The Great Songs: Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Beyond Belief

by Eric Melin on July 28, 2010

in Columns,The Great Songs

Elvis Costello already had six great albums in five years under his belt by the time he took a complete left turn into baroque pop territory with 1982′s “Imperial Bedroom.”

“Beyond Belief” is the first song from that record—his best—and right away, the listener can tell something is different.

Elvis Costello_ImperialBedroomThe production, handled by Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick, is more low key and less aggressive than previous efforts. Costello starts the song in a hushed tone and a low register, singing lyrics almost as obscure as Van Dyke Parks’ on “Surf’s Up”:

History repeats the old conceits/The glib replies the same defeats
Keep your finger on important issues/With crocodile tears and a pocketful of tissues

The opening stanza has a traditional rhyme scheme, but the pacing varies. And listen to the way Costello’s jazzy melody puts the emphasis on certain syllables:

I’m just the oily slick/On the windup world of the nervous tick
In a very fashionable hovel

Also, I love the fact that it’s a short song—about 2:30—and there are eight verses in a row. Each one has a slightly different cadence and feel. It sounds like the song is a great big circle with little bumps in the road along the way. It all builds up to one moment: Just as he finishes the line “Dog fight like rose and thistle,” there’s a quick sound effect of something breaking (!) and he jumps into the long-awaited chorus.

You get about 30 seconds of it. It’s the first time you hear the title of song. But wait: It’s already gone into a long fade! And then the song is over. REPEAT.

I love short, intricate little pop songs because sometimes they require an immediate re-listen. With a seemingly endless amount of vocal hooks and varied instrumentation, this is one of the best. It holds up after tons of repeated listenings, and sometimes, when I listen to the album in its entirety, I’ve already listened to this one twice. What a great song.

The Great Songs series so far:

The Great Songs: Big Star – Thirteen

The Great Songs: The Kinks – Waterloo Sunset

The Great Songs: The Jayhawks – Blue

The Great Songs: Pavement – Summer Babe

The Great Songs: The Zombies – Care of Cell 44

The Great Songs: The O’Jays – Back Stabbers

The Great Songs: Queen & David Bowie – Under Pressure

The Great Songs: George Jones – He Stopped Loving Her Today

The Great Songs: Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart

The Great Songs: KISS – Deuce

The Great Songs: The Flying Burrito Brothers – Hot Burrito #1

The Great Songs: The Flaming Lips – Do You Realize??

The Great Songs: Pink Floyd – Astronomy Domine

The Great Songs: The Beach Boys – Surf’s Up

The Great Songs: Marvin Gaye – Let’s Get it On

The Great Songs: Slayer – Angel of Death

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of and writes the Screen Stealers column for The Pitch. He’s President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nathan Victor July 28, 2010 at 8:33 pm

When I saw this I was like, “this can’t be better than Elvis’ Everyday I Write the Book. This song is pretty sweet. Thanks for the great songs posts.


2 Sam January 22, 2011 at 10:25 pm

My favorite song of all time. Thanks for giving it some attention.


3 Eric Melin January 24, 2011 at 9:00 am

Sam- One of mine, too! Glad you dug the appreciation!


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