Songs I wish I'd written: #1

February 4, 2021 9:50 PM ET music

“Scattered Black and Whites”
by Elbow

No one raises a nostalgic glass like Elbow, and this song is probably the root of that branch of their catalog. From the skittering opening drum beat to the pointillistic guitar entrance, they paint an entire lifetime of memory and recollection in under six minutes. But this song also embodies so much of what is amazing about this band: the way they prioritize the song over individuals, their concision without losing sentiment, rarely a solo to be heard, and their full embrace of the heights that they may never reach. No one steps into the spotlight in this song, so everything shines.

Every bit of keyboardist Craig Potter’s performance is clever and tasteful (perhaps none so much as the low, nearly staccato “A” during the D-to-G major verses), and his voicings are (as always) flawless. Guy Garvey’s lyrics and vocal line capture the wistfulness here without veering into the saccharine. And the way the song unfolds, as if you’re reliving your life, or someone else’s, through snapshots of their memories, like old pictures spread out on the floor, is almost like a reel-to-reel spinning up a family movie until the film runs out.

That this song is about even a song like itself is mesmerizing. All the vignettes together, all these moments make a life – stored away to be recalled later intentionally or not, to be shared with others, to remind you that love is expressed in so many ways.

Come for the comfort, the joy, of reliving your life. And live it now, so you can do this in the future. Cheers.


Been climbing trees I’ve skinned my knees
my hands are black the sun is going down
She scruffs my hair in the kitchen steam
she’s listening to the dream I weaved today
Cross words through the bathroom door
while someone sings the theme tune to the news
And my sister buzzes through the room leaving perfume in the air
and that’s what triggered this
I come back here from time to time
I shelter here some days

A high-back chair, he sits and stares
a thousand yards and whistles marching-band
Kneeling by and speaking up
he reaches out and I take a massive hand
Disjointed tales that flit between
short trousers and a full dress uniform
And he talks of people ten years gone
like I’ve known them all my life
like scattered black & whites
I come back here from time to time
I shelter here some days
I come back here from time to time
I shelter here some days