Elvis Costello has revealed that he will no longer perform one of his most popular hits, Oliver’s Army, because it contains a racial slur used to describe Catholics.
The song was written about the conflict in Northern Ireland and Costello said it was what his grandfather was called while serving in the British Army.
The 67-year-old told the Telegraph: ‘It’s historically a fact. But people hear that word go off like a bell and accuse me of something that I didn’t intend.’
The line in question includes the lyric: ‘Only takes one itchy trigger/ One more widow, one less white n*****.’
The song, taken from the 1979 album Armed Forces, is one of Costello’s best-known hits and received endless plays across all BBC radio stations without any complaint – until recently.
Elvis Costello (pictured) has revealed he will no longer perform one of his most popular hits, Oliver’s Army, because it contains a racial slur used to describe Catholics in Northern Ireland
The song, taken from the 1979 album Armed Forces, is one of Costello’s best-known hits and received endless plays across all BBC radio stations without any complaint – until recently
In 2013, the BBC received criticism for editing the song by bleeping out the offending line and on his last tour Costello rewrote the song in response to being ‘cut down by the censors’.
He added: ‘On the last tour, I wrote a new verse about censorship, but what’s the point of that?’
‘So I’ve decided I’m not going to play it. [Bleeping the word] is a mistake. They’re making it worse by bleeping it for sure. Because they’re highlighting it then. Just don’t play the record!’
In a separate interview with the Guardian to promote his new album, The Boy Names If, Costello said he wanted radio stations to stop playing the original recording.
He said: ‘Sadly that two-word slang is a historical fact. It was a derogatory term for Irish Catholics which I use to make the point.
‘One dreads to think how the officer class spoke about people of colour. Perhaps I’d express the same idea differently now.’
In 2013, the BBC received criticism for editing the song by bleeping out the offending line and on his last tour Costello rewrote the song in response to being ‘cut down by the censors’
Costello added that radio stations will ‘do him a favour’ by not playing the 1979 song anymore.
Because when I fall under a bus, they’ll play ‘She’, ‘Good Year For The Roses’ and ‘Oliver’s Army’,’ he added. ‘I’ll die, and they will celebrate my death with two songs I didn’t write. What does that tell you?’
Good Year For The Roses was written by Jerry Chesnut and performed by George Jones, while She was originally written and performed by Charles Aznavour.
Costello released cover versions of the songs in 1981 and 1999, respectively with his cover of She coming in as his biggest song on streaming services, wracking up 80 million plays on Spotify alone.
It comes months after Rolling Stones confirmed they would no longer play the song Brown Sugar due to controversy surrounding the song’s lyrics.
The hit track was originally titled ‘Black P****’, but Mick Jagger decided before releasing it that the title was too ‘nitty-gritty’ and it was changed to Brown Sugar.
The 1969 song depicts scenes of slavery and sexual violence, including lyrics telling of a slave driver whipping a group of women, and has come under fire in recent years for its comments about slavery.
Keith Richards said the band made the decision to retire the track as they don’t want to get involved in ‘conflicts’ about the lyrics, while Mick Jagger hinted that the song may return to their setlist in the future.
Mick Jagger, Keith Richards (right) and Ronnie Wood (left) are seen on stage in Nashville on Saturday night. The band have decided to stop performing Brown Sugar on this tour
The last time the Stones played the hit track, which has sold 2,700,000 times in original sales since its release, was on August 30, 2019, at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida.
It provoked a backlash from ‘woke’ music fans who claimed they should not still be singing the song due to its depictions of slavery.
But furious Rolling Stones fans said they don’t understand the controversy surrounding the track as it is clearly anti-slavery, with many saying artists should be free to express themselves without fearing ‘cancel culture’.
The 1969 song has been a staple of the Rolling Stones live shows since it came out 50 years ago, and is the second most played song in their catalogue after Jumpin’ Jack Flash, with 1,136 known performances, according to Rolling Stone magazine.
Keith Richards, who recorded the song with Jagger over a three-day session at the famed Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama, said he was taken aback by the recent discomfort about the lyrics, since it was always a grotesque story about slavery, rape and sexual violence.