25 Essential Elvis Costello Songs

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 important 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 chooses just 25 Elvis Costello songs. However, as a classic rock history site dedicated to keeping that classic rock and roll flame still burning, we will argue that Elvis Costello has, and still does very much so play 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.

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 the 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.

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 as he has collaborated 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.

# 25 – Toledo

We open up or Essential 25 Elvis Costello Songs list with a great track written with Burt Bacharach for the amazing album Painted From Memory. Two of the greatest songwriters of all time merging their talents and creating 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 amazing collaboration.

# 24 – Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter

“Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter,” is the most recent Elvis Costello song to appear 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 that were first named on the 2004 Delivery Man album.  “Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter,” is a song written by Elvis Costello and Carole King. It was the first time the two legendary artists ever collaborated together.

# 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 some of the songs on our Essential Elvis Costello songs list are not accompanied by the videos. 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. An amazing record that helped define the genius of Elvis Costello to an entire 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. An early favorite!

# 17 – Man Out Of Time

From the album Imperial Bedrooms. Released in

# 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 was a track from the prestigious Mighty Like A Rose album. The album was released in 1991. “The Other Side of Summer” hit number one of the U.S. Modern Rock Tracks.

# 9 – Veronica

The great Elvis Costello song is the artist’s highest charting song of his career. It’s sad that Elvis Costello has never had a number one record released in his name. However. he got real 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 it’s great farfisa organ lick defined a great new sound that bordered, punk, new wave, rock and 60s beach instrumentals.

# 7 – God Give Me Strength

Could not believe my ears when I first heard how brilliant this album was. The merger of these two brilliant artist created a pop music masterpieces. 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 1970’s this was the first Elvis Costello song we 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

Released on the very underrated Punch The Clock album. The record was issued in 1983.

# 3 – Allison

For many Elvis Costello fans, Allison is a huge favorite. One of the coolest 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 just leaves the listener speechless. Defining the craft of songwriting at its best. Released on the album of the same name All This Useless Beauty.

# 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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