13 Steps Lead Down

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"13 Steps Lead Down"
"13 Steps Lead Down" - Elvis Costello.jpg
Single by Elvis Costello
from the album Brutal Youth
B-side"Do You Know What I'm Saying?"
ReleasedApril 1994
Genre
LabelWarner Bros.
Songwriter(s)Elvis Costello
Producer(s)Mitchell Froom
Elvis Costello singles chronology
"Sulky Girl"
(1994)
"13 Steps Lead Down"
(1994)
"You Tripped at Every Step"
(1994)

"13 Steps Lead Down" is a song written and performed by new wave musician Elvis Costello that was first released on his 1994 album Brutal Youth. Written quickly during a day-long session, the song features lyrics referencing El Escorial and the twelve-step recovery movement. The track is one of those on Brutal Youth that features the reunited Attractions, Costello's longtime backing band.

"13 Steps Lead Down" was released as the second single from Brutal Youth, reaching number 59 in the UK. It has since been lauded by critics as a return to his punk origins and it has become a live favorite.

Background[edit]

"13 Steps Lead Down" was written quickly during a one-day writing spree by Costello; during this same day, Costello wrote "Rocking Horse Road," "Pony St.," "Clown Strike," "Still Too Soon to Know," and "Just About Glad."[1][2] Costello recalled, "I would work for about half an hour with the guitar cranked up really loud, and make a tape of just anything that came into my head. I did it in bursts, and then I listened to see if any of it was interesting. A lot of it was gibberish".[1]

The song's title, according to Costello, "refers to that number being used to instill dread in those entering the Tomb of the Spanish Kings at El Escorial". He elaborated on the song's lyrical content, "Not that the song continues much with that theme — it was more for those who could not subscribe to the new fashion of sobriety". Critics have pointed to the song as critical of the twelve-step recovery movement.[3]

The track was one of the songs on Brutal Youth that featured Costello's reunited backing band the Attractions. Costello later named "13 Steps Lead Down" and "Sulky Girl" as "reminders that [the Attractions] could also be a pretty great rock and roll band".[2] The song closes with what Rick Anderson of AllMusic describes as "one of his patented atonal solos".[3]

Release and reception[edit]

"13 Steps Lead Down" was released as the second single from Brutal Youth in the UK, following "Sulky Girl". The B-side to the single was "Do You Know What I'm Saying?" The single was moderately successful, reaching number 59 in the UK. The song also reached number 15 on the Billboard Bubbling Under chart as well as number six on the Billboard Modern Rock chart. The song has since appeared on an EP of the same name as well as on the compilation album Extreme Honey.[4]

"13 Steps Lead Down" has generally seen positive reception from critics. AllMusic's Stewart Mason called the song "the best and most Attractions-like song" from Brutal Youth, while Neil Strauss of The New York Times named it as one of the songs from Brutal Youth that "hold up to the band's best work from the late 1970's, but ... also dared to be different".[4][5] Noel Murray and Keith Phipps of The A.V. Club dubbed the song "one of Costello’s all-time best fist-pumping stingers" and Jeremy Allen of The Guardian called it a "classic".[6][7] J. D. Considine of The Baltimore Sun named the song as a moment on Brutal Youth "where you could almost close your eyes and imagine that it's 1978 again", while Ed Masley of The Arizona Republic described the song as a highlight of the album that "rock[s] with the infectious charge".[8][9]

Brian Hiatt of Entertainment Weekly named the song as one of Costello's top ten tracks, stating, "This insistent, noisy punk track stands up against Costello and the Attractons' early landmarks".[10]

Performance history[edit]

"13 Steps Lead Down" has been performed live by Costello since the Brutal Youth tour.[5] Costello and the reunited Attractions debuted the song live on Late Show with David Letterman in 1994, ending the song with the closing to "Radio Radio"; Letterman, a longtime Costello fan, was so impressed by the band's performance of the song that he brought the band back to perform again within months.[6][11] Costello also performed the song for a scene in a season 3 episode of The Larry Sanders Show before trashing his hotel room.[12]

Charts[edit]

Chart (1979) Peak
position
UK Singles (OCC)[13] 59
US Billboard Bubbling Under Hot 100[14] 15
US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks[15] 6

References[edit]

Citations

  1. ^ a b Thomson 2006.
  2. ^ a b Brutal Youth (Liner notes). Elvis Costello. 2002.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  3. ^ a b Anderson, Rick. "13 Steps Lead Down - Elvis Costello | Song Info | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 20 May 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ a b Mason, Stewart. "13 Steps Lead Down [EP] - Elvis Costello | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 20 May 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ a b Strauss, Neil (10 June 1994). "Review/Pop; Down Memory Lane the Elvis Costello Way". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 May 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ a b Murray, Noel; Phipps, Keith. "How to navigate through 40 years of Elvis Costello's pop mastery". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 20 May 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^ Allen, Jeremy. "Elvis Costello: 10 of the best". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Archived from the original on 18 February 2019. Retrieved 17 February 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. ^ Considine, J. D. "Costello reaches back but still comes up short". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 20 May 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ Masley, Ed. "Essential Elvis Costello: 20 best albums". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved 19 November 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  10. ^ Hiatt, Brian. "Elvis Costello's 10 greatest tunes". Entertainment Weekly. Meredith Corporation. Archived from the original on 23 February 2019. Retrieved 22 February 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  11. ^ Wilcox, Tyler. "An Ode to Elvis Costello's Stellar Backing Bands, the Attractions and the Imposters". Pitchfork. Retrieved 20 May 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  12. ^ Harrod, Horatia (17 June 2009). "Elvis Costello: unsung hero of... comedy?". The Telegraph. Retrieved 20 May 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  13. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 27 February 2019.
  14. ^ "Bubbling Under the Hot 100". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. 106 (14): 77. Apr 2, 1994. Retrieved 20 May 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  15. ^ "Elvis Costello | Modern Rock Tracks". Billboard. Retrieved 20 May 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

Sources

  • Thomson, Graeme (2006). Complicated Shadows: The Life and Music of Elvis Costello. Canongate U.S. ISBN 978-1841957968.