"Blame It on Cain" as written by and Elvis Costello....
Once upon a time, I had a little money
Government burglars took it along
Before I could mail it to you
Still you are the only one
Now I can't let it slip away
So if the man with the ticker tape, he tries to take it
Well, this is what I'm gonna say

Blame it on Cain
Don't blame it on me
Oh-oh, oh, it's nobody's fault
But we need somebody to burn

Well, if I was a saint with a silver cup
And the money got low, we could always heat it up
Or trade it in
But then the radio to heaven will be wired to your purse
And you can run down the waveband
Coast-to-coast, hand in hand
Bad to worse, curse for curse
Don't be dissatisfied, so if you're not satisfied

Blame it on Cain
Don't blame it on me
Oh-oh, oh, it's nobody's fault
But we need somebody to burn

I think I've lived a little too long on the outskirts of town
I think I'm going insane from talking to myself for so long
Oh, but I've never been accused
When they step on your face, then wear that good-look grin
I gotta break out one weekend before I do somebody in
But every single time I feel a little stronger
They tell me it's a crime, well, how much longer?

Blame it on Cain
Don't blame it on me
Oh-oh, oh, it's nobody's fault
But we need somebody to burn

Blame it on Cain,
Oh-oh, oh, please don't blame it on me
It's nobody's fault
But it just seems to be his turn


Lyrics submitted by Mopnugget

"Blame It on Cain" as written by Elvis Costello

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Blame It on Cain song meanings
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  • +2
    General CommentThis song basically revoices the sophomoric apologetic for war--or state-sanctioned murder in general--that war is a part of human nature and, as such, is a kind of unstoppable force that we inveigh against at the cost of looking silly; this is the basic meaning of the bullet line/title, "Blame It On Cain;" blame it on human nature, inherited from the legacy of Cain.
    Well, this song sort of turns the tables on this idea. It points out how this trueism only serves the interests of the State; how does it sound coming out of the mouth of a common peasant? When farmers and working people get sick of being ripped off and take matters into their own hands (e.g., Central America, circa 1950s/60s), are we going to "Blame It On Cain" then? Why shouldn't we?
    This song cleverly points out a chief hypocrisy of that view.
    Beside this, the song also paints a word picture of the high hopes of the central character ("Well, if I was a saint..."). This only underscores the fact that underlying all this bitterness is a positive and humanizing longing for heavenly treasures and its natural concomitant, a recognition of rights.
    razajacon September 27, 2004   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThis song is hard to interpret, but I don't think it's about war. Elvis has plenty of songs about war, but this is one of his songs in an opaque, cryptic vein where he sparks some mystery and forces us to cast about for meaning.

    The main character is either deflecting blame from himself to Cain -- that's the manic energy of the refrain, especially when you hear it as Elvis belt it out. Blame it on Cain, not me. Did the narrator actually do something wrong, i.e., something worthy of blame? According to him, no: "It's nobody's fault, we just need somebody to burn."

    Like razajac said, this seems to show the narrator deflecting responsibility or even blaming "it" (whatever "it" refers to) on our sinful nature. You might feel the narrator's using that nature as an excuse for his behavior - but it's hard to say whether it's a lame excuse or a joyful one. The humor and energy of the song could take it either way. It could be Elvis speaking in the voice of a slime-bucket justifying his own nefarious behavior, or he could be speaking closer from his own heart and telling someone/society to leave him the fuck alone and "Blame it on Cain," not him, since he's only human.

    So what did the narrator do that he wants us to blame on Cain? The song doesn't answer that question, and there's really not a whole lot of concrete detail we can decipher. One thing that recurs is the need for money. The main character had money but "government burglars took it away," suggesting someone with taxing authority got it, like the English version of our Internal Revenue Service. The money's also tied to the character's relationship to someone who sounds like a lover, "the only one." Whatever the speaker wants to blame on Cain seems to involve this money, since he says if the "man with the ticker tape," i.e., an auditor/accountant who might be coming for his taxes, comes to get that money, he's going to tell him effectively piss off, blame it on Cain, not me.

    The second verse continues the theme of needing money to keep the couple afloat. If the speaker were a saint (which by implication he's not), he could get money by trading in his silver cup. Again, it's ambiguous -- is it good to be a saint who has silver cups to trade in, or is that decadent? Either way, the speaker doesn't have that option. The "radio to heaven" allusion is interesting, even raising the idea this is a song about songwriting -- that if Elvis were a facile pop star, his radio to heaven would be wired right to his purse, and he'd have plenty of money.

    The last verse feels great to listen to and sing, and it really releases the pent-up tension of the song, but frankly, I have no solid idea what it means. The speaker is in some kind of exile "on the outskirts of town," talking to himself, and he's living with a vague kind of guilt or social stigma, either for something he did or just because society doesn't like him. He seems anxious, talking to himself, but says he's "never been accused," suggesting there's nothing specific he actually did wrong.

    So what's really going on here, and why is this such a great song? In addition to the wonderful phrasing and pent-up rythms, I think part of the charm lies in the final verse's mystery. Not having money is, for many people, tied up with thoughts about relationship, success, one's own virtue, and social approval. Without a radio to heaven and a full purse (or socially approve saint's silver cup), many of us feel anxious, inferior, exiled, guilt-ridden -- especially in the younger stages of adult life, which was Elvis' audience at the time. Jumpbling up irresponsible and irrepressible joy, anger, rebellion, moral justification, and even moral purpose, Elvis' persona rejects the stigma being thrown his way and belts out in self-defense, "Blame it on Cain!" not me. Is that the right move? Maybe not, he admits -- there's a bitter randomness to blaming Cain. We need somebody to burn -- someone to blame things on -- and it "just seems to be his turn." So maybe the speaker is a bit of a slime-bucket -- but who hasn't sought relief from the anxiety and misplaced guilt of human life?

    That's why it's so fun to sing along with this song.
    OpenMindAudioon May 02, 2014   Link
  • +1
    General CommentEpic thread ressurection above BTW... I think the last verse is a clever play on a binge night of cocaine abuse... Gotta break out (the lines) one weekend.... Every single time I feel little stronger (high) you tell me it's a crime (narcotic possession) how much longer? Blame it on (co) Cain (e) ... (It's addictive properties) don't blame it on me, it's nobody's fault (an addict is also a victim)
    gr8sekson December 30, 2014   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationThis is one of the first songs I heard by Elvis Costello, and one of my favorites. I came to the site to check the lyrics (parts of which I've never quite been able to grasp from the recording). This is the way I read them, and I think also the meaning I have always felt from the delivery.

    For me, the narrator explores the frustrating tension between livelihood (money) struggles and other constraints, with progression across the three stanzas.

    The first stanza turns on conflict between love/affection and the money game. Maintaining connection with the (remote) lover by being provider ("mail it to you") runs against tax demands. Forced to the choice, narrator chooses affection (providing for the lover). To do that he commits to tell the tax man to buzz off (or at least justifies breaking the rules to himself, and to the lover). So "Blame it on Cain."

    The second stanza, for me, turns on moral (or Christian-religious) imperatives and the money game. Forced to a choice between principle (saintly purity, symbolized by the "silver cup") and a need for money, the narrator flags the possibility of selling out principle ("heat it up or trade it in"). But selling out for money trades one curse (lack of money) or another (loss of heaven, or metaphorically loss of the value of purity). Morality tells us not to be dissatisfied if we are upright, so if we are *not* satisfied (because squeezed for money), the solution (morally) is to invent a straw man to absorb the blame for our plight. Again, "Blame it on Cain."

    The third stanza (again, for me) turns on cold boundaries of criminal law and the money game. Isolated, there is no channel to vent the frustrations that build from absorbing abuse and turning the other cheek, and the anger builds. Escaping emotionally ("break out some weekend") crosses a red line, but he wonders how long he can tolerate his plight. So if he does escape, "Blame it on Cain."

    In each stanza, the final line before the refrain moves from distance (future tense, "what I'm gonna say," to a trigger, "so if you're not satisfied," to immediacy: "how much longer?" At the final refrain, the narrator *has* snapped (both in the verse, and in the delivery). In the final line of the last refrain ("it just seems to be his turn") the narrator throws off all illusion that the mental sleight of hand used to escape from the three dilemmas has any grounding in reason. It just is.
    Frank Bennetton December 13, 2018   Link
  • 0
    General CommentHere's a twist.

    As an analogy, he's singing as Abel and implying that he has committed suicide. But the unwillingness to accept that fact as a sin, they needed someone to blame to carry out punishment, so Cain was the perfect scapegoat.
    2cold2crackon June 23, 2015   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think think Elvis is being loosely biographic to paint a picture of what it is to live in a pseudo Christian, capitalistic reality.

    It's a musician talking about being lower middle class

    "... I had a little money, government burglars took it long before I could give it to you..."

    The chorus is trying to make sense of life, of chaos and an unfair world. It's making reference to imperfection as sin.

    This idea is made stronger by the yet again Christian "of I were a saint" in verse 2. This is where is music references also become clear. Success as a hit song on a radio, and this translating into monetary success, fame, and freedom "hand in hand, coast to coast".

    This verse also has a very traditional allusion to love, as a male caretaker is going to faithfully love his sweetheart and be able to hit it big enough to transcend his middle class.

    Again, the chorus elaborates on how the struggle of this insidious western slavery is "nobody's fault, but we need somebody to burn". A need to vent the frustration of the situation versus the longing of the far away dream.

    The last verse keeps painting the picture of this bare bones life and finally shows is that he's tired of "living on the outskirts of town". It's musically genius how Elvis drags out this verse at the end when he slows down and sings "... How much longer?" It's the extra hour of work, the extra day, the extra mile that is asked of us, and tires us.

    In conclusion I think it's about needing something to throw blame at when looking out at a world that seems wrong, and using our Christian symbolism to do so.
    havartipartion September 27, 2016   Link
  • -1
    Song MeaningOne person was on it. All about Cocaine!!!
    The over analyzing is funny though.
    The song is about the Grasp of coke,
    what it will do to you:
    Get Busted - Once upon a time I had a little money, Government Burglars took it long before I could mail it...
    Paranoia when you start hearing and seeing stuff like the radio to heaven wired to your purse, you try to chase the radio waves down
    What you will do to get it.
    If I were a Saint and I Had a silver cup, if the money got low we always Heat it up or trade it in ...why? To get some more coke!!!
    Listen to it again .
    Wolfman2020on June 12, 2019   Link

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