Elvis Costello, a rock music journeyman, is resuming his tour this summer after a break caused by Covid-19. One song, though, will be completely missing from his setlist. In an interview with the Telegraph, Costello said that he will no longer perform the song “Oliver’s Army,” a UK hit from 1979 that uses the N-word and encouraged radio stations to do the same.
“It only takes one itchy trigger; one more widow, one less white [N-word],” Costello says in the political song, which was inspired by his interactions with young soldiers involved in the war in Northern Ireland. He told the Telegraph, “If I wrote that song now, I may think twice about it.”
“It’s what my grandpa was called in the British army that’s a historical truth but people hear that word and accuse me of something I didn’t do.” The song stayed uncensored for a long time on UK radio until 2013, when a BBC station bleeped the insult, much to the dismay of several listeners who claimed that its exclusion diminished the song’s anti-war message.
“Bleeping the term” is “making it worse,” Costello told the Telegraph, “because Radio stations highlight it then.” The musician stated he’d written a new verse for the song for a previous tour one about censorship but that he’d decided to retire it going forward, and that radio stations should do the same.