Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello is an English musician, vocalist, songwriter, and producer from Paddington who debuted with the album My Aim Is True on Stiff/Columbia in 1977. After assembling his backing band The Attractions, he issued the popular Radar titles This Year’s Model (1978) and Armed Forces (1979), followed by seven albums on F-Beat between 1980 and 1986. After the initial fold of his band, he achieved newfound international success with the 1989 Warner release Spike.


Costello was born Declan Patrick MacManus in London on Aug. 25, 1954. His father, Ross MacManus (1927–2011), was a jazz trumpeter who performed with the Joe Loss Orchestra. As a solo cabaret act, the elder MacManus performed under the alias Day Costello and scored an Australian hit in 1970 with a cover of The Beatles “The Long and Winding Road.”

The young MacManus adopted his father’s performance surname and hit the early ’70s folk circuit as D.P. Costello. He lived with his mother near Liverpool as a teen and formed his first combo, Rusty, in 1971. After completing his formal education, he worked a series of data-entry jobs. Between 1974 and early 1976, he sang and played guitar in Flip City, an unrecorded London pub-rock band.

Costello hawked his demos to numerous labels and found an early believer in Jake Riviera, the recent co-founder of the London-based indie Stiff Records, named after a US slang term for flop records. Riviera rechristened the young singer Elvis: a gimmick intended to capture people’s attention.

Costello recorded his debut album with musician–soundman Nick Lowe, a recent Stiff signee and in-house producer. Elvis knew Nick from the latter’s years in Brinsley Schwarz, a country rock band that released six albums between 1970 and 1974 on United Artists. Two of its former members (keyboardist Bob Andrews and namesake guitarist Brinsley Schwarz) formed The Rumour, the backing band of recent Vertigo sensation Graham Parker, whose April 1976 debut album Howlin Wind is a Lowe production.

Costello commenced sessions on his debut album in late 1976 with backing by Clover, a US West Coast country rock band that cut the 1970–71 albums Clover and Fourty Niner on Fantasy Records. They recently took residence in London for a second round of activity with two recent additions: singer Huey Lewis and keyboardist Sean Hopper.


In the opening weeks of 1977, Elvis Costello finished sessions on his debut album, which Stiff withheld for six months to wean him into the press and public with introductory singles. By the time his album appeared, Costello assembled The Attractions: his permanent backing band composed of bassist Bruce Thomas, drummer Pete Thomas (no relation), and keyboardist Steve Nason.

Bruce (b. 1948, age 29) was a twelve-year journeyman who first emerged in The Roadrunners, a Liverpool beat group that featured (future FreeBad Company) singer Paul Rogers and (later Juicy LucyWhitesnake) guitarist Mick Moody. Thomas then cut demos in Bodast, formed by ex-Tomorrow guitarist Steve Howe, who subsequently replaced Pete Banks in Yes. Bruce then co-founded Quiver, a rustic-rock quartet that made the 1971–72 Warner albums Quiver and Gone In the Morning. Quiver merged with the folk duo Sutherland Brothers for five albums, starting with the 1973 Island release Dream Kid, the only title with Bruce, who teamed with ex-Tomorrow singer Keith West in the 1975 one-off Moonrider.

Pete (b. August 1954, the same month as Costello) drums on Bongos Over Balham, the 1974 second album by Chilli Willi & The Red Hot Peppers, a rustic-rock quintet with guitarist Phil Lithman (aka Snakefinger, a later solo artist on The Residents‘ Ralph Records label).

Nason (b. 1958, ten years younger than Bruce) was a classically trained musician from the Royal College of Music with no prior band experience. On an early Attractions tour date with Ian Dury & The Blockheads, Dury named Nason “Steve Nieve” when the young keyboardist asked the hunchback singer an innocent question (“What is a groupie?”)

Less Than Zero

On March 11, 1977, Elvis Costello released his first single: “Less Than Zero,” a scything indictment of 1930s British Union of Fascists leader Oswald Mosley backed with the countryfied “Radio Sweetheart.”

A. “Less Than Zero” (3:13) features keyboardist Stan Shaw, who later surfaced in The Hitman, an English new wave band that released two 1980–81 albums on Columbia (not to be confused with the concurrent Aussie band).

B. “Radio Sweetheart” (2:48)

“Radio Sweetheart” appears on Hits Greatest Stiffs, a collection of b-sides from the first ten Stiff Records singles. The compilations title and package mock the industry practice of label self-promotion with self-deprecating notes (“We rushed in where others fear to tread and screwed up as much as anybody else,” regarding Motorhead) and redirections to competing labels (the inner-sleeve recommends “some fine records on other labels you might enjoy,” a spoof on the roster promotion of inner-sleeves pressed by A&M, Atlantic, and Chrysalis).


On May 21, 1977, Elvis Costello released his second single: “Allison,” a poignant ballad backed with “Welcome to the Working Week,” a wry Monday morning lament.

A. “Alison” (3:21)

B. “Welcome to the Working Week” (1:22)

In April, Costello performed “Alison” live at Granada Studios in Manchester for the July 21 broadcast of ITV’s What’s On program. This marked Costello’s UK television debut.

American singer Linda Ronstadt covers “Alison” on her 1978 Asylum release Living in the USA, a double-Platinum No. 1 album on the US Billboard 200, fueled by hit covers of Chuck Berry (“Back in the U.S.A.”), Doris Troy (“Just One Look”), and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles (“Ooh Baby Baby”). Asylum lifted her version of “Alison,” which peaked at No. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100.

My Aim Is True

Elvis Costello released his debut album, My Aim Is True, on July 22, 1977, on Stiff. It features twelve originals, including the pre-released sides “Less Than Zero,” “Alison,” “Welcome to the Working Week,” and his third single “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes.”

My Aim Is True applies rockabilly (“Mystery Dance”) and saloon rock (“Pay It Back”) to songwriting steeped in ’60s harmony pop (“No Dancing”) with bits of twang (“Sneaky Feelings”), jangle (“Red Shoes”), and ’50s doo-wop (“Working Week”).

Lyrical themes include misgivings (“Alison”), malice (“Pay It Back”), and disenchantment (“I’m Not Angry”). The album closes on “Waiting for the End of the World,” a set of nihilistic vignettes with buzzing sounds and stark, walloping beats.

Costello emphasizes brevity on My Aim Is True with only three tracks (“Miracle Man,” “Alison,” “Waiting for the End of the World”) past the three-minute threshold and two (“Welcome to the Working Week,” “Mystery Dance”) that hover the ninety-second mark. The album’s title comes from a refrain in “Alison,” the lone tender ballad.

1. “Welcome to the Working Week” (1:22)
2. “Miracle Man” (3:31)
3. “No Dancing” (2:39)
4 .”Blame It on Cain” (2:49)
5. “Alison” (3:21)
6. “Sneaky Feelings” (2:09)

7. “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes” (2:47)
8. “Less Than Zero” (3:15)
9. “Mystery Dance” (1:38)
10. “Pay It Back” (2:33)
11. “I’m Not Angry” (2:57)
12. “Waiting for the End of the World” (3:22)

Costello recorded My Aim Is True in a series of six four-hour sessions at London’s Pathway Studios, where Nick Lowe produced the album between the debut Damned single “New Rose” and its subsequent parent album Damned Damned Damned.

Costello employs two-thirds of Clover: guitarist John McFee, keyboardist Sean Hopper, bassist Johnny Ciambotti, and drummer Mickey Shine — all uncredited due to contract issues with Vertigo, which issued the 1977 Clover albums Unavailable and Love On a Wire.

Veteran Hawkwind illustrator Barney Bubbles designed the My Aim Is True cover, which shows a monochrome full shot of the bespectacled, pigeon-toed, guitar-strapped singer in checker framework with repetitions of the phrase “ELVIS IS KING” — a play on Elvis Presley and his appelation “The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

On July 29, Costello lifted “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes” as the album’s third single (b/w “Mystery Dance”). Upon it release, Costello assembled The Attractions, his permanent backing band composed of bassist Bruce Thomas, drummer Pete Thomas, and keyboardist Steve Neive.

Elvis Costello & The Attractions made their UK television debut with a live performance of “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes” on the September 1 broadcast of the BBC music program Top of the Pops, which also featured late-summer hits by Candi Staton (“Nights On Broadway”), Carly Simon (“Nobody Does It Better”), David Essex (“Cool Out Tonight”), Elkie Brooks (“Sunshine After the Rain”), Hudson–Ford (“Are You Dancing?”), Hudson–Ford (“Are You Dancing?”), Meri Wilson (“Telephone Man”), Mink De Ville (“Spanish Stroll”), Space (“Magic Fly”), and Starsky & Hutch co-star David Soul (“Silver Lady”). The episode also features a skit by the TotP dance troupe Legs & Co to “Way Down,” the final single (and posthumous UK No. 1) by Elvis Presley, whose death at age 42 occurred two weeks before this broadcast.

My Aim Is True reached No. 14 on the UK and Swedish albums charts and peaked at No. 25 and No. 32 (respectively) in Australia and New Zealand. The album’s release sparked a flurry of UK press attention, which spread in the wake of Presley’s death. The initial controversy regarding Costello’s adoption of the name Elvis (an admitted gimmick) ultimately worked in his favor.

Costello’s contract didn’t extend to the North American market. To change this situation, he amped up for an impromptu street-side performance outside a convention of CBS Records executives. Despite his arrest for the July stunt, Columbia–CBS signed Costello for the US and Canadian markets, where My Aim Is True appeared in October 1977. 

“Watching the Detectives”

On October 14, 1977, Elvis Costello released his fourth single: “Watching the Detectives,” a reggae standalone backed with live versions of the My Aim Is True numbers “Blame It On Caine” and “Mystery Dance” performed with The Attractions.

A. “Watching the Detectives” (3:45) Costello took inspiration from two sources: the recent Clash recording of the Junior Murvin reggae song “Police and Theives” and film composer Bernard Herrmann’s soundtrack to the 1966 spy thriller Torn Curtain (the inspiration for a recent song by Bowery rockers Television).

Costello recorded “Watching the Detectives” with Attractions keyboardist Steve Nieve and the rhythm section from Graham Parker’s backing band The Rumour: bassist Andrew Bodnar and drummer Steve Goulding.

Nick Lowe produced “Watching the Detectives” in sequence with the United Artists release Be Seeing You, the fourth studio album by pub rock stalwarts Dr. Feelgood — their first since guitarist Wilko Johnson (their wiry live mascot) cleared out for Gypie Mayo — and Nick’s own Bowi, a four-song Stiff EP titled in response to David Bowie‘s January 1977 title Low, mock-interpreted by Lowe as an e-scalloped appropriation of his surname. (The Rumour — who recorded as a standalone unit free of Parker — made a similar gesture on their 1977 debut album Max, a pluralized reference to Fleetwood Mac, whose current album Rumours set global sales records.)

“Watching the Detectives” marked Costello’s debut in the UK Top 20, where it reached a late-autumn peak of No. 15. Elvis and The Attractions mimed the song amid orange–mustard geometric stage fixtures on the November 10 broadcast of TotP, which thrice aired “Watching the Detectives” amid late ’77 hits by ABBA (“The Name of the Game”), The Bee Gees (“How Deep Is Your Love”), Bonnie Tyler (“It’s a Heartache”), The Boomtown Rats (“Mary of the 4th Form”), Chic (“Dance Dance Dance”), Crystal Gayle (“Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”), Diana Ross (“Getting Ready For Love”), Donna Summer (“Love’s Unkind”), Godley & Creme (“It’s Five O’Clock In the Morning”), Gordon Giltrap (“Heartsong”), Hot Chocolate (“Put Your Love In Me”), The Jacksons (“Goin’ Places”), Osibisa (“Living Loving Feeling”), Rod Stewart (“You’re In My Heart”), Santana (“She’s Not There”), Status Quo (“Rockin’ All Over the World”), Tina Charles (“Love Bug – Sweets For My Sweet (Medley)”), Tom Robinson Band (“2-4-6-8 Motorway”), and a promo clip by Wings for their Scottish ballad “Mull of Kintyre,” which topped the UK Singles Chart for nine weeks over the 1977–78 holiday season. Costello cultivates his goggled bug-eye gaze (an early visual trademark) in the TotP “Detective” segment.

“Watching the Detectives” appears as a bonus seventh track on Side One of the US–Canadian version of My Aim Is True, released in October 1977 on Columbia. Costello and the Attractions rounded out 1977 with three nights at London’s Nashville Room, culminating with a Christmas Eve show opened by Bristol agit-punks The Pop Group.

Saturday Night Live Appearance

Elvis Costello and the Attractions launched their first US tour: a month-long blitz that commenced on November 16 at San Francisco’s Old Waldorf and wrapped on December 16 at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Their setlist featured new material for Costello’s upcoming second album. For US audiences, Costello modified the lyrics to “Less Than Zero,” replacing talk of Oswald Mosley (unknown to most Americans) with lines about JFK-assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

Costello and the Attractions concluded their US visit with a performance on the December 17 broadcast (Episode 8, Season 3) of the NBC sketch-comedy program Saturday Night Live. The producers roped them as a last-minute replacement for the Sex Pistols, whose planned US tour suffered a one-week delay due to embassy objections. The Attractions performed “Watching the Detectives” in their first segment but pulled a prank during the second, which started with the opening bars of “Less Than Zero,” which Costello stopped with a disclaimer to the audience (“I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen, there’s no reason for me to do this song for you!”) and cued his band into an impromptu rendition of “Radio Radio,” a high-speed recent concert addition. Pete Thomas sports a sleeveless shirt emblazoned with the words “Thanks Malc,” a reference to Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren.

Costello got the song-switch idea from a January 1969 TV appearance by Jimi Hendrix, who cut “Hey Joe” short for an impromptu rendition of “Sunshine of Your Love” (a tribute to the recently disbanded Cream) on the BBC variety program Happening For Lulu. Costello’s stunt angered SNL producer Lorne Michaels, who banned the singer from his program for twelve years. (The Dec. 17 SNL broadcast is also notable for its eighty-year-old guest host, New Orleans resident Miskel Spillman, who won the program’s “Anyone Can Host the Saturday Night Show” contest and remains the only non-celebrity SNL guest host.)

My Aim Is True reached No. 24 in Canada and No. 32 on the US Billboard 200.


After the release of “Watching the Detectives” Elvis Costello’s manager Jake Riviera cut ties with Stiff co-founder Dave Robinson and started Radar Records, a new wave subsidiary of WEA. 

This Year’s Model

Elvis Costello released his second album, This Year’s Model, on March 17, 1978, on Radar (UK) and Columbia (US). It marks the debut of his backing band The Attractions, composed of bassist Bruce Thomas, drummer Pete Thomas, and keyboardist Steve Nieve, whose retro Vox Continental organ dominates the sound.

This Year’s Model contains twelve Costello originals, including the singles “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” and “Pump It Up,” both exemplars of the new wave style (staccato guitar, matted riffs, ’60s organ, hiccuping vocals). Other quirky cuts include “The Beat,” “You Belong to Me,” “Hand In Hand,” and the title track, all marked with jerky stop-start rhythms and kinetic, frenetic energy.

The album opens with “No Action” and climaxes with “Lipstick Vogue,” both punk-inflected velocity rockers. This Year’s Model also wanders into piano-laden balladry (“Little Triggers”) and strummed ’60s harmony pop (“Lip Service”).

Columbia omitted “Chelsea” and “Night Rally” on the North American version, which ends with “Radio Radio,” a subsequent UK single. 

1. “No Action” (1:57)
2. “This Year’s Girl” (3:16)
3. “The Beat” (3:42)
4. “Pump It Up” (3:12)
5. “Little Triggers” (2:38)
6. “You Belong to Me” (2:19)

7. “Hand in Hand” (2:30)
8. “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” (3:06)
9. “Lip Service” (2:34)
10. “Living in Paradise” (3:51)
11. “Lipstick Vogue” (3:29)
12. “Night Rally” (2:40)

Sessions occurred during a restless two-week period across the 1977–78 holiday season. Nick Lowe produced This Year’s Model ahead of titles by Stiff signees Mickey Jupp and Wreckless Eric. Costello and the Attractions recorded the album at Acton’s 24-track Eden Studios, where staffer Roger Béchirian engineered This Year’s Model in sequence with 1978 debut albums Carlene Carter, The Shirts (self-titled), and multiple Stiff-roster acts (Jona Lewie, Lene Lovich, Rachel Sweet, The Rumour).

This Years Model sports cover photography by Chris Gabrin, who depicts Costello as an intense, demanding model photographer. Radar copies show him making a “hold that pose” gesture with his head slightly turned. Columbia copies show him leaned into the camera.

In Sweden, the album appeared on Smash Records with a seventh track on Side One (“Watching the Detectives”) and a zoomed-in frame from Cabrin’s shoot in which Costello makes a lurid stare with a grip on the camera switch. Each version contains different frames of the band cavorting in a hotel room (back cover) and a gloved hand holding a pocket TV (inner-sleeve). All three (Radar, Columbia, Smash) contain one common image: four mannequin torsos (black, red, yellow, blue) in white mesh tops with corresponding feet beside a row of blue washing machines (inner-sleeve).

On March 3, 1978, Costello release “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” as an advance single (b/w “You Belong to Me”). The video opens with Costello re-enacting the photographer pose beside life-size cutouts of himself from the Radar Model cover. He mimes with his band against a then-standard bright white backdrop. Costello (black ’50s suit, red tie, brown shoes, blue shirt and socks) stands with pigeon-toed supination: a stance he learned in childhood as a (once-believed) remedy for flat-footedness. This and the video to Costello’s next single (filmed the same day) were directed by Paul Flattery, author of the 1975 book The Illustrated History of British Pop.

“(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” reached No. 12 in Ireland and No. 16 on the UK Singles Chart. Elvis and the Attractions mimed the song in a blue-lit, flashing-bar stage contraption on the March 16 broadcast of TotP, which twice aired “Chelsea” amid spring hits by Bob Marley & The Wailers (“Is This Love”), Earth, Wind & Fire (“Fantasy”), Gerry Rafferty (“Baker Street”), Kate Bush (“Wuthering Heights”), Manhattan Transfer (“Walk In Love”), The Real Thing (“Whenever You Want My Love”), Tavares (“The Ghost of Love”), and The Vibrators (“Automatic Lover”).

On June 19, 1977, Costello lifted “Pump It Up” as the second single backed with the non-album “Big Tears.”

B. “Big Tears” (3:10) features lead guitar by Mick Jones of The Clash.

In the Flattery-directed “Pump It Up” video, Costello and the Attractions mime in the same clothes against the same all-white background as the “Chelsea” video. Steve sports a blue jacket (white-wave print) and waggles his free-standing double-combo organ. Bruce (who injured his right hand weeks earlier) wears a visible bandage mitt, which shows from a distance against his pink bass. Costello struts forward and backward in-toed. Period camera effects (fish-eye, saturation, multi-paneling) appear during the video. Flattery also directed 1978 videos for Nick Lowe (“Little Hitler”), Genesis (“Many Too Many”), Rod Stewart (“Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?”), Ambrosia (“How Much I Feel”), Chaka Khan (“I’m Every Woman”), Player (“Baby Come Back”), and Peaches & Herb (“Reunited”).

“Pump It Up” reached No. 24 on the UK Singles Chart. Costello and the Attractions mimed it on the June 15 broadcast of TotP, which also featured hits by The Boomtown Rats (“Like Clockwork”), Kate Bush (“The Man With the Child In His Eyes”), Marshall Hain (“Dancing In the City”), The Motors (“Airport”), Rokotto (“Funk Theory”) and John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John (“You’re the One That I Want”). Elvis sports a red drape jacket and flipped undersides in the Attractions segment, which takes place against a diamond backdrops on a close stage surrounded by energized audience members.

This Year’s Model reached No. 11 in New Zealand, No. 10 in Sweden, and No. 4 on the UK Albums Chart. It went Top 20 in the Netherlands (No. 14) and Norway (No. 15) and peaked at No. 21 in Canada. The first 50,000 UK copies contained a bonus 7″ of “Stranger in the House,” a countrified My Aim Is True outtake backed with a live cover of “Neat Neat Neat” by The Damned.

Stranger in the House” (3:04) Costello recorded this song in late 1976 with Clover. His inspiration for this and other originals in the country idiom was American singer George Jones. In mid-1978, Elvis teamed with the troubled country star for a duet version of “Stranger in the House,” which appears on Jones’ 1979 duets album My Very Special Guests.

Columbia lifted “This Year’s Girl” as the album’s only single in the US, where This Year’s Model reached No. 30 on the Billboard 200.

“Radio Radio”

On October 20, 1978, Elvis Costello released “Radio Radio,” a new wave Velocity rocker with a prominent Vox organ riff and emotional mixed sentiments about the state of commercial radio.

“Radio Radio” (first broadcast on the infamous SNL appearance) appeared seven months earlier in North America on the Columbia This Years Model. Costello and the Attractions recorded the song during the winter 1977–78 sessions for that album and cut the b-side, “Tiny Steps,” in August 1978; both at Eden Studios with Nick Lowe.

A. “Radio Radio” (3:04) originated as “Radio Soul,” a 1974 composition that Declan MacManus performed with Flip City.

B. “Tiny Steps” (2:42)

The “Radio Radio” video opens with the vintage RKO Radio Picture indent and cuts to a woman’s hand on the dial of a vintage 1930s wooden cathedral radio. Once activated, Elvis appeared in miniaturized form in front of the giant radio. Subsequent scenes show him gesticulating before the green-screen radio dial and performing with the Attractions in a bright white studio, where the members stand out with green winkle-pickers (Steve), an orange bass (Bruce), a blue shirt–jacket combo (Pete), and pink socks (Elvis).

Costello and the Attractions mimed “Radio Radio” in mod suits (barring sweat-shirted Steve) amid geometric zigzag stage fixtures on the October 26 broadcast of TotP, which twice aired the song amid autumn hits by Blondie (“Hanging On the Telephone”), The Boomtown Rats (“Rat Trap”), The Buzzcocks (“Promises”), Chris Rea (“Fool (If You Think It’s Over)”), City Boy (“What a Night”), Dan Hartman (“Instant Replay”), Dean Friedman (“Lydia”), Electric Light Orchestra (“Sweet Talkin’ Woman”), Elton John (“Part Time Love”), Heatwave (“Always and Forever”), The O’Jays (“Brandy”), Public Image Ltd (“Public Image”), Queen (“Fat Bottomed Girls”), Streetband (“Toast”), and The Three Degrees (“Giving Up, Giving In”).

The Attractions also mimed “Radio Radio” on the Dutch music program TopPop, where Costello (clad in blue linen suit and pink shirt) wielded a vintage wood radio (tossed at the end of the clip).

“(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding”

In November 1978, Elvis Costello released a cover of the Brinsley Schwarz chestnut “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.” It appeared as the b-side to Nick Lowe’s “American Squirm,” a standalone followup single to his recent debut solo album Jesus of Cool.

“(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” (3:31) is a 1974 song written by Nick Lowe and performed with Brinsley Schwarz on their 1974 sixth album The New Favourites of… Brinsley Schwarz.

The video opens with Costello and the Attraction’s backs to the camera at Burrard Inlet in Vancouver, British Columbia. They perform amid the shrubbery of Stanley Park, where director Chuck Statler filmed them after-hours without a permit. Elvis leans into the camera in the Stanley footage, where Steve “plays” guitar and Pete bangs on an upturned yellow garbage can. The video intermixes scenes of them posed in front of totem poles and live footage from a Nov. 17 show at Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum Concert Bowl. In the final scene, they pass out one by one in the hallway of a BC hotel.


In the summer of 1979, Elvis Costello produced the self-titled debut album by The Specials, a seven-piece band from Coventry whose mix of reggae–ska, R&B, and punk became the catalyst for the Two Tone movement: an aesthetic with a sharp aesthetic (mod-suits, checkers) and stripped upbeat ska sound that spawned a movement of like-minded bands, including Madness, The Beat, The Selecter, and UB40.

The Specials appeared in October 1979 with multiple Two Tone anthems: “A Message to You Rudy,” “Too Much Too Young,” and “Concrete Jungle.” They enlisted Costello to handle the sessions in a similar manner to the first Clash album (“not produced, just recorded”).

Armed Forces

Elvis Costello released his third album, Armed Forces, on January 5, 1979, on Radar and Columbia. It features twelve originals, including the singles “Accidents Will Happen” and “Oliver’s Army” and the popular deep cuts “Green Shirt” and “Party Girl.”

Armed Forces continues the quirky new wave sound of its predecessor on keyboard-driven tracks like “Senior Service” and the ska-tinged “Moods for Moderns.” Select numbers embrace psychedelic rock (“Goon Squad”), baroque pop (“Green Shirt”), and melodramatic balladry (“Party Girl,” “Chemistry Class”). Costello adopts an airy vocal tone on multiple numbers, including “Busy Bodies” and the two singles.

Costello scored his biggest hit with “Oliver’s Army,” a wry screed on outsourcing set to a jolly harmony pop arrangement. Columbia copies drop the Vaudeville waltz “Sunday’s Best” in favor of the recent split-single b-side “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding,” a breakout FM airplay hit.

1. “Accidents Will Happen” (3:00)
2. “Senior Service” (2:17)
3. “Oliver’s Army” (2:58) lifts its arrangement and key center from the 1976 ABBA hit “Dancing Queen.”
4. “Big Boys” (2:54)
5. “Green Shirt” (2:42)
6. “Party Girl” (3:20)

7. “Goon Squad” (3:14)
8. “Busy Bodies” (3:33)
9. “Sunday’s Best” (3:22)
10. “Moods for Moderns” (2:48)
11. “Chemistry Class” (2:55)
12. “Two Little Hitlers” (3:18)

Sessions took place in August–September 1978 at Eden Studios with Nick Lowe, who produced Armed Forces in advance of his own second solo album Labour of Lust.

Roger Béchirian engineered Armed Forces in sequence with 1979 titles by Lene Lovich, The Rumour, The Undertones, and Twist, a Polydor new wave act with former Easy Street guitarist–singer Peter Marsh and erstwhile ByzantiumNasty Pop drummer Stephen Corduner. Twist’s singular album This Is Your Life features guest appearances by Steve Nieve and Elvis Costello, who sings backing vocals on the track “Ads.”

Barney Bubbles designed the elaborate Armed Forces cover package, which features an illustrated herd of African elephant bulls (front) and a back comprised of four 6″x6″ cards (each with multi-color abstract illustrations) that open four-fold to the back cover: a Joan Miro-style painting with the name and title drizzled in the style of Jackson Pollock.

The inner-sleeve shows Elvis hovered horizontally over a swimming pool in blue surround (Our Place…) and standing in a driveway with his band in yellow framework (… Or Yours). Costello intended to name the album Emotional Fascism: a title displayed on the blue side. Columbia copies retain the inner-sleeve but dispense with the elephants and card-folds and use the Miro–Pollock art as the cover image.

On February 2, Elvis Costello released “Oliver’s Army” as his ninth UK a-side, backed with a cover of the American showtune “My Funny Valentine.”

B. “My Funny Valentine” (1:28) is a showtune by composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Lorenz Hart for the 1937 musical Babes In Arms.

The “Oliver’s Army” video opens with a drunken, fatigued Elvis seated in a tiki bar with a blue margarita, punching buttons on a telephone as the Attractions play in the background. After leaning into the lens with intense expressions, they cut to am oceanside scene where Costello and band perform amid palm trees. For the second chorus, He reappears alone and re-suited on a different beach, where he throws up his hands and cuts to the water. Meanwhile, old men in guans and kaffiyehs pass across the screen to lip sync lines and mime assorted instruments (bongos, guitars). Elvis reappears with a pink margarita at an outdoor nightspot; drunk and intoxicated as he leans back for the final “oh oh oh” vocables. Chuck Statler filmed the video in mid-November 1978 in Hawaii during the Pacific leg of the Attractions tour.

On the week of March 10, 1979, “Oliver’s Army” peaked at No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart, where it spent three weeks lodged under “Tragedy” by the Bee Gees and “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor. “Oliver’s Army” reached No. 4 in Ireland and peaked in the Top 25 in Australia and New Zealand.

Costello and the Attractions mimed “Oliver’s Army” on the February 8 broadcast of TotP, which thrice aired the song amid winter–spring hits by Blondie (“Heart of Glass”), Cliff Richard (“Green Light”), Dennis Brown (“Money In My Pocket”), Dr Feelgood (“Milk and Alcohol”), Herbie Hancock (“You Bet Your Love”), Judas Priest (“Take On the World”), Meat Loaf (“Bat Out of Hell”), The Members (“The Sound of the Suburbs”), Motorhead (“Overkill”), and Nazareth (“May the Sun Shine”). The Attraction’s segment takes place amid striped lights and triangular pink–lavender stage fixtures with unique clothing articles on Elvis (checkered blazer, pink tie) and Bruce (pink blazer, polka dot shirt).

Three years after their release, the videos to “Oliver’s Army” and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” went into high rotation on the fledgling US cable music channel MTV (premiered August 1, 1981), which used the leaning vocable outro of the “Oliver’s” clip in a station promo.

On May 4, Costello lifted “Accidents Will Happen” as the second single, backed with the non-album songs “Talking in the Dark” and “Wednesday Week,” which both first appeared on a December 1978 private single given to attendees of their week-long holiday stand at London’s Dominion Theatre.

B1. “Talking in the Dark” (1:56)

B2. “Wednesday Week” (2:02)

The video for “Accidents Will Happen” contains pioneering use of computer graphics by Cucumber Studios, the London-based design team of Annabel Jankel (Chaz Jankel‘s sister) and Rocky Morton, creators of the eighties cyberpunk character Max Headroom. The video contains outline animation of Costello and the Attractions rendered with lines, rectangles, and primary colors in the style of Dutch De Stijl artist Piet Mondrian. Moments of the band intermix with cartoon depictions of accidents that range from mundane (shattered cups), serious (room floods), to catastrophic (detonations).>

Costello and the Attractions mimed “Accidents Will Happen” on the May 24 broadcast of TotP, which twice aired the song amid spring ’79 hits by Anita Ward (“Ring My Bell”), The Damned (“Love Song”), David Bowie (“Boys Keep Swinging”), Gary Numan + Tubeway Army (“Are ‘Friends’ Electric?”), Linda Lewis (“I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You”), McFadden & Whitehead (“Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”), Roxy Music (“Dance Away”), Sister Sledge (“We Are Family”), The Skids (“Masquerade”), Bruce’s onetime bandmates the Sutherland Brothers (“Easy Come Easy Go”), and Armed Forces producer Nick Lowe (“Crackin’ Up”). The Attractions segment occurs amid geometric blue–purple fixtures on a dark soundstage where a shadow-lit Elvis appears in a pink sharkskin suit with a black shirt and burgundy tie. They also mimed “Accidents Will Happen” against a backdrop of zigzags and Kandinsky-like fixtures for an episode of the BBC’s Multi-Coloured Music Show.

Armed Forces reached No. 2 in the UK Albums Chart and No. 9 in Australia and New Zealand. The album also went Top 15 in Sweden (No. 11), Norway (No. 12), and the Netherlands (No. 13). In North America, Armed Forces reached No. 8 in Canada and No. 10 on the US Billboard 200, where Costello bucked stateside apathy toward the English new wave (pre-MTV).

The first 100,000 UK and US pressings contains the bonus 7″ EP Live at Hollywood High, taken from a June 8, 1978, show with a rendition of “Alison” and alternate arrangements of “Watching the Detectives” (extended) and “Accidents Will Happen” (slowed).

Costello and the Attractions appeared in mod suits to re-mime “Oliver’s Army” on the Christmas edition of TotP, which showcased the biggest UK hits of 1979, including songs by the Buggles (“Video Killed the Radio Star”), Cliff Richard (“We Don’t Talk Anymore”), Gary Numan (“Cars”), Ian Dury & The Blockheads (“Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick”), M (“Pop Muzik”), and Squeeze (“Cool for Cats”).

“Crawling to the U.S.A.”

Elvis Costello and the Attractions appear in Americathon, a 1979 comedy starring John Ritter (Threes Company), Harvey Korman (Carol Burnett Show), and comedian Fred Willard (Martin Mull’s co-host on the 1977–78 syndicated talk show parodies Fernwood 2 Night and America 2-Night). Set in the (then-distant) future of 1998, Americathon follows the attempts of President Chet Roosevelt (Ritter) to save a bankrupt US through a telethon hosted by TV celebrity Monty Rushmore (Korman). Meanwhile, Chet’s advisor Vincent Vanderhoff (Willard) conspires with the United Hebrab Republic to have them purchase the remains of the bankrupt nation.

Costello and the Attractions perform “Crawling to the U.S.A.” in a televised outdoor concert where Elvis (black lame blazer) gets swarmed by middle-aged female attendees.

The Lorimar–Columbia Americathon contains “Crawling to the U.S.A.” and “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” along with cuts by The Beach Boys, Eddie Money, Nick Lowe, and Tom Scott.


Elvis Costello moved to F-Beat Records, a new label instigated by manager Jake Riviera; in part to shield the artist from the debt-ridden Radar. F-Beat also became the new home for Carlene Carter and Radar migrants Nick Lowe and Clive Langer & The Boxes, a new wave band led songwriter, guitarist, and singer Clive Langer, the mastermind behind the Liverpudlian eight-piece Deaf School, which released the 1976–78 Warner albums 2nd Honeymoon, Don’t Stop the World, and English Boys, Working Girls.

Clive and the Boxes served as the opening act for Elvis and the Attractions on a spring 1980 UK tour. The Boxes’ 1980 F-Beat release Splash contains two Costello-produced tracks: “Ain’t Gonna Kiss Ya” and “Half As Nice.” The latter originated as the late-sixties Italian pop hit “Il paradiso della vita,” popularized by Patty Pravo and Anglicized Welsh soul-popsters Amen Corner, whose 1969 version reached No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart. Overall, Splash resembles Madness, the second-biggest Two Tone act (behind the Costello-produced Specials) and the first client of the production team of Langer and Winstanley.

The Attractions took a brief break from Costello for Mad About the Wrong Boy, their singular album as a separate unit. Costello engineer Roger Bechirian produced the sixteen-song album, which contained a four-track solo Steve Nieve EP titled Outline of a Hair-Do.

Get Happy!!

Elvis Costello released his fourth album, Get Happy!!, on February 15, 1980, on F-Beat (UK) and Columbia. It features ten short songs per side; eighteen originals and two covers.

Costello embraces sixties Stax and Motown soul on Get Happy!! Each side sprinkles up-tempo raveups (“Love for Tender” “The Imposter” “Beaten to the Punch”) among mid-tempo harmony tracks (“Possession,” “Clowntime Is Over”) and forays into ska (“Human Touch”), gospel (“Motel Matches”), R&B (“5ive Gears in Reverse”), and Spector sound (“King Horse”).

Get Happy!! is the third Costello studio album with backing by The Attractions: bassist Bruce Thomas, drummer Pete Thomas, and pianist–organist Steve Nieve. Bruce plays harmonica on the exuberant “I Stand Accused,” one of two covers along with the lead single “I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down,” both contained on Side Two.

Costello plays organ on “Possession” and self-performs “New Amsterdam,” an intimate ballad released as the third single after “High Fidelity,” the melodramatic closing track of Side One. The album concludes with the stark, booming echoes of “Riot Act,” a popular deep cut.

1. “Love for Tender” (1:57)
2. “Opportunity” (3:13)
3. “The Imposter” (1:58)
4. “Secondary Modern” (1:58)
5. “King Horse” (3:01)
6. “Possession” (2:03)
7. “Men Called Uncle” (2:17)
8. “Clowntime Is Over” (2:59)
9. “New Amsterdam” (2:12)
10. “High Fidelity” (2:28)

11. “I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down” (2:06) originated as a 1967 Stax b-side by Sam & Dave; co-written by label staffers Allen Jones (Bar-Kays manager) and Homer Banks (of We Three).
12. “Black and White World” (1:56)
13. “5ive Gears in Reverse” (2:38)
14. “B Movie” (2:04)
15. “Motel Matches” (2:30)
16. “Human Touch” (2:30)
17. “Beaten to the Punch” (1:49)
18. “Temptation” (2:33)
19. “I Stand Accused” (2:21) originated as a 1965 Fontana a-side by The Merseybeats; written  by the team of Tony Colton and Ray Smith (both future members of Heads Hands & Feet) and produced by Who manager Kit Lambert with gongs performed by Keith Moon.
20. “Riot Act” (3:35)

Sessions took place in October 1979 at Wisseloord Studios, a two-year-old facility in Hilversum used for recent albums by Golden Earring, Flairck, Kayak (Phantom of the Night), and Lene Lovich (Flex). Costello moved operations to the Dutch location after tiring of Eden Studios, the recording site of his first three albums. He lone-demoed seven Get Happy!! songs beforehand at Archipelago, an eight-track studio in Pimlico. Of the self-recorded songs, he retained “New Amsterdam” for its fresh, intimate nature.

Nick Lowe produced Get Happy!! between the debut Pretenders single “Stop Your Sobbing” (a 1965 Kinks cover) and the 1980 Warner release Musical Shapes, the third album by his wife Carlene Carter. Lowe plays bass alongside Clover alumni on Carlene’s album. (Footage of their wedding appears in the video for his 1979 hit “Cruel to be Kind”). Roger Béchirian engineer Get Happy! in succession with Flex, Mad About the Wrong Boy, and the singular album by The Photos.

Barney Bubbles designed the Get Happy!! cover, which places three duplicates of a xeroxes Elvis image within tilted green rhombus shapes against an orange background. The back cover repeats the effect with the three attractions placed in orange rhombus shapes. To enhance the album’s vintage feel and aesthetic, the cover features simulated LP ring-wear impressions on the front (label ring) and back (outer ring). The white inner-sleeve contains am orange–blue sixties-style starburst centered with the words “Happy Man,” flipped with a circle and two ovals centered with the words “Big Man,” “Tall Man,” and “Extra Man” — possible pseudonyms for the four players. Bubbles applied similar visuals to the 1980 UA release A Case of the Shakes, the seventh studio album by Dr. Feelgood.

On February 8, Costello released “I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down” as the first single backed with the non-album “Girls Talk.”

B. “Girls Talk” (1:56) appeared simultaneously as the penultimate track on Mad Love, the February 1980 release by Linda Ronstadt, who covered “Alison” on her prior album Living in the USA. At her request, Costello submitted the demo to her management along with two Armed Forces-era songs: the album track “Party Girl” and the b-side “Talking in the Dark” (both also covered on Mad Love).

The video to “I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down” intermixes scenes of a trench-coated Elvis in assorted lone scenarios (descending a cathedral spiral staircase, dancing beside an MAIT-era poster display) and group scenes with the Attractions, who hop down an alleyway and dance Motown-style on a cobblestone terrace.

“I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down” reached No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart. A mod-suited Costello and the Attractions mimed the song against concentric backdrops on the February 15 broadcast of TotP, which twice aired “I Can’t Stand Up” amid winter hits by The Flying Lizards (“TV”), Jefferson Starship (“Jane”), Jon & Vangelis (“I Hear You Now”), Peter Gabriel (“Games Without Frontiers”), The Police (“So Lonely”), Rainbow (“All Night Long”), Stiff Little Fingers (“At the Edge”), and The Vapors (“Turning Japanese”). On the final chorus of the Attractions’ segment, Elvis (maroon blazer on black) twice floats up and down via puppet strings. They also mimed “I Can’t Stand Up” in a four-tone grid-light pyramid on the March 10 broadcast of The Kenny Everett Video Show.

On April 4, Costello lifted “High Fidelity” as the second Get Happy!! single, backed a non-album cover of the Betty Everett chestnut “Getting Mighty Crowded.” Radar also issued a three-song 12″ version with a slowed demo version of “Clowntime Is Over.”

B. “Getting Mighty Crowded” (2:05) is a song by Van McCoy, first recorded as a 1964 Fontana a-side by American soul singer Betty Everett and subequently covered by the Alan Price Set.

The “High Fidelity” intermixes a cobblestone-terrace band performance with scenes of Elvis lone dancing, sheet writhing, acoustic strumming, spiral-staircase climbing, and full-clothed Jacuzzi plunging. TotP aired the clip on its April 24 broadcast amid spring hits by Bad Manners (“Ne-Ne Na-Na Na-Na Nu-Nu”), Blondie (“Call Me”), Bobby Thurston (“Check Out the Groove”), The Cure (“A Forest”), Dexys Midnight Runners (“Geno”), Rodney Franklin (“The Groove”), Sad Cafe (“My Oh My”), and Sky (“Toccata”).

On June 13, 1980, Costello lifted “New Amsterdam” as the third Get Happy!! single backed with the non-album “Dr. Luther’s Assistant.” The single also appeared as a four-song maxi (released on conventional vinyl and picture disc) with the exclusive tracks “Ghost Train” and “Just a Memory.”

A2. “Dr. Luther’s Assistant” (3:29)

B1. “Ghost Train” (3:07)

B2. “Just a Memory” (2:17)

Costello appears solo in the “New Amsterdam” video, which opens on a warf where he holds two rose bouquets to the camera. Subsequent scenes show him guitar-strapped on a jetty and straddled over a puddle near an industrial plant. The final seconds cut to a profile of Lady Liberty.

Costello and the Attractions also made videos for “Love for Tender” and “Possession.” The former intermixes assorted scenes of Elvis (flashing bill bundles and pronged horns) and the band (field hopping, dockside roaming). In one scene, Elvis (clad in a livid blazer, green shirt and yellow tie) plays a wooden Fender inside a cacti greenhouse. The “Possession” video finds the Attractions cramped inside a moving vehicle, where the Thomas–Thomas rhythm section performs in the back while Elvis strums his Rickenbacker in the front.

Get Happy!! reached No. 2 on the UK Albums Chart, where it spent three weeks lodged under String of Hits by The Shadows. The album reached No. 6 in Sweden, No. 9 in New Zealand, and No. 11 on the US Billboard 200.

Talking Liberties

In November 1980, Columbia issued Talking Liberties, a collection of twenty b-sides and rarities from the preceding three-year period. The compilation only appeared in the US and Canada. However, its tracklist is near-replicated on the 1980 F-Beat release Ten Bloody Marys & Ten How’s Your Fathers.

Seven tracks stem from the recent Get Happy!! sessions: the five b-sides, the alternate “Clowntime Is Over” and a demo of the album track “Black and White World.” Each side contains one new track (both under two minutes). The remaining eleven tracks are b-sides and outtakes from the timeframe of his first three albums.


  • “Radio Sweetheart” (b-side of “Less Than Zero”)
    “Stranger in the House” (My Aim Is True outtake released as a bonus 7″ with This Year’s Model).


  • “Big Tears” (b-side of “Pump It Up”)
  • “Tiny Steps” (b-side of “Radio, Radio”)
  • “Night Rally” and “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” (both from UK version of This Year’s Model)


  • “My Funny Valentine” (b-side of “Oliver’s Army”)
  • “Talking in the Dark” and “Wednesday Week” (b-sides of “Accidents Will Happen,” also released as a concert-giveaway single)
  • “Sunday’s Best” (from UK version of Armed Forces)
  • “Crawling to the U.S.A.” (from the Americathon soundtrack)


  • “Girls Talk” (b-side of “I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down”)
  • “Getting Mighty Crowded” and “Clowntime Is Over (Version 2)” (b-sides of “High Fidelity”)
  • “Dr Luther’s Assistant,” “Just a Memory,” “Ghost Train” (b-sides of “New Amsterdam”)
  • “Black and White World” (demo version of the Get Happy!! album track)

The two new songs, “Clean Money” and “Hoover Factory,” reappeared as b-sides of Costello’s next single.

The November 1980 F-Beat release Ten Bloody Marys & Ten How’s Your Fathers contains seventeen of the twenty listed tracks; replacing “Night Rally,” “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea,” and “Sunday’s Best” (already available on Costello’s proper UK albums) with the UK non-album a-sides “Watching the Detectives,” “Radio Radio,” and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” (prior album tracks in the US).


Elvis Costello prepared his fifth album in the autumn of 1980 for an early 1981 release. Between its completion and release, he produced East Side Story, the fourth album by Squeeze, recorded with journeyman keyboardist Paul Carrack (Warm Dust, Ace), who sings on the album’s global evergreen “Tempted.” Costello encouraged the band’s songwriting team Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford to include “Labelled With Love,” a countryfied ballad that reached the UK Top 5.


Elvis Costello released his fifth album, Trust, on January 23, 1981, on F-Beat and Columbia. It features fourteen originals, including “From a Whisper to a Scream,” a duet with Squeeze frontman Glenn Tilbrook. Trust is the fifth consecutive studio album produced by Nick Lowe.

On Trust, the Attractions subvert multiple idioms from the prior five decades. “Lovers Walk” is a rumbling mono-key number set to the Bo Diddley beat. “Strict Time” sets polyrhythms to a funk riff. “Different Finger” is a country ballad that foreshadows his upcoming album. “You’ll Never Be a Man” lifts a music-hall arrangement with a modulating refrain. “Luxembourg” infuses fifties rock (ala “Hound Dog”) with echoing vocals and roaming boogie-woogie piano. The uptempo cuts (“Pretty Words,” “White Knuckles”) invoke swirling sixties organ pop. 

Costello embraces pre-rock sounds on the two side openers: “Clubland” (a melodramatic Tin Pan Alley anthem) and “New Lace Sleeves” (a sly lounge-pop ballad). “Shot With His Own Gun” is a cabaret mystery of piano and vocals. Elvis self-performs the stark, ominous album-closer “Big Sister’s Clothes.”

1. “Clubland” (3:42)
2. “Lovers Walk” (2:17)
3. “You’ll Never Be a Man” (2:56)
4. “Pretty Words” (3:11)
5. “Strict Time” (2:40)
6. “Luxembourg” (2:26)
7. “Watch Your Step” (2:57)

8. “New Lace Sleeves” (3:45)
9. “From a Whisper to a Scream” (2:54) features ex-Rumour guitarist Martin Belmont.
10. “Different Finger” (1:58)
11. “White Knuckles” (3:47)
12. “Shot With His Own Gun” (3:30)
13. “Fish ‘n’ Chip Paper” (2:55)
14. “Big Sister’s Clothes” (2:11)

Sessions commenced in October 1980 at DJM Studios, a Holburn facility used for Elton John’s early recordings. Trust sessions continued at Eden, where Elvis and the Attractions completed the album in November. Lowe produced Trust in sequence with 1981 titles by Dr. Feelgood (Casebook) and his wife Carlene Carter (Blue Nun). Rockpile producer Neill King assisted Lowe along with engineer Roger Béchirian, who subsequently served as ‘Soldier’ on the 1982 WEA electronic-rock release Ears Have Walls by the phantom trio Blanket of Secrecy.

Trust marked the end of Lowe’s reign as Costello’s producer. (They would reunite for Costello’s 1986 album Blood and Chocolate.)

Designer Greg Allen and photographers Keith Morris and Paul Cox assembled the visual package for Trust, which features color photographs from the (black and white) “New Lace Sleeve” video shoot. The back cover presents an Attractions group-photo on a tilted film poster. The inner-sleeve has a monochrome profile of the singer, who appears on the flip as the leader of a forties big band.

Six weeks ahead of Trust, Costello released “Clubland” on December 12, 1980, as the lead single backed with “Clean Money” and “Hoover Factory,” the two new songs on the just-released Talking Liberties and Ten Bloody Marys compilations.

B1. “Clean Money” (1:57)

B2. “Hoover Factory” (1:43)

The “Clubland” video takes place in a red–blue-lit nightclub, where performance scenes intermix with those of random clubgoers (mobsters, drunkards, couples). Elvis (clad in shades, fedora, tench coat, and Edwardian gray tweed suit) mingles among the crowd and poses beside a portrait of Marilyn Monroe. On the piano break, Nieve impresses with a one-handed display on his baby grand. Costello alternates between a green hollow-body Gibson and a red Fender Stratocaster (the twangy refrain). Barney Bubbles directed the video on the British Isle of Jersey.

Costello and the Attractions also made a video for the non-single “New Lace Sleeves.” The neo-noir clip takes place in a smoky jazz club, where Bubbles captures the Attractions’ fingerwork and the sly expressions on Costello’s shadow-lit face. Both videos received high rotation on MTV during the US cable channel’s first eighteen months of broadcast.

On February 27, Costello lifted “From a Whisper to a Scream” as the second single, backed with the album track “Luxembourg.” Costello and Tilbrook performed “Whisper” on the March 7 broadcast of the BBC show Jim’ll Fix It. In the segment, a leather-jacketed boy prepares Pete’s drum kit and hands a Stratocaster to Elvis, who sports shades and a striped scarf. At the end, the boy receives a jacket back-emblazoned with “Elvis Costello Road Crew.”

In the US, Columbia lifted “Watch Your Step” as the only single (b/w “Luxembourg”).

Trust reached No. 8 in Sweden and No. 9 on the UK Albums Chart. It peaked at No. 17 in New Zealand and No. 28 in Norway and the US.

Almost Blue

In October 1981, Elvis Costello and the Attractions released Almost Blue, an album of fifties–sixties country covers. It features songs first popularized by Hank Williams (“Why Don’t You Love Me (Like You Used to Do)?”), Patsy Cline (“Sweet Dreams”), Loretta Lynne (“Success”), and Merle Haggard (“Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down”).

Costello tackles two songs by Graham Parsons (“I’m Your Toy,” “How Much I’ve Lied”) and three by past collaborator George Jones (“Brown to Blue,” “Good Year for the Roses,” “Color of the Blues”). Side Two contains a version of the proto-rock standard “Honey Hush” by Big Joe Turner.

Costello and the Attractions recorded Almost Blue at CBS Studio A in Nashville, Tennessee, with veteran country producer Billy Sherrill. Ex-Clover guitarist and My Aim Is True sessionist John McFee supplements the band on lead and pedal steel guitar.

1. “Why Don’t You Love Me (Like You Used to Do)?” (1:40) originated as a 1950 MGM a-side by Alabama country singer Hank Williams.
2. “Sweet Dreams” (3:00) originated as a 1956 MGM a-side by Tennessee countryman Don Gibson. In early 1963, Patsy Cline recorded a cover version that charted after her death in a plane crash.
3. “Success” (2:41) first appeared as a 1962 Decca a-side by Kentucky-born singer Loretta Lynne, written by country songwriter Johnny Mullins.
4. “I’m Your Toy” (3:23) originated as “Hot Burrito #1” on the 1969 A&M release The Gilded Palace of Sin, the debut album by the Flying Burrito Brothers; written by singer–guitarist Gram Parsons abd bassist Chris Ethridge.
5. “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down” (2:09) originated as a 1966 Capitol a-side by Merle Haggard & The Strangers.
6. “Brown to Blue” (2:40) originated as a 1965 United Artists a-side by George Jones, who co-wrote the song with Virginia Franks and “Country” Johnny Mathis (not the popular entertainer).

7. “Good Year for the Roses” (3:10) first appeared as a 1970 George Jones a-side on Musicolor; written by country songwriter Jerry Chesnut. Jones’ version reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles Chart.
8. “Sittin’ and Thinkin’” (3:02) originated as a 1962 Philips International a-side by Arkansas country singer Charlie Rich.
9. “Color of the Blues” (2:21) originated as a January 1958 Mercury-Starday a-side by George Jones, co-written by Tennessee singer–songwriter Lawton Williams.
10. “Too Far Gone” (3:28) is a song by Nashville producer Billy Sherrill; first released as a 1967 b-side by Canadian country singer Lucille Starr and since covered by Waylon Jennings, Dottie West, Tammy Wynette, Emmylou Harris, and Jess Roden.
11. “Honey Hush” (2:15) originated as a 1953 Atlantic a-side by Kansas City bluesman Big Joe Turner; credited to his wife Lou Willie Turner. Big Joe’s original reached No. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart. It became a rock standard via 1965–70 covers by Chuck Berry, Screaming Lord Sutch, and Fleetwood Mac.
12. “How Much I’ve Lied” (2:55) originated on the 1973 Reprise release GP, the singular solo album by Graham Parsons, who co-wrote the song with David Rivkin (aka David Z, a future Prince collaborator).

Despite the country and western musical theme of Almost Blue, Barney Bubbles drew from the Blue Note jazz label for the album’s visual design, which recalls Kenny Burrell’s 1963 release Midnight Blue. Photographer Keith Morris took the moody front photo and monochrome blue back pic. The credits picture McFee for his large contribution. Almost Blue also features guest violinist Tommy Millar and backing vocals by the Nashville Edition, a male–female country–gospel quartet that did more than 10,000 sessions.

Costello lifted “Good Year for the Roses” as the lead single backed with “Your Angel Steps Out Of Heaven,” his fourth George Jones cover.

B. “Your Angel Steps Out Of Heaven” (1:58) originated as a 1968 Musicor a-side by Jones, written by country songwriter Jack Ripley.

“Good Year for the Roses” reached No. 6 on the UK Singles Chart. The video takes place inside the Meldrum House, a 13th-century baronial country house in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, where the Attractions perform beside a docile pair of blue-clad twins. Pedal steel player John McFee appears with the band, which features Elvis on an acoustic guitar emblazoned with his name across the neck. Nieve mimes on fiddle because Meldrum wouldn’t allow the transport of a piano across their antique floor.

“Sweet Dreams” became the second single in December, backed with the non-album “Psycho” by Leon Payne.

B. “Psycho” (3:36) originated as a 1968 K-Ark a-side by country singer Eddie Noack; written by Leon Payne (aka the “Blind Balladeer”).

The “Sweet Dreams” video takes place inside a low-rise rehearsal space illuminated with an orange light bulb.

Almost Blue reached No. 7 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 17 in Sweden. It peaked just outside the Dutch Top 20 and reached No. 50 on the US Billboard 200.


Elvis Costello gave his first interview in five years for Rolling Stone. Greil Marcus interviewed the singer for the magazine’s September 2 cover feature. They talk about Costello’s musical roots and early years as a performer.

Imperial Bedroom

Elvis Costello released his sixth album of original material, Imperial Bedroom, on June 2, 1982, on F-Beat and Columbia. Beatles soundman Geoff Emerick produced the album, which features string arrangements by Attractions keyboardist Steve Nieve, who enhances his arsenal with harpsichord and accordion.

Imperial Bedroom explores psychedelia (“Beyond Belief”), tango (“The Long Honeymoon”), baroque pop (“You Little Fool”), and lounge balladry (“Almost Blue”). The epic “Man Out of Time” bookends a mystery narrative with rumbling prelude–postludes. “Kid About It” subverts a country-ballad arrangement with an airy, lucid chorus.

The Attractions embrace orchestral pop on the two side-closers: “…And in Every Home” and “Town Cryer.” Select tracks strip away layers to emphasize piano (“Boy With a Problem”) and drums (“Little Savage”). “Pidgin English” overlays muted orchestration with Spanish guitar and complex vocal harmonies. “Human Hands” contrasts subdued verses with sitar-woven power chords.

1. “Beyond Belief” (2:34)
2. “Tears Before Bedtime” (3:02) Nieve plays the distorted fade-out guitar.
3. “Shabby Doll” (4:48)
4. “The Long Honeymoon” (4:15)
5. “Man Out of Time” (5:26)
6. “Almost Blue” (2:50)
7. “…And in Every Home” (3:23) Nieve conducts a forty-piece orchestra.

8. “The Loved Ones” (2:48)
9. “Human Hands” (2:43)
10. “Kid About It” (2:45)
11. “Little Savage” (2:37)
12. “Boy With a Problem” (2:12)
13. “Pidgin English” (3:58)
14. “You Little Fool” (3:11)
15. “Town Cryer” (4:16)

Sessions took place between November 1981 and March 1982 at London’s AIR Studios. Emerick’s work on the album ran concurrent with his role as engineer on Tug of War, which reunited Paul McCartney with Beatles producer George Martin, who oversaw Nieve’s arrangements on Imperial Bedroom. AIR staffer Jon Jacobs served as Emerick’s assistant Bedroom engineer amid work on Quartet, the Martin-produced 1982 sixth album by Ultravox.

Elvis conceived “Kid About It” during work with Squeeze, whose guitarist and co-vocalist Chris Difford wrote the lyrics to “Boy With a Problem.”

Imperial Bedroom displays Snakecharmer & Reclining Octopus, a painting by Barney Bubbles, who based the work on the 1921 Cubist painting Three Musicians by Pablo Picasso. Underneath the abstract sexual image, Bubbles interspersed the word IMPERIAL (all caps) letter-by-letter with bedroom (lower case). The back cover features monochrome portrait pics by David P. Bailey, whose photography appears on sixties classics by Marianne Faithfull and The Rolling Stones and recent titles by Bow Wow Wow, Fashion, and Nine Below Zero.

On June 18, F-Beat lifted “You Little Fool” as the first single, backed with the non-album tracks “Big Sister” and “The Stamping Ground.” The label lifted “You Little Fool” against the wishes of Costello, who wagered “Beyond Belief” and “Man Out of Time” as the album’s best candidates.

B1. “Big Sister” () Nick Lowe

B2. “The Stamping Ground” () is a self-produced number credited to The Emotional Toothpaste.

In the video to “You Little Fool,” Costello appears at the start and finish as a professor who looks on with disapproval at the blooming relationship between a young student and her boyfriend.

Costello lifted “Man Out of Time” on July 30 as the second Imperial single (b/w “Town Cryer”).

Elvis performed “Man Out of Time” and “Kid About It” on the August 23 broadcast of Late Night with David Letterman.

Imperial Bedroom reached No. 6 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 18 in Norway.

1982 Standalone Singles

On September 17, 1982, Elvis Costello and the Attractions released “From Head to Toe,” an Miracles cover backed with “The World of Broken Hearts,” a sixties R&B chestnut.

A. “From Head to Toe” (2:29) originated a 1965 deep cut by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles; covered in 1966–67 beatsters The Escorts and blond Motown diva Chris Clark.
B. “The World of Broken Hearts” originated as an April 1966 Congress b-side by Sissie Houston; co-written by Drifters songwriters Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. Amen Corner and Unit 4 + 2 offered late-sixties versions.

On November 26, 1982, Costello and the Attractions dropped “Party Party,” the theme to a British teen movie backed with “Imperial Bedroom,” the missing title track to the recent album.

A. “Party Party” is a sixties-style R&B-pop ditty co-billed to the Royal Guard Horns.
B. “Imperial Bedroom” (2:49) is a medium-slow waltz.

The a-side appears on the soundtrack to Party Party, a 1983 British house-party comedy about a mixed group of London friends. A&M issued the soundtrack album, which also includes cuts by Altered Images, Bad Manners, Modern Romance, Midge Ure, Pauline Black, Sting, and Bananarama (their Sex Pistols cover “No Feelings”).


Elvis Costello reteamed with onetime road-mate and erstwhile F-Beat recording artist Clive Langer, whose production partnership with Alan Winstanley yielded multiple hits with Madness, including their recent stateside breakthrough “Our House.” Clive, in a tenfold payback to Elvis — who produced two songs on Langer’s 1980 album with the Boxes — co-produced the two ensuing Attractions albums.

Punch the Clock

Elvis Costello released his eighth album, Punch the Clock, on August 5, 1983, on F-Beat and Columbia. It’s the first of two Attractions albums with the production team of Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, who enhance the tonal clarity and instrumental details between bassist Bruce Thomas, drummer Pete Thomas, and keyboardist Steve Nieve, who adds the Synclavier and Fairlight CMI synthesizers to his arsenal of Bösendorfer piano and Vox/Hammond organ.

Punch the Clock contains thirteen Costello originals, most with prominent charts by the TKO Horns: a four-piece brass and woodwinds section comprised of trombonist Big Jim Paterson, clarinetist–saxophonist (alto) Jeff Blythe, flutist–saxist (tenor) Paul Speare (all formerly of Dexys Midnight Runners and Paul Young‘s Q Tips) and trumpeter Dave Plews (recently of the Mike Westbrook Orchestra).

The TKO impart an R&B flavor on the upbeat tracks, including the aggressive opener “Let Them All Talk” and the Dexys-like “T.K.O. (Boxing Day).” Trumpeter and flugelhornist Stuart Robson guests on “The World and His Wife,” a Stax-flavored cut that ends Side Two.

Nieve plays glistening piano runs across the Motown pastiche “Love Went Mad” and imparts a cabaret feel on “The Invisible Man” and “Pills and Soap,” the latter with Elvis on drum machine. Bruce drives “Mouth Almighty” with walking bass and subverts “King of Thieves” with syncopated grooves. Pete employs the Bo Diddley beat on “The Greatest Thing.”

Langer and Winstanley mold the sonic scope of “Charm School,” in which spacious rhythms support synth layers marked by bell-tone melodies. Lager co-wrote “Shipbuilding,” a lyrical lounge ballad first recorded by Robert Wyatt. Jazz legend Chet Baker plays the transcendental trumpet solo.

Costello scored his highest-charting US hit with “Everyday I Write the Book,” an effervescent soft-rock number with harmonies by Afrodiziak: a duo composed of vocalists Caron Wheeler and Claudia Fontaine.

1. “Let Them All Talk” (3:06)
2. “Everyday I Write the Book” (3:54)
3. “The Greatest Thing” (3:04)
4. “The Element Within Her” (2:52)
5. “Love Went Mad” (3:13)
6. “Shipbuilding” (4:53)

7. “T.K.O. (Boxing Day)” (3:28)
8. “Charm School” (3:55)
9. “The Invisible Man” (3:04)
10. “Mouth Almighty” (3:04)
11. “King of Thieves” (3:45)
12. “Pills and Soap” (3:43)
13. “The World and His Wife” (3:32)

Sessions took place between January and April 1983 at London’s AIR Studios, where Langer and Winstanley produced the album after finishing projects with Dexys, Madness, and Blue Rondo a la Turk. Punch the Clock features additional percussion by Morris Pert (Brand X) and string arrangements by David Bedford, a longtime Mike Oldfield collaborator who worked with the Langer–Winstanley team on the 1982 Madness release Rise and Fall.

“Pills and Soap” is a co-production between ‘Imposter’ (Elvis) and onetime Beggars Opera drummer (and “Party Party” co-writer) Colin Fairley, a soundman on Keyboard Jungle and recent titles by Delta 5 and ex-Japan bassist Mick Karn.

Punch the Clock is housed in a sleeve designed by Phil Smee, a prolific freelancer with multiple visual credits on compilations and reissued titles on Ace, Edsel, and Bam-Caruso. The front, back, and inner-sleeve of Punch the Clock features pictures by Nick Knight, whose photography also appears on 1983 albums by Europeans, Roman Holliday, and Sex Gang Children.

“Everyday I Write the Book” appeared on July 1 as the advance single, backed with the non-album “Heathen Town.”

B. “Heathen Town” (3:11)

In the “Everyday I Write the Book” video, Elvis (clad in livid blazer, black shirt and bright blue tie) performs in a studio adorned with arctic wallpaper; backed by the Attractions and Afrodiziak (dressed in rasta downs and head-wear). Meanwhile, a domestic couple (Princess Charles and Di lookalikes) escape their boredom with fantasy vignettes copied from scenes in silent films, which the woman consumes while the man mimics the on-screen hero (to her bemusement).

In September, Costello lifted “Let Them All Talk” as the second single, backed with the exclusive “The Flirting Kind.”

B. “The Flirting Kind” (3:01)

Costello and the Attractions filmed a monochrome video for “Let Them All Talk” with the TKO Horns. Sears throws his head back with intensity on the recurrent brass riff. Nieve sports a thirties gangster ensemble (pinstripe suit, fedora, bowtie) akin to Jools Holland.

Punch the Clock reached No. 3 on the UK Albums Chart and also went Top 10 in New Zealand (No. 6) and Sweden (No. 9). The album peaked at No 18 in Norway and became one of his highest-charting releases in Australia (No. 22) and the US (No. 24).


Goodbye Cruel World

Elvis Costello released his ninth album, Goodbye Cruel World, on June 18, 1984, on F-Beat and Columbia. It features twelve originals, including “The Only Flame in Town,” an upbeat jazz-pop duet with Daryl Hall.

Goodbye Cruel World is the second of two Costello albums produced by the team of Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley. Langer co-wrote “The Great Unknown.” Side Two opens with “I Wanna Be Loved,” a seventies soul cover with backing vocals by Scritti Politti frontman Green Gartside.

Costello and the Attractions temporarily parted after Goodbye Cruel World, their eighth straight album together. They’re supplemented here by Leisure Process saxophonist Gary Barnacle, TKO trumpeter Jim Paterson, and Portuguese percussionist Luís Jardim.

1. “The Only Flame in Town” (4:01)
2. “Home Truth” (3:12)
3. “Room with No Number” (4:13)
4. “Inch By Inch” (2:29)
5. “Worthless Thing” (3:04)
6. “Love Field” (3:26)

7. “I Wanna Be Loved” (4:47) originated as a 1973 b-side on Memphis soul-press Hi Records; written by ex-Conservatives singer Farnell Jenkins as part of the combo Teacher’s Edition.
8. “The Comedians” (2:36)
9. “Joe Porterhouse” (3:29)
10. “Sour Milk Cow Blues” (2:50)
11. “The Great Unknown” (3:00)
12. “The Deportees Club” (2:54)
13. “Peace in Our Time” (4:06)

Sessions took place in March–April 1984 at London’s Sarm West Studio, where Langer and Winstanley produced the album in sequence with titles by Madness (Keep Moving) and Wha! (The Way We Wah!).

Costello lifted “I Wanna Be Loved”as the first single backed with the non-album “Turning The Town Red.”

B. “Turning the Town Red” (3:50) is the theme song to the Granada TV series Scully, a comedy drama about Liverpool football. Elvis played a minor role as the titular character’s brother. Scully ran for seven episodes between May 14 and June 25, 1984, on Channel Four.

In the video for “I Wanna Be Loved,” Elvis sits inside a train-terminal photobooth and sings with forlorn expressions to the camera. Every few moments, people materialize on the left and right to kiss his cheeks. He remains oblivious to the affectionate sequence of individuals, which includes people young and old of both genders and various styles and ethnicities. The video switches back and forth between monochrome and color.

Costello and the Attractions mimed “I Wanna Be Loved” amid deep blue lights and flashing neon bolts on the June 21 broadcast of TotP, which also featured spring ’84 hits by The Associates (”Those First Impressions”), Bronski Beat (“Smalltown Boy”), Cyndi Lauper (“Time After Time”), Frankie Goes to Hollywood (“Two Tribes”), Lloyd Cole & The Commotions (“Perfect Skin”), Orchestral Manoeuvres Dark (“Talking Loud & Clear”), and The Pointer Sisters (“Jump”). Elvis wears a tie-less livid suit with button-down lapels in the Attractions segment, which features new looks on Steve (shaved head) and Bruce (red hair, no glasses), plus auxiliary player Gary Barnacle.

In July, “The Only Flame in Town” became the second single, backed with “Baby It’s You,” an acoustic duet with Nick Lowe.

B. “Baby It’s You” (3:10)

Daryl Hall guest stars in the bar-set video for “The Only Flame in Town,” in which Elvis hosts a private win-a-date party with the Attraction members as prizes. The winners (a new wave girl, a librarian, and a ritzy lady) respectively claim Bruce, Steve, and Pete. Back at the table, Elvis and Daryl — who both flirted with Pete’s date — bond over their mutual shaft and respectively take up with a pigtailed schoolgirl and a peakocked saxophonist.

Costello released “Peace in Our Time” under his Imposter moniker on one-press Imposter Records; backed with the Richard Thompson cover “Withered and Died.”

Goodbye Cruel World reached No. 10 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 20 in Sweden. It peaked in the Top 35 in New Zealand and the US, where the Costello–Hall clip received moderate exposure on MTV.


King of America

Elvis Costello released his tenth album, King of America, on February 23, 1986, on F-Beat and Columbia.

1. “Brilliant Mistake” (3:45)
2. “Lovable” MacManus, Cait O’Riordan (2:53)
3. “Our Little Angel” (4:06)
4. “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” Bennie Benjamin, Sol Marcus, Gloria Caldwell (3:22)
5. “Glitter Gulch” (3:17)
6. “Indoor Fireworks” (4:10)
7. “Little Palaces” (3:49)
8. “I’ll Wear It Proudly” (4:25)

9. “American Without Tears” (4:34)
10. “Eisenhower Blues” J. B. Lenoir (3:46)
11. “Poisoned Rose” (4:07)
12. “The Big Light” (2:33)
13. “Jack of All Parades” (5:18)
14. “Suit of Lights” (4:06)
15. “Sleep of the Just” (3:51)

Recorded July–September 1985
Studio Ocean Way, Sunset Sound and Sound Factory (Los Angeles)

Elvis Costello (credited as “the Little Hands of Concrete”) – lead vocal, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin
T Bone Burnett – guitars, backing vocals
Mitchell Froom – Hammond organ, harpsichord, organ, doctored piano
Tom “T-Bone” Wolk – electric guitar, piano accordion, electric bass
Jerry Scheff – string bass, electric bass
Mickey Curry – brushes, drums, sticks

Additional personnel
Michael Blair – marimba
James Burton – electric guitar, dobro, acoustic guitar
Tom Canning – piano
Ralph Carney – saxophone
Jim Keltner – drums, sticks, brushes
Earl Palmer – drums, brushes
Ron Tutt – drums, brushes
Ray Brown – double bass (“Eisenhower Blues” and “Poisoned Rose”)
David Hidalgo – harmony vocal (“Lovable”)
Jo-El Sonnier – French accordion (“American Without Tears”)
Steve Nieve – piano, Hammond organ (“Jack of All Parades” and “Suit of Lights”)
Bruce Thomas – electric bass (“Suit of Lights”)
Pete Thomas – drums, sticks (“Suit of Lights”)

J. Henry (T Bone) Burnett – producer
Declan Patrick Aloysius MacManus – producer
Larry Kalman Hirsch – engineer
David Brent Miner – associate producer
Terence Daniel Donovan – photography
Michael Sören Krage – design and typography
Matthew Patrick Declan MacManus – sleeve consultant

UK Albums Chart 11
Swedish Albums (Sverigetopplistan)[106] 12
New Zealand Albums (RIANZ)[105] 21
US Billboard Top Pop Albums[108] 39

Blood & Chocolate

Elvis Costello released his eleventh album, Blood & Chocolate, on September 15, 1986, on Demon and Columbia.

1. “Uncomplicated” (3:28)
2. “I Hope You’re Happy Now” (3:07)
3. “Tokyo Storm Warning” MacManus, Cait O’Riordan (6:25)
4. “Home Is Anywhere You Hang Your Head” (5:07)
5. “I Want You” (6:45)

6. “Honey, Are You Straight or Are You Blind?” (2:09)
7. “Blue Chair” (3:42)
8. “Battered Old Bird” (5:51)
9. “Crimes of Paris” (4:20)
10. “Poor Napoleon” (3:23)
11. “Next Time Round” (3:28)

Recorded March–May 1986
Studio Olympic (London)
Producer Nick Lowe and Colin Fairley

Elvis Costello – electric guitar, acoustic guitar, vocals, harmonium, tambourine, bellows, canes, knives, bass, Vox Continental electric organ
Steve Nieve – piano, organ, harmonium
Bruce Thomas – bass, electric guitar, saxophone
Pete Thomas – drums, alto saxophone

Additional personnel
Nick Lowe – acoustic guitar
Cait O’Riordan – vocals on “Crimes of Paris” and “Poor Napoleon”
Jimmy Cliff – vocals on “Seven Day Weekend”
Mitchell Froom – organ on “Blue Chair” single version
Tom “T-Bone” Wolk – electric guitar, bass on “Blue Chair” single version
Mickey Curry – drums on “Blue Chair” single version



Elvis Costello released his twelfth album, Spike, on February 6, 1989, on Warner Bros.

1. “…This Town…” (4:32)
2. “Let Him Dangle” (4:45)
3. “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror” (4:07)
4. “Veronica” (Costello, Paul McCartney) – 3:09)
5. “God’s Comic” (5:31)
6. “Chewing Gum” (3:47)
7. “Tramp the Dirt Down” (5:41)

8. “Stalin Malone” (4:09)
9. “Satellite” (5:45)
10. “Pads, Paws and Claws” (Costello, McCartney) – 2:56)
11. “Baby Plays Around” (Costello, Cait O’Riordan) – 2:47)
12. “Miss Macbeth” (4:23)
13. “Any King’s Shilling” (6:07)
14. “Coal-Train Robberies” (3:18)
15. “Last Boat Leaving” (3:31)

Recorded 1987–1988
Studio Ocean Way (Hollywood) Southland (New Orleans) Windmill Lane (Dublin) AIR (London)

Elvis Costello – vocals, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, electric guitar, mandolin, piano, bells, acoustic bass guitar, organ, melodica
T Bone Burnett – acoustic guitar, bass, national steel guitar
Cait O’Riordan – maracas, bells

Derek Bell – Irish harp, hammered dulcimer
Frankie Gavin – fiddle
Dónal Lunny – acoustic guitar, bouzouki, electric bouzouki
Davy Spillane – pipe, uilleann pipes, Low whistle
Steve Wickham – fiddle
Christy Moore – bodhran
Pete Thomas – drums

New Orleans
Lionel Batiste – bass drum
Gregory Davis – trumpet
Willie Green – drums
Kevin Harris – tenor saxophone
Charles Joseph – trombone
Kirk Joseph – sousaphone
Roger Lewis – baritone saxophone, soprano saxophone
Jenell Marshall – snare drum
Allen Toussaint – grand piano
Efrem Towns – trumpet

Chrissie Hynde – harmony vocals
Nick Lowe – bass
Paul McCartney – Hofner bass guitar, Rickenbacker bass guitar
Pete Thomas – drums

Costello lifted “Veronica” on February 20 as the first single, backed with a non-album cover of the Leiber–Stoller classic “You’re No Good.” The 12″ contains a third track: the John Sebastian cover “The Room Nobody Lives In.”

B1. “You’re No Good” ()
B2. “The Room Nobody Lives In” ()

US Billboard Hot 100[9] 19
US Billboard Album Rock Tracks[10] 10
US Alternative Airplay (Billboard)[11] 1

“Baby Plays Around”
Released: May 1989

UK Albums Chart[21] 5
Swedish Albums Chart[20] 13
Dutch Mega Albums Chart[17] 19
Australian Albums Chart[16] 26
US Billboard 200[22] 32

Mighty Like a Rose

Elvis Costello released his thirteenth album, Mighty Like a Rose, on May 14, 1991, on Warner Bros.

The Juliet Letters

Elvis Costello released his fourteenth album, The Juliet Letters, on January 19, 1993, on Warner Bros.

Brutal Youth

Elvis Costello released his fifteenth album, Brutal Youth, on March 8, 1994, on Warner Bros.

All This Useless Beauty

Elvis Costello released his sixteenth album, All This Useless Beauty, on May 14, 1996, on Warner Bros.

Painted From Memory

Elvis Costello released his seventeenth album, Painted From Memory, on September 29, 1998, on Mercury.


  • My Aim Is True (1977)
  • This Year’s Model (1978)
  • Armed Forces (1979 • Elvis Costello & The Attractions)
  • Get Happy!! (1980 • Elvis Costello & The Attractions)
  • Trust (1981 • Elvis Costello & The Attractions)
  • Almost Blue (1981 • Elvis Costello & The Attractions)
  • Imperial Bedroom (1982 • Elvis Costello and The Attractions)
  • Punch the Clock (1983 • Elvis Costello and The Attractions)
  • Goodbye Cruel World (1984 • Elvis Costello and The Attractions)
  • King of America (1986 • The Costello Show)
  • Blood & Chocolate (1986 • Elvis Costello and The Attractions)
  • Spike (1989)
  • Mighty Like a Rose (1991)
  • The Juliet Letters (1993 • Elvis Costello & The Brodsky Quartet)
  • Brutal Youth (1994)
  • All This Useless Beauty (1996 • Elvis Costello & The Attractions)
  • Painted From Memory (1998 • Elvis Costello with Burt Bacharach)


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