Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach – ‘Painted From Memory’

My new car journey to work was at best, just under an hour. That meant I could listen to an album going to work, then another coming home. For a good few weeks in the Spring of ’99 I’d play an album mornings and evenings, no other album got a look in. That album was Painted From Memory by Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach. At 52 minutes it was tailor-made for my commute.

Now, I was a big fan of Elvis. From his classic singles in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, through to Spike and Brutal Youth in the ‘90s I loved his passion, his attitude and acutely culture-referenced songwriting. Burt Bacharach is quite simply one of the best songwriters of all-time. I Say A Little Prayer, This Guys In Love With You, Walk On By, Do You Know The Way To San Jose, Anyone Who Had A Heart… with Hal David he produced a legendary back catalogue, with Dionne Warwick being the main beneficiary of their combined brilliance.

On first listen Painted From Memory sounds like it could be Burt Bacharach songs sung by Elvis Costello, as the romantic nature of many of the lyrics appear fit Bacharach’s usual style. But it most definitely isn’t. Both lyrics and music are co-credited and for me it just enhanced my love of Elvis by a sizeable notch or two.

Elvis’ usual vocal style is strained, and when singing such emotive songs of love and loss that strain is intensified, and almost all of the time that works beautifully. On the very odd occasion a sweeter, Dionne Warwicker voice would smooth and sooth over the exemplary strings, gentle horns and perfect orchestration, but then when Elvis pleads: “Does the extinguished candle care about the darkness” on the beautifully sad This House Is Empty Now, it hits hard.

I Still Have That Other Girl is a crooner’s delight and Such Unlikely Lovers is just a gem, but nothing on the twelve tracks is less than exquisite, musicality wrapped around stunning songwriting and vocals. Commissioned for a film in ‘96 God Give Me Strength was the start of this perfect collaboration, with Elvis writing in his 2015 autobiography, “To have written a song like “God Give Me Strength” and simply stopped would have been ridiculous…” Another gorgeous song of a love lost, with clear roads it met with the end of my journey, the album seeing me home feeling somehow warmer, calmer and better with the world.

The Kinks – ‘Golden Hour Of The Kinks’

By the dawn of 1981 regular trips to Snu-Peas, Boscombe’s dingy vinyl haven were becoming weekly fixes. Fingering through rows of soiled and pre-owned LPs would become an obsession, but the thrill of the chase for new music had hit me, hard. The Kinks had caught my attention with a handful of their 60s hits being regular plays on my radio channels of choice. I loved the production, the sound and feel of the likes of Waterloo Sunset and Sunny Afternoon that oozed a whimsical, multi-coloured and romantic, quintessentially English sound. It was the mix of Ray Davies’ genius as a songwriter coupled with the brash coolness of early hits You Really Got Me and All Day And All Of The Night which tempted me into finding out more. A search for a Kinks album featuring these favourites and about twenty more lead me to Golden Hour Of The Kinks. A fine choice.

This second hand slice of vinyl became an ever-present on my music centre (turntable, tape player and radio all-in-one-state-of-the-art combo) for months, sharing heavy rotation with The Beatles and a whole heap of classic 60s bands. More than ever music was my tuition, and storytellers such as Ray Davies were making up for what was lacking in my academic education. Davies spoke with wit and insight about society, class, and the nation’s blind desire to aspire, to wealth not wisdom, to material success not happiness.

“Here is your reward for working so hard
Gone are the lavatories in the back yard
Gone are the days when you dreamed of that car
You just want to sit in your Shangri-la

The little man who gets the train
Got a mortgage hanging over his head
But he’s too scared to complain
Cos he’s conditioned that way

Time goes by and he pays off his debts
Got a TV set and a radio
For seven shillings a week
Shangri-la, Shangri-la, Shangri-la, Shangri-la…”

– Shangri-La

Never mind that playground fools mocked my love of The Kinks, to me Golden Hour Of The Kinks was like a book I just couldn’t put down, instead wanting to read it again and again. Davies sharpened my interest in 60s culture – with fanciful prose about dandy, attire-obsessed gentlemen and sexual experimentation – and gave me a cautiously romantic view of life. He wrote with cynicism but with positivity, musically drifting between luscious melodies, dreamy soundscapes and thrash, garage guitar. Over thirty years on and Waterloo Sunset is still one of my all-time favourites and “Sha-la-la” has still never sounded so good. I loved The Kinks. Still do.