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Elvis Costello the punk? When Elvis Costello's first record was released in 1977, his bristling cynicism and anger linked him with the punk and new wave explosion. A cursory listen to My Aim Is True proves that the main connection that Elvis Costello had with the punks was his unbridled passion. Elvis Costello tore through rock's back pages taking whatever he wanted, as well borrowing from country, Tin Pan Alley pop, reggae, and many other musical genres. Over his career, that musical eclecticism has distinguished Elvis Costello's records as much as his fiercely literate lyrics. Because Elvis Costello supports his lyrics with his richly diverse music, Elvis Costello is one of the most innovative, influential and best songwriters since Bob Dylan.
Elvis Costello (born Declan McManus) worked as a computer programmer during the early '70s, performing under the name D.P. Costello in various folk clubs. In 1976, Elvis Costello became the leader of country-rock group Flip City. During this time, Elvis Costello recorded several demo tapes of his original material with the intention of landing a record contract. A copy of these tapes made its way to Jake Riviera, one of the heads of the fledgling independent record label Stiff. Riviera signed Elvis Costello to Stiff as a solo artist in 1977; the singer/songwriter adopted the name Elvis Costello at this time, taking his first name from Elvis Presley and his last name from his mother's maiden name.
Elvis Costello began recording his debut album with the American band Clover providing support, with former Brinsley Schwarz bassist Nick Lowe producing,. "Less Than Zero," the first single released from these sessions, appeared in April of 1977. The single failed to chart, as did its follow-up, "Alison," which was released the following month. By the summer of 1977, Elvis Costello's permanent backing band had been assembled. Featuring bassist Bruce Thomas, keyboardist Steve Nieve, and drummer Pete Thomas (no relation to Bruce), the group was named the Attractions; they made their live debut in July of 1977.
Elvis Costello's debut album, My Aim is True, was released in the summer of 1977 to positive reviews; the album climbed to number 14 on the British charts but it wasn't released on his American label, Columbia Records, until later in the year. Along with Nick Lowe, Ian Dury, and Wreckless Eric, Elvis Costello participated in the Stiffs Live package tour in the fall. At the end of the year, Jake Riviera split from Stiff Records to form Radar Records, taking Elvis Costello and Lowe with him. Costello's last single for Stiff, the reggae-inflected "Watching the Detectives," became Elvis Costello first hit, climbing to number 15 at the end of the year.
Elvis Costello's first album recorded with the Attractions, This Year's Model, was released in the spring of 1978. A rawer, harder-rocking record than My Aim Is True, This Year's Model was also a bigger hit, reaching number four in Britain and number 30 In America. Released the following year, Armed Forces was a more ambitious and musically diverse album than either of Elvis Costello previous records. It was another hit, reaching number two in the U.K. and cracking the Top Ten in the U.S. "Oliver's Army," the first single from the album, also peaked at number two in Britain; none of the singles from Armed Forces charted in America. In the summer of 1979, he produced the self-titled debut album by the Specials, the leaders of the ska-revival movement.
Elvis Costello, in February of 1980, released the soul-influenced Get Happy!!; it was the first record on Riviera's new record label, F-Beat. Get Happy!! was another hit, peaking at number two in Britain and number 11 in America. Later that year, two collections of B-sides, singles, and outtakes called Taking Liberties was released in America; in Britain, a similar album called Ten Bloody Mary's and Ten How's Your Fathers appeared as a cassette-only release, complete with different tracks than the American version.
Elvis Costello and the Attractions released Trust in early 1981; it was his fifth album in a row produced by Nick Lowe. Trust debuted at number nine in the British charts and worked its way into the Top 30 in the U.S. During the spring of 1981, Elvis Costello and the Attractions began recording an album of country covers with famed Nashville producer Billy Sherrill, who recorded hit records for George Jones and Charlie Rich, among others. The resulting album, Almost Blue, was released at the end of the year to mixed reviews, although the single "A Good Year for the Roses" was a British Top Ten hit.
Elvis Costello's next album, Imperial Bedroom (1982), was an ambitious set of lushly arranged pop produced by Geoff Emerick, who engineered several of the Beatles' most acclaimed albums. Imperial Bedroom received some of his best reviews, yet it failed to yield a Top 40 hit in either England or America; the album did debut at number six in the U.K. For 1983's Punch the Clock, Costello worked with Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, who were responsible for several of the biggest British hits in the early '80s. The collaboration proved commercially successful, as the album peaked at number three in the U.K. (number 24 in the U.S.) and the single "Everyday I Write the Book" cracked the Top 40 in both Britain and America. Costello tried to replicate the success of Punch the Clock with Elvis Costello's next record, 1984's Goodbye Cruel World, but the album was a commercial and critical failure.
After the release of Goodbye Cruel World, Elvis Costello embarked on his first solo tour in the summer of 1984. Costello was relatively inactive during 1985, releasing only one new single ("The People's Limousine," a collaboration with singer/songwriter T-Bone Burnett released under the name the Coward Brothers) and producing Rum, Sodomy and the Lash, the second album by the punk-folk band the Pogues. Both projects were indications that he was moving toward a stripped-down, folky approach and 1986's King of America confirmed that suspicion. Recorded without the Attractions and released under the name the Costello Show, King of America was essentially a country/folk album and it received the best reviews of any album Elvis Costello had recorded since Imperial Bedroom. It was followed at the end of the year by the edgy Blood and Chocolate, a reunion with the Attractions and producer Nick Lowe. Costello would not record another album with the Attractions until 1994.
During 1987, Elvis Costello negotiated a new worldwide record contract with Warner Brothers Records and began a songwriting collaboration with Paul McCartney. Two years later, he released Spike, the most musically diverse collection he had ever recorded. Spike featured the first appearance of songs written by Costello and McCartney, including the single "Veronica." "Veronica" became his biggest American hit, peaking at number 19. Two years later, he released Mighty Like a Rose, which echoed Spike in its diversity, yet it was a darker, more challenging record. In 1993, Elvis Costello collaborated with the Brodsky Quartet on The Juliet Letters, a song cycle that was the songwriter's first attempt at classical music; he also wrote an entire album for former Transvision Vamp singer Wendy James called Now Ain't the Time for Your Tears. That same year, Elvis Costello licensed the rights to his pre-1987 catalog (My Aim Is True to Blood and Chocolate) to Rykodisc in America.
Elvis Costello re-united with the Attractions to record the majority of 1994's Brutal Youth, the most straightforward and pop-oriented album he had recorded since Goodbye Cruel World. The Attractions backed Elvis Costello on a worldwide tour in 1994 and played concerts with him throughout 1995. In 1995, he released his long-shelved collection of covers, Kojak Variety. In the spring of 1996, Elvis Costello released All This Useless Beauty, which featured a number of original songs he had given to other artists, but never recorded himself.
In 1998, Elvis Costello signed a unique multi-label contract with Polygram Records, sold by its parent company the same year to become part of the Universal Music Group, whereby he would release new work on what he deemed the suitable imprimatur within the family of labels. His first new release as part of this contract involved a collaboration with famed sixties pop songwriter Burt Bacharach. Their work had commenced earlier, in 1996, on a song called "God Give Me Strength" for the movie Grace of My Heart. This led the pair to write and record Painted From Memory, released under his new contract in 1998, on the Mercury Records label.
In 1999, Elvis Costello contributed a cover version of the 1974 song She, originally by Charles Aznavour and Herbert Kretzmer, for the soundtrack of the film Nothing Hill, with Trevor Jones producing.
Elvis Costello's version gained massive radio play and quickly became a fan favorite, still being constantly played live to this day.
Elvis Costello makes nice with SNL? For the 25th anniversary of Saturday Night Live, Costello was invited to the program, where he re-enacted his abrupt song-switch: This time, however, he interrupted the Beastie Boys' Sabotage, and they acted as his backing group for "Radio Radio."
In 2001, Elvis Costello was announced as the featured "artist in residence" at UCLA (although he ended up making fewer appearances than expected) and wrote the music for a new ballet. He produced and appeared on an album of songs for opera singer Anne Sofie von Otter, For The Stars. Appropriately enough, this album came out on Deutsche Grammophon.
Elvis Costello released another new album, When I Was Cruel, in 2002. Tthis time on Island Records, and toured with a new band, the Imposters (essentially the Attractions but with a different bass player, Davey Faragher, formerly of Cracker).
On February 23rd, 2003, Elvis Costello, along with Bruce Springsteen, Steve Van Zandt, and Dave Grohl performed a version of The Clash's "London Calling" at the 45th Grammy Awards ceremony, in honor of legendary Clash front man Joe Strummer, who had died in December of the previous year.
Elvis Costello the Immortal. In March 2003, Elvis Costello & The Attractions were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In May, his engagement to Canadian jazz singer and pianist Diana Krall was announced. September saw the release of North, an album of piano-based ballads concerning the breakdown of his former marriage, and his falling in love with Krall. In December, Costello and Krall married at the London estate of Sir Elton John. They are expecting a child in December 2006. This will be the second child for Costello and first for Krall.
Elvis Costello co-wrote many songs on Krall's 2004 CD, The Girl in the Other Room, the first of hers to feature several original compositions. They live mainly in New York City.
In July 2004, Elvis Costello's first full-scale orchestral work, Il Sogno, was performed in New York. The work, a ballet after Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, was commissioned by Italian dance troupe Aterballeto, and received critical acclaim from the classical music critics.
While composing it, Costello deliberately avoided listening to the previous interpretations by Mendelssohn and Britten in order to ensure his own originality. A range of musical moods and styles are used to represent the different elements of the cast - satirical pomp for the courtiers, jazz for the faeries. Performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, the recording was released on CD in September by Deutsche Grammophon.
Elvis Costello released another album that same month: The Delivery Man, recorded in Oxford, Mississippi, and released on Lost Highway Records. Mainly blues, country, and folk, The Delivery Man received early acclaim as one of Costello's best albums, and continues Costello's personal quest to release an album on each of Universal's record labels.
In July 2005, a CD recording of a collaboration with Marian McPartland on her show Piano Jazz was released. It featured Costello singing six jazz standards and two of his own songs, accompanied by Marian McPartland on piano.
In November 2005 Elvis Costello started recording a new album with Allen Toussaint and producer Joe Henry. The River in Reverse was released in the UK on the Verve label on 29 May 2006. Also released this year was a live recording of a concert with the Metropole Orkest at the North Sea Jazz Festival, entitled My Flame Burns Blue.
Elvis Costello Song List
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