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Elvis Costello appeared seemingly out of nowhere producing this album. Despite the previous release of 'Less Than Zero' (one of the album's tracks) as a single, Costello had not acheived an real success prior to the album's release. He retained his day job as a data entry clerk during the recording and after the album's release he was asked by Stiff Records to become a professional musician, after 7 years of trying this was Costello's big break.
His stage name Elvis Costello was a homage to his father who had used the stage name Day Costello.
The album opens with the stonking Welcome To The Working Week, the dreamy, angelic backing vocal laden opening is ripped apart with Costello's signature jangly, punky and hopelessly melodic sound. Costello's lyrics on this number are very realist as you can probably imagine from the title and Costello speaks from experiences as he was working 9 to 5 during the writing and recording of the album, famously Costello called in sick in order to rehearse and record the album.
Alison was the next song to catch my ear. Alot of people will have heard this song without really knowing who Costello is. It's a ballad with Costello telling the story of meeting a woman that he was in love with year later to discover that the life she is living now is terrible, trapped in a loveless marriage, perhaps even an abusive one. The lyrics are obviously great but another thing that caught my attention was the guitar playing. Costello used backing band Clover in order to record the album which explains when I have watched live videos what appears to be entirely different versions of the songs, often footage is rare.
(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes is a great song another of Costello's classics, more of a poppy, slightly folky number than anything. The one thing that perplexes me is to what the lyrics to this song refers. The last few lines make me wonder whether it refers to trading his red shoes for death, 'I won't get any older now the angels wanna wear my red shoes'. But I think without asking the man itslef its impossible to tell... Good song nonetheless.
I had loved the last song Watching the Detectives long before I had bought this album. Costello's ability to flit between the genres throughout the album is incredible. We've had pop, punk, folk and ballad and now... ska. Reggae rhythms and spooky synth all add to make this song dramatic as it is catchy. Lyrics are once again top notch, for a man of the tender age of 22 Costello was very sharp with words. The lyrics seem to imply a woman who watches cop shows to be stalked by a heartless man who breaks into her house and murders her in a manner that wouldn't be alien to a murder in a detective show hence the line 'It's just like watching the detectives'. Whatever its about its creepy lyrics contrast brilliantly with the upbeat ska tune.
My Aim Is True is a fantastic album which has given me an entirely different perspective of Costello and listening to subsequent albums has shown me that Costello is rather an amorphous gentleman who can put on many guises and still manage to be fantastic whichever he is wearing. A top notch album which truly will stand the test of time, for me at least.
Elvis Costello from the top! Blimey can this record really be over 30 years old! Well, a quick primer in why this LP is so great.
In true punk fashion Costello used American country-rock band Clover (at the time led by Huey Lewis, though he's not present here), as his backing musicians, on this, his striking debut album. Costello also toned down his pre-punk singer-songwriter shtick in order to deliver a clutch of bitterly intelligent, new wave pop songs derived from a mixture of genres from the 50's (dig the Buddy Holly specs appeal of the cover) to the 70's.
The quick turnaround and shoestring budget of Stiff Records really helped make the album, it is taut and lean because it needed to be. There is nothing to obscure Elvis observations or lyrical barbs and no room for expensive and redundant reworks or overdubs, apart from Steve Nieve's essential piano and organ on Watching the Detectives. All the tracks here are great, either instant favourites or slow growers with no filler and provide a great starting point to follow Costello and see him grow both as a writer and also explorer of studio techniques and musical styles.
Over the years each CD reissue of this great debut has got larger and more bloated with outtakes and extras than the last. Maybe you only need the original, perhaps you prefer the almost boxed set, admittedly the liner notes in the Rhino edition are ace and you can always be judicious with the program button.
Tattooed knuckles. You know, the beefy, dirty ones normally sported by the leader of the local chapter of the Hell's Angels, the one hand bearing the legend LOVE and the other, the opposite extreme, HATE. If everyone had to announce their world view and personal obsessions in this way, then Elvis Costello would have three large and misshapen fists - one stating REVENGE, one daubed with BITTERNESS and the third, at the same time the most normal but also the most ugly and twisted, carrying the legend GUILT. Alternatively, he could be the subject of the old adage about a particularly well balanced individual - the one with enormous, unwieldy chips on each shoulder. Either way, the finest singer songwriter to come out of the whole scene of 1976-77 is an amazing and fiery talent, combining clipped control with awesome passion. That particular period in time was a wonder to behold. Ever since the hippies lost their way following Woodstock in 1969, rock had gone down a single minded, distorted road on route to a vast, bloated complacency that resulted in worship of rock and instrumental virtuoso solos as art forms and ends in themselves. The boggy pudding of rock and roll was a despicable beast to observe and the emergence of the punk rock explosion came as a much needed laxative evacuating the bowels of a sad and jaded patient. That's a very romantic and idealistic way of looking at things and the reality of history has been rewritten and reshaped out of all recognition by the likes of Malcolm McLaren. However, there is a massive grain of truth at the root of this legend and whatever your view of the time, rock was a great deal healthier after all previous conceptions of what was acceptable were effectively blown out of the water. It cleared the decks for people like Ian Dury and Costello to take centre stage and redefine the new poetry. Costello in particular was a classic singer and writer with al
l the tricks of the trade at his disposal, but at the same time refashioning them with his own very mutated version of the beauty of life. He simply burned with primeval energy and rage in his live shows, where he was truly in his element, confronting both his neuroses and the spitting, brawling masses with a fretboard, a clenched fist and gritted teeth. Christened Declan McManus and born in London in the summer of 1954, Costello had early exposure to the vagaries of showbusiness via his father, Ross McManus, who was a singer with the Joe Loss band. His parents divorced, and Costello moved with his mother to Liverpool, adopting his mother's maiden name of Costello. He had a few gigs with local bands, but by the mid 70's as the new wave of angry young men were about to emerge, Costello had moved back to London. He worked by day and at night played with pub rockers Flip City or solo on the folk circuit as D P Costello. It might have been a massive world away from his later chosen genre, but the experience in the clubs enabled him to rapidly develop his own individual style and write a daunting catalogue of songs. He pulled all sorts of strokes in an attempt to secure a record deal, going as far as busking the various record companies, but achieved little via that route, until his path crossed with that of the embryonic Stiff Records and its founder Jake Riviera in the early part of 1977. Stiff were steadfastly independent and disrespectful - the logo bore the legend "If it ain't Stiff, it ain't worth a f***." Riviera rechristened Costello as Elvis and put him in the studios that summer with Nick Lowe, the old rocker who had been rapidly elevated to the role of Stiff's resident producer, also working with the Damned on their debut waxing. Country rockers Clover, hailing from America’s West Coast but now based in London, were appointed his musical backers in chief on th
e resulting debut album, 'My Aim Is True'. The young Huey Lewis was Clover’s vocalist, but didn’t feature on the album. The backing provided by Clover and the almost bland arrangements copped a fair amount of negative feedback both when the album was produced, but also with the benefit of historical perspective. However, to my mind they may not have generated the intensity and passion mastered by the Attractions in the years that followed, but they didn't get in the way of Costello, his songs or the delivery. It's a pretty moot point as to whether the later unit would have made this an even better album, but what is unquestionable is that when Costello performed these songs live they took on a fearsome life of their own. In particular, 'I'm Not Angry' assumed a frantically manic life of its own which the album version only hinted at. However, if that passion had been poured all over the debut album, it may have paradoxically hidden the craft and true underlying bile in Costello's work. The flat roll and rhythms delivered by the faceless musicians of Clover allowed the strength of the songs and Costello's raw anger to shine through as the clear, unambiguous central focus of the work. By way of introducing the album, I'd just note that I love the work of Elvis Costello in his early days, the first two albums and the clutch of brilliant singles around that time. In later years he became a blander, more pop orientated performer, issuing the odd classic like the amazing 'Pills And Soap', but largely just one of a horde of good performers who sustained the spirit of punk after the initial fury had died down. Sure, he was good, even great, but he wasn't a genuine diamond in the way that he was when he first emerged. I'd also like to point out that it's the original vinyl issue I'm talking about, not any reissue or CD, so sorry that I don
9;t discuss any of the additional tracks you get in these formats. All told, 'My Aim Is True' screams absolute classic throughout, with its Sixties feel and touch. For a debutant, Costello is strangely assured and knowing, poking holes gleefully in the fabric and falsehoods of modern day life, at times very vulnerable, but on the whole spiteful and scathing. The cover shots set that sort of mood straight away, portraying Costello as part deformed gargoyle, part school swot, part Beatle copyist, and part knowing that it's all a barbed and unpleasant hoax designed to gain a vicious revenge on those who have wronged him in relationships. I always think album reviews are incomplete without a track by track rundown, even though it smacks of being an anorakish completeist, so I’m going to do the necessary. I’ve also included details of some of the most pertinent and distinctive lyrics by way of highlighting Costello’s way with words and his overriding preoccupation with revenge and guilt. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Welcome To The Working Week ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ It sounds very 60's Americana in style with all those sweet "aah aah" harmonies in the background and cracks on at a snappy little pace. “Now that your picture's in the paper being rhythmically admired and you can have anyone that you have ever desired, all you gotta tell me now is why, why, why, why. Welcome to the workin' week. Oh I know it don't thrill you, I hope it don't kill you. Welcome to the workin' week. You gotta do it till you're through it so you better get to it. All of your family had to kill to survive, and they're still waitin' for their big day to arrive. But if they knew how I felt they'd bury me alive.” ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Miracle Man ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "You never asked me what I wanted, you only asked me why, I never knew so much trouble rested on my reply." After that opening line, Costello goes for the jugular big time in his misogynistic put down of the female gender, and he's obviously spoiling for a fight: "Why do you have to say there is always someone who can do it better than I can, don't you know that I know walking on water won't make me a miracle man." Mr Bug Eyed loser in the bedroom stakes was often accused of spiteful hatred of women in his early days, but it feels more like a parody of weak men and strained relationships to me. The lyrics are splendid here despite the distraction of the drummer's obsession with a naff and very tinny hi hat. “I could say it was the nights when I was lonely and you were the only one who'd come. I could tell you that I like your sensitivity, when you know it's the way that you walk. … Baby's gotta have the things she wants. You know she's gotta have the things she loves. She's got a ten-inch bamboo cigarette holder and her black patent leather gloves. And I'm doing everything just tryin' to please her, even crawling around on all fours." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ No Dancing ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ A slower number here and moodier in feel, but again it's all about broken down relationships and the strained end of a love affair and again it's Elvis the poet with some outstanding language. It's the story of the guy putting his foot down in the vain belief that he's still in control when nothing could be further from the truth. “Now he's telling her Every little thing he's done Once he glanced at the jackets of some paperbacks Now he's read every one He's such a drag He's not insane It's just that everybody Has to feel his pain
There's gonna be no dancing when they get home He's getting down on his knees He finds that the girl is not so easy to please Oh oh, after all, his nights were just a paper striptease She's caught it like some disease If he says no dancing There's gonna be no dancing.” ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Blame It On Cain ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The first all out classic track on the album, with Costello delivering the lyric over a rolling, loose limbed, loping backing track which conveys nothing as much as weekend pop/dance band performing for the aunties and uncles. However, the music is particularly enticing and attractive, combining leadfootedly with the lyrical lines and featuring Mr Drummie's standard tinny hi hat. “Once upon a time, I had a little money. Government burglars took it long before I could mail it to you. Still, you are the only one. Now I can't let it slip away. So if the man with the ticker tape, he tries to take it, well this is what I'm gonna say. Blame it on Cain. Don't blame it on me. Oh, oh, it's nobody's fault, but we need somebody to burn. Well if I was a saint with a silver cup and the money got low we could always heat it up or trade it in.” ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Alison ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ This is the masterpiece stand out track of the entire set, with Costello at his most sincere, heartfelt and emotional and here the theme is love unrequited and he delivers a haunting plaintive vocal which ends with the fade out refrain and promise that he knows what is really going on: "My aim is true". “Oh it's so funny to be seeing you after so long, girl. And with the way you look I understand that you were not impressed. But I heard you let that little friend of mine take off your party dress. I'm not going to get to
o sentimental like those other sticky valentines, 'cause I don't know if you've been loving somebody. I only know it isn't mine …Well I see you've got a husband now. Did he leave your pretty fingers lying in the wedding cake? You used to hold him right in your hand. I'll bet he took all he could take. Sometimes I wish that I could stop you from talking when I hear the silly things that you say. I think somebody better put out the big light, cause I can't stand to see you this way. Alison, I know this world is killing you. Oh, Alison, my aim is true. My aim is true.” I don’t know if it’s based on a real life relationship which went sour, but you really sense the hurt and regret in his vocals, and the sadness at what has befallen his former lover. I’m not sure why this song is so moving, but it is and it simply aches with feeling over understated drums, clicked snare and meandering lead guitar lines. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Sneaky Feelings ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ It's another very trite musical backing and bland 'ooh ooh's, but it works despite all of that. You can almost feel the tension in the studio between this naff, blandest of bland backing groups and the pent up emotion and frustration of the angriest man alive. It's precisely because of this naive combination of diametrically opposed contributions and world views that the album and songs are so gripping. “Why don't we call it a day, and we can both confess. You can force me to use a little tenderness. White lies, alibis, anything but say that it's true. Now we could sit like lovers, staring in each other's eyes, but the magic of the moment might become too much for you. Sneaky feelings, sneaky feelings, you can't let those kind of feeling show.” ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ (The Angels Wanna Wear
My) Red Shoes ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ It's Mr Pop on the song with which he made his Top of the Pops debut and it's the perfect representation of the guy depicted on the cover - apparently a particularly weedy version of Buddy Holly, but one with something evil gnawing away inside. It's singsong pop pap alright but still has the odd sly little couplet highlighting it with its barbed humour. “I was watching while you're dancing away. Our love got fractured in the echo and sway. How come everybody wants to be your friend? You know that it still hurts me just to say it. Oh, I know that she's disgusted (oh why's that) Cause she's feeling so abused. (oh that's too bad) She gets tired of the lust, (oh I'm so sad) but it's so hard to refuse. How can you say that I'm too old, when the angels have stolen my red shoes. Oh, I said "I'm so happy, I could die." She said "Drop dead," then left with another guy. That's what you get if you go chasing after vengeance.” ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Less Than Zero ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ “Calling Mister Oswald with the swastika tattoo, There is a vacancy waiting in the English who’s who, carving "v" for vandal on the guilty boy's head. When he's had enough of that maybe you'll take him to bed to teach him he's alive before he wishes he was dead. Turn up the TV. No one listening will suspect, even your mother won't detect it, so your father won't know. they think that I've got no respect but everything means less than zero… Oswald and his sister are doing it again. They've got the finest home movies that you have ever seen. They've got a thousand variations: every service with a smile. They're gonna take a little break, and they'll be back after a while. well I hear that South Americ
a is coming into style.” The reference to Mr Oswald got mistakenly interpreted in the American press as being about Lee Harvey Oswald, the guy who was convicted of the shooting of John F Kennedy. It actually refers to Sir Oswald Mosley, an upper class, black shirted British Fascist leader in the Thirties, and Costello’s target here is very much the fascist leanings exhibited all too readily at the time. The vocals here are outstanding and the timing and pauses are just right over musical backing that for once gets it just about right in setting a wonderful Sixties feel. Has "Hey, Ray, Hey," ever sounded so good? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Mystery Dance ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ A breakneck rock and roll number with lyrics delivered like a streaming rushed jumble of bile in acapella stylee apart from the chorus. Once again sex rears its ugly head as Clover deliver the naffest little guitar solo you could ever imagine, before Costello, guitar and bass duel to the finish. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Pay It Back ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Clink-a clink, goes the guitar, then widdly widdly in deadpan support of Costello. You can see those naff Americans nodding their heads and tapping their feet while Elvis is off in the corner threatening his retribution. “I wouldn't say that I was raised on romance. Let's not get stuck in the past. I love you more than everything in the world. I don't expect that will last. They told me everything was guaranteed. Somebody somewhere must've lied to me.” ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ I'm Not Angry ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The live tour de force and Elvis' early theme song with brooding driving music building to climactic peaks under the breathy "ANGRY" support vox. G
uitar here is for once supportive of the man's vision rather than a twee distraction. It's intense and spiked with venom and another massive highlight as the vicious counterpoint to the heartfelt ballad 'Alison' in the same fifth track position on the second side of the vinyl offering. I love vinyl, don't you, it feels so much less clinical. “You're upstairs with the boyfriend while I'm left here to listen. I hear you calling his name, I hear the stutter of ignition. I could hear you whispering as I crept by your door. So you found some other joker who could please you more. I'm not angry, I'm not angry anymore. Ooh, I know what you're doin'. I know where you've been. I know where, but I don't care, 'cause there's no such thing as an original sin. I've got this camera click, click, clickin' in my head. I got you talking with your hands, got you smiling with your legs.” ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Waiting For The End Of The World ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ At last drums and guitar give us halfway decent musical panoramas to match Costello's battering drive on stream of consciousness lyrics a la Dylan in the Sixties. Lovely drum arrangement, even if it is unspeakably ham fisted and sixth form in its intentions. “We got to the station about twenty minutes later. The legendary hitchhiker says that he knows where it's at. Now he'd like to go to Spain or somewhere like that, with his two-tone Bible and his funny cigarettes, his suntan lotion and his castanets. He was waiting for the end of the world … And then the bride, the groom, the congregation and the priest all got onto the train when we were three stations east, yeah. Hiding from a scandal in the national press, they had been trying to get married since they stole the wedding dress.” It’s very much a sign of
f song, built on some quick fire rhyming and lyrical games, with Costello in his observational commentator role. Not a particularly meaningful tale, but delivered expertly over a meandering rhythm. A fitting end to a delightful album. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ It should be stressed that this album is much much more than just the sum of the individual parts. Costello exploded into the public consciousness with an assured, individualistic and spiteful set of nagging songs. The subsequent release of ‘Watching The Detectives’ presented the more powerful sound perfected by the Attractions, though only Steve Nieve was there of the eventual band and the Rumour’s rhythm section provided the classic skank reggae sound of one of the best singles of 1977. ‘My Aim Is True’ is very much a showcase for the songs of Costello and a statement of intent. Later works revealed the finished article, but the raw power and craft of Elvis shone through clearly in his debut offering which astonished the waiting dogs of the music press. I love this record.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Welcome To The Working Week
2 Miracle Man
3 No Dancing
4 Blame It On Cain
6 Sneaky Feelings
7 Red Shoes (The Angels Wanna Wear My)
8 Less Than Zero
9 Mystery Dance
10 Pay It Back
11 I'm Not Angry
12 Waiting For The End Of The World
13 Watching The Detectives
14 No Action
15 Living In Paradise
16 Radio Sweetheart
17 Stranger In The House
18 I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself
19 Less Than Zero
20 Imagination Is A Powerful Deceiver
21 Mystery Dance
22 Cheap Reward
23 Jump Up
24 Wave A White Flag
25 Blame It On Cain
26 Poison Mood
Disc #2 Tracklisting
1 No Action
2 Living In Paradise
3 Radio Sweetheart
4 Stranger In The House
5 I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself
6 Less Than Zero
7 Imagination Is A Powerful Deceiver
8 Mystery Dance
9 Cheap Reward
10 Jump Up
11 Wave A White Flag
12 Blame It On Cain
13 Poison Mood