Elvis Costello is retiring one of his biggest songs from his live show. In a new interview with The Telegraph, the singer-songwriter said he wouldn’t perform his 1979 hit “Oliver’s Army” live anymore, and that radio stations should stop playing it.
Written about the conflict in Northern Ireland, “Oliver’s Army” contains the lyrics “Only takes one itchy trigger/ One more widow, one less white n****.” Costello defended his use of the slur, noting its historical context, but said he would stop performing it to avoid controversy.
“If I wrote that song today, maybe I’d think twice about it,” Costello said. “That’s what my grandfather was called in the British army — it’s historically a fact — but people hear that word go off like a bell and accuse me of something that I didn’t intend.”
Though the song — which spent three weeks at No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart upon its release — was long hailed as an anti-war anthem, radio stations began censoring the track in recent years — much to Costello’s dismay.
“On the last tour, I wrote a new verse about censorship, but what’s the point of that?” he said. “So I’ve decided I’m not going to play it. [Bleeping the word] is a mistake. They’re making it worse by bleeping it for sure. Because they’re highlighting it then. Just don’t play the record!”
Costello continued, “You know what. [Not playing it] would do me a favor. Because when I fall under a bus, they’ll play [Costello’s famous covers] ‘She,’ ‘Good Year for the Roses,’ and ‘Oliver’s Army.’ I’ll die, and they will celebrate my death with two songs I didn’t write. What does that tell you?”
Back in September, Costello released Spanish Model, a re-recorded, Spanish-language version of his 1978 album This Year’s Model, and How to Play the Guitar and Y, an Audible Original. On Friday, Elvis Costello & The Imposters will release a new album titled The Boy Named If. As a preview, they’ve shared the singles “Magnificent Hurt” and “Paint the Red Rose Blue.”