Music

Country Rewind: George Jones Teams with New Waver Elvis Costello For 'Stranger in the House'

AP Photo/Rick Maiman and AP Photo

Throughout Elvis Costello's transition from new wave taste-maker to Americana elder statesman, he upheld the song selections and vocal performances of country music legend George Jones. Costello even wrote a song titled "Stranger in the House" with Jones in mind. The pair perform it together on Jones' 1979 album My Very Special Guests.

 

Costello first recorded it solo for a John Peel radio session in October 1978. That version, which appears on a free 7-inch single distributed in the UK with early copies of Costello's This Year's Model album, sounds just as much like a Jones homage as Costello's interpretation of "Good Year For the Roses" off the 1981 country covers album Almost Blue.

Before that, the song had been deemed too country for inclusion on Costello's debut 1977 album My Aim is True. Had the song been included with "Alison," "Watching the Detectives" and "Less Than Zero," it likely would've been produced by Nick Lowe, the future husband of Carlene Carter from the Carter-Cash family.

Read More: George Jones and Friends' 'I Don't Need Your Rockin' Chair' Shuns Old-Age Expectations

In a 2016 interview with Rolling Stone Country, Costello explains why he recorded his vocals for the My Very Special Guests version in Nashville separate from Jones:  "He couldn't come into the state, as one of his more famous exes was looking for alimony."

Costello later performed the song in person with Jones, first for a version included as a bonus track for the 2004 reissue of Almost Blue and also during a couple of television appearances: the 1981 HBO special George Jones: With a Little Help From My Friends and a 1997 episode of Monday Night Concerts With Ricky Skaggs.

Beyond "Stranger in the House," it's hard to separate any proto-Americana tune by young Costello, such as "Radio Sweetheart," from his Jones fandom.

"Stranger in the House" Lyrics

This never was one of the great romances
But I thought you'd always have those young girl's eyes
But now they look in tired and bitter glances
At the ghost of a man who walks 'round in my disguise

I get the feeling that I don't belong here
But there's no welcome in the window anyway
And I look down for a number on my keychain
'Cause it feels more like a hotel everyday

There's a stranger in the house; nobody's seen his face
But everybody says he's taken my place
There's a stranger in the house no one will ever see
Everybody says he looks like me

And now you say you've got no expectations
But I know you also miss those carefree days
And for all the angry words that passed between us
You still don't understand me when I say

There's a stranger in the house; nobody's seen his face
But everybody says he's taken my place
There's a stranger in the house no one will ever see
But everybody says he looks like me

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Country Rewind: George Jones Teams with New Waver Elvis Costello For 'Stranger in the House'