- My ultimate vocation in life is to be an irritant, someone who disrupts the daily drag of life just enough to leave the victim thinking there's maybe more to it all than the mere hum-drum quality of existence.
- New Music Express interview with Nick Kent (1978); quoted in Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, and the Torch Song Tradition (2004) by Larry David Smith, p. 166
- WARNING: This album contains country & western music and may cause offence to narrow minded listeners.
- Warning label on Almost Blue (1981)
- I can't actually play any instrument properly. I can't read music. And here's the New York Times calling me the new George Gershwin. It was so ridiculous, really embarrassing. It was embarrassing to watch these people fall into the trap of their own critical conceits.
- Musician (March 1986)
- Then I became an altar boy because of the solemn face, but I got thrown out at fourteen for laughing, because the priest used to mumble everything except the church plate takings.
- The Times (2 March 2002)
- When the media attention switches away from this story onto the next thing that happens in the world, the circumstances will still be there.
- On the Hurricane Katrina devastation in New Orleans, as quoted in "New Orleans Musicians Hold Benefit in NYC" (21 September 2005)
- The people with the most resources are the federal government. If you can invade a country halfway across the world in a matter of days, you can surely come to the aid of your own citizens in a shorter order of time.
- Real Time With Bill Maher (25 August 2006)
- I had a lot of problems with my name … my first name Declan is really not very well known outside of Ireland, MacManus is a name they could never spell ... if you think about the names of '76, '77 … I got off kind of lightly — with a name you could live with, you know, in time. … I kind of liked the dare of it. Of course we weren't to know that within a month of my first album actually being issued Elvis Presley would die, and it would actually be a talking point. … Let me put it this way — people don't forget you with that name. It's sort of receded as — and this may sound terribly disrespectful and heretical — but as Elvis Presley has receded as a musical force, people make much less of a case about it. Elvis is a sort of cultural figure but there is no direct line between the music of Elvis Presley and the music of today. There is none whatsoever, he's no influence whatsoever, that I can detect, on music made today. Other than people who consciously retro in styling themselves after his ideas. There is no direct impact in the way that you can hear the influence of The Beatles or Stevie Wonder or numerous other people.
- On using the name "Elvis" as a stage name in The First 10 Years Podcast Series - Episode Two
dig interview (2004)
- Obviously the people that I admired, like the Beatles, were really into rock'n'roll, but it was already a little past rock'n'roll when I started listening and making my own choices about music. I've been lucky to listen to lots of different types of music.
- Obviously, when I started out, I had a little bit more curiosity than some, and went seeking out the original artists, or in some cases searching up country music. I followed The Byrds a lot, and then when they did a country styled record it made me curious to know who these people were that they liked.
- My sense of history in music is much greater than a lot of people's. I listen a lot further back in the whole history of music. It's not just pop music of the last 20, 30, 40, 50 years. I'm listening to stuff from hundreds of years ago as well, because you can learn from everything.
- We stayed out of Memphis early on in the late 70s for obvious reasons. People were very sensitive about Elvis Presley, and my stage name obviously would be provocative to some people in that area at that time. So we didn't visit Memphis until about 1984.
- The first song that most people picked up on, particularly in America, of mine, was a ballad, not a rock'n'roll song. It was 'Alison', and that's an R&B ballad. I don't think there's any other way to describe it.
- These are the sort of things that push you on in music — the curiosity, a passion for new ideas. It's important to keep restoring that, and at the same time, hold on to the core things about music that whenever you pick the simplest form of instrument; guitar or piano, you can find a song that's worthwhile.
- I've had a lot of different experiences in music over the years. And not everything you do can satisfy everybody's idealised version of you.
- I don't feel any form of music is beyond me in the sense of that I don't understand it or I don't have some love for some part of it. And if there's something in it that I can respond to, then there's something that I might be able to use as a composer. There are records of mine that have had smaller audiences and have provoked really drastic responses from people — particularly from critics — who maybe don't have quite enough time to live with the record or accept that a piece has its own integrity.
- Nice girls, not one with a defect,
Cellophane shrink-wrapped, so correct.
Red dogs under illegal legs,
She looks so good that he gets down and begs.
She is watching the detectives.
"Ooh, it's so cute."
She's watching the detectives.
When they shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot.
They beat him up until the teardrops start,
But he can't be wounded 'cause he's got no heart.
- Watching the Detectives (1977)
My Aim Is True (1977)
- Alison, I know this world is killing you.
Oh, Alison, my aim is true.
My aim is true.
- Oh I used to be disgusted
and now I try to be amused.
But since their wings have got rusted,
you know, the angels wanna wear my red shoes.
- Turn up the TV. No one listening will suspect,
even your mother won't detect it,
no your father won't know.
they think that I've got no respect
but everything means less than zero.
This Year's Model (1978)
- She said that's that.
I don't wanna chitter-chat.
Turn it down a little bit
or turn it down flat.
Pump it up when you don't really need it.
Pump it up until you can feel it.
- They say you better listen to the voice of reason
But they don't give you any choice
'cause they think that it's treason.
So you had better do as you are told.
You better listen to the radio.
- I wanna bite the hand that feeds me.
I wanna bite that hand so badly.
I want to make them wish they'd never seen me.
- Radio Radio
Armed Forces (1979)
Accidents will happen
We only hit and run
He used to be your victim
Now you're not the only one.
Accidents will happen
We only hit and run
I don't want to hear it
'Cause I know what I've done.
- Theres so many fish in the sea
That only rise up in the sweat and smoke like mercury
- And it's the damage that we do
And never know
It's the words that we don't say
That scare me so.
- Accidents Will Happen
- Oliver's army is here to stay
Oliver's army are on their way
And I would rather be anywhere else
But here today.
Get Happy!! (1980)
- So beautiful and fortunate
You're the one who hates to love
But he's the one who loves to hate.
- Love For Tender
- Clowntime is over
Time to take over
While others just talk and talk
Somebody's watching where the others don't walk.
- Clowntime Is Over
Punch the Clock (1983)
- Don't tell me you don't know what love is
When you're old enough to know better.
- I'm a man with a mission in two or three editions
And I'm giving you a longing look
Everyday, everyday, everyday I write the book.
- Everyday I Write The Book
- The boy said 'Dad they're going to take me to task
But I'll be back by Christmas'
It's just a rumour that was spread around town
Somebody said that someone got filled in
For saying that people get killed in
The result of this shipbuilding
With all the will in the world
Diving for dear life
When we could be diving for pearls.
- Is it all in that pretty little head of yours?
What goes on in that place in the dark?
Well I used to know a girl and I would have
sworn that her name was Veronica
Well she used to have a carefree mind of her
own and a delicate look in her eye
These days I'm afraid she's not even sure if her
name is Veronica.
- While you lie in the dark, afraid to breathe and
you beg and you promise
And you bargain and you plead
Sometimes you confuse me with Santa Claus
It's the big white beard I suppose.
Im going up to the pole, where you folks die of cold
I might be gone for a while if you need me.
- God's Comic YouTube video
Now Im dead, now Im dead, and you're all
Going on to meet your reward.
Are you scared? Are you scared? Are you scared? Are you scared?
You might have never heard, but God's comic.
- God's Comic
All This Useless Beauty (1996)
- There's always something that's smoldering somewhere
I know it don't make a difference to you
But oh! It sure made a difference to me
You'll see me off in the distance, I hope
At the other end
At the other end of the telescope.
- The Other End (of the Telescope), written by Elvis Costello and Aimee Mann
- Lie down baby now don't say a word
There there baby your vision is blurred
Your head is so sore from all of that thinking
I don't want to hurt you now
But I think you're shrinking.
- The Other End (of the Telescope)
- What shall we do, what shall we do with all this useless beauty?
- All This Useless Beauty
- Nonsense prevails, modesty fails
Grace and virtue turn into stupidity
While the calendar fades almost all barricades to a pale compromise
And our leaders have feasts on the backsides of beasts
They still think they're the gods of antiquity
If something you missed didn't even exist
It was just an ideal — is it such a surprise?
- All This Useless Beauty
- Well there's a line that you must toe
and it'll soon be time to go
but it's darker than you know in those Complicated Shadows
- Complicated Shadows
- Why can't a man stand alone?
Must he be burdened by all that he's taught to consider his own?
His skin and his station, his kin and his crown, his flag and his nation
They just weigh him down
- Why Can't A Man Stand Alone?
- Now I just don't know who to tell to go to hell
Who put the old devil in the distorted angel?
- Distorted Angel