KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Forty Year Friday – ELVIS COSTELLO “MY AIM IS TRUE”

Artist: ELVIS COSTELLO
Album: MY AIM IS TRUE

[Welcome to Forty Year Friday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1977]

For someone who has talked about a love-hate relationship with the music of Elvis Costello, his name has shown up here multiple times over the years, often as a reference point for other artists but also in my first post about Gateway Compilations and in last year’s Thirty Year Thursday look back at 1986. The former featured The Best Of Elvis Costello, a wonderful 19-track primer of the first eight years of his recording career which presented some of the most “radio radio”-friendly songs in his catalog at that point. My only issue with Costello has been his tendency to be too clever (lyrically & musically) for his own good, although many fans love that about him. His songs are always interesting, his voice the perfect combination of snarling anger & melodic beauty and the musicians he surrounds himself with are usually world-class players. His best-known band is The Attractions, who first appeared on his sophomore album, but when the world (or at least the portion that was paying attention in 1977) was introduced to the man born Declan Patrick MacManus via his debut record, My Aim Is True, his backing band featured members of Northern California pub rockers Clover. That group featured Huey Lewis (who did not appear on Costello’s record) as well as guitarist John McFee (soon to join The Doobie Brothers), keyboardist Sean Hopper (a founding member of Huey Lewis & The News) and the rhythm section of bassist John Ciambotti & drummer Mickey Shine. While they may not have possessed the distinctive sound of The Attractions, they brought a smooth melodicism to a collection of some of Costello’s most earnest & accessible compositions, allowing the so-called “angry young man” to shine.

Nick Lowe provided solid production on this album, which features two of Costello’s most enduring (and endearing) songs: “Alison” and “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes.” Both of these appeared on the aforementioned Best Of collection. The former is a tender ballad with heartfelt lyrics (“Alison, I know this world is killing you”) that also provided the album’s title, while the latter is a propulsive rocker with a killer chorus. With 12 songs in under 33 minutes, he had a lot to say and didn’t waste any time saying it, most notably on punchy album opener “Welcome To The Working Week” (in & out in less than 90 seconds) and the ‘50s rock ‘n roll homage “Mystery Dance” that’s only a few seconds longer. By contrast, deceptively complex tracks like “Miracle Man,” “Less Than Zero” and “Waiting For The End Of The World” seem almost epic at typical single lengths of 3 to 3-1/2 minutes. Shuffle grooves permeate “Blame It On Cain,” “Pay It Back” and “Sneaky Feelings”; the first two firmly in rock and the third visiting jazz & blues territory. He would go on to explore multiple genres throughout his career, and that propensity is clearly on display here. There’s a hint of Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” in the verses of “No Dancing,” and the ironically titled “I’m Not Angry” pairs punk aggression with fiery lead guitar that would never have been accepted by that era’s punk rockers. With his impressive debut, Elvis Costello bridged the gap between that genre and the forthcoming new wave movement, without losing sight of the music that inspired him. Maybe I’m a bigger fan than I thought I was. I certainly love this album and I’m impressed at how vital it sounds four decades after it was recorded. Not bad for an artist who was only 22 at the time.

 

Advertisements

37 comments on “Forty Year Friday – ELVIS COSTELLO “MY AIM IS TRUE”

  1. jcbradleyjr
    May 5, 2017

    Love reading these posts. I would have to say I’ve definitely had a “love/hate” relationship with Elvis Costello. I was pretty much on board up through Imperial Bedroom (probably one of my all time favorite records of any genre) but my interest starting waning after Punch the Clock (which I like) and Goodbye Cruel World (which I did not). After that it was very much hit or miss with me.

    Having said that, this is a great album. I very distinctly remember going into my favorite record store at the time (I was in the 11th grade, hanging out in record stores every chance I could) and finding this album under the “C’s.” I may have read something about it in either Rolling Stone or Stereo Review and decided to check it out. It pretty much stayed on my turntable for the next week. It was exciting and different in ways that a lot of records I bought around that time were not. I still have that original vinyl copy (has a few cracks and wheezes now) but I still listen to it a good bit.

    The run of this record through Armed Forces (including all the singles that were not on proper albums) was incredible. And yes, the fact he was only 22 at the time is truly amazing.

    Like

    • Hi JC. Sorry for the delayed response, but your comment showed up in my spam folder and I just found it. It sounds like we have similar feelings about Mr. Costello’s music, although our timelines are slightly different. I didn’t follow him much during the ’80s, with the Best Of collection being my sole EC album until Spike came out in ’89. I loved that record at the time but for some reason the albums that followed didn’t have a similar impact, until his collaboration with Burt Bacharach. Shortly after that I jumped off the good ship Costello, at least as far as new releases are concerned. Revisiting My Aim Is True for this post makes me eager to spend some time with the albums that followed, since it’s been years since I played them. You were definitely ahead of the curve, listening to his debut when it was released, so your perspective on his catalog will always be a lot different than mine. I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts on this great record. I hope you’re doing well.

      Like

  2. DanicaPiche
    May 5, 2017

    Interesting review, Rich! Especially the 22-year old, I wasn’t aware of that.
    I’ve seen him live and enjoyed his shows, but I’m not sure I’ve ever listened to a whole album….

    Like

    • Thanks, Danica. As I mentioned in this post (and any time I’ve brought up Elvis Costello), his music can be hit-and-miss (for me, at least), but when he’s “on” there’s almost nothing better. Song-for-song this is one of my favorite EC albums, although with such a vast discography you would probably be best served by a well-chosen compilation.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Phillip Helbig
    May 5, 2017

    “the man born Declan Patrick MacManus”

    We’ve become so used to the name that few think of Abbott and Costello. People do think of the Elvis, of course, but Elvis Costello is so well known that “Elvis” as a name is not that strange anymore, which sort of goes against the intended effect. I remember reading an interview with him where he recounted how his manager said “We’ll call you Elvis”. Who wouldn’t have thought this an absurd suggestion? (I believe it was before the death of The King, though; shortly (or anytime?) afterward, that might have been too much.)

    Like

    • I hadn’t even thought about his made-up name in a long time. He’s simply been Elvis Costello for so long that it seems like his real name. Back then it was still important to have a marketable name but if he was a current artist he would be able to release albums as Declan MacManus and nobody would bat an eye.

      Like

      • Phillip Helbig
        May 8, 2017

        Of course, Reginald Kenneth Dwight legally changed his name to Elton Hercules John.

        Interestingly, almost all of the members of Jethro Tull until the late 1970s, and some later members, were not known by their real and/or full names:

        Martin Barre: Martin Barré (humour; used occasionally)
        Barrie Barlow: Barriemore Barlow (humour)
        John Glascock: John Brittleprick (humour; not often used)
        Jeffrey Hammond: Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond*
        Glenn Cornick: Len Barnard (confusion, adoption of stepfather’s name)
        David Palmer: now Dee Palmer, after sex change (was born intersexual)
        John Evans: John Evan (sounded better when followed by “Band” or “Smash”)
        James Anderson: James Duncan (son of Ian Anderson; sometimes uses middle name as last name)
        Martin Allcock: Maartin Allcock


        *Both parents already had the same last name when they married.

        Like

      • Didn’t realize some of those Tull names were not real. Barriemore is such a cool name and it sounds so British, so I never imagined it was made up. When I was a kid and had dreams of being a rock star, I figured I would have to change my name, so I planned to use my middle name first and call myself Scott Richards. At the very least, people would wonder if I was related to Keith. I’m still unsure if his real last name is Richard or Richards. I believe he was credited as the former on their early albums but later added the “s” at the end. Might have been something to do with not wanting to be associated with Cliff Richard.

        Like

      • Phillip Helbig
        May 9, 2017

        “I’m still unsure if his real last name is Richard or Richards.”

        I think his name has always been Richards, but he was credited as Richard during a period when he fell out with his father. Having buried the hatchet, he reverted to Richards. At least I think that’s the way it was, I’m not an expert.

        My question is whether his daughters are named Theodora and Alexandra so that he always has T and A in the house. 🙂

        Like

      • Thanks for clarifying that for me, Phillip. Until someone claims otherwise I will consider this the truth. Didn’t know about his daughter’s names but I love your conclusion. Now I have “Little T&A” in my head, which is never a bad thing.

        Like

      • Phillip Helbig
        May 11, 2017

        I prefer big T and A, and not in my head. 🙂

        Like

      • And this conversation has officially veered completely off its original course. 😛

        Like

  4. Alyson
    May 5, 2017

    Well this was a lovely surprise as knew it was from 1977 but didn’t think it might feature. Yes I do have a few anecdotes about this one but can be found over at my place so won’t fill up your comment boxes with them. A couple of weeks ago you reviewed the Sat Night Fever soundtrack album which I said took me right back to my final year at high school – That was more a 1978 one for us though, and shared with my girlfriends. My Aim Is True was from earlier in that school year (’77) and definitely a favourite with the boys so played on our 6th form common room record-player all the time. By default, because the boys loved it, we came to love it too – Still sounds “vital” as you say and have to be careful that I don’t listen to “Alison” too often as it’s still one of my favourite songs and don’t want it ever to become over-familiar.

    Like

    • I wasn’t sure if this would be a “hit” for you since EC seemed to be more of a “boy’s” artist back then, but his British-ness made me think you might be a fan. I hadn’t made the connection between you & the song of (almost) the same name. I can see how that would get old for you. I once met a girl named Veronica at a party. I told her I would remember her name based on the Elvis Costello song. She replied, “Oh yeah, ‘Veronica’.” I replied, “no, ‘Alison’.” She looked at me like I had two heads but I enjoyed my stupid little joke. She also had a friend named Melissa, but I didn’t make a similar Allman Brothers joke with her (“Melissa”/”Jessica”).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alyson
        May 7, 2017

        I have always loved EC but probably all because of this album and how it was just so important for that particular year of my life. Alison is probably the most common name for females my age in the UK so must have resonated with lots of us (I am in fact actually an Alison but for the purposes of blogging I have very cunningly disguised myself as Alyson to protect the innocent – No-one will ever see though it!!).

        I see you dropped by my EC post – thanks for that. I still find that story funny today – strange times indeed.

        Like

      • Thanks for sharing the tidbit about the true spelling of your name. Beware, the internet is getting closer to discovering your true identity. 😛

        Liked by 1 person

      • Alyson
        May 8, 2017

        Oh it’s ok – I don’t think I’m saying anything bad about anyone and have a picture now on my About page anyway. Like a lot of my blogging buddies I just like keeping this virtual place separate from the real world!

        Like

      • I understand (and support) the idea of keeping your virtual world separate from the real one. I initially balked at using my full name when I started my blog but then I just gave in. I might have thought I would try making a second career out of music writing at some point and figured it would be a good idea to have some kind of name recognition. Nice to see an actual photo of you on your About page and not surprised it’s not a closeup. Keep the mystery. Haha.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Bill Van Orden
    May 5, 2017

    Oh, HERE HE IS…. One of my cornerstone Everyman performers…. I say that, because he pretty much can cover EVERYthing. When I had some spending cash, I used to comb over the import bins at the Harmony Hut way back when, because they had certain albums MONTHS before they would be in American cardboard jackets…. I LOVED looking over the imports, and THIS album was one of my first import choices…. I don’t know what it is about them…but import prints seemed to be richer in tone somewhat. My favorite album of Mr. Costello’s is ‘ARMED FORCES” because of it’s choppy/poppy nature, but MY AIM IS TRUE is one hell of a debut.

    Like

    • Hi Bill. I used to enjoy browsing the import bins when that meant something (often based on Scott Muni’s “Things From England/British Biscuits” feature). In many cases the import pressings were better quality than their US counterparts, and of course there were some albums/singles you could only get from overseas. I think about all the UK singles I bought for exclusive b-sides that cost me a small fortune, and how many of them eventually showed up on compilations for significantly less money. As for Elvis Costello, sounds like we have similar feelings about his early albums. I still occasionally have issues with his music, but some of his stuff is as good as anything in my collection.

      Like

      • Bill Van Orden
        May 8, 2017

        You hit on another thing we have in common…. I got my British fix every week with Scott Muni, and when I heard something I HAD to have… I rushed to see if it was in the import bins…. even did that in NYC when going to Books Nippon or NBC etc… always made a trip to Tower…but yes… I have always thought the British albums were of better quality, and I LOVE extra nuggets of joy thrown in… Proud owner of imports from the likes of Elvis C, ADAM AND THE ANTS, THE JAM, IAN DURY, NICK LOWE, PRETENDERS, ROXY MUSIC, GARY NUMAN, UK SQUEEZE, and many mo’.

        Like

      • I didn’t always love everything Scott Muni played on his “Things From England” broadcast, but I appreciated being introduced to different artists & genres that WNEW would never play otherwise. Your list of artists that you have on import is very impressive. I’m a fan of them all, to varying degrees.

        Like

  6. Tangled Up In Music
    May 6, 2017

    Very good album, but a bit too pub-rock when compared to the new-wave attack of The Attractions on the following ones. No Dancing is my favorite here, it’s so emotional for me when he says “somebody, SOMEBODY has to cry” with the backing vocals rising and rising. Been there. I also love Angels, Mystery, Alison, Cain and Working Week.

    Like

    • Ovidiu, you say “a bit too pub-rock” like it’s a bad thing. 😀 I happen to love that sort-of genre, but I understand why some people, especially anyone who loves punk, thinks less of its British predecessor. Elvis would go on to release plenty of great punk-influenced music which makes My Aim Is True such a unique release.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tangled Up In Music
        May 7, 2017

        I wouldn’t say pub rock is a bad thing per se, but I feel Elvis’ backing band here has not got much of a personality, as opposed to the Attractions. I still like the album a lot though.

        Like

      • I know what you mean, Ovidiu, but I think the guys from Clover brought their own style to these recordings. They were certainly smoother and more traditional-sounding than The Attractions. I will say that they come across more as studio musicians here as opposed to EC’s “band.”

        Liked by 1 person

  7. J.
    May 6, 2017

    Great post, Rich. I still haven’t heard this despite adding it to my list after falling pretty hard for Armed Forces.

    Like

    • Thanks, J. Some fans would probably point you in the direction of other EC albums, and there are certainly great ones in his discography, but song-for-song this one is up there with his best, and the musical accompaniment by members of Clover sets it apart from pretty much everything else he’s released.

      Like

  8. kevin
    May 6, 2017

    I am with you completely on the love/hate thing with this guy, but there is no denying that he wrote come amazing, exceptional songs, and that this is an impressive debut. “Red Shoes” and “Working Week” were always personal favorites. I didn’t know John McFee played on this; interesting tidbit.

    Like

    • Hi Kevin. I think we’ve discussed EC before and I’m always pleased to know you have similar issues with him while still loving so much of his music. The two songs you mentioned are among my favorites. “Welcome To The Working Week” is such a powerful way to start off his recording career. Glad I could provide you with a little tidbit about John McFee. I love making those kinds of musical connections.

      Like

  9. 80smetalman
    May 6, 2017

    Only know Elvis Costello from his more popular songs, ie. “Oliver’s Army.”

    Like

    • Two of his popular songs, “Alison” and “(The Angels Want To Wear My) Red Shoes” are on this one. I don’t know if you would love the whole album but I’m sure a few songs would make a strong impact.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. stephen1001
    May 7, 2017

    I’ve heard six of his albums so far (but as you said Rich, seeing as he started at age 22 and was so prolific, that’s only a sample!) – from the ones I’ve heard, they’d all end up in the 7.5-9/10 range. Consistent despite the variety of sounds and consistently good to very good.

    Like

    • Hi Geoff. Your last sentence is a good summary of what makes him such a unique artist. As I’ve mentioned multiple times, he can occasionally be a little too clever for my tastes, especially with his wordplay, but when I’m in the right mood he’s got dozes of songs that are as enjoyable as anything in my collection.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. keepsmealive
    May 7, 2017

    I just got a copy of this CD in at work this week… 40 years? Man, this series is messing with my head.

    I always loved this one – but I take Costello with a grain of salt, especially after reading his biography. But it’s all outweighed by this group’s knack for the incredible tune.

    Like

    • Sorry to keep doing this to you, Aaron, but we’re only as old as we feel. Oh wait…never mind. Haha. I’m wondering what he wrote in his autobiography that has you feeling this way. I sometimes get the sense that he’s very smug about his diverse musical tastes & knowledge, but we can’t question his songwriting abilities, and he usually plays with amazing musicians.

      Like

  12. Pingback: Forty Year Friday – CLOVER “LOVE ON THE WIRE” | KamerTunesBlog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to subscribe to KamerTunesBlog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 332 other followers

Archives

%d bloggers like this: