Subscribe to our newsletter

Credit: Ray di Pietro


The artist Elvis Costello "decoded" for his own music

Elvis Costello is a walking encyclopedia of music history. From the delicate American country sound of George Jones to the high-energy new wave of Blondie, Costello is a chameleon that continues to take in influences from all across the map. Pub rock might have fascinated him as a teenager, but you’d be just as likely to find him taking in the Grateful Dead at the Bickershaw Festival in the spring of 1972.

With that kind of diversity in his listening habits, it should come as no surprise that Costello took a number of cues from David Bowie, specifically citing Bowie’s ability to look outside of the world of rock. “I remember seeing an interview with David Bowie where he said he tried to write the words to ‘My Way’ [by Frank Sinatra] for a publisher and they turned down his lyrics so he wrote ‘Life on Mars’,” Costello remembers for the museum exhibit ‘David Bowie Is’.

“That tells you everything about where he lived – you can hear the Anthony Newly, you can hear the ‘What Kind of Fool Am I?’ in so many of his early songs,” Costello explained. “I love those songs from Hunky Dory. The Attractions and I really decoded Low and ‘Heroes’. It doesn’t sound like they had much impact on us, but as much as ABBA influenced Armed Forces, so did those records.”

Costello didn’t just stop at his classic 1970s work either: he was a fan right up until the very end. “Of course, the beauty of Blackstar, the beauty of the musical-artistic life statement, of making that record in the place that he was, where he was we now know, was just the measure of the huge spirit of it. I love that record so much and play it all the time,” he adds.

Costello even mentions that he heard from a mutual friend that Bowie was thinking about covering the Robert Wyatt song ‘Shipbuilding’ for which Costello wrote the lyrics. He would later record a version of the track for his own album Punch the Clock, but Costello says that he has no doubt that Bowie “would have sung it beautifully.”

Check out Elvis Costello talking about David Bowie’s influence down below.