Elvis Costello has announced that he’ll no longer perform his biggest U.K. hit, 1979’s “Oliver’s Army,” because the song contains a racial slur, and he’s also asking radio stations to stop playing the track.
Costello wrote “Oliver’s Army” about the historic violent conflicts in Northern Ireland, and the song includes the lyric, “Only takes one itchy trigger/ One more widow, one less white [n-word],” a reference to what British soldiers were called by some who opposed U.K. rule in the area.
“That’s what my grandfather was called in the British army — it’s historically a fact,” Elvis tells U.K. newspaper The Telegraph. “But people hear that word…and accuse me of something that I didn’t intend.”
While it wasn’t a hit in the U.S., “Oliver’s Army” is Costello’s highest-charting song in his home country, peaking at #2 on the U.K. singles tally. It appeared on Armed Forces, Elvis Costello’s 1979 studio album with his then-backing group The Attractions.
The tune was played unedited for many years on the radio, but eventually many stations began bleeping the slur.
Costello told The Telegraph that he feels that radio stations that bleep the word are “making it worse…[b]ecause they’re highlighting it then.” He adds, “Just don’t play the record!”
News of Costello retiring “Oliver’s Army” comes a few months after reports that The Rolling Stones had decided to stop performing their chart-topping 1971 hit “Brown Sugar” because of the song’s potentially racially and culturally insensitive subject matter and lyrics.
Costello and his longtime backing band The Imposters will be releasing a new studio album called The Boy Named If this Friday.
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