This was Costello’s first American hit. He was a regular on the UK charts since his first release in 1977, but American singles never hit. Despite support in America from independent record stores, college radio and music journalists, his only chart showings to this point were two singles that bubbled under on the Hot 100: “Watching The Detectives” #108 and “Accidents Will Happen #101.
This song peaked at #36 in the Billboard 100 and #28 in the UK in 1983.
I do remember that MTV pushed the video pretty hard. The push helped the single. It wasn’t until 1989 that he managed another Top 40 hit, “Veronica,” which was helped by MTV.
Elvis Costello: “I wrote it just for a joke,” “But that’s often the way to write a hit record (laughs). We had a group on the road with us that was trying to write these very self-conscious pop jangly kind of songs and that was their trip. So I thought I’d tease them by writing something that was like what they did, only sort of better than them. I wrote it in ten minutes.”
In this song, Elvis Costello is a novelist who tells his girlfriend that everything that happens in their relationship is source material for his book. On one hand, it’s very sweet that he’s taking the time to chronicle their relationship, but something about it is also kind of creepy, as he’s documented her transgressions and is now willing to use her own words against her in their arguments.
Esquire magazine once called this “the most intellectually satisfying pop song ever written.”
When Costello wrote this song, he envisioned it with a retro Merseybeat popularized by Liverpool groups of the ’60s (think Gerry and the Pacemakers and very early Beatles recordings). His producer, Clive Langer, heard hit potential in the song and convinced Costello to do a more contemporary arrangement, which they modeled on Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing.” The result was a modern R&B sound that served the song well.
“Everyday I Write The Book” got a push from MTV, which gave the video some spins and helped introduce Costello to younger audience. Radio stations in the US remained lukewarm on Costello, as he didn’t fit in on the Contemporary Hits or Rock playlists. Not that he was concerned; Costello’s indifference to popular taste earned him even more respect from his American fans.
The video was directed by Don Letts, who did a lot of work with The Clash and The Pretenders. In the clip, Elvis and his band (The Attractions) play in a studio stetting, wearing muted colors in stark contrast to the two backup singers, Caron Wheeler and Claudia Fontaine, who sport colorful dresses and head wraps. Old movie clips and random images like a man typing with boxing gloves are intercut throughout. These rather random videos did very well on early MTV, as they gave viewers a good look at the artist and provided some memorable visuals.
This was used in the films The Wedding Singer (1998) and Brooklyn Rules (2007). It is also heard in the 2001 Gilmore Girls episode, “The Breakup: Part 2.”
Elvis Costello told Uncut that he’s wanted “to write songs as good as Nick Lowe,” since he was 17. He added: “‘Everyday I Write the Book’ is a knockoff of Nick’s ‘When I Write the Book’ with a little Rodgers and Hart thrown in.'”
Everyday I Write The Book
Don’t tell me you don’t know what love is
When you’re old enough to know better
When you find strange hands in your sweater
When your dreamboat turns out to be a footnote
I’m a man with a mission in two or three editions
And I’m giving you a longing look
Everyday, everyday, everyday I write the book
Chapter one we didn’t really get along
Chapter two I think I fell in love with you
You said you’d stand by me in the middle of chapter three
But you were up to your old tricks in chapters four, five and six
The way you walk
The way you talk, and try to kiss me, and laugh
In four or five paragraphs
All your compliments and your cutting remarks
Are captured here in my quotation marks
Don’t tell me you don’t know the difference
Between a lover and a fighter
With my pen and my electric typewriter
Even in a perfect world where everyone was equal
I’d still own the film rights and be working on the sequel