ECSOTW #13: We Met in a Head-On Collision

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JORGE FARAH: “Wednesday week” is a British expression meaning “a week from Wednesday”. I thought I’d get that out of the way first, since the title of this song puzzled me for the longest time. What is a Wednesday week, anyway? A week of only Wednesdays? Like an interminable week, where every day is “Hump Day” and the promise of a weekend’s respite seems forever out of reach? What is it?

I’ll tell you what’s not interminable. This manic blast of energy titled “Wednesday Week”, an outtake from 1979’s Armed Forces, Elvis’s early commercial peak and probably his most decidedly “New Wave” sounding album. This was his first real exploration of synth pop, with emphasis on the POP; marrying ABBA arrangements and Bacharach melodies with something new and exciting, all the grit and menace of This Year’s Model all scrubbed out, slicked over, dressed up. It’s no wonder that songs like “Wednesday Week” and its lesser sister “Clean Money” were left out of the final tracklist; by this point, they represented a sound that Elvis was itching to leave behind.

And it makes sense. Elvis Costello of the late 70s was very much about the “here and now”, or, at least, that’s the image that the Stiff marketing department was pushing for. Now music for now people. Moods for moderns and all that. Elvis himself, though, remained a classicist, and even his most cutting-edge-sounding songs were heavily indebted to the music that came before. Still, “Wednesday Week” was effectively Last Year’s Model, and it was on to the new thing.

Still, there’s a lot to love in this crazy little rave-up. It’s like two half songs haphazardly stitched together, but in a way that makes complete sense. The first half is a rollicking thrill ride, Steve Nieve’s organ sounding at once like the sped-up refrain of a 60s spy theme and an accordion being thrown down a flight of stairs. Elvis is at his most unhinged here, spouting fractured lines about a sexual rendezvous that seems to be charged with as much desire as contempt. Between the shakers and the rolling bassline and the use of cymbals in the verses, this is about as close to rockabilly as Elvis ever got. Well, this Elvis, anyway.

Then it very starkly shifts to a semi-acoustic, mid-tempo section that probably would have fit nicely into Armed Forces, and tells the story of the morning after. “Oh, what a letdown when the battle was finally won”, the kind of post-coital ennui that Elvis would later explore in songs like “New Lace Sleeves”.  Steve Nieve’s chiming keys, as always, sweeten this very bitter pill.

KEVIN DAVIS: I find it interesting that Jorge hears this song as a sort of lingering taste of This Year’s Model, though after reading his comments I follow his logic: The first half of this song especially sounds like an even more frantic version of “You Belong to Me,” a raucous rave-up pitched to Steve Nieve’s playful organ blasts that is certainly more in the spirit of This Year’s Model’s punk-ish snarl than it is of the crystalline pop of Armed Forces. But I’ve actually always heard this song as a glance forward towards Get Happy and its cavalcade of Stax-inspired rhythms; in fact, the YouTube video I’m using for reference here goes directly from “Wednesday Week” to an audio-only clip of the entire Get Happy album, and the transition from “Wednesday Week” to “Love For Tender” feels not only seamless but inspired. It just serves to illustrate what a unified language the Attractions were speaking in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s – most of the songs from their first three records together could be arranged in any fashion and still make sonic thematic sense, an achievement no doubt attributable at least in part to their breathless productivity during this period. EC and his band barely came up for air between 1978 and 1984, producing at least an album a year and leaving (very, very conservatively) an entire album’s worth of leftovers and retakes on the cutting room floor along the way (the name of this album is Taking Liberties, which was released in 1980 and is “Wednesday Week”’s original home). This band had such a kinetic creative energy that it’s no wonder the train couldn’t start up again once it stopped rolling – I mean, how do you get that kind of momentum back?

A lot of EC’s early B-sides were solid if comparatively unspectacular songs that were right to have been left off their respective potential records – and indeed, I wouldn’t change a single note of either This Years Model or Get Happy, two of my top three favorite EC records overall (the third item on that list is North). But I’ve always felt that some of Armed Forces’s outtakes could have served the album well – “Wednesday Week” in particular could have offered the record’s B side the shot in the arm that “Moods For Moderns” tries less successfully to provide, and I’d take “Talking in the Dark” over “Chemistry Class” and probably “Busy Bodies” (though I can understand why perhaps that song’s status as a standalone single might have left Elvis and his people wary to include it). In any case, “Wednesday Week” has a lot to offer in its explosive, jubilant two minutes – in fact, I can think of no other Costello track that morphs so distinctly, prog-like, from one “movement” to the next like this (“I Want You,” perhaps), an impressive feat for a song which is not only so short but which bears so little evidence of the compositional deliberateness that would come to define Costello’s writing just a few albums down the road. Like many of Elvis’s early songs, the finer nuances of the songwriting here take a distinct backseat to the overall energy and presence of both the Attractions’ spot-on ensemble performance and Costello’s own sneering delivery, yet here the abrupt shift in rhythm and tone immediately demands that the listener realize that there is more happening than meets the ear. One might say its excellence is almost scientific.

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