Rock musician Elvis Costello is heading back out on the road again this summer after COVID-19 put the brakes on his tour. One song, however, will be notably absent from his setlist, according to a report from CNN.
Costello said he will no longer perform the 1979 U.K. hit “Oliver's Army,” which contains a racial slur, and has pleaded with radio stations to stop playing it as well, in an interview with the Telegraph.
Inspired by the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and his encounters with young soldiers involved in the conflict, Costello sings, “Only takes one itchy trigger; One more widow, one less white [N-word],” in the political anthem.
“If I wrote that song today, maybe I'd think twice about it,” he told the Telegraph. “That's what my grandfather was called in the British army – it's historically a fact – but people hear that word go off like a bell and accuse me of something that I didn't intend.”
In 2013 a BBC station bleeped the slur, to the dismay of some listeners, who thought editing it out weakened the song’s anti-war message. The song had previously been played uncensored on U.K. airwaves.
Costello told the Telegraph that bleeping the word is “making it worse because [radio stations] are highlighting it then.”
Far from being alone in his position, Costello joins a growing group of musicians who have retired songs with offensive material.
Last year, the Rolling Stones phased “Brown Sugar” out of their setlist, which opens with a slave narrative and sexualizes young Black women, although Keith Richards said he hoped the band could bring back a version of the song at some point.
The rock group Paramore also retired arguably its most famous song, “Misery Business,” in part because of lyrics that refer to another woman as a “whore.”
Costello said he'd written a new verse for the song that focused on censorship for a previous tour but decided to retire the song instead, and that radio stations should follow suit.
“Just don't play the record!” he said.
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