Elvis Costello’s way with words has produced any number of memorable deft phrases and adroit images. If we mention the one in which he speaks double Dutch to a real double duchess, or thinks about the old days of Liverpool and Rotherhithe, many fans will immediately know that we’re remembering ‘New Amsterdam.’ This third single from Get Happy!! entered the UK chart on 7 June 1980.
That February, Get Happy!! emerged as Costello’s fourth album, and third with the Attractions. It was accompanied by his cover of Homer Banks’ ‘I Can’t Stand Up (For Falling Down),’ previously a hit for Sam & Dave. The retro-soul feel was continued by the follow-up 45 ‘High Fidelity,’ so the release of the more gentle and reflective ‘New Amsterdam’ represented quite a gear change. Before the end of the year, Elvis was back in more upbeat mood with ‘Clubland,’ as he introduced his next album, Trust.
The Costello-Lowe coalition
But for now, ‘New Amsterdam’ graced the UK airwaves to demonstrate the versatility of both Costello and his producer Nick Lowe. Notwithstanding lyrics whose meaning continues to cause debate among fans, it has remained a much-played song in Elvis’ live set, with over 250 known performances.
The recording featured on the album was actually Costello’s solo demo, on which he played all the instruments. The Attractions’ attempt to recreate its atmosphere was lacking something, and didn’t emerge until the LP’s 2003 deluxe reissue. The single entered the UK chart at No. 47 and peaked the following week at No. 36, in a six-week run.
Containing some of the artist’s most piquant wordplays of the time, ‘New Amsterdam’ landed at No. 10 in a 2017 Daily Telegraph feature on his best songs, in which ‘Oliver’s Army’ was No. 1. A top 20 piece in American Songwriter in 2013 placed it at No. 15.