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Olivers Army Lyrics

Artist: Elvis Costello

Don't start me talking
I could talk all night
My mind goes sleepwalking
While I'm putting the world to right
Called careers information
Have you got yourself an occupation

Oliver's army is here to stay
Oliver's army are on their way
And I would rather be anywhere else
But here today

There was a checkpoint charlie
He didn't crack a smile
But it's no laughing party
When you've been on the murder mile
Only takes one itchy trigger
One more widow, one less white nigger


Hong Kong is up for grabs
London is full of arabas
We could be in palestine
Overrun by a chinese line
With the boys from the mersey and the thames and the tyne
But there's no danger
It's a professional career
Though it could be arranged
With just a word in Mr. Churchill's ear
If you're out of luck you're out of work
We could send you to johannesburg


And I would rather be anywhere else
But here today
And I would rather be anywhere else
But here today


by matty smith on 6/20/2008 12:17pm
ace tune
by Why on 6/21/2008 1:11pm
Why do you never hear this on the radion these days. I guess it's too controversial in todays climate of war and immigration.
by jim on 6/26/2008 11:13pm
because kids dont want to hear good music they just wana "crank that soulja boy"
by B on 6/27/2008 4:19am
just heard this on local radio...(east sussex)....a classic
by annabella cinderella on 7/4/2008 1:01pm
i am only 14 and i think this is a really cool song. it is on disc one of teh 7 Inch Heroes cd.
by georgie on 7/22/2008 8:30am
great as they come
by Stamford66 on 7/26/2008 3:13pm
I have a correction for you. It should read

"With the fires from the mersey and the thames and the tyne"

by paul on 7/27/2008 4:32pm
can somebody explain to me what the lyrics are about?
by A.Mc on 8/5/2008 7:31pm
It is about the troubles in Northern Ireland
by Richard Gartland on 8/15/2008 7:36pm
Mint song, never played enough!
by el jefe on 8/19/2008 8:40am
Actually, the line is, "With the boys from the Mersey and the Thames and the Times."
by OY OY on 8/25/2008 3:41pm
Thanks for posting mate! GREAT SONG.
by ironfang on 8/29/2008 12:01pm
Actually, it's about more than "the Troubles" but rather the legacy of the Royal Army. Oliver refers to Oliver Cromwell (regicidal dictator or hero of freedom?); Checkpoint Charlie refers to the Berlin Wall; "white nigger" is a derogatory term for the Irish; Murder Mile refers to Cyprus; "professional career" refers to the recruiting slogans of the 70's; Churchill should be self evident (We shall never surrender)
by Frank on 9/17/2008 9:20pm
Thanks for the explanation, Ironfang!
by Johnnie Raf on 9/30/2008 11:48am
The lyrics are correct. It's 'with the boys from the Mersey and the Thames and Tyne i.e. Scousers from Liverpool, Cockneys from London and Geordies from Newcastle upon Tyne
by gary on 11/19/2008 4:46pm
It's kinda obvious what most of it says,but what's a "white nigger" ?
by Tom on 11/27/2008 1:15pm
Brilliant tune... And Jim!!! I'm a kid!
by connor on 12/6/2008 10:02am
im 15 and ive been brought up with all the oldies and i love this song
by on 1/3/2009 2:06am
Isnt the chorus line 'Than here today'?As opposed to 'but'? Sounds like it....
by RCC on 1/26/2009 7:43pm
Unemployment was a crisis in England during the 70's. More than 10%.. This song is about the hopelessness of the working class then...with a stint in the Royal Army being the best option for many unemployed. A white nigger is an Irishman or other lower class European who might have to get himself shot for a chance at a paycheck.
by Mary Jane on 2/28/2009 11:19am
Elvis Costello wrote this on a plane on his way out of Belfast.
by Mike on 6/3/2009 12:18am
I'm glad some of the the younger kids get it. This was and is some great stuff. It's too bad you didn't get to see him live when this came out. First saw him back in '78 at college and he was incredible.
by Paul Weller on 7/8/2009 5:10pm
Itīs like The Jamīs Little Boy Soldier / Funeral Pyre and Style Councilīs
Money go Round also Paul Wellerīs Savages
by JON on 7/10/2009 3:25am
Just heard this ace tune on Murcia local radio, Coventry. I must download it.
by nick Young on 9/1/2009 2:18pm
The lyrics the boys from the Mersey and the Thames and the Tyne refer to units of the Royal Fusiliers who draw their soldiers mostly from those areas. Elvis did a concert for them and learnt about English military operations and apparently that was part of the inspiration for this song. The song is also about mercenaries. My brother in law was one and disappeared in Africa after his positions were overrun by the enemy. Never heard from him since. Nasty dangerous job.
by Wayne Westwood on 9/7/2009 5:37pm
it's a great song, we love it down here in Aust..
by Ivan on 10/7/2009 3:49am
The last line of the chorus should be "Than here today," not "But here today."
by Ivan on 10/7/2009 3:51am
Also, the last word in the second line of the last verse should be "arabs," not "arabas."
by Davo on 12/9/2009 8:37pm
Those last two lines "If you're out of luck you're out of work
We could send you to johannesburg" reminds me of a story my old man told me when he emigrated from Europe to Australia. On his way over the boat he was on stopped over in jo'burg and he went for some shore-leave. There a white overseer offered him a job as an overseer of "some kaffirs" and the bloke gave him a whip and said "If they step out of line, you get to whip them". He declined the offer.
by craig on 12/11/2009 4:47pm
thought this was about being a mercenary, all comments have trumped me!!
by James P of Sydne on 12/11/2009 5:58pm
This song is often voted the best modern song ever written. It's an amazing piece.
by andrew 38 on 12/18/2009 8:02pm
Heard this for the 1st time today.
It's friggin' awesome and I am 38.
by Zoe on 1/5/2010 3:40pm
racist much? :O
by sam on 1/7/2010 5:00pm
It's not racist, its just not something we'd culturally get away with these days. amazing record.
by richie on 1/22/2010 9:12pm
they should put it on the radio i love this song
by Rowan Aktinson on 1/31/2010 11:25am
I like this song since i was young
by Jonathan on 3/11/2010 2:40am
Its about how working class boys fight the wars - the boys from the mersy and the thames and the tyne, being sent off to far flung trouble spots like palestine and kenya and malaya to hold the line for the government
by Graham on 4/1/2010 12:45pm
Its on absolute radio all the time, Its about young poor men going off to fight in the army as they have nothing else to do (Called careers information
Have you got yourself an occupation)
and yeah it was inspired by seeing teenagers in the army in Belfast
by Fran on 5/1/2010 8:19am
I always though it was "Llandudno's full of crabs" ....
by Lu on 5/22/2010 12:11am
I always thought it was about the MI6 and CIA. But London is full of Arabs, and I would rather be anywhere else THAN here today.
by Cazbar on 5/26/2010 6:04am
Awesome classic
by Aaron on 5/28/2010 7:26pm
...if you live on the east coast, specifically Rhode Island (or a 50 mile radius), you'll hear this song..unedited on 95.5 WBRU.
also online at
by Claire on 5/29/2010 11:04am
I'm 14 and I absolutly love this song, band and age of music. It's just so much better then the "new music" that comes out now.
by o'brien on 6/23/2010 7:05pm
I get the feeling this song says things to us on many levels and about many events, but that essentially it is a statement that "oliver's army" is here to stay. Olivers Army if you do your research can conceivably be taken to represent the army of the perpetual New World Order.
This is a very scary song actually. Elvis is letting us know that he has worked it out. It isn't racist from that perspective, it's just stating the facts. It is brilliant and I urge you to look into the history of Oliver Cromwell and his probable Masonic connections.
Olivers Army will never go away in fact. Unless we all wake up.
by craig on 7/4/2010 2:55pm
don't get carried away, it's about being a mercenary
by paul lyn on 7/5/2010 4:19pm
i have playlist of songs on my ipod i call "great tunes" which all remind me of my high school days, i'm 43, and this fantastic song is on it. but i'v never taken the time to find out what its about. thank you.
by bernice sweeney, on 7/15/2010 6:31am
brilliant song,unfortunatly wars are still going on and probably will til the end of time,it's usualy money behind them all,the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and the young WORKING CLASS men will still come home in body bags,you'l never c any primeministers son or daughter fighting the "cause"as bob marley said,get up stand up,stand up for your rights,get up stand up,dont give up the fight....
by scottyd on 9/6/2010 8:43pm
dang that "N" word
by craig on 9/26/2010 3:30pm
by elvis lives on 10/11/2010 10:16pm
you all need to read the liner notes from EC greatest hits vol. 1. declan patrick mcmanus wrote this song on the plane home from his first trip to belfast in 1978, after seeing all the young brit soldiers on the streets of belfast during the height of the troubles.
by Holmesy on 11/4/2010 4:24pm
scottyd! what! are you like 6 or something? This was 1978, when people weren't afraid to tell it how it was. The term is "white nigger" slagging the poor young buggers getting shot for a pay cheque! Grow up you bloody Political Correct Prats!
by Gab the Irish woman on 11/18/2010 3:57am
Hey RCC what do you mean "white nigger" is Irish or OTHER low class European. Typical of your inflated ego. Cromwell was a murderer.
by tom on 12/28/2010 7:56pm
ironfag: it is a common misconception that murder mile refers to the one in nicosia, it in fact refers to one in ireland.
by simon on 1/4/2011 6:39am
what does the bit about churchill mean?
by SuzyD13 on 3/3/2011 5:41pm
The term "White Nigger" refers to the way that the Irish have historically been treated by the British - the same way that black people have. I think the lyrics refer to the British soldiers' attitude towards the Irish and is like their attitude to any other ethnicity. It is naturally offensive and derogatory, but the writer has adopted the personna of the British soldiers.
by stuff on 3/11/2011 11:53pm
if you go to wikipaedia and serch the song Costello himsef is quoted regarding the meaning of the song
by pete from sheffield. on 3/20/2011 3:14pm
They play this regular on radio 2 (Ken Bruce, Wrighty, etc) fab station. They still play walk on the wild side , with the " giving head" line still in., meh.
by Mike on 3/21/2011 6:59pm
Agree its all about young unemployed men enlisting in the British army as the only employment prospect available to many of them. Its interesting to note that (for those of you old enough to remember it) the reverse side of the single sleeve had a clockwork orange theme, another reference to the control and manipulation of young men by the establishment.
by Baggins in "Oz" on 3/22/2011 11:48pm
I love the line that asks," Have you got yourself an occupation". This is a double entendre. i.e. Do you have a job or alternatively, "occupation" refers soldiers being in places such as Northern Ireland, Germany after WW2 or Iraq and Afghanistan today. Brillantly clever wordsmithing by Costello. A classic song laced with sarcasm. I love it.
by wine_gums on 4/4/2011 2:26pm
what is amazing is that this track has been consistently commented on for the last three years. obviously a classic song
by James on 4/10/2011 10:33am
by davie on 4/22/2011 4:16pm
I'm pretty sure the lyric is 'Boys from the Mersey and the Terries from the Tyne' - 'Terries' being soldiers in the Territorial Army.
by )susynb on 7/1/2011 4:50pm
Elvis is to me what Frank Sinatra was to my mom (I'm 61)! I love the old angry elvis more than anything from the old Stiff Record days..."If it ain't stiff it aint worth a Fuck"! Stiff had an amazing roster...Elivs, Ian Drury and the Blockheads, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Nick Lowe, Graham Parker and Rachel Sweet.
by Bris vegas on 8/25/2011 8:13am
it's great that your ignorant, craig, but others don't want to be hindered by you. mercenaries were one of the ideas that were inspired by his Belfast experience almost every sentence in the song has a gigantic element of history involved and it all relates back to the fact that corrupt evil creeps are toying with us after creating a so called 'middle class' for to feed their lunacy but for our under fair share of the provisions of earth we have to give our time and patiance to them. they want everyone else to starve and die. at least you like the song- craig
by Bris vegas on 8/25/2011 9:44am
it's great that your ignorant, craig, but others don't want to be hindered by you. mercenaries were one of the ideas that were inspired by his Belfast experience almost every sentence in the song has at least one gigantic element of history involved and it all relates back to the fact that corrupt evil creeps are toying with us after creating a so called 'middle class' for to feed their lunacy but for our under fair share of the provisions of earth we have to give our time and patience to them. they want everyone else to starve and die. at least you like the song- craig
by Bris vegas on 8/25/2011 6:50pm
there is a double meaning. occupation refers to occupying time (so called 'work') to benefit random strangers(caused in this case by evil murdering cretins and for evil reasons). the second one means occupying 'someone elses' country (in ALL cases caused by evil murdering thieves that know exactly what they're doing wrong and they love it and they're laughing at you for worshiping them, or effectively worshiping them)
by Declan MacManus on 10/12/2011 4:08pm
As one of you gents said previously just go to my wikipedia page and it explains it there,thank you for you very kind comments.

by Bryan Crawford on 11/2/2011 2:15am
The song is brilliant.

Half of the comments here seem to be from people springloaded in the piss-off position... itchy trigger fingers on the keyboard? Better that then automatic weapons, eh? Peace, lads. Sleep well.
by Siouxsie on 11/21/2011 4:54am
See wiki
It s about occupying other countries. Like Iraq Afghanistan etc. With young boys recruited into a "professional career" to kill and die for the army.
by nana jj on 12/4/2011 7:59am
brill song, OA - regularly played on bbc radio merseyside. did you know? EC's dad the singer of 'I'm a secret lemonade drinker - RWhites'
by margie on 12/15/2011 2:53pm
have loved this song for years
by Joe A Abernathy on 12/27/2011 6:29pm
I kind of like pairing this with Zevon's "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner"
by Justin on 1/20/2012 8:36am
One of my favourite songs, I didn't buy many records as a kid but I bought this one.

Lyrics today are either completely bland or aggresive/confrontational.
by tony b on 1/24/2012 1:35pm
ec is up with the best singer songwriters of all time v clever guy
by Rebecca on 2/24/2012 8:49am
I heard this for first time when i was five and now i am addicted to this song
by Beky Bell on 3/10/2012 5:09pm
This was my late Brother's song for his funeral, I believe everything it says in the song and so did my brother, he was not afraid to speak his mind, especially being an ex miner, I was so proud listening to this song as my final farewell to my bother, bless you Chris Hill aka Turkey of Thurcroft, Rotherham, South Yorkshire
by Maggie A. on 4/3/2012 9:20am
An angry ex-soldier (thrown out for violent behaviour !?) once called my boss a sand-n*****. So the word is still very much around.
by Daddy Pig on 4/9/2012 1:30pm
Two things. Firstly, I believe that the Oliver in the song refers both to Cromwell and also to Oliver Tambo, the South African compatriot of Nelson Mandela. Secondly, Maggie A, perhaps the reason the ex-soldier was angry, was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, an illness often suffered by soldiers after being demobbed. After seeing your mates die, and you live, you might also flip.
by StuGots on 5/15/2012 7:14pm
If you like Elvis, check out Wilie Nile's "The Innocent Ones"
by ROJ BLAKE on 5/28/2012 2:46pm
Olivers Army is an ace song in billions of ways and I remember it from 1979.
by whitey on 6/1/2012 12:52pm
1979 the ultimate year in music without this year music wouldn't be the same . If you don't believe me check out the songs or the year . P's I was only 6 :-P
by Jojo on 6/1/2012 12:58pm
just watched this on TOTP2 on BBC2. It was great to watch him again. I was 8 when it came out first time round.
by Peter on 6/20/2012 12:46pm
Ex forces personnel coming back to UK and finding no prospects or understanding of their capabilities beyond becoming mercenaries. This has nothing directly to do with the 'troubles' in NI. 'White Nigger' is neither racist or directed at the Irish (northern or indeed southern).
by Jimmy on 6/27/2012 2:34pm
Oliver North spanks whenever this is on the radio-radio.
by Jeff on 8/5/2012 8:25pm
According to Elvis himself, The song was based on the premise 'they always get a working class boy to do the killing' and was mostly written on the flight back from Belfast in '78 having been directly inspired by the sight of teenagers in combats walking the streets with loaded Armalites.

And Peter, the term "white nigger" was commonly used to describe the Irish, I know because I grew up in Belfast in the 70's.
by Tommy ov MCR on 8/7/2012 12:51am
Oliver Cromwell was a Leader in civil war in the South of England.
He and his army known as the round heads because of the helmets they wore. Defeated the King of englands army. Then had him executed. Ive heard he was a really Horrible man. Why look up civil war in england and find out.
Top tune i was 8 when it came out and remember it well.
by cynthia sawyer on 9/6/2012 5:00pm
excellent political song....really makes a person think just like Bob Dylan's anti war songs or Phil Ochs's songs.... way to go Elvis Costello!
by andy on 9/7/2012 11:25am
several irish "polititions" came over to have a word with churchill regarding home rule for ireland several times over the years (1920s to 1940s)

chruchill thought that whites being in charge of south africa was right

as an aside he also ordered gunboats to the mersey during the 1911 strike , with orders to shell the docks if instructed to .
by Nick White on 9/26/2012 11:10am
Sounds like with the buyers from the mersey to the Thames and the Tyne , doesn't sound like boys at all.
by EDMacD on 10/18/2012 5:57pm
The first mile, from Carlyle circus up the Antrim Road in Belfast was know as the murder mile at the time because of the number of sectarian murders on that stretch of that road.
by jellybean on 2/22/2013 11:54am
Mr Churchill and Jo'burg might also refer to the Boer War. Churchill served in South Africa as a British army officer during the Boer War.

The boys from the Mersey and the Thames and the Tyne might refer to the Pals Battalions in WW1 - men were encouraged to enlist as groups of friends and workmates. A disastrous strategy that resulted in single battles slaughtering the menfolk of entire communities.

'White nigger' was also a term used in USA in mid-20th century, referring to communists.

The song contains references to many wars and conflicts. The one thing they have in common is that it's always the working classes who bear the brunt of it. The great tragedy is it gets forgotten, so it never stops.
by Mr Cromwell on 3/15/2013 10:35am
Rarely played on the BBC these days, except after 8pm or the censored version.

Very subversive and offensive !
by bolly on 6/16/2013 1:49am
oliver cromwell was the best king england never had,he declined the throne and title oliver 1st and remained a pious humble person.he made england a republic and was anti monarchy as it should be today as the royal family are mere murderers and shall ultimatly face judgement.
by Sephezade on 7/24/2013 6:41pm
Heard this after years of no airplay in my listening area on a university free form station. Well done.
by Shandy on 8/2/2013 3:21am
It's regularly played on Radio 2, Mr Cromwell!

Interesting to read the background behind the lyrics. Was always curious about the word 'nigger' in the song and how they got away with playing it!
by SGS007 on 8/11/2013 1:24pm
I bought this single when it came in the charts and now its my sons favorite hit after he heard it on my iPod / Glastonbury .... 30 years on............
by spudweiser on 9/13/2013 2:11pm
Davo, sea journey - Europe to Australia and he stopped over in Jo'Burg? really?
by Forces veteran on 9/20/2013 3:51am
What is wrong with all you people? It's a pop song, that's all! Get a life!
by :) on 11/21/2013 6:49pm
I know that IronFang made his post 5 years ago, but he's incorrect. Oliver Cromwell died in 1658
by JCT on 1/22/2014 3:26am
What a great song.If you know your history song needs no explaination .
by dave dog on 2/8/2014 3:32am
Saw him in detroit armed forces tour simply brilliant they dont make them like him anymore music now is a sham
by Tiercel on 5/12/2014 4:18am
Nothing's changed. Working class kids are still forced (through engineered & managed unemployment) to fight nasty little wars, to keep the corporate ruling class in power. The cannon-fodder of imperialism.
by Warren on 5/13/2014 1:21am
Some silly, kneejerk reactions on here, regarding the use of a certain word. Some people are clearly not aware that it's word context that matters. The word isn't meant to be offensive to black people! It was how Irish people were referred to in the 1960's and 70's.
by olly on 6/2/2014 6:57pm
I/m no white nigger
by karl hill on 6/29/2014 9:30am
@stamford 66,your wrong about the lyrics mate,its 'boys' not 'fires'
by Dekko on 11/5/2014 4:21am
@ ironfang

The "Oliver" in the title refers to Oliver North, don't know where you're getting Oliver Cromwell ffs
by Luce on 11/24/2014 4:00am
Its a great song and has been played on Capital Gold this weekend, I have always understood this is about the Coldstream Guards and the Oliver is Oliver Cromwell,and no offence is meant to anybody its just about lads being out of work and being encouraged to join the Army.
by M on 5/12/2016 4:16am
thank y'all ......
by Andrew Cochrane on 10/23/2016 7:37am
These lyrics are littered with errors, almost every other line. Who did this shoddy work?

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