Elvis Costello asks radio stations to stop playing ‘Oliver’s Army’ over N-word lyric

A picture of Elvis Costello.
Elvis Costello. Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images
  • Elvis Costello has said that he will no longer perform his single “Oliver’s Army.” 
  • The 1979 song includes a lyric with the N-word. 
  • “If I wrote that song today, maybe I’d think twice about it,” he said. 

Elvis Costello has said that he will no longer perform one of his biggest hits, “Oliver’s Army,” and has urged radio stations to also stop playing the song because of its use of the N-word.

The song, which is taken from Costello’s 1979 album “Armed Forces” and is one of the rockstar’s best-known hits, was written about The Troubles in Northern Ireland — a long and deadly conflict between mostly Protestant unionists determined for Northern Ireland to remain in the United Kingdom and Catholic republicans desperate to break away and create a united Ireland.

The anti-Black racial slur is used during the song to describe a British soldier. The line in question reads: “Only takes one itchy trigger, one more widow, one less white n——.” 

In a recent interview with The Telegraph, Costello said he plans to go on tour this summer, but will no longer be performing “Oliver’s Army” as part of his setlist.

“If I wrote that song today, maybe I’d think twice about it,” he told The Telegraph in a recent interview. 

“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.” 

A picture of Elvis Costello.
Elvis Costello. Burak Cingi/Redferns

Costello continued to say that he censored “Oliver’s Army” during his last tour, but he no longer believes that censorship is the correct method.

“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,” Costello said.

The rockstar later added that he believes it’s “a mistake” for radio stations to play edited or censored versions of the song.

“They’re highlighting it then. Just don’t play the record!” he said.

This isn’t the first time that Costello has addressed the controversy surrounding “Oliver’s Army.” During a separate recent interview with The Guardian, the singer also addressed cutting the song from his live performances.

“Sadly that two-word slang is a historical fact. It was a derogatory term for Irish Catholics, which I sang to make the point,” he told the newspaper.

“One dreads to think how the officer class spoke about people of color. Perhaps I’d express the same idea differently now. I’ve tried changing that verse, but after 44 years I’m done singing it. I’ll sing ‘(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding’ instead.”