Rock Icon Elvis Costello Retires One Of His Biggest Hits Over Racial Epithet

The Rock & Roll Hall of Famer explains why "Oliver's Army" is off the setlist.
Elvis Costello at YouTube Theater in Inglewood, California in October 2021.
Elvis Costello at YouTube Theater in Inglewood, California in October 2021.
JC Olivera via Getty Images

Singer Elvis Costello says he’ll no longer perform the song “Oliver’s Army” in concert due to a racial epithet in the lyrics and urged radio stations to skip the tune rather than play a censored version.

“If I wrote that song today, maybe I’d think twice about it,” the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer said in an interview with The Telegraph.

The word in question is often used as a slur against Black people. In Costello’s song, however, it’s used against a white person during the unrest in Northern Ireland in the last century.

“It was a derogatory term for Irish Catholics, which I sang to make the point,” Costello said in a separate interview with The Guardian. He told the Telegraph the word was used against his family.

“That’s what my grandfather was called in the British army – it’s historically a fact,” Costello said. “But people hear that word go off like a bell and accuse me of something that I didn’t intend.”

The 1979 song reached No. 2 in the U.K. ― his highest position ― and remained on the chart for 12 weeks.

“On the last tour, I wrote a new verse about censorship, but what’s the point of that? So I’ve decided I’m not going to play it,” he told the Telegraph.

Costello also said radio stations should skip the song completely rather than play the censored version that’s often used now.

“They’re making it worse by bleeping it for sure. Because they’re highlighting it then,” he said. “Just don’t play the record!”

Costello’s newest album, “The Boy Named If” will be released on Friday, and he has a U.K. tour set for June with his band, The Imposters.

He told the Guardian that while he’s done with “Oliver’s Army” after 44 years, fans can still expect to hear another favorite in concert.

“I’ll sing ‘(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding’ instead,” Costello offered.