(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding

Album: Armed Forces (1978)


  • This was written by Nick Lowe and originally recorded by his band Brinsley Schwarz in 1974. Despite a wealth of talent and great deal of promotional support, Brinsley Schwarz never managed a hit, but were very influential to artists like The Clash and Elvis Costello. Nick Lowe became a very successful producer and scored a hit as a solo artist with "Cruel To Be Kind."
  • Lowe told The A.V. Club that this song started out as a joke: "I wrote the song in 1973, and the hippie thing was going out, and everyone was starting to take harder drugs and rediscover drink. Alcohol was coming back, and everyone sort of slipped out of the hippie dream and into a more cynical and more unpleasant frame of mind. And this song was supposed to be an old hippie, laughed at by the new thinking, saying to these new smarty-pants types, 'Look, you think you got it all going on. You can laugh at me, but all I'm saying is, 'What's so funny about peace, love, and understanding?' And that was the idea of the song. But I think as I started writing it, something told me it was too good idea to make it into a joke. It was originally supposed to be a joke song, but something told me there was a little grain of wisdom in this thing, and not to mess it up."
  • Costello and Lowe were both signed to Stiff Records, and Costello's version, credited as "Nick Lowe & His Sound" was first released as the B-side of Lowe's 1978 single "American Squirm." Costello's version was more energetic and had more Pop appeal. It was included on American editions of Costello's 1979 album Armed Forces. With its simple message of unity and love in a troubled world, the song became an anthem for peace and tolerance, and was recorded by many artists, including A Perfect Circle, Lucy Kaplansky, The Flaming Lips and The Wallflowers.
  • This lifts from the Judee Sill song, "Jesus Was A Cross Maker," Lowe told The A.V. Club: "I always would 'fess up that there is one lick in the tune I did steal from Judee Sill. She had a song called 'Jesus Was A Cross Maker' at about that time that I really thought was a super song. I haven't heard that song for many years, but I always think I took a little lick from Judee's song."
  • In 1992, this was covered by Curtis Stigers for the Whitney Houston film, The Bodyguard. The film's soundtrack album went on to sell 44 million copies worldwide, landing Lowe a large royalty check that financed his less commercial music. Lowe told The Telegraph: "It was a tremendous piece of good fortune. I made an astonishing amount of money from that."
  • This appears in the 2003 movie Lost in Translation, where Bill Murray sings a karaoke version.
  • This was sung by Stephen Colbert, John Legend, Elvis Costello (in a bear suit), Feist, Toby Keith, and Willie Nelson on the TV special A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All! after John Legend told Stephen that he (Stephen) didn't understand Christmas. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alex - Rialto, CA

Comments: 4

  • Steve from Chino Hills, CaCostello's albums don't really seem to have themes as much as they have moods. 'This year's model' is about inadequacy, relationships, frustrations. Armed Forces has a very harsh edge to it. It starts off with "Accidents will happen" , includes edgy songs like "Senior Service" then it winds into "Chemistry Class" which is from I can tell a jab at white aristocrats feelings of superiority and references the Holocaust "Are you ready for the final solution?" Then the second to last song leaves little doubt "Two little Hitlers." It's slow and methodical. Had the album ended here it would be too dark and too angry. "What's so funny bout peace love and understanding" powers the album out. It's really a brilliant set up, harsh dark songs with a powerful message about peace and unity surprise at the end. This is Costello's "Diary of Anne Frank" with the message at the end "I still believe people are really good at heart." Though it isn't spelled out with such optimistic praise it does hope for the best of mankind will help correct our shortcomings.
  • Fudster from Wellington, New ZealandRoyalty cheque for "Bodyguard" came through the post as a complete surprise, and gave him complete artistic freedom to set out on his current, country tip.
  • Bruno from Lima, PeruI prefer the Brinsley Schwarz original version, it's timeless; the Elvis Buddy Holly Costello is a new wave song with all the "Costello mannerisms". For me, the Brinsley Schwarz original is one of the definitive songs in rock and roll history; Nick Lowe deserves the heaven only for that version (well, and for "I love the sound of breaking glass" too)
  • John from Nashville, TnNick Lowe said that he made a mint with this song when it appeared on THE BODYGUARD soundtrack.
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