Elvis Costello didn't record many covers in the early part of his career, but the ones that he did commit to wax he made his own, and his version of Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding" stands as a perfect example. Lowe first cut the song while a member of the band Brinsley Schwartz; with an arrangement that sounded like a souped-up approximation of the Byrds, it came off as a sad, bittersweet elegy to the hippie era, which was quickly fading into the sunset. Costello's version first emerged as the surprise B-side to the British single of Lowe's "American Squirm" (credited to Nick Lowe and His Sound), and received its greatest circulation as the closing track to the American edition of Armed Forces. But where Brinsley Schwartz's version sounded like a farewell to the era of flower power, Costello addressed his version to a world that was teetering on the edge of a new cold war threatening to turn deadly; here, "Peace, Love, and Understanding" was no mere catchphrase, but a desperate call for sanity in a world prepared to blow itself up. Costello and his band tore into the song with a passionate ferocity that was rare even for one of the most solid and hard-driving pop acts of their day. If the original was a farewell hymn, in Costello's hands "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding" became a wake-up call, and no one who heard it could escape the urgency of its message.

never thought i'd see the song performed; on the late show tonight, it felt like the last sign of the apocalypse.

elvis costello, sing to my president (please).

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