January’s earworm (“Keep yourself Alive”) has been displaced. The song that’s on my mind constantly these days is “(What’s so funny ’bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?” The first version that I heard, well over 30 years ago, was this one by Elvis Costello, where he spits out the words in an appropriate post-punk manner. I didn’t hear any of the versions featuring Nick Lowe (who wrote it) for some years. Here’s a 1974 performance with his band Brinsley Scharz and a much more recent, slowed down solo version. This is how the song plays in my mind, and how I now play it on keyboard or guitar. Like many of my favourite songs I’ve probably sung and played it more often than I’ve sat and listened to it.
There has never been a hit single version of the song in this country, but this recording by Curtis Stigers was featured on the soundtrack to “The Bodyguard”, which has sold over 40 million copies worldwide. I remember back in the 1990s reading about how much bigger Nick Lowe’s royalty cheques became after that album was released, and thinking that it couldn’t happen to a nicer man.
I first saw him onstage in 1978, and most recently in 2013. That summer we had tickets for Elton John’s Hyde Park show, but Sir Elton was poorly and couldn’t perform. It turned into a free show, with each of the support acts bumped up the bill by one place. Ray Davies headlined, and Elvis Costello, Gabrielle Aplin and Nick Lowe were respectively second, third and fourth on the bill. I took my son, then aged 8. He wanted to get home to say goodnight to his sister before she went to bed (I’m not sure he’d do the same these days) so we didn’t make it through to Ray Davies’s performance, which was a shame. But Nick Lowe performing this song on that hot Friday afternoon in July was A Moment.
And the answer to the question “(What’s so funny ’bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?” is the same as the answer to the question “War (huh, yeah), what is it good for?” Absolutely nothing.