“Watching the Detectives” is the Last Track on Elvis Costello’s 1977 Hit Album, My Aim is True. His 4th Released Single is my Favorite Song of his. It was his first Single to hit any national chart, peaking at #15 in the UK, and charting modestly in Australia, Canada, and the U.S. The Song is #354 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time. (from Wikipedia)
Elvis Costello wrote, “Watching the Detectives” after an all-night bout of listening to The Clash’s debut album, The Clash, on headphones, which explains the reggae influence prevalent in the Song. He kept himself awake by drinking an entire jar of instant coffee, keeping him awake for 36-hours.
He told Q Magazine in August of 2013:
“Why do you think that song is so jerky? I drank a lot of coffee.”
“Watching the Detectives” by Elvis Costello
from the Album, My Aim is True (1977)
“She’s filing her nails,
while they’re dragging the lake.”
“Watching the Detectives” is an example of the “noir thing” Costello says runs through much of his material. Inspired by American detective shows, the Lyric is filled with images of detective, dames, guns, and cigarettes – all the film noir tropes. The story is rather opaque, but the wordplay is quite compelling.
My Grandmother was a fan of Mystery Novels and Film Noir Detective Movies. I remember watching them with her on warm Summer afternoons. The Femme Fatales, the “Dames”, as Elvis called them, and the dapper, yet damaged, detectives. When I listen to this Song I can see them all in my head.
“Watching the Detectives” (live, 1978) by Elvis Costello
The Live Version of “Watching the Detectives” above really reminds me of the Self-Titled Clash Album that inspired it, and you can really hear the Regaee influences here, much more than on the Album Version.