From the moment in 1977 when I nervously took a Rolling Stone magazine album reviewer’s advice and purchased Elvis Costello’s debut album, My Aim Is True, I was hooked on the man’s music. So, for 40 years, I have been quietly purchasing his music on vinyl and CD, but I have never seen the man perform in concert. But, all of that will change this weekend, when I get an early Father’s Day gift to go see him perform with his band The Imposters. I am so psyched! That means I will have seen eight of my ten favorite artists, with little hope of ever seeing Talking Heads reunite or The Clash getting back together since the incomparable leader Joe Strummer passed away over a decade ago.
From the moment I put the needle of my turntable in the grooves of that initial Elvis album, I was hooked on the man’s otherworldly songwriting ability. Not only was his music impeccable, but the lyrical wordplay was at a level that not even the great John Lennon could touch. Elvis was truly King, but not that old Elvis from the 50s. No, I had my Elvis, and his last name was Costello. But when I heard his lyrics from the should-have-been-a-hit “(Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes” around 13 seconds into the song, I new I was hooked: “I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused”. And, I have tried to live by that phrase in many controversial areas of life, such as politics. It has been a sign of maturation for me to not get suckered into a pointless debate during which all sense of logic and facts are ignored.
Since I am finally going to see Elvis Costello perform, here is a list of My 20 Favorite Elvis Costello songs.
20. “”I Hope You’re Happy Now” (Blood & Chocolate 1986).
19. “I Want You” (Blood & Chocolate 1986).
18. “The Other Side of Summer” (Mighty like a Rose 1991).
17. “Indoor Fireworks” (King of America 1986). This song was attributed to The Costello Show featuring his Confederates
16. “Beyond Belief” (Imperial Bedroom 1982).
15. “Brilliant Mistake” (King of America 1986). Attributed to The Costello Show with his Confederates
14. “Good Year for the Roses” (Almost Blue 1981). I HATED country music until this album introduced me to Gram Parsons, George Jones and others. However, the album did NOT help me fit in at Gilley’s Bar in Houston when a group of us head down to Houston for Spring Break our freshman year in college.
13. “The Only Flame in Town” (Goodbye Cruel World 1984). Not even a duet with the great Daryl Hall could help Elvis push his single into the Top 30, let alone the Top 10.
12. “Tokyo Storm Warning” (Blood & Chocolate 1986).
11. “I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down” (Get Happy! 1980). I loved the lyrics of this power pop ditty that Elvis dug up as a cover song in 1980.
10. “Ship Building” (Punch the Clock 1983). This album was one of Elvis’ most successful. And, why not? He wrote one of his first political classics, as this song was protesting the UK’s military actions down in the Balkan Islands.
9. “God Give Me Strength” (Painted by Memory 1998). This song was written and performed with Burt Bacharach. And, Bacharach’s presence sands off the rough edges of Costello’s natural ballad vocals.
8. “Pump It Up” (This Years Model 1978). This song now heard in sports areas throughout the world comes from his sophomore album.
7. “Veronica” (Spike 1989). From the songwriting session that Elvis did with Sir Paul McCartney in the late 1980s. Some of the songs appeared on this Elvis album, while others appeared on McCartney’s Flowers in the Dirt album from 1989. McCartney just released a recently remastered version of his album that includes a second disc of the demos that he and Elvis made. Their are many gems on that disc.
6. “Pills & Soap” (Punch the Clock 1983). This timeless song should be covered by current crooners, like Bublé.
5. “Radio Radio” (This Years Model 1978). This semi-controversial song about the corrupt business of radio got Elvis banned from Saturday Night Live when he played it against Lorne Michaels’ wishes. That ban was lift when Elvis played SNL in 1989 and afterwards.
4. “Everyday I Write the Book” (Punch the Clock 1983). This little R&B ballad was Costello’s biggest US hit when it peaked at #20 during the Summer of 1983. Elvis sure knows how to write about relationships.
3. “Alison” (My Aim Is True 1977). How does such a well-written song end up on a musician’s debut album? Because, Costello is that great of a song writer, that’s how! He is a master of the unrequited love song.
2. “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding” (Armed Forces 1979). Elvis took Nick Lowe’s ditty and beefed it up with power pop urgency and punk attitude to give Generation X their first protest song. Costello made this song his own.
1. “(Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes” (My Aim Is True 1977). To be honest, any of the Top 5 could have ended up #1 based on my mood. Since, today, I am attempting to be mature, I am going with this one with the power pop musical base coupled with lyrics describe our hero trying to take the high road around the passionately misinformed surrounding him.
Okay, sue me! I don’t have anything representing the man from the 21st century. I am sorry. He HAS produced some outstanding albums during the new century, but they are not up to the level of the music he produced during the last quarter-century of the previous century. And that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!