Elvis Costello — aka Declan Patrick MacManus (born Aug. 25, 1954) — 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 1976, he sang and played guitar with the unrecorded London-area pub-rockers Flip City.
After hawking demos to numerous labels, Costello was signed to fledgling indie Stiff Records in 1976. He adopted the first name Elvis at the instance of label-head Jake Riviera. Off-hour recordings commenced late that year with backing by rustic-rockers Clover.
In March 1977, Costello released his first single, “Less Than Zero,” a scything indictment of 1930s British Union of Fascists leader Oswald Mosley. It was backed with the countryfied “Radio Sweetheart.” His second single was the poignant ballad “Allison” (b/w “Welcome to the Working Week”), issued that May.
Costello released his debut album, My Aim Is True, in July 1977 on Stiff. It features six short songs per side, including “Pay It Back,” “Sneaky Feelings,” “Blame It on Cain,” “I’m Not Angry,” “Mystery Dance,” and the pre-released singles sides (barring “Radio Sweetheart”). “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes” was issued that same month as the album’s third single. Most of these numbers set loaded, cynical lyrics to stands of rockabilly and country pop. The album closes with “Waiting for the End of the World,” marked by nihilistic vignettes, buzzing effects, and a primitive rhythmic pulse.
My Aim Is True was recorded the prior fall/winter and produced by Nick Lowe. The cover, which features the singer surrounded by check-type with repetitions of the phrase “ELVIS IS KING,” was designed by artist Barney Bubbles. Costello is backed on this release by London-situated American country-rockers Clover (minus vocalist Huey Lewis.) The band are unlisted on original pressings due to contract issues. (Clover released two albums that year before returning stateside and splintering; its members resurfaced in The Doobie Brothers and Huey Lewis and the News.)
Costello’s contract limited his releases to the UK 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, he was signed to Columbia/CBS that fall.
In October 1977, CBS issued My Aim Is True in the US. This version adds the reggaefied “Watching the Detectives,” released that month as his fourth UK single. The song was recorded that summer with backing by Steve Nieve (piano) and the rhythm section of Graham Parker‘s Rumour: Steve Goulding (drums) and Andrew Bodnar (bass). Costello promptly formed his own backing band, The Attractions, consisting of Nieve, ex-Quiver/Moonrider bassist Bruce Thomas, and former Chilli Willi drummer Pete Thomas.
Elvis Costello and the Attractions toured pre-released and new material throughout the latter-half of 1977. During a Northeast US leg that December, the band was booked as a last-minute replacement for The Sex Pistols on a 12/17/77 episode of Saturday Night Live. During the live broadcast, the band performed the first few seconds of “Less Than Zero” before Costello cut the song and had them launch into a different number, the then-unreleased “Radio Radio.” The stunt, which got him famously banned from the program for 12 years, was inspired by a similar act by Jimi Hendrix on a late-60s BBC show.
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)
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)
- 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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