Elvis Costello on ‘Accidents Will Happen’

“Accidents Will Happen” opened the third album by newly minted rock star Elvis Costello in 1979. Recorded with his band the Attractions, the song helped push the album, “Armed Forces,” to No. 10 on the Billboard chart for two weeks in March that year.

In a recent conversation, Mr. Costello revealed the deeper meaning of the lyrics in the autobiographical song—beyond the telling in his 2015 memoir—and shared his regrets and the song’s influences. His new album, “Hey Clockface” (Concord), is due Saturday , and his remastered “Complete Armed Forces” (UMe) box will be issued Nov. 6. Edited from an interview.

Elvis Costello: I wrote “Accidents Will Happen” in early 1978, just prior to my U.S. tour that spring. For the lyrics, I couldn’t bring myself to invent an honest narrative for the life I was living at the time.

As a song, “Accidents” has a romantic sound, but it also has this moral dilemma baked in. I’ve had to make peace with my own failings during that time as a husband and as a father. All of those years ended in a painful divorce.

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