"Green Shirt" as written by and Elvis Costello....
There's a smart young woman on a light blue screen
Who comes into my house every night
And she takes all the red, yellow, orange and green
And she turns them into black and white

But you tease, and you flirt
And you shine all the buttons on your green shirt
You can please yourself but somebody's gonna get it

Better cut off all identifying labels
Before they put you on the torture table

'Cause somewhere in the "Quisling Clinic"
There's a shorthand typist taking seconds over minutes
She's listening in to the Venus line
She's picking out names
I hope none of them are mine

But you tease, and you flirt
And you shine all the buttons on your green shirt
You can please yourself but somebody's gonna get it

Never said I was a stool pigeon
I never said I was a diplomat
Everybody is under suspicion
But you don't want to hear about that

'Cause you tease, and you flirt
And you shine all the buttons on your green shirt
You can please yourself but somebody's gonna get it

Better send a begging letter to the big investigation
Who put these fingerprints on my imagination?

You tease, and you flirt
And you shine all the buttons on your green shirt
You can please yourself but somebody's gonna get it

You can please yourself but somebody's gonna get it
You can please yourself but somebody's gonna get it


Lyrics submitted by Mopnugget

"Green Shirt" as written by Elvis Costello

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Green Shirt song meanings
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8 Comments

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  • +1
    General CommentThis is obviously about surveilance and paranoia, but also has that feeling of Costello's brilliant ability to meld personal and political. The chorus is obviously personal, but the rest of the song deals with the concept of someone listening in. I think it may deal with apathy as in all this is going on and you just wanna flirt and look good. Dunno.
    The way he says it, though is so great. "Short time typist taking seconds over minutes" is a great play on the word 'minutes', as it is a measure of time, but also the transcript of a meeting. I can't remember if the Armed Forces version has it, but on the demo, there's a great catchy little bridge that goes as such:
    "There were wires in the window
    There were wires in the walls
    There were wires in the kitchen
    and wires in the halls.

    There were wires on poles
    there were wires in your face
    there were wires in holes comin' out all over the place."
    tackledspoonon December 06, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAgree with the above, but also about an infatuation with a newswoman on the tele.
    mikegrosson April 17, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentII got the impression that the narrator was describing an oppressive government in between chastising a friend for ignoring it and being more concerned with flirting and appearance - the "green shirt" maybe being a uniform, like he's in some fascist group for the outfits and the girls. Meanwhile, the news is controlled and the phones are bugged and people are in jeopardy.
    Dubious Meriton November 02, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General Commentcostello's working title for Armed Forces was Emotional Fascism. this is one of many songs which seem to be about love (or something akin to it), filled with phrases and metaphors borrowed from the Third Reich. Quisling BTW was a historical "stool pigeon," and his name is used in a similar manner as "Boycott" and "Comstock[ery]"
    foreverdroneon June 17, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General Comment@JTrois,

    Yes, but it's not the social networks - I agree with the others, the symbolism of the TV/Media makes it really overtly external: government.

    I tripped over this song in my collection today, and I really miss good, intelligent songwriting.
    dearhearton September 08, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe first verse kinda seems like it's about the media's ever-increasing tendency to filter out all information that doesn't support whatever agenda they're currently working, thereby turning everything black and white.
    AlgernonMabuson December 31, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think it's about a guy who's afraid his friend's womanizing ways will eventually be misinterpreted and will end up ruining his own reputation by association. His attributing an Orwellian quality to the social networks of young woman.
    JTroison April 05, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThank you for your explanations and comments, especially the adding lyrics!
    AnneProdhommeon May 13, 2015   Link

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