(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding
|"(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding"|
|Single by Brinsley Schwarz|
|from the album The New Favourites of... Brinsley Schwarz|
"(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding" is a 1974 song written by English singer/songwriter Nick Lowe. Initially released by Lowe with his band Brinsley Schwarz on their 1974 album The New Favourites of... Brinsley Schwarz, the song was released as a single and did not chart.
The song was most famously covered by Elvis Costello and the Attractions, who recorded a version of the song that was released as a B-side to Lowe's 1978 solo single "American Squirm". The cover saw great popularity and was later included on the American version of Costello's 1979 album Armed Forces.
Brinsley Schwarz version
Nick Lowe had initially written the song while in the pub rock band Brinsley Schwarz. Nick Lowe has said that Judee Sill's "Jesus Was a Crossmaker" was an influence on the song. He explained the writing process, "I had the incredible foresight not to mess it up with any clever, stupid, clever lines. 'Just let the slightly clunky title do the work,' was the idea. The idea was all in the title. I had a good tune for it. And I let the title do the work. And that was amazing—I'm amazed nowadays, looking back, that I did that." Their version was produced by Dave Edmunds, whose production, according to Lowe, gave the track "a big full sound."
The song was originally released in 1974 on the album The New Favourites of... Brinsley Schwarz and released as a single; this version has been included in the following Lowe compilations: 2002's Anthology (along with the Elvis Costello version), 2009's Quiet Please... The New Best of Nick Lowe, 1991's Surrender to the Rhythm: The Best of Brinsley Schwarz, 1996's Naughty Rhythms: The Best of Pub Rock 1970–1976, and 1998's Pub Rock: Paving the Way for Punk. The song was a commercial failure; Lowe commented, "When the Brinsleys split up, that should've been the end of it. That’s what happens to bands' songs when they split up, the songs go in the dustbin of history. The song was never a hit, it never caused much of a stir at all when we did it originally."
Lowe has not released a solo studio version of the song, but plays it regularly in concert, and live versions have appeared as B-sides of his 1982 double single "My Heart Hurts", and his 1994 EP True Love Travels on a Gravel Road, on the radio compilations KGSR Broadcasts Vol. 3, Q107's Concerts in the Sky: the Campfire Versions, and Live at the World Cafe 10th Anniversary, some with solo acoustic guitar and some with different full bands. Another live Lowe version appeares on his 2004 live album Untouched Takeaway, and a live Brinsley Schwarz version is included on What IS so Funny About Peace Love and Understanding?, which featured songs played live in BBC sessions. Lowe also produced a cover version of the song as a B-side for the 1991 single "See Saw" by the British band the Katydids, after producing their eponymous debut album.
Elvis Costello & the Attractions version
Elvis Costello and the Attractions recorded a cover of the song for the B-side of Nick Lowe's 1978 single "American Squirm", a version credited to "Nick Lowe and His Sound". At the time Lowe was Costello's producer, and produced this track as well. Lowe recalled of the process:
It was [Costello's] idea. I produced his records back then. ... He was a fan of a band I was in before Rockpile, called Brinsley Schwarz. He used to come see us play. 'Peace Love and Understanding' was a Brinsley Schwarz song. ... But it was he who really popularized that song. It's been covered by loads of people, and it would've disappeared if it wasn't for him.
When the song became a hit, it was quickly appended as the last track to the US edition of Costello's album Armed Forces. It has appeared on most of Costello's "Best of..." compilations over the years, as well as on the soundtrack to the film 200 Cigarettes. Live versions appeared on Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Volume 7: 2002–2003, and 2012's The Return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook, both by Elvis Costello and the Attractions. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked this version of the song as the 284th-best song of all time.
Modern Drummer said of drummer Pete Thomas' performance, "A beautiful thing happens on this song, common to many early Attractions songs. It's that feeling that the track could derail, when in reality Thomas has everything locked down. He does a lot of playing here without overplaying. Like most Attractions songs from that era, this was cut live, full-band and lead vocal. That’s probably why so many years later, it still sounds so energized and inspired."
Other recordings and performances
A version of the song was included on the soundtrack album for the film The Bodyguard, which sold 17 million copies in the United States alone. This version was performed by jazz singer Curtis Stigers (who also used it as a B-side to the single "Sleeping with the Lights On" from his eponymous debut album, which had been released the previous year) and produced by Danny Kortchmar. According to Will Birch's book on pub rock, No Sleep Till Canvey Island, the cover royalties from Stigers' version of the song made Lowe wealthy. Lowe, however, asserts that he used most of the money to support a subsequent tour with full band. Stigers later covered a second Lowe song, "You Inspire Me", on the 2003 album of the same name.
In 2004, "(What's So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" was regularly performed as an all-star jam on the Vote for Change tour, which featured a rotating cast of headliners. The 11 October concert at the MCI Center in Washington, D.C. was broadcast live on the Sundance Channel and on radio. This version of the song featured Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, the Dixie Chicks, Eddie Vedder, Dave Matthews, and John Fogerty with Michael Stipe, Bonnie Raitt, Keb' Mo', and Jackson Browne.
In 2008, it was also used as a group number, at the close of the Comedy Central special A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All!, sung by Stephen Colbert, Elvis Costello, Willie Nelson, Toby Keith, John Legend, and Feist. This performance was included on the album, which won the 2010 Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album.
In response to the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting on October 27, 2018, at Tree of Life, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based band The Clarks released a cover of the song, with all proceeds going to the synagogue.
In May 2020, during the corona pandemic, Sharon Van Etten and Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme released a cover of the song accompanied by an official video which was shot at the artists' respective homes. "We wanted to share something personal and universal. That we are all in this time together", Van Etten wrote about the cover. Van Etten in seen performs in her garden as her child plays in the background. Homme performed the song while sitting on a staircase and later in one of his house’s bedrooms. The musician's children also appear in several scenes. The visuals of the video was created by Matthew Daniel Siskin "via iMessage + telephone", with co-directing duties coming from "all the kids".
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