Ranking the 5 Best Songs on ‘Spike,’ Elvis Costello’s Tour De Force Album from 1989

Elvis Costello assembled a cast of thousands for his 1989 album Spike. It gained a lot of attention at the time for containing his songwriting collaborations with Paul McCartney, but those are just a small fraction (two songs out of 15) of the story here.

Videos by American Songwriter

Instead, it’s mainly a Costello flex, as he shows off his ability to dabble in all manner of styles and genres without losing his songwriting edge, which is alternately biting and tender. Here are the five best songs on this jam-packed album.

5. “Satellite”

Costello wasn’t that far off in his career from collaborating with Burt Bacharach, but this song feels like an early attempt to write in that vein. “Satellite” takes those same kinds of melodic swoops. Lyrically, the song imagines the titular object connecting people who are otherwise buried in loneliness. As you might expect, there are some killer lines, including this devastating opener: She looked like she learned to dance from a series of still pictures. On an album filled with special guest appearances, Chrissie Hynde makes one of the biggest impacts here with her soulful harmony vocals.

4. “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror”

Costello’s fandom for The Band seems to come to the fore on this track. The way those horns punctuate the weaving melody recalls a Band track like “Unfaithful Servant.” But as is the case throughout the album, Costello never sacrifices his lyrical complexity to do honor to the influence. “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror” is all about self-deception, which takes many different forms for the person that the narrator addresses. As it turns out, that mirror is a harsh confidante: And it’s going to tell you things that I still love you too much to say.

3. “Baby Plays Around”

Costello’s relationship with Cait O’Riordan, once a member of The Posies, ran its course not long after the turn of the millennium. But at the time of Spike, the couple was going strong, and they even collaborated as co-writers of this quiet ballad. Whereas the music of much of the rest of the album is full and rich with instrumental flourishes, this song is somewhat minimal, making it a nice change of pace. It possesses a lovely, restrained melody, and Costello treats it delicately from a vocal standpoint. Pretty and sad, it’s one of the record’s most mesmerizing moments.

2. “…This Town…”

If you’re going to go get session men, why not grab the best? That’s none other than Roger McGuinn on 12-string guitar and Paul McCartney on bass on this rollicking number. It’s a great way to introduce folks to the record, since it’s most like the sound Costello often created with the Attractions. It’s also one of Costello’s funniest and darkest songs all at once, as it suggests that only the worst folks in society make it to the top. The music is so bold and colorful that it seems to be cackling at these characters and their bald-faced machinations.

1. “Veronica”

Costello received some songwriting help from Paul McCartney on this touching tribute to his grandmother. While it’s impossible to know just what Macca contributes here, it can’t be a coincidence how tightly Costello’s lyrics hug the meter. It makes the song ridiculously catchy, which is extraordinary considering what it’s about. The title character, battling dementia, is struggling to keep her perspective on the present as images from the past keep invading. But Costello grants her nobility and dignity: You can call me anything you like / But my name is Veronica.

When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Photo by David Redfern/Redferns

Leave a Reply

4 of the Best KISS Performances of All Time

“A Troubled Man for Troubled Times”: Alice Cooper Says He’s Running for President (Again), Watch His Campaign Video