Even when a song may not say exactly what he needs it to, music is still his preferred means of communication; which is to say, Elvis Costello’s knowledge is nerdishly prodigious. He stumps George Jones with one of the Possum’s own deep cuts, and he tries to do the same with Bob Dylan — but nobody out-alludes that guy. With the obsession of a dilettante or possibly a savant, Costello jumps around from country and old-time folk to punk and reggae, from New Orleans jazz to Brill Building pop, from the classical compositions of the Brodsky Quartet to the erudite melodies of Burt Bacharach.
There are nearly 400 songs Costello name-checks as influences within the pages of his memoir, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, and hundreds more he refers to in passing. Of those 400, Vulture culled together a 300-song playlist that is by no means complete, due in large par to, at the time, Spotify’s scarcity of Beatles, Bacharach, and Neil Young albums. (The Fab Four are the most cited artist in the book, with 22 songs — from “Please Please Me” to “Let It Be” — admired by Costello.)