More Than Naught

March 25, 2017 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Modern Music, MUSIC | 1 Comment |

Songs in Our Heart # 76

25 March 1977: Stiff Records release Elvis‘ first single, the incendiary Less Than Zero, a bitter snipe at British fascist leader Oswald Mosley. This was the song he famously terminated early on ‘Saturday Night Live’, since it would have gone over American heads at that stage (later he uncorked a ‘Dallas’ version of the song, with lyrics more suitable to U.S. audiences).

It was described variously as “a trebly hybrid of ska and garage punk“* and “a crunchy anthem to nothingness.“** Elvis thinks it might have been the song he was playing when he was arrested for obstructing a footpath and ‘causing a public nuisance’ in front of the London office of CBS Records.^  Less Than Zero went nowhere in the charts but a major new talent had arrived.


“Less than…what?” (Painting of Mosley by Glyn Philpot)

Elvis was apparently fired-up by an interview of Sir Oswald on BBC television.  This may have been ‘Tonight’ hosted by Melvyn Bragg, an episode aired in November 1976, where he objected to publication of David Pryce-Jones’ book on Mosley’s Nazi pal, Unity Mitford. Clive James, reviewing the programme, referred to Mosley as “this terrifically silly man.”*^

The Varnished Culture finds it a wonderful, insinuating song. Favourite lines: “He said I heard about a couple livin’ in the USA, he said they traded in their baby for a Chevrolet” and “Well I hear that South America is coming into style.”

[*David Sheppard, Elvis Costello (2000), p. 54.  **Brian Hinton, Let Them All Talk: the Music of Elvis Costello (1999), p.76.  ^Elvis Costello, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink (2015), p. 240.  *^Clive James, The Crystal Bucket (1981), p.33.]

1 Comment

  1. Reply


    March 29, 2017

    Great memories! He had a sharp way with a song-line.

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