The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes - Elvis Costello

I’ve always loved the song, never thought much about it, but now that I own a pair of red shoes, classic Puma suede, I got to thinking about it. I always vaguely assumed that the red shoes were like the red slippers in The Wizard of Oz, and made the wearer of said shoes irresistably attractive (not in the movie but in the song) to the angels, not the ones in heaven but the ones walking this earth but- another interpretation, they represent, copied from another page, “the little guy’s ability to triumph over powerful forces.” Which could explain why the angles stole the red shoes. These fucking morons in the link below think the song is about suicide. The key question for me is, wil my red shoes get me laid?

Great tune. I have nothing to add regarding interpretation. All I have to offer is this:

Decades ago I was at a baseball game, root, root, rooting for the home team. The visitors were the California Angels. Somewhere around the 5th inning I noticed that the Angels cleats were red. Gave me a nice earworm that lasted a few days.


Coincidentally, I just saw Elvis live a couple weeks ago. Good show.

He has spoken and written about the genesis of this song several times. He has stated that the song came to him as he was riding the train and that he dashed home to get it down, playing it many times so he could remember it. (There was no tape recorder handy.) He has commented that it has something to do with “mortality,” but says nothing at all about suicide. He has also been consistent in saying that he has no idea where the bit about the angels came from…the idea of angels being involved had just popped into his head. It’s my impression that he did not have some intricate plot line or sequence of events mapped out when he wrote it.

Those who are familiar with his work are aware of his penchant for switching metaphors mid-stream (see “Alison”), so the fact that this song is a bit of a puzzler is not surprising. I think that people who over-analyze it miss a lot of its power.

Also coincidentally, I was visiting a store this week and they played Hem’s cover of this song over the PA system. Their version is so different it took me a few seconds to recognize the song.

Yeah, decades of being an EC fan have had me listening for an overall mood and catchy lines, not a narrative thread. I mean sometimes it’s there very clearly, but often, particularly early in his career, he’s just firing as many shots as he can in 2 minutes 40 seconds.

It’s good with ginger…and Jack and Eric.

I said, “I’m so happy I could die.”
She said, “Drop dead!” and left with another guy.
That’s what you get when you go chasing after angels.

That, plus, “I used to be disgusted, but now I try to be amused.”

Great stuff. So happy this music coincided w/ my freshman year in college!

Oh yeah, my oldest kid is named (misspelt) Allison. Yeah - I’m a fan.

EC is a clever lyricist but after a certain point in his career I think he got a little TOO clever for his own good. It was around Get Happy (1980) that his vocals started laying on the metaphors and wordplay and double-entendres a little bit too thick, and by the time of Trust, it’s like every single line is an attempt at displaying how clever and literary his songwriting is, to the point that the hook gets lost. I’ve been listening to his whole discography lately while driving - it’s great driving music, but this is because of the catchy beats, not the lyrics. And during all this listening it really hit me how many of his songs don’t know when they’re supposed to be a chorus, a verse, a bridge, or what. There’s quite a bit of empty space in the song structure of a great many of the songs on Get Happy, Armed Forces, and Trust, and it’s up to the rest of the band - The Attractions - to fill in that space. Which they do, and very well, I might add. But it results in Bruce Thomas’s bass parts providing the hooks, Pete Thomas’s drums propelling the song forward, Steve Naive’s keyboard parts filling in any extra space, and EC and his guitar/vocals kind of flailing around in the mix.

A very far cry from his early work, in my opinion.

All of the above albums are exquisite, don’t get me wrong. But to me, it’s more because of the Attractions than Elvis Costello. I think his very first album, the one with Alison and Red Shoes, saw him catch lightning in a bottle in a way that he never really recaptured later on. His bandmates carried him through the rest of his career in many ways.

That’s “chasing after vengeance…”

I almost bought a pair of red shoes, but I knew I’d then be singing this song non-stop every single day I wore them. I get Obsessive Earworms VERY easily.

I recently bought a pair, classic Puma suede, but not sure it’s my style at 59

Thx. No idea why I typed angels. I woulda thought it was “visions.” Guess I need to listen more closely.

@Lamoral Agreed that his middle albums lacked the spark of the first 3 or 4. But then he has another purple patch in the 90s with Brutal Youth, All This Useless Beauty, and When I Was Cruel. If you don’t know them you’re in for a treat!

Agree with all of the above, but feel it necessary to get a word in for Imperial Bedroom.

It lives somewhere in my top 5 albums of all time.



It’s good practice to say what a link is. Sometimes the automatic “one box” the system creates is good enough. But that didn’t work in this case, so you should include enough information that other posters know whether they are interested and what sort of link it is.

You can look at the preview, or, if you make a mistake and post a raw link anyway, you have 5 minutes (maybe a bit more) to edit your post and fix that.

Elvis Costello was probably familiar with the British movie The Red Shoes (1948). It’s perhaps the best movie about ballet ever made.

The story within a story is the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale about a girl who puts on a pair of magical red shoes that force her to dance until she dies.

Roger Ebert gave it his highest rating:

A dark, glorious homage to dance

There is tension between two kinds of stories in “The Red Shoes,” and that tension helps make it the most popular movie ever made about the ballet and one of the most enigmatic movies about anything.

One story could be a Hollywood musical: A young ballerina falls in love with the composer of the ballet that makes her an overnight star. The other story is darker and more guarded. It involves the impresario who runs the ballet company, who demands loyalty and obedience, who is enraged when the young people get married. The motives of the ballerina and her lover are transparent. But the impresario defies analysis. In his dark eyes we read a fierce resentment. No, it is not jealousy, at least not romantic jealousy. Nothing as simple as that.

The film is voluptuous in its beauty and passionate in its storytelling. You don’t watch it, you bathe in it. Yes, the ending is a shocker, but you see it coming and there’s no way around it; the movie tells us a fairy tale and then repeats it as real life.

It’s the Hans Christian Andersen fable about a young girl who puts on a pair of red slippers that will not allow her to stop dancing; she must dance and dance, in a grotesque mockery of happiness, until she is dead.

Didn’t Kate Bush make an album about that story?

ETA: I’m answering my own question: Yes, she did, her album “The Red Shoes” which I’ve never listened to, was based on the 1948 movie and Andersen’s fairy tale, according to wiki:

I think it’s a song about a guy who messed up his relationship. He got overly jealous of his girlfriend ("how come everybody wants to be your friend?). He became controlling and abusive (“I know that she’s disgusted because she’s feeling so abused”), cheated on her (“she gets tired of the lust but it’s so hard to refuse”), and she ended up leaving.

The “angels” bit is him trying to deflect blame and not take responsibility for his actions, kind of a “devil made me do it” argument. She forced him to do these things by dancing with other people. The angels/red shoes metaphor isn’t totally thought through, as you’d expect from a song written in 10 minutes on a drunken train ride.

These are probably my favorite two lines in any song by anyone. I mean, talk about living on separate mental planets.

My middle kid, but with a Y, also named after that song. It’s a pretty screwed up song to name your kid after, but I just love that song.

And, man, did they do a fantastic job. While EC is scratching his way on his guitar, the rest of the band is filling the song with rhythm and melody. What a great band they were. It’s too bad that EC won’t talk to Bruce Thomas anymore.