"Shipbuilding" as written by Elvis Costello and Clive William Langer....
Is it worth it?
A new winter coat and shoes for the wife
And a bicycle on the boy's birthday
It's just a rumour that was spread around town
By the women and children
Soon we'll be shipbuilding
Well, I ask you
The boy said "dad, they're going to take me to task
But I'll be back by Christmas"
It's just a rumour that was spread around town
Somebody said that someone got filled in
For saying that people get killed in
The result of this shipbuilding
With all the will in the world
Diving for dear life
When we could be diving for pearls
It's just a rumour that was spread around town
A telegram or a picture postcard
Within weeks they'll be re-opening the shipyards
And notifying the next of kin
Once again
It's all we're skilled in
We will be shipbuilding
With all the will in the world
Diving for dear life
When we could be diving for pearls

It's all we're skilled in
We will be shipbuilding
With all the will in the world
Diving for dear life
When we could be diving for pearls
When we could be diving for pearls
When we could be diving for pearls


Lyrics submitted by 3ssence

"Shipbuilding" as written by Clive William Langer Elvis Costello

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group

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Shipbuilding song meanings
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14 Comments

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  • +2
    General CommentI think one other thing is this- they're building the ships to support themselves, but then their own sons are the one's going off to die. It's a lose-lose situation for the common man.
    TheSilverNobleon August 31, 2006   Link
  • +2
    My OpinionThis is better than the Wyatt version better than the Suede version. Simply stunning musically, lyrically and jazzy solo at the end blows your fucking socks off.

    Fuck Thatcher , declan i'll help tramp the dirt down
    Northern88on June 17, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis is one of Elvis' truely great songs: Strangely direct, evocative, plaintive, beautifully executed, as a tender ballad to a spiritually primitive mankind.
    This is a lament about how the common man finds himself feeling locked into an economic system which renders him a cog in a war machine; complicit in state-sanctioned mass murder. The sadness lies in the dual nature of that person; feeling trapped, while at the same time sensing that the way out of the trap is as close as their own mind and hands--and it is.
    razajacon October 06, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General CommentWell said Razajac. I know it was written with specific reference to the Falklands war revitalising the industry in the North.
    Dazberton October 01, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentIn 1982 when the Argentinian military invaded the Falklands, Britain's Northern cities were falling apart, largely due to Thatcher's economic policies. Unemployment was rising at a dizzying rate, and heavy industry was closing down whilst the new "service economy" was still decades away for anywhere outside London. Of the 1.1m jobs lost between 1980 and 1985, 1m were in the Northern half of the country. Set against this, the first thought of many working class long-term unemployed on hearing about the "Task Force" to be sent to the Falklands was that Britain would need to make more ships, and that therefore the shipyards might reopen, providing work. It is not so much that an individual father might build a ship only for his own son to die in it - more that working men were building ships that younger working class men and boys would die in. To me it sounds more than an indictment of government policy, but is also critical of the working men who turned a blind eye to this fact in order to buy "a new winter coat and shoes for the wife". I think this is one of the most powerful songs ever written, even though I think that not having experienced being a long-term unemployed man trying to provide for a family makes Costello harsher than necessary on the working man's actions.

    The "back by Christmas" is (as lunaspie mentions) a cliche from WW1 (and WW2) where both conflicts were expected to be short-lived.

    "..take me to task" is a pun linked to the reference by Thatcher to the fleet as a "Task Force".
    paul_fon May 14, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentNever looked at it that way foreverdrone - you could be right. And although I still prefer EC's version, I also love Robert Wyatt's.
    paul_fon June 23, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentIncidentally - it's probably only fair to note that the music was written not by Elvis, but by Clive Langer ("Cliff Hanger" of Deaf School fame and acclaimed producer of Madness amongst others).
    paul_fon June 24, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThat's a really great analysis, thankd for that. While written for the Falklands war, it has so much resonance with other, more current conflicts that it's scary.
    You absolutely MUST hear Robert Wyatt's version of this song. It will haunt your dreams.
    Zubbyon June 17, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI agree Zubby. I love Costello's version but Wyatt's is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I've ever heard.
    NewKillerStaron February 25, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentSuede do a wonderful version too.
    NewKillerStaron February 25, 2007   Link

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