Endless Loop: Shipbuilding

elviscostelloHave you ever had one of those songs that gets stuck in your head for days…weeks…years? Sure you have. These are the songs that always make the cut. The songs on repeat. We all have them. I have a ton. Welcome back to Endless Loop.

“Shipbuilding” by Elvis Costello and The Attractions

“Is it worth it?”

For a song that’s about a community that thrives during wartime, an economy built on manufacturing the warships that they will then in turn send their own sons to die on, Elvis Costello and The Attractions’ “Shipbuilding” sure does sound sexy. Gracing 1983’s Punch the Clock, the song sets its potentially gloomy subject matter with a melancholy jazz melody and sheer poetry to craft a veritable work of audio art.

Originally penned by Costello and Clive Langer for English singer-songwriter Robert Wyatt (whose version is also pretty great by the way), “Shipbuilding” drew its inspiration from the Falklands War of 1982, musing on a kind of dichotomy of war. As the traditional shipbuilding areas of England saw prosperity from their wares, they also experienced the increasing likelihood of losing their young men to the same conflict they were benefiting from, like some sort of sacrificial lambs for harvest. War is hell sure, but it’s also a moneymaker.

“Within weeks they’ll be re-opening the shipyards and notifying the next of kin.”

On Costello’s version, the song’s jazzy lounge vibe almost undersells the urgency of the lyrical themes somewhat, but adds just the right amount of wistfulness to create a kind of tragic romanticism to the whole affair, brought most to life by Chet Baker’s beautiful and haunting trumpet solo. It’s like witnessing the inevitable, knowing that there is nothing you can do to change course, but deeply hoping or wishing that someday there will be…and maybe even actually believing that.

“With all the will in the world, diving for dear life, when we could be diving for pearls.”


Thomas H Williams

Thomas H Williams

From a bunker somewhere in Central Texas, Thomas H. Williams spends most of his time with his wife, his two sons, and his increasingly neurotic dog. He listens to a lot of music, drinks a lot of excellent beers, and gets out from time to time. For even more shenanigans, visit heavenisanincubator.blogspot.com.

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