It’s a Doll Revolution)”

From When I Was Cruel. Released in 2002

# 11 – Radio Radio

From the album This Year’s Model. Released in 1978.

# 10 – The Other Side Of Summer

We open the top 10 Elvis Costello songs section with a track from the prestigious Mighty Like A Rose album. The album was released in 1991. “The Other Side of Summer” hit number one on the U.S. Modern Rock Tracks.

# 9 – Veronica

The great Elvis Costello song is the artist’s highest charting song of his career. Sadly, Elvis Costello has never had a number-one record released in his name. However, he got really close with “Veronica,” as it reached number two in the U.K.

# 8 – Pump It Up

Released on the follow-up to his debut album. “Pump It Up” and its great Farfisa organ lick defined a great new sound that bordered punk, new wave, rock, and ’60s beach instrumentals. Sammy Hagar and Circle did a great cover of this song on their most recent album, released in 2022.

# 7 – God Give Me Strength

I could not believe my ears when I first heard this album’s brilliance. The merger of these two brilliant artists created a pop music masterpiece. Additionally, it was the best vocal work Elvis Costello ever performed on record.

# 6 – (The Angels Wanna Wear) My Red Shoes

For most of us in the 1970s, this was the first Elvis Costello song we had ever heard. The third single from his debut album in 1977.

# 5 – Accidents Will Happen

The top 10 Elvis Costello songs on this list can be easily arranged in any order because they are all so brilliant. “Accidents Will Happen” was released on the brilliant album Armed Forces.

# 4 – Every Day I Write The Book

The song Every Day I Worte The Book was released on the underrated Punch The Clock album. This one has such a cool, grooving vibe to it. The lyrics fit the music perfectly. The record was issued in 1983.

# 3 – Allison

For many Elvis Costello fans, Allison is a huge favorite. One of the most incredible rock ballads ever with some of the greatest lyrical lines ever published. The song was also covered by Linda Ronstadt in 1979. Allison was released on Elvis Costello’s debut album My Aim Is True in 1977.

# 2 – All This Useless Beauty

One of those songs that leaves the listener speechless. Defining the craft of songwriting at its best. Released on the album of the same name All This Useless Beauty. If you have never heard this song, stop everything you are doing and take a listen. You will send us a thank you card for it.

# 1 – [What’s So Funny ‘Bout] Peace, Love And Understanding

We wrap up our 25 Essential Elvis Costello songs with our favorite. The great track “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding was released on the US version of the Armed Forces album. The album was released in 1979.

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