Oliver's Army Lyrics - Elvis Costello

Review The Song (13)



Don't start me talking
I could talk all night
My mind goes sleepwalking
While I'm putting the world to right
Called careers information
Have you got yourself an occupation?

[Chorus:]
Oliver's army is here to stay
Oliver's army are on their way
And I would rather be anywhere else
But here today

There was a checkpoint Charlie
He didn't crack a smile
But it's no laughing party
When you've been on the murder mile

Only takes one itchy trigger
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One more widow, one less white nigger

[Chorus]

Hong Kong is up for grabs
London is full of Arabs
We could be in Palestine
Overrun by a Chinese line
With the boys from the Mersey and the Thames and the Tyne

But there's no danger
It's a professional career
Though it could be arranged
With just a word in Mr. Churchill's ear

If you're out of luck or out of work
We could send you to Johannesburg

[Chorus]






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"Mr Churchill's ear" | Reviewer: Bob | 2/19/13

I've always been a little curious about the reference to Churchill, who I assume was Winston Churchill (I can't think of any other famous Churchills in English politics). Churchill died early in 1965 but most of this song's references seem to be from the late 1970's. Maybe the reference to Churchill is metaphorical, as a symbol of the most conservative aspects of England?

Excellent song | Reviewer: Cynthia Sawyer | 9/2/12

Excellent political song which makes some powerful points.....the British did behave deplorably in northern Ireland and history substantiates this....thanks Mr. Costello for making people think......

Cynthia J. Sawyer

Collective knowledge strikes again.. | Reviewer: J. Romer | 4/14/10

Just about all the reviews are correct for this often considered mysterious song. Mercenaries, Northern Ireland, Jo-burg, 70's unemployment- it's all there. Didn't seem to be much hope back then. We all knew it.
Then, Thatcherism floated a lot of boats in the 80's and 90's, but the tide has gone out again and we're back to where we were. War is always good business...

I'm So Old I Actually Remember it at Number One! | Reviewer: Anonymous | 12/27/09

This is a fab old Number One, as an oldie my contribution for what it is worth is that, although the song now seems to refer to the war in Northern Ireland (which is why the video was so amusing cos it was filmed on the beach in the Bahamas I think)and also to Cromwellian army history; in fact at the time we understood the lyrics to be a cynical comment about the exploitation of high unemployment. It is apparently being sung by a member of the British ruling class who is trying to lure the unemployed into joining army recruitment centres to help fight in Britain's imperialist wars (hence the double entendre at the start: 'have you got yourself an occupation?'). The early 80s were a dreadful time, some longterm unemployed were famously persuaded to sign on to a 'death-ship', the Derbyshire, which was then allegedly scuttled for the insurance off the South China Seas killing all hands.

Unemployment was a common theme in songs at the time (eg 'UB40'), EC also wrote the masterful Ship-building on the same topic as Oliver'Army, arguably his finest song.

Yes, Oliver refers to Oliver Cromwell - E.C. told me so. | Reviewer: Ivan Thomasz | 10/7/09

I once had the rare privilege of interviewing Elvis Costello through a long-distance call, when the BBC World Service had a "live" programme in which they invited listeners to phone and in to speak to the man himself. I asked him who "Oliver" in the song referred to, and the man himself said it was "Oliver Cromwell". So, there ... mystery solved.

Who the "boys'" are. | Reviewer: SGT Roberts | 4/19/09

The lyrics refer to "the boys from the Mersey and the Thames and the Tyne." Who are these mystery men? More thatn likely The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (RRF). The four units that make up the Regiment are the Lancashire Fusiliers (Mersey), The Royal Fusiliers (City of London - Thames), and the Royal Northumberland and Warwickshire Fusiliers (the Tyne). The RRF was formed in 1968, from the four units, which, I suppose might have been of interest to a young Mr. Costello, and I suspect that EC met some Royal Fusiliers when he visited Belfast before he wrote the song "Oliver's Army," and probably knew where they were from. In any case, the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland nothwithstanding, the boys from the British Army DID in fact nickname a section of Northern Belfast as "the murder mile." The original "murder mile" was in Nicosia, Cyprus, where Royal Fusiliers also served, including the Tyne-Tee's in 1958.

I've had this song going through my head for the last day as I serve in Afghanistan.. Wierd.

New model army | Reviewer: G.W | 12/2/08

Oliver Cromwell set up the basis the British Armed Forces in about 1648 when he fought King Charles I of England and his royalist army in the English civil war. Cromwell belived that the country should be run by Parliament not a monarch, so he raised the New Model Army from others those who supported his cause. Oliver's army defeated the royalists and he had the king executed then took control of England as the 1st Lord Protector of the England. He made soldiering a proffessional career (noted in the song).
The song itself expresses and criticises how in the 1970's, when this song was written, the British Army targeted for recruitment young disadvantaged men leaving secondary school. Unemployment at the time was extremely high and the army seemed like the only way to go, the kings shilling for your life.


reference's some of the British Armed Forces campaigns after World War 2

olivers army | Reviewer: kc | 8/8/08

I always thought this song was about OLIVER TAMBO , with the rise of the A.N.C and the struggle with apartheid .The way the party snowballed in the 70`s Hence Olivers army are on there way... is`nt the murder mile in S Africa and the Johannesburg connection . i`m more then likley wrong on this but a great tune nontheless.

where piano collides with rock AND politics | Reviewer: Sir Bunny | 1/1/08

I've always wondered about the lyrics of this song. I fell in love with the sound of the heavy piano, much in the genre of Elton John and Billy Joel to name a couple. I had no idea of what the lyrics of "Oliver's Army" meant so thank you to the reviewers who enlightened me.

Reference is to mercenaries | Reviewer: Athos | 11/2/07

Oliver Cromwell's army, being the first standing force to be paid wages for their service were accused of being mercenaries.
Ergo Oliver's army = mercenaries. At the time of the song's release there were numerous campaigns around the globe employing mercenary troops - many of them from England where such service was and still is legal.

Still keeps me thinking, too... | Reviewer: T-bone | 2/13/07

Yes, the song refers to Oliver Cromwell and his campaign in Ireland: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_Cromwell#_note-54
A truly brilliant song.

Oliver Cromwell's army | Reviewer: Anonymous | 5/18/05

Although an historical reference might be too much to expect from your usual rock tune, Elvis Costello is no usual songwriter. It takes not only talent, but courage to write powerful antiwar lyrics like this:
It's no laughing party
When you've been on the murder mile.
Only takes one itchy trigger;
One more widow, one less white nigger.

oliver's army has made me think for 25 years | Reviewer: Danny | 11/12/04

I have always loved this song. With geopolitics in the state they are in, the song seems prophetic. Hong Kong is no longer up for grabs, the Chinese have taken possession. London is full of Arabs, Muslims have managed to immigrate to every corner of the globe, controlling a large portion of south western Asia. You could be in Palestine, overrun by a Chinese line...Palestine has been a hot spot for over 2000 years and the Chinese have emerged as a global power, that itself was almost unimaginable in the seventies. Plus it's energetic pace and poppy chords disguise the seriousness of the lyrics. Oliver has always puzzled me, though. I have finally concluded, and I hope that I am right, that it refers to Oliver Cromwell,which would be way too much to expect from a rock tune. I heartily recommend this song to anyone willing to listen to it.



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------ Performed by Elvis Costello

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------ 07/23/2014

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