Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Song #442 of 9999 - God Give Me Strength by Burt Bacharach & Elvis Costello

Hey, it's Guest Blogger Night! Tonight, my good friend Niveous lets us in on his soft side with this delicate number from Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello. Among other things, Niveous is the creative force behind a multitude of SongFight-related side projects, most notably the competition known as Nur Ein. He also writes and records music under the name Niveous and is an all-around nice guy. Let's give him that patented 9999 Songs welcome!

Song #442 of 9999

Title: God Give Me Strength
Artist: Burt Bacharach & Elvis Costello
Year: 1998
Album: Painted From Memory

Hey there. I’m E. Niveous Rayside, filling in for Frankie today with another look back at 1998. I’m a rock guy and a big chunk of my music collection is full of crunchy guitars, brutal vocals, dark themes and skull caving drums. So when looking at all the potential songs to write about, I considered the punchy Terraform album by Shellac, featuring one of the best under two minute songs you'll ever find (“Copper”). There was also the synth heavy double shot of Stabbing Westward's Darkest Days and Pitchshifter's horribly titled Maybe I would write about polarizing Cruelty and the Beast by Cradle of Filth or A Thousand Leaves by Sonic Youth. There were so many choices: Freak*on*ica by GVSB; Diabolus in Musica by Slayer; Powertrip by Monster Magnet (!!!); the debut albums by System of a Down and Queens of the Stone Age; Korn’s #1 album Follow the Leader

And yet, I went with Burt Bacharach.

I may be into music with sharp edges but I know when I’m in the presence of greatness and that’s exactly how I felt when I first heard Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach’s Painted From Memory. If you aren't familiar with the name Burt Bacharach, because it hasn't been very prevalent in the last decade or so, here’s a quick refresher. Bacharach is a songwriter who, usually with some help from lyricist Hal David, wrote a metric ton of hit records in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s including “(They Long to Be) Close to You,” “I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself,” “Always Something There To Remind Me,” and “What The World Needs Now Is Love.” Here’s the thing: by 1998, the music that Bacharach makes was very dated. This was a world that just learned what a Limp Bizkit is and still cared about Marilyn Manson’s shock tactics. Bacharach didn't fit in. And frankly, Elvis Costello didn't either. This wasn't the Elvis Costello punk that had been banned from SNL. This was almost a decade after “Veronica,” his hit single co-written by Paul McCartney. This was a more subdued Elvis Costello. For all intents and purposes, I probably should never have heard of this album. It should have made the same ripples in my life as Juice Newton's or Lionel Richie's 1998 albums (I’m not comparing skill there, just cultural relevancy at the time).

How did I come across this gem? The movies. Grace of My Heart is a flick that came out in 1996 about a young female singer trying to make it in the music business in the 60's and 70's. In the movie, the main character writes the song “God Give Me Strength.” She's bleeding her emotions into a song and the results are amazing. In the film, the song ends up as a flop. But to my ears, it was one of the most amazing things I had ever heard. At the end of the film, the song got played a second time. This time, it was being performed by the songwriters: Costello & Bacharach. It resonated with me, so much so that two years later when I heard that Costello & Bacharach had turned that collaboration into a full album, I had to seek it out.

There is nothing like a well written song and here were two masters of the craft. It didn't matter that they weren't crafting the music of the time; one listen spoke to you. “God Give Me Strength” speaks of heartbreak in such a way that it tears me up listening to it. Even back in 1998, when I hadn't yet known that kind of world-quaking loss, I could still feel it. It made me understand. From the first lyric, there is such pain:
Now I have nothing/ So God give me strength/'Cos I'm weak in her wake.
And with every passing verse, that feeling just gets deeper:
I can't hold on to her/God give me strength/When the phone doesn't ring/And I'm lost in imagining
But Costello's vocal and the music behind it begins to grow, subtly at first. Then comes the bridge. If you didn't understand the emotions behind this song before, it crashes into you. First comes a bit of bitterness:
I might as well/ Wipe her from my memory/ Fracture the spell/ As she becomes my enemy
And then the music pulls back and Costello very delicately sings:
Maybe I was washed out/ Like a lip-print on his shirt/ See, I'm only human/ I want him to hurt/
Which leads to an amazing crescendo.

The song is so spectacular in the way it speaks to the emotions. In fact, the entire album is twelve songs that punch you in the gut. “I Still Have That Other Girl,” “This House is Empty Now,” “In the Darkest Place,” “Tears at the Birthday Party”… It may be an emotional album but it reminds you that one of the great experiences of music is when it moves you.

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