Shipbuilding (3:01)

Cover of His Greatest Misses

From His Greatest Misses and 27 other releases

“Shipbuilding” is a song written by singer/songwriter Elvis Costello and producer Clive Langer. Written during the Falklands War of 1982, Costello’s lyrics discuss the contradiction of the war bringing back prosperity to traditional shipbuilding areas of Merseyside (Cammell Laird), Tyneside (Swan Hunter) and Belfast (Harland and Wolff) to build new ships to replace those being sunk in the war, whilst also sending off the sons of these areas to fight and, potentially, lose their lives in those same ships.

According to Clive Langer, he’d written the tune for Robert Wyatt but wasn’t happy with the lyrics that he had written himself. Langer played the tune to Costello at a party hosted by Nick Lowe, and within days Costello had written lyrics he described as “the best lyrics I’ve ever written”


Robert Wyatt released the song in 1982 and reached number 36 in the UK charts in May of that year. On the recording he is backed by Clive Langer (organ), Steve Nieve (piano), Mark Bedford (double bass), Martin Hughes (drums) and Elvis Costello (backing vocals)

Costello recorded his own version of the song for his 1983 album Punch the Clock, featuring a performance by jazz trumpeter Chet Baker. Other versions have been recorded by Suede, Hue and Cry, Tasmin Archer, Mark Mulcahy, Graham Coxon, and Swan Arcade.


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  • agentzigzag

    beautifully brilliant .......

    13 Jun 2014 Reply
  • ShaggyAlonso

    Suede's version is fucking wank. This is of course the definitive version of a spellbinding song. Graham Coxon did a great live cover of this on a John Peel session in 2004. Similarities with Wyatt's wonderful voice, same accent, always appearing to be on the cusp of cracking...not technically a great singer but who gives a fuck when its beauty is so fragile, so human and so moving.

    17 Nov 2013 Reply
  • fxofxs


    19 Jan 2012 Reply
  • rakefromspace

    I love this - it's just his voice... stunning. (I know I'm saying exactly the same as everyone else on here by the way! ^_^)

    7 Sep 2011 Reply
  • coeurtatouer

    Man after Robert's voice nobody can pass... It leaves far behind mr Costello version ... not much people can make you forget the original... This is so amazing and yes that Voice is so Amazingly human... One of my 5 top voices of course.... I dive in it just for fun

    21 Mar 2011 Reply
  • bobgreen623

    Plaintive fragility. Nice turn of phrase Owen, also agree with the Billy Bragg comment. "Instead of diving for dear life, we could be diving for pearls" And of course, this version isn't blighted by (the usually good) cheese-trumpet of Chet Baker

    30 Jan 2011 Reply
  • emiliopraga


    24 Dec 2010 Reply
  • chinneths

    this is one of the strangest songs i have ever heard disguised as a normal one... i am always dumbfounded when it comes on radio

    9 Dec 2010 Reply
  • owen54

    There's a wonderful plaintive fragility in Robert Wyatt's voice that is so haunting. Ranks with Billy Bragg's Between the Wars as one of the best anti-war songs.

    27 Nov 2010 Reply
  • bobgreen623

    Mr Costello, who others have posited may be a bit of a musical chancer. Not sure myself but give me Robert any day

    22 Oct 2010 Reply

    Elvis who ?!?!?

    19 Sep 2010 Reply
  • bobgreen623

    Sublime, and better than the original with its almost-cheesy trumpet from Chet Baker. Not that I don't respect Elvis and Chet, but I love the humanity of Robert Wyatt, and that voice is wonderful

    27 Jul 2010 Reply
  • polymorphous71

    borra_cuervo, who are you talking to? Ahhh, the internet; a plaform for people to shout at the world.

    19 Jun 2010 Reply
  • borra_cuervo

    You're welcome, dear shipbuilders, and sorry for that bombs that failed to explode... but hey, that wouldn't have happened if you had also built those nasty MK-17. Oh, and the ''Frogs'' did a hell of a good job with the Exocets (BTW, you should thank'em too): what a pity the ''Iron Lady'' and the Hollywood Star wouldn't let us ''Argies'' get more of them, that would've granted you work... And who would've cared about those far away islands, anyway?

    3 Jun 2010 Reply
  • Elodave

    Don't know about that-but he's had a cracking career!!!!!

    19 May 2010 Reply
  • daverichards99

    d'you ever get the feeling that elvis costello was a bit of a chancer?

    6 May 2010 Reply
  • daverichards99

    Thank you Elodave (?) - out of the mouths of babes.... There's only this guy and Danny Baker left,.

    2 May 2010 Reply
  • Elodave

    What a wonderful song-another classic from the pen of Elvis Costello.It was written around the time of the Falklands war,about the government only giving shipbuilders work to build war machines,that their own sons will be sent away in,not all of them to return.

    23 Apr 2010 Reply
  • pollepet

    Shipbuilding is going on all over the world.

    18 Mar 2010 Reply
  • nixatlast


    24 Feb 2010 Reply
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