Saturday, June 23, 2012

Elvis Costello

Though born as he was, at St. Mary's Hospital in London, Declan Patrick McManus,if you can't tell by the name, is as Irish as can be. The son of musician/bandleader Ross McManus and his wife Lillian ,he first drew breath on August 25,1954 to later become one of rock's most prolific and influentual individuals as a critical ,commercial and social icon. From his first recorded performance as background vocalist on a lemonade commercial gig written and sung by his father, he went on to follow the usual path of musical aspirations, forming a band in high school called Flip City performing pub rock from 1974 to 1976. Around this time he adopted the stage name D.P. Costello as a tribute to his father who worked under the name Day Costello. While supporting himself on a number of office jobs (most notably Elizabeth Arden Cosmetics, the "vanity factory" he later referred to in his song "I'm Not Angry"), he wrote songs and made demo tapes actively seeking a solo record deal. This finally paid off when he signed with Stiff Records. His manager at Stiff, Jake Rivera suggested a change in stage name to Elvis Costello, combining of course Elvis Presley's first name with his father's stage surname. In march of 1977 Stiff released his first single, "Less Than Zero" and two months later his debut LP, My Aim Is True. A moderate success, it went to  #14 in the U.K. and later top 40 in the U.S. The album's cover was graced with a photo of Costello in what would become his trademark oversized eyeglasses, giving him a rather Buddy Holly-ish look. On this album the stand-out track ,in my humble opinion was the hauntingly beautiful ballad "Alison"

Costello left Stiff Records and signed with Columbia late in 1977. His final single for Stiff was the utterly wicked "Watching The Detectives".
After this album Costello's own assembled band performed. Where Less Than Zero and My Aim Is True featured the American band Clover, the band from that point on would be Costello, keyboardist Steve Nieve, bassist Bruce Thomas and drummer Pete Thomas (no relation). The first album with this band, dubbed The Attactions was the harder rocking This Year's Model . It was a bigger hit, going to #4 in the U.K. and to #30 in the U.S. this was followed by Armed Forces, more ambitious and diverse, did even better going to #2 in the U.K. and cracking the U.S. top 10.  Though none of the album's singles charted in the U.S., they had a #2 U.K. single with the track "Oliver's Army". The U.S. releases of Armed Forces contained the Nick Lowe - penned "What's So Funny('Bout Peace,Love And Understanding)" which did not appear on the U.K. version.

Costelo's reputation in the U.S. took a hit in March of 1979 when he became involved in a drunken argument he and manager Jake Rivera had with Stephen Stills and members of his entourage which included Bonnie Bramlett. Although all parties were quite intoxicated and negative comments flowed both ways about American and British musicians, Costello's unfortunate and racially insensitive comments about James Brown and Ray Charles were the only comments to make the papers. He quickly called a press conference to apologize for his remarks, being involved in the Rock Against Racism campaign before and after the incident. Ray Charles himself exhibited a great deal forgiveness by stating "drunken talk isn't meant to be printed in the paper" Costello's actions throughout his career showed time and again that he was hardly a racist.

1980's Get Happy was Costello's first and perhaps best executed foray into genres other than the pub-rock he'd become known for, along with 1986's King Of America.
The single "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" was an old Sam And Dave song sped up and nicely rendered. Trust was released in 1981 amid opeaking tensions within the band, mostly with Bruce and Pete Thomas. "From A Whisper To A Scream", a duet with Squeeze's Glen Tilbrook was the first Costello single to completely fail to chart at all. Anothe single, "Clubland", a quality song like most of the album's tracks somehow only barely scraped the lower chart positions.

Next to come was Almost Blue, a collection of country and western covers of the type Costello was so fond of growing up. A hit single was produced in his rendition of George Jones' "Good Year For The Roses" which went to #6 in the U.K. 1982's Imperial Bedroom, while one of Costello's most critically acclaimed efforts, produced no hits. It was 1983's Punch The Clock that would contain an international hit single, "Every Day I Write The Book", Costello's first top 40 hit in the U.S. This LP featured the female backup vocal duo Afrodiziak and the four piece horn section TKO along with the Attractions.

As tensions between Costello and Bruce Thomas reached the boiling point, Costello announced his retirement and the break-up of the band just before the 1984 release of the album Goodbye,Cruel World, of which Costello said was gotten "as wrong as you can in terms of execution". The album was poorly received upon its initial release.
Costello's retirement was short-lived with 1985 finding him appearing at the British Live Aid Concert as a solo artist.

Costello's exploration into different genres continued throughout the rest of his career with collaborations such as with The Brodsky Quartet and classical music on 1993's The Juliet Letters, a collaboration with Burt Bacharach, Painted From Memory, in 1998, and with his current wife Diana Krall on her album The Girl In The Other Room in 2003. Also of note is his long-standing writing partnership with Paul McCartney which produced a number of songs appearing on the albums of both artists.
He did, however regularly return to the pub-rock new wave style he was best known for as evidenced in albums such as Blood And Chocolate and Momofuku, the latter in which the band was billed as Elvis Costello And The Imposters, essentially The Attractions with Bruce Thomas replaced by ex- Cracker bassist Davey Faragher.

In addition to Costello's work with Rock Against Racism, he sits on the board of directors of The Jazz Foundation Of America, an organization that gives aid to elderly jazz and blues musicians, including survivors of Hurricane Katrina. He performs regularly at the organization's annual fund raiser A Great Night In Harlem.
Possibly of special interest to my grandson, Costello has appeared with one of his favorite bands, Green Day...a worthy team-up in my humble opinion.

Elvis Costello has been the recipient of several awards including a Grammy and multiple Brit Award nominations. He was inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2003. To this day he is a hugely influential figure and consummate maker of music.

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