Elvis Costello & the Attractions

(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?

Song Review by

Elvis Costello didn't record many covers in the early part of his career, but the ones that he did commit to wax he made his own, and his version of Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding" stands as a perfect example. Lowe first cut the song while a member of the band Brinsley Schwartz; with an arrangement that sounded like a souped-up approximation of the Byrds, it came off as a sad, bittersweet elegy to the hippie era, which was quickly fading into the sunset. Costello's version first emerged as the surprise B-side to the British single of Lowe's "American Squirm" (credited to Nick Lowe and His Sound), and received its greatest circulation as the closing track to the American edition of Armed Forces. But where Brinsley Schwartz's version sounded like a farewell to the era of flower power, Costello addressed his version to a world that was teetering on the edge of a new cold war threatening to turn deadly; here, "Peace, Love, and Understanding" was no mere catchphrase, but a desperate call for sanity in a world prepared to blow itself up. Costello and his band tore into the song with a passionate ferocity that was rare even for one of the most solid and hard-driving pop acts of their day. If the original was a farewell hymn, in Costello's hands "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding" became a wake-up call, and no one who heard it could escape the urgency of its message. The song became something of an anthem after Costello popularized it, with a number of other covers following; Curtis Stigers' version, which appeared on the soundtrack album of the film The Bodyguard, brought little of interest to the song, but the album's massive worldwide sales helped to make Nick Lowe a rich man, and it couldn't have happened to a cooler guy.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Armed Forces 1979 Hip-O / Universal 3:32
Ten Bloody Marys & Ten How's Your Fathers 1980 Demon Records 3:34
Best of Elvis Costello & the Attractions [Video] 1985 Columbia / Sony Music Distribution 0:00
No Image 1985 Telstar
The Best of Elvis Costello & the Attractions 1985 Columbia 3:31
2½ Years 1993 Rykodisc 3:31
The Very Best of Elvis Costello and the Attractions 1994 Rykodisc 3:31