Costello was inspired to write the song after listening to The Clash’s debut album, although “Watching the Detectives” sounds nothing like The Clash. The song’s story line is about a woman who is uninterested in her lover because she is more interested in the detective show she’s watching on TV. Its simple and sparse reggae beat makes the song.
Recorded in 1976 on Costello’s debut album, “My Aim is True,” “Watching the Detectives” was released as the LP’s fourth single in 1977. While the song peaked in the UK at #15, its poor performance in the US can be identified by its peak position at #108.
Other musicians on the recording included drummer Steve Goulding and bassist Andrew Bodnar from Graham Parker’s The Rumor. Steve Nieve overdubbed the keyboard parts later.