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.


Background

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.

After hawking demos to numerous labels, he signed to the fledgling indie label Stiff Records in late 1976. As a gimmick concocted by label-head Jake Riviera, Costello adopted the forename Elvis. He recorded his first album during off-hours with backing by rustic-rockers Clover.


1977


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.


My Aim Is True

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 strands of rockabilly and country pop. The closing cut, “Waiting for the End of the World,” sets nihilistic vignettes to 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 the 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.

“Watching the Detectives”


1978–1979


This Year’s Model

Elvis Costello released his second album, This Year’s Model, on March 17, 1978, on Radar (UK) and Columbia (US). This is his first of eleven studio albums with backing by the Attractions.

“(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” (b/w “You Belong to Me”)

“Pump It Up” “Big Tears”

“This Year’s Girl”

“Radio Radio” “Tiny Steps”

“Stranger in the House”

“Talking in the Dark”/”Wednesday Week”


Armed Forces

Elvis Costello released his third album, Armed Forces, on January 5, 1979, on Radar and Columbia.

“Oliver’s Army” “My Funny Valentine”

“Accidents Will Happen” “Talking in the Dark” “Wednesday Week”


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

“Crawling to the U.S.A.” 


1980


Get Happy!!

Elvis Costello released his fourth album, Get Happy!!, on February 15, 1980, on F-Beat (UK) and Columbia.

“I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down” “Girls Talk”

“High Fidelity” “Getting Mighty Crowded”

“New Amsterdam” “Dr. Luther’s Assistant” “Ghost Train” “Just a Memory”


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.


1981


Trust

Elvis Costello released his fifth album, Trust, on January 23, 1981, on F-Beat and Columbia.

“Clubland” in December 1980 “Clean Money” “Hoover Factory”

“From a Whisper to a Scream” “Luxembourg”

In the US, “Watch Your Step”


Almost Blue

In October 1981, Costello and the Attractions released Almost Blue, an album of fifties–sixties country covers.

“Good Year for the Roses”

“Sweet Dreams”


1982–1984


Imperial Bedroom

Elvis Costello released his sixth album of original material, Imperial Bedroom, on June 2, 1982, on F-Beat and Columbia.

“You Little Fool” “Big Sister” “The Stamping Ground”

“Man Out of Time” “Town Cryer”


Punch the Clock

Elvis Costello released his eighth album, Punch the Clock, on August 5, 1983, on F-Beat and Columbia.

“Everyday I Write the Book”

“Let Them All Talk”


Goodbye Cruel World

Elvis Costello released his ninth album, Goodbye Cruel World, on June 18, 1984, on F-Beat and Columbia.

“I Wanna Be Loved”

“The Only Flame in Town”


1985–1986


King of America

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


Blood & Chocolate

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


1987–1989


Spike

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

“Veronica”


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.


Discography:

  • 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)

Sources:

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