July 22: Elvis Costello – My Aim Is True (1977)

elvis costello my aim is true

On My Aim Is True, Elvis’ raw energy comes through in a way that’s never completely recaptured on later records. While the songs range from mellow country twang to full-on, spitting assault, there’s a strange cohesiveness to the album simply by virtue of its rough, rushed feel. Although it’s a studio album, there’s a latent energy to Nick Lowe’s production that grants My Aim Is True all the immediacy of a live show.
~Matt LeMay (pitchfork.com)

Elvis Costello’s debut album brought home to me just how timid Little Criminals really is. Costello’s best songs are anything but timid, but they’re as intelligent as some of Newman’s finest, as endearingly elusive in their meanings, and funny in the same bitter, self-deprecating manner. They are also, like Newman’s signature songs, very weird.
~Greil Marcus (rollingstone.com)

.. it’s that his sensibility is borrowed from the pile-driving rock & roll and folksy introspection of pub rockers like Brinsley Schwarz, adding touches of cult singer/songwriters like Randy Newman and David Ackles. Then, there’s the infusion of pure nastiness and cynical humor, which is pure Costello. That blend of classicist sensibilities and cleverness make this collection of shiny roots rock a punk record — it informs his nervy performances and his prickly songs. Of all classic punk debuts, this remains perhaps the most idiosyncratic because it’s not cathartic in sound, only in spirit.
~Stephen Thomas Erlewine (alldylan.com)

Welcome to the working week
Oh, I know it don’t thrill you, I hope it don’t kill you
Welcome to the working week
You gotta do it till you’re through, so you better get to it
~Elvis Costello (Welcome to the working week)

Welcome to the working week

Wikipedia:

Released 22 July 1977 (UK)
December 1977 (US)
Recorded Pathway Studios, London, 1976–1977
Genre Pub rock, new wave, punk rock,power pop
Length 32:56
Label Stiff (UK)
Columbia (US)
Demon/Rykodisc (19 October 1993 Reissue)
Rhino (11 August 2001 Reissue)
Hip-O (2007 Reissue)
Producer Nick Lowe

My Aim Is True is the debut album by English singer-songwriter Elvis Costello.

The album was recorded at Pathway Studios in Holloway, London Borough of Islington, over the course of 1976 during late-night studio sessions, in a total of approximately twenty-four hours. It was the first of five consecutive Costello albums produced by Nick Lowe and cost £2000. The backing band was made up of members of Clover. They were uncredited on the original release due to contractual difficulties; some early publicity for the album identified the backing band as “The Shamrocks”.

  • In 1977 Rolling Stone magazine named the album one of the best of the year.
  • In 2003, the TV network VH1 named My Aim Is True the 80th greatest album of all time.
  • In 2003, the album was ranked number 168 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
  • In 2004, it was ranked 37 of the top 100 albums of the 1970s by Pitchfork which reported the album to be “held by many as the most impressive debut in pop music history.”
  • In 2007, the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

costello my aim is true back album

Alison

Oh it’s so funny to be seeing you after so long, girl.
And with the way you look I understand
that you are not impressed.
But I heard you let that little friend of mine
take off your party dress.
I’m not going to get too sentimental
like those other sticky valentines,
’cause I don’t know if you’ve been loving somebody.
I only know it isn’t mine.
Alison, I know this world is killing you.
Oh, Alison, my aim is true.

Costello stayed at his day job as the first two singles, “Less Than Zero” and “Alison”, were released without much success. Finally, the label decided to release the album in the summer of 1977, and he was asked to quit his job and become a professional musician. Stiff Records would match his office wages and gave him a record advance of £150, an amp, and a tape recorder. Three weeks after its release, Costello was on the cover of a music paper. He described this situation as being “an overnight success after seven years”.

elvis costello 1977

Track listing

All songs written by Elvis Costello.

Side one

  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” – 2:54
  6. “Sneaky Feelings” – 2:09

Side two

  1. “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes” – 2:47
  2. “Less Than Zero” – 3:15
  3. “Mystery Dance” – 1:38
  4. “Pay It Back” – 2:33
  5. “I’m Not Angry” – 2:57
  6. “Waiting for the End of the World” – 3:22
  • “Watching the Detectives”, released in the UK as a single in October 1977, was not on the original UK release of the album, but was added to the US release as the last track on side one.
  • The original UK Stiff and US Columbia LPs and US Columbia CD faded the track “Mystery Dance” at the end. When Demon issued the CD in the UK, the track had a cold ending, with reverb added. This same ending was used on the subsequent remastered Demon CD and US Rykodisc CD. The Rhino 2-CD set and both single-disc and 2CD editions of the Hip-O discs (all three sharing identical masterings) restore the original faded ending.

Less Than Zero

Turn up the TV. No one listening will suspect,
even your mother won’t detect it,
no your father won’t know.
they think that I’ve got no respect
but everything means less than zero.
Hey, ooh hey, hey, ooh hey.

“Less Than Zero” was a song I had written after seeing the despicable Oswald Mosley being interviewed on BBC television. The former leader of the British Union of Fascists seemed unrepentant about his poisonous actions of the 1930s. The song was more of a slandering fantasy than a reasoned argument.
~Elvis Costello (liner notes to the Rhino edition of the album)

On his first visit to the United States, Costello substantially rewrote the lyrics to refer to Lee Harvey Oswald. This was a reference to the common misconception among American fans that this was the “Mr. Oswald” referred to in the original lyrics. This version is usually referred to as the “Dallas version” and is available as a bonus track on the My Aim is True reissue, and a live version can be found on Live at the El Mocambo.

Less Than Zero (Original + Live Dallas Version)

Personnel

  • Elvis Costello – vocals, guitar, piano and drumsticks on “Mystery Dance”
  • John McFee – lead guitar, pedal steel guitar, backing vocals
  • Sean Hopper – piano, organ, backing vocals
  • Johnny Ciambotti – bass, backing vocals
  • Mickey Shine – drums
  • Stan Shaw – organ on “Less Than Zero”
  • Nick Lowe – backing vocals, piano, drumsticks and bass on “Mystery Dance”
  • Andrew Bodnar – bass on “Watching the Detectives”
  • Steve Goulding – drums on “Watching the Detectives”
  • Steve Nieve – organ and piano overdubs on “Watching the Detectives”

While every track on My Aim Is True is great, “Watching the Detectives” closes the album at its highest point. A reggae-flavored nod to film noir, the song rumbles with style and force. Elvis’ nerdy whine sounds wonderfully displaced amidst the heavy bass and syncopated drumming, and perfectly ties up the vague themes of love and murder running through the record.
~Matt LeMay (pitchfork.com)

Nice girls not one with a defect,
cellophane shrink-wrapped, so correct.
Red dogs under illegal legs.
She looks so good that he gets down and begs.

She is watching the detectives.
“ooh, he’s so cute!”
She is watching the detectives
when they shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot.
They beat him up until the teardrops start,
but he can’t be wounded ’cause he’s got no heart.

Watching the Detectives

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-Egil

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