Did I say that there weren’t any titanic songs on Get Happy!!? Well, I exaggerated to make a point. Because “Riot Act” has always been one of my all-time favorite Elvis Costello songs.
Even before I found out what it was all about 30+ years after the fact. Which was, of course, the infamous incident where his drunkenly private use of a forbidden word in order to piss people off backfired when they went to the press.
So “Riot Act” was his response, and led by some amazing bass playing by Bruce Thomas — did I say there weren’t any amazing performances by The Attractions on Get Happy!!? I exaggerated to make a point — grows from a slow ballad into one of the most passionate songs in his entire catalog.
With Pete Thomas laying way back and Steve Nieve playing a repeating organ fill, Elvis sings at the outer range of his voice in order to convey how pissed off he is: at the people who tattled, at the press who made a big deal of it, and at himself most of all:
Trying to be so bad is bad enough
Don’t make me laugh by talking tough
Don’t put your heart out on your sleeve
When your remarks are off the cuff
Riot act, you can read me the riot act
You can make me a matter of fact
Or a villain in a million
A slip of the tongue is gonna keep me civilian
It’s one of his longest, most beautiful melodies on that chorus, which you don’t even notice for all of the backing vocals screaming “Riot act” and Bruce Thomas practically knocking the song right off of the turntable and onto the floor.
Fan-made lyric & liner note video for “Riot Act”
“Riot Act” performed live with the Attractions in the mid-1990s