What to Listen to Now: Painted From Memory

If you have time to go through your stacks, pull out this disc.

One of the most evocative songs of the ‘60s is “Anyone Who Had a Heart” performed by Dionne Warwick. The song, released in 1963, was written by Burt Bacharach (music) and Hal David (lyrics). The two were to write a number of other songs performed by Warwick, including “Walk On By,” “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” and “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” (cheesy, but infectious).

The Bacharach/David partnership, which was to result in an array of music that is known for its performance better than authorship (e.g., they wrote “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”).

Fast forward to the mid-90s. Bacharach and Elvis Costello collaborated on a song, “God Give Me Strength,” for a movie, Grace of My Heart, starring Illeana Douglas (a character loosely based on someone like Carole King) and Matt Dillon (think Brian Wilson), released in 1996.

Then, two years later, Bacharach and Costello put out an album, Painted from Memory, which includes “God Give Me Strength,” as well as 11 other songs that the two collaborated on.

While it might seem somewhat bizarre that Costello would work with Bacharach, it is worth knowing that even back in ‘78, when he was still sardonic, Costello performed “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself,” a David/Bacharach composition that was first performed by Dusty Springfield in 1964. The Warwick version was released in ‘66. And the White Stripes rendition of “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” was released in 2003.

Costello has shown a tendency to perform against type during his career. Consider, for example, that sandwiched between the albums Trust (‘81) and Imperial Bedroom (‘82) is Almost Blue (‘81), an album recorded in Nashville of country covers. (Remember: this is 1982, long before something like that was considered to be not at all stretching any bounds.)

In 1991 there was G.B.H., the soundtrack for a British TV show about left-wing politicos in the Age of Thatcher; in ‘93 he released The Juliet Letters, which he performed with the Brodsky Quartet, a classical band of musicians, arguably as far from the Attractions as one could imagine.

While Costello has proven himself to be nothing if not productive, turning out albums at least every couple of years in this early period, what is somewhat interesting to note is that after Painted from Memory came out in ‘98 there wasn’t another record until 2001, For the Stars, on which he teams with a mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter for a series of songs including the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)”, the Beatles’ “For No One” and “This House Is Empty Now”–which appears on Painted from Memory. Clearly, he recognized that it is such a good song that it bore repeating sooner rather than later.

While it might be difficult to argue that Painted from Memory is Costello’s best album, it wouldn’t be hard to maintain the position that his voice has never sounded better on a recording.

Painted from Memory is, in some ways, a fully realized sequence of songs that perhaps had its genesis in “Alison.” But the cool, sophisticated arrangements of Burt Bacharach takes this to an entirely different place.

Video: Elvis Costello – “Painted from Memory”

From Sessions at West 54th, Elvis Costello with Burt Bacharach, Painted From Memory (Polygram Video, 1998).

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One thought on “What to Listen to Now: Painted From Memory”

  1. I find it interesting how often traditional rock ‘n rollers, punk rockers, rappers, hip-hop artists, etc., cite a Sinatra or even a Crosby as a source of inspiration. Being a punk rocker with more talent and aspiration than the long-gone garage bands who once populated the genre, it doesn’t surprise me that he’d get along with Burt Bacharach.

    I think Iggy Pop, of all people, once said he always wanted to be the next Sinatra. And Louis Armstrong was at least as revolutionary in his time (the 1920s) as any punk in the ’70s or rapper in the ’80s, and yet he’s best-known for the uber-cheesy “Hello Dolly” ca. 1965. Wondering now whether Stephen is familiar with the compilation albums of the very recently late Hal Wilner? (Sorry that this comment is all over the place.)

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