GRAMMY Awards 2020: Elvis Costello on Writing with Carole King, Burt Bacharach at the Same Time


More evidence of the power of song: the first standing ovation of the night went to a songwriter, Elvis Costello, who won the Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for Look Now, by Elvis Costello & The Impostors.

Elvis, who walked through the crowd slowly during this pre-televised “premiere” section of the event to accept his award, seemed surprised by the reception.

In black chapeau and blue two-piece suit, he accepted his Grammy with longtime Attractions drummer Pete Thomas beside him. “This means so much,” he said. “Because it has a song that I wrote with Carole King and held it for 25 years. Because I had to get it right. I didn’t want to tell Carole until it was perfect. Now I got it, on this album. At last.”

Elvis in the Grammys Press Room, Staples Center, January 26, 2020. Photo by Paul Zollo.

That song is ” “Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter,” which they wrote and demoed more than two decades ago, and though Elvis performed it live a few times, never officially recorded until last year for this project.

So when Elvis came backstage to talk, the first question we asked was about this song with Carole King. 25 years it took to record? Why so long?

“Because it was Carole King!” he said with a smile “I wanted to get it right!”

“Our method usually, with the Attractions and the Impostors too, was to prepare a lot before we got into the studio. We like to have a real clear idea of how we are going to approach it. Then we do very few takes. In that way I am a traditionalist. But with that song, we just never got it right.”

“Also it happened at the same time I was working on the album Painted From Memory, ten songs I wrote with Burt Bacharach, and I couldn’t tell Burt that the eleventh song would be a Carole King song, how could I? “

“And, truthfully,” he added, “the albums we made after that had styles with which this song didn’t fit. So it really was a case of patience being awarded, I suppose.”

“Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter”

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