What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Spider-Man Up A Lamp Post? or Elvis Costello and the Attractions – Armed Forces

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I’m willing to bet you didn’t realize that Peter Parker, you know – Spider-Man, is an Elvis Costello fan. Seriously, way back in 1981 the Purple Man, who has hypnotic abilities, told Spider-Man to climb up a lamp post and recite Shakespeare. Unable to recall any, he asks permission to sing a song and breaks into the Elvis Costello classic “Oliver’s Army.” Honestly… it took place in Marvel Team-Up Annual #4. Here’s another little bit of geek trivia for ya (whether you want it or not), that issue was written by Frank Miller; one of the biggest names in the comic business.

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Anyway, Armed Forces was adored by critics, fans, and Peter Parker. It has also appeared on lists as being one of the greatest all time albums. With those accolades you would expect that Armed Forces would have given the deluxe style treatment… and it has, sort of, but not to extent that perhaps it deserves.

The original 1979 UK release came with a bonus 7” named Live From Hollywood High which contained “Accidents Will Happen”, “Allison” and “Watching The Detectives.” Plenty are available on the resale market, but finding a copy that has both the bonus postcards and the 7” in good condition is a bit more difficult.

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In North America, the same offer was given, but the cover art and song order were different. “Sunday’s Best” was replaced with a cover of the Nick Lowe penned “(What’s so Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.” Interestingly, it is the Costello version that became most famous and has appeared in the Rolling Stone greatest songs of all time list.

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It wouldn’t be until 1993 that the Armed Forces got a significant upgrade in the CD format. Rykodisc in the US did a complete remaster of the Elvis Costello catalogue and released it with bonus material. In this case, the original UK cover was restored and both “Sunday’s Best” and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” were included. The bonus material included the Live From Hollywood High EP plus a few extra tunes.

In 2002, Rhino and Edsel released another remastered Armed Forces on two CD’s. This version brought back differing covers for North America and Europe as well as separating the album proper from the bonus material. The extras also expanded the Live From Hollywood High material to include 9 songs from that event.

Finally, 2010 saw Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab do a half speed 180 gram vinyl remaster with the original UK cover and the full 13 songs including “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.” I’m hoping that by 2019, we may get both the album and the complete Live From Hollywood High concert on vinyl… but that is wishful thinking.

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I wonder if Peter Parker still has his original copy on vinyl and if Aunt May ever became a fan.

Sarcastic SOB with Deadly Accurate Aim! or Nick Lowe – Jesus Of Cool

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There was a movement in the late 70’s that played directly to the most cynical of pop fans. It wasn’t punk or new wave, although some fans tried to lump them into that category; it wasn’t power-pop, except the music certainly was reminiscent of the tag. This music was literate and subversive while taking influences from 60’s pop bands like the Beatles, Beach Boys, Motown, Phil Spector and STAX, but lyrically it was far more sarcastic and very willing to bite the so-called “hand that feeds them.”

This is the world where Nick Lowe lived for a while. His single “Cruel To Be Kind” (from Labour Of Lust) could be played on AM radio, but most of his songs were strictly FM bound, or not to be played on radio at all. This was because Labour Of Lust, much like Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model, featured songs that attacked both radio and the music industry in general. Yet you had to love him for it. He was crafting perfectly awesome pop songs (back when pop wasn’t a word used to describe musical masturbation) without patronizing you with stupidity in the process. It was brilliant!

Unfortunately, the movement didn’t last long enough to forever remain in the hipster consciousness and it all but disappeared for a time. However, some great things have happened since the turn of the century. People who were influenced by these great sounds started singing the praises of these albums and independent record companies started picking up what the big guys had dropped. So here we are with several choices to grab not just a great album, but a substantial one.

If you’re crate digging in North America, finding Jesus Of Cool might be a little difficult as it was re-titled Pure Pop For Now People. Apparently, Columbia Records just had to screw with things for the American audience even exchanging one song (“Shake and Pop”) for another (“They Call It Rock”) and changing the running order entirely. Used copies will cost you under $10.

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It wasn’t until 1989 that a CD (as well as a vinyl re-release) version of the record was released by Demon Records in the UK. The CD had a different cover, while the vinyl returned to the original cover. The CD can be purchased under $10 used but the ’89 vinyl has one reseller asking over a $100 for a new copy.

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Spending that kind of money on a new copy really isn’t necessary, as some great things happened for the Jesus of Cool on its 30th anniversary. Complete remasters were done in 2008 on both sides of the Atlantic with a companion disc added to a gatefold cover. Yep Rock actually released two versions of the vinyl set. One was in standard black wax and the other came in red and yellow translucent vinyl. You can still find them at your finer record retailers and they shouldn’t set you back more than $30.

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The companion disc also includes an earlier version of “Cruel To Be Kind” that had not previously been released.

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In all, it’s an outstanding record you should give a try… after all, there is nothing quite like a sarcastic SOB with deadly accurate aim. Believe me his shot at fans of the Bay City Rollers is worth the price of admission all by itself.