(There's an alternate "diner" version I can't find anywhere online)
Here's my 1st "hot take" of this megathread: IMHO the best version of "45" is still the debut performance on The Tonight Show w/@jayleno, from 1999.
I can't find the video anywhere, so here is the audio (in 2 tweets)
(Jay accidentally mispronounces @SteveNieve as "Steve Nevy.")
(Hopefully it won't be too annoying that I'm posting partial clips of songs or occasionally splitting them into segments that fit twitter's 140-second video clips.)
Part 2 of the 1999 live version of "45":
In most cases, I won't be posting full songs anyway, or full videos-- just enough to get the point across so this isn't 45 days of tweeting about music with no examples. When possible, I will try to link to full videos on Vevo or Spotify or whatever is most legit.
The hope is that, if you like something you hear within this thread, you will be inclined to seek it out on LP, CD or streaming somewhere. Costello's body of work was daunting when I started and has doubled since then, but it is a fun musical rabbit hole to fall down into.
And while I'm getting started, I should go ahead and apologize for all the many mistakes I am likely to make while tweeting this thread for the next 45 days. This is just something I'm doing for fun & I just know I'm gonna get stuff wrong. #AccidentsWillHappen
Before I go allllllll the way back to the beginning, I'll answer a question that people sometimes ask, which is if I can recommend a point of entry for Costello, whose discography now spans 4 decades and can be intimidating to approach...
First of all, my point of entry was his 1993 collaboration with The Brodsky Quartet, which is as unlikely a place to start as any. Put on a blindfold and pick one, flip a coin, or select the record whose cover art catches your eye.
(Give it at least 3 tries if using a random method, to guarantee that you don't accidentally veer to the most obscure or uncharacteristic corners of his back catalog. By choice #3, you are guaranteed to land on a solid pick.)
You can't go wrong w/chronological of course (we will get to that in this thread pretty soon & you can follow along-- we have 45 days, folks!) + there are also a lot of "best of" releases & compilations out there, all reasonably priced. And basically all of this is on streaming.
But there is one "best of" that I still think stands head & shoulders above the rest, and it is @ElvisCostello's lovingly compiled & annotated GIRLS +£÷GIRLS=$&GIRLS, which covers his first decade of records in deliberately, defiantly non-chronological order.
It jumps around but I think it really gives you a sense of who he is as a songwriter and recording artist. Basically, if you like this collection, you'll probably want to keep on exploring.
Also: it was released on vinyl, cassette and compact disc and each format has a slightly different track listing and running order. Did I mention that it was a 2-disc/2-tape/double LP?
I took the liberty of putting together a Spotify playlist, although it blends the song selections and running order so it's not a perfect approximation but you'll probably play it in shuffle mode anyway, right?
And yes, that collection only draws from the first decade. A lot of popular opinion regarding EC rates his early work more highly than the records that follow, I like much of his post-1986 output even better. (It just doesn't lends itself as gracefully to compilation.)
Also, while Costello has never directly explained the arithmetic of the compilation's title, he drew his inspiration playfully from the "other" Elvis:
OK, let's get started (he said, nearly 20 tweets in)-- for Day 1 of this megathread, we're going to start at the beginning, or actually a little bit before the beginning.
Here's EC's dad, Ross McManus, in a clip he showed off regularly when promoting his memoir a few years back:
Every time I see that clip, it brings to mind this music video from 1980. The apple did not fall far from the tree:
This LP from 1970 is something I originally assumed was put out after Declan MacManus adopted the name "Elvis Costello" but it's not a quick cash-in, it's a marker that the McManus family musical roots run deep
Of course, it has since been reissued in an edition which takes full advantage of the Elvis/Elvis connection! These aren't radical reinterpretations, but it's a nice record of Presley covers (available here at a very nice price: m.bear-family.com/item/353231343…)
1973: R. White's Lemonade "Secret Lemonade Drinker" advert with lead vocals by Ross McManus & backing vocals by young @ElvisCostello:
At this point, we are still several years ahead of his debut album, My Aim Is True. The early 1970s saw young Costello join the Liverpool band RUSTY. Amazingly, there are TAPES.
And that brings us to 1975 and Flip City, Costello's last band before turning pro.
The Flip City Demos have been widely circulated for decades, and include a mix of covers and early versions of familiar Costello songs. I first heard these on bootleg cassette in the mid-1990s.
You might have seen this recently unearthed clip of EC performing w/Flip City, demonstrating both his good taste in songs + his pre-punk fashion choices.
Here he is performing Holland/Dozier/Holland's "This Old Heart Of Mine."
(Full clip: )
The Amazing Rhythm Aces' "Third Rate Romance"
Fake Stiff Records label on this bootleg LP, playing an embryonic version of "Living In Paradise" which would later appear in souped-up form on his first Attractions album, 1978's This Year's Model...
The only officially released track from these demo sessions is the lovely EC original, "Imagination Is A Powerful Deceiver" which has graced multiple reissues of My Aim Is True and is easily the highlight of his Flip City recordings:
However, I do really enjoy this cover of @bobdylan's "Knockin' On Heaven's Door," which at the time was a relatively new Dylan song:
Side note to @google: stop identifying this song primarily as a Guns N' Roses song just because they recorded it for the fucking Days Of Thunder soundtrack.
"Radio Soul" the earlier, more optimistic version of what would later become the scathing "Radio, Radio":
"Exiled Road" - Costello singing with his thickest American accent on this one (as thick as the Cockney one he would put on a few years later in concert)
And if I had to bet money on any Costello song never being pulled out of obscurity for a one-off performance in concert, I think I would put all my money on "Baseball Heroes" which somehow seems off-brand even for an artist whose brief is that he can & will do any kind of song:
Dammit, caught an autocorrect typo 2 tweets up, but this thread is a frieght train that cannot turn back-- it's "Exiles Road" not "Exiled Road." #AccidentsWillHappen
And that's Day 1 of 45 (unless I think of something else from the "pre-professional" days.)
Tomorrow, Day 2: My Aim Is True
DAY 2: My Aim Is True!
This debut album opens with a masturbation reference and its lead track is over in less than 90 seconds, a perfect start.
@ElvisCostello recorded this LP on sick days and almost immediately became a sensation.
Released on July 22, 1977.
To be honest, it has always been hard for me to hear in this debut the raging "Angry Young Man" thing that was so immediately clear in his live appearances & the next album.
I hear a lot of humor on it & "Alison" alone seems to pull against that image
Looking at his first TV appearance, there is intensity, but also more tenderness than spite. And while about half of the album points the way towards the "Revenge & Guilt" character that would soon emerge, the other half paints a more nuanced picture.
Less than 6 months later, his legendary appearance on SNL, which would get him banned until 1989. A totally different energy. Part of that is his formation of The Attractions, obvsly, but it's all a part of his first big shape-shift. His MAIT "sound" was over almost instantly.
One of the strengths immediately on display is Costello's ability to take his record collection & make something new out of it. The sound of a song like "No Dancing" is instantly recognizable as a Phil Spector/Ronettes-style song without feeling like a pastiche or a rip-off:
Costello would get better & better at slipping in quotes/tips of the hat to other people's music. Occasionally it would be overt, almost like sampling; other times, he'd sneak in The Twilight Zone or Looney Tunes theme into a song & it would take a dozen listens to recognize it
I should give more context than I'm giving! EC got himself signed to Stiff Records on the strength of his demo tape. At one point, I think the plan was for him to do a "split" LP where he was on one side and the other side was Wreckless Eric.
Nick Lowe was kind of Stiff's "house producer." EC didn't have a band yet, so he was given the band Clover to record with. Huey Lewis was a member of Clover but wasn't part of the MAIT sessions, and parts of Clover would eventually become Huey Lewis & The News
FYI: Clover have made a new album & Costello sings a guest vocal on a new recording of one of their old songs, "Mr. Moon"!
Here's a sample of EC's guest appearance. (About 45 seconds in, I think John McFee's guitar sounds almost exactly like it does on the original recording of "Alison.")
Costello's demos for MAIT are much folksier than the persona he would adopt & it was a savvy move on his part. This doesn't feel like the vibe one associates with London 1977.
(Flashing forward, this feels closer to 2009's "Sulphur To Sugarcane" & Prairie Home Companion)
So far, I am dwelling more on what I feel is the lighter side of MAIT, but that's just bc we will soon shift into the overtly darker and more ferocious energies. Some of these songs just sound like a good time (even though there is usually a bit of poison mixed in, lyrically)
Costello holds auditions for a backing band, hires @SteveNieve (keyboards) Pete Thomas (drums) & Bruce Thomas (bass) to become "The Attractions"
Here they are on Top Of The Pops in Sept 1977. (I believe this is lip syncing to a new live performance?)
Arguably the most significant song on MAIT wasn't even on the original LP release: "Watching The Detectives"
Steve Nieve's overdubs combined with some of Costello's most ominous, cinematic songwriting make this feel like the way forward.
Sinister & threatening, it felt like this song was closer to capturing the moment than songs like "Sneaky Feelings."
It's also a song that somehow never gets tiresome, no matter how many times it shows up in concert. This is partly to do with the way Costello never stops playing with the arrangement but mostly it has to do with the strength of the song. It was built to last.
It's a song that commands your attention, even if you've heard it a dozen times before. Those first lyrics just grab you by the collar and don't let go.
Costello was almost immediately covered by Linda Ronstadt; he was (by his own admission, later) rude & dismissive about her versions of his songs, while still cashing the checks. (That's his self-burn I'm paraphrasing.)
As much as the aggressive pose of the Angry Young Punk helped Costello make a big splash, it obscured a lot of his most compelling qualities. "Stranger In The House" was left off MAIT bc it was "too country." It was more fashionable to sneer than to be enthusiastic.
In those first few years, when Costello would drop the pose and reveal his true enthusiasms, it feels like it was done with a semi-aggressive stance: "yeah, I like Bacharach & David-- what's it to ya?"
Is there a song on this album that feels particularly "2018"?
"Waiting For The End Of The World" has felt timely before-- many times in the past 4 decades-- and yet it feels downright anthemic in the era of trump.
And that's Day 2 of 45!
Tomorrow, Day 3: This Year's Model
Here's an extraordinary early attempt at that record's opening track, from the MAIT sessions, the microphone levels set too "hot" to handle the fury of Steve Goulding's drumming:
Oh, one more thing! While I'm at it, I might as well post some useful links at the end of each of the 45 days, when possible.
His first LP w/The Attractions, so bursting w/confidence & skill that it makes his remarkable debut seem timid by comparison
I tend to think of this as the one EC album everyone agrees is perfect.
It's not even in my Top 5 & yet I agree: it is PERFECT.
Starting w/just his voice moments before the band comes crashing in "No Action" is a howling open wound of a song. "I don't wanna see you cuz I don't miss you that much" is as transparent a lie as I have ever heard in a song lyric & the whole thing is pure pain, in the best sense
The same song in concert-- unhinged & with The Attractions contributing backing vocals (something that would happen less often over time)
5/5/1978 - New Jersey
Full show at:
Released on March 17, 1978
Nick Lowe producing, although my sense is that the dynamic in-studio had already begun to evolve. This was no longer a guy calling in sick from his day job. He had his own band now & very specific ideas about what the record should sound like.
It was also 11 days instead of 3.
(I can't find the specific quote, but I recall hearing Nick Lowe talk about sometimes being baffled by unusual background vocals where EC would layer himself shouting out something that would end up sounding great once it was all put together)
One clear and admitted point of reference for the sound of This Year's Model was The Rolling Stones' Aftermath.
Costello later wrote: "'This Year's Girl' was pretty much an 'answer song' to the Rolling Stones' 'Stupid Girl' -- though my words were much less contemptuous."
While I can definitely hear the influence (especially in the bridge), the two songs in many ways couldn't be more different. Costello saves his contempt for the fashion scene & the way it uses up "this year's girl." There's just a lot more going on than in the Stones' song.
The opening line of "The Beat" is a direct quote of Cliff Richards' "Summer Holiday" although the similarities end there. While his public persona and the tone of the album leaned more toward coiled intensity, there is no question that Costello was having fun, at least musically
It's worth taking a moment to really LISTEN to how great The Attractions sound on this LP. This is a band that just got assembled, via auditions
They would be together for a decade, split up, reunite, fall apart again & now 2/3rds of them make up his current band, The Imposters
In addition to quoting Cliff Richards, Costello also references The Kinks' "See My Friends" with his "see your friends" backing vocals.
Lord knows how many musical references I'm *not* catching. The man was talking back to his entire record collection.
"Pump It Up" is part of a lineage of songs, I'll go through them now...
Chuck Berry's "Too Much Monkey Business"...
Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues"...
Moving past "Pump It Up" to The Escape Club's "Wild Wild West"...
And U2's "Get On Your Boots" (we will return to U2 paying homage to EC a couple more times in this thread...)
EC writes about this in his memoir (quoted here from Wikipedia):
Two songs were cut from the original U.S. release!
One was "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea" which was a hit single in the UK!
The other song cut from the original U.S. release is the album's closer, the anti-fascist "Night Rally."
The night before @realDonaldTrump was elected, Costello opened his concert with this song, making it my uncontested pick for the most "2018"-relevant song on the album...
Those 2 songs were replaced by "Radio, Radio" which was already notorious in the U.S. because of his on-air switch to playing it live on SNL.
(It had only been a few years since "Radio Soul," the earlier version which was a cheerful love letter to Radio!)
One of the most striking things about This Year's Model is that perhaps its best song -- and the song I think best encapsulates the "Revenge & Guilt" spirit of the LP as a whole -- wasn't even a single!
"Lipstick Vogue" captures The Attractions' frenzied brilliance perfectly:
EC, in 1989, wrote: "Here are the bones of it; the rhythms of the Metropolitan Line (on which it was written) colliding with a song by The Byrds called "I See You". I didn't mention this bit to Pete Thomas at the time, so what you hear is all his own work. I stand by every word."
One thing that is fun to note is that in a year's time, Costello went from having a song that his musicians referred to as "the one that sounds like a Byrds song" (Red Shoes) to a recording a Byrds-influenced song that sounds nothing like The Byrds.
On an unashamedly self-indulgent note (there's room for that in a 45-day twitter thread, right?) if you are ever in NYC on a Friday & come see The Stepfathers @ucbtny Hell's Kitchen, the song played just before we begin will be "Lipstick Vogue," always.
[There was one week when they changed the pre-show song to something else, and I swear it was the worst show we ever did. This song is magical, and it is exciting to hear it fill the theater before our show begins. Ok, no more talk about my improv group. Apologies!]
Costello on a Boston radio show in 1978 (Nick Lowe next to him) answering a question about some unpleasantness at an earlier gig. Almost any early interviews strike me as him trying to negotiate a certain shyness with an aggressive posture that was fashionable at that moment...
Here's @ElvisCostello trying to get the audience to stand up, and targeting one audience member in particular.
"He doesn't think I mean it."
"He doesn't think that I MEAN IT."
Finally, to close out This Year's Model (Day 3 of 45), here are some useful links...
Three albums in and Costello returns with a third distinct sound, influenced by what they were listening to on the tour bus: ABBA, Bowie, Kraftwerk, Iggy Pop, etc.
It also opens with a telling confession: "Oh, I just don't know where to begin..."
Released January 5, 1979
This is an album spilling over with words and images, the overstimulation of touring America blending with a growing overconfidence & an out-of-control new lifestyle that often necessitated writing songs in code to cover his tracks. It also sounds GREAT
The opening track's original lyric was: "Accidents will happen / I only hit and run / I used to be your victim, now you’re not the only one"
The final lyric blurs things a bit: "Accidents will happen / We only hit and run / He used to be your victim, now you’re not the only one"
It was confessional songwriting until he mixed up the pronouns so you could no longer tell who was doing what to whom.
While My Aim Is True was recorded in 3 days & This Year's Model went all the way to 11, Armed Forces was the result of a full 6 weeks in the studio.
Steve Nieve also clearly had a whole bunch of new synthesizer sounds to play with.
There is a lot of highly charged language on the album, sometimes delivered w/cheerfully contrasting music; the hit single "Oliver's Army" borrows musically from "Dancing Queen" but the subject matter ("visions of mercenaries & imperial armies around the world") is grim as hell
The album was aggressively anti-war while also clearly spoiling for a fight, and Costello makes so many Holocaust and Hitler references that it borders on being a concept album.
[Side note: I know almost nothing technical about music, but BT's galloping bass line here is fun]
Costello was in a provocative zone at this point, using language to shock in a post-Lenny Bruce, pre-South Park world. He pulls it off on the record, but there is a certain glibness he would avoid on every album after this one. (He was about to learn a big lesson the hard way.)
It's easy to read too much into this album in hindsight, to see glimpses that Costello's trajectory was steering him towards trouble...
"I am starting to function / In the usual way / Everything is so provocative/ Very very, temporary"
This album was an instant success; listen to any track on it & you'll get why. Sharp, smart, catchy, sly, with a pop energy that can't be beat.
Almost on cue, things took a bad turn.
From Costello's 2002 Armed Forces liner notes:
I don't have much to add to what's already been written about The Columbus Incident
Basically, EC & The A's ended up staying at the same Columbus Ohio Holiday Inn as Stephen Stills & his band
In the hotel bar, Costello tried to provoke an argument, and things turned ugly, fast
Costello, drunk & looking to make the most outrageously offensive remarks he could think of, ended up saying monstrous things about both Ray Charles & James Brown. He was looking to start a fight, and it worked: it didn't take long for it to escalate to a full-on bar brawl
Soon, word leaked to the media, and a disastrous press conference ensued.
The most complete write-up of these events can be found in this 1997 article from Uncut magazine, which features something close to a play-by-play of the entire unpleasant ordeal: elviscostello.info/wiki/index.php…
Costello wrote in some detail about The Columbus Incident in his 2003 reissue of his 1980 album, Get Happy!!
It contained this postscript, detailing the way that the shame of the incident never fully goes away...
A few years later, promoting 1982's IbMePdErRoIoAmL, Costello spoke about a moment when Michael Jackson was recording in the next studio, and his regrets at how his drunken behavior in 1979 had come to define him in the eyes of many...
What seems clear in hindsight is that the Elvis Costello of '79 was heading for trouble, one way or another. If it hadn't been this, it likely would have been something else.
It was a humiliating way to learn a lesson, but it would have a huge effect on both his music & persona.
In 2013, when promoting Wise Up Ghost, his collaboration with The Roots, Costello revisited the topic that has followed him for more than 3 decades...
Now, nearly 40 full years since it happened, it is easier to view the incident as an aberration & to take Costello at his word in a way that a skeptical press & public couldn't back in 1979. It's also a cautionary tale, to be learned from-- especially in the age of social media.
And on that note, I'd like to cycle back to the LP, particularly its closing track.
The original UK edition ended with "Two Little Hitlers"-- not a political anthem, just a song about a bad relationship.
But the U.S. version-- now considered definitive-- ends with this:
Though Nick Lowe originally wrote "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace Love & Understanding?" as a tongue-in-cheek hippie anthem, Costello made it his own by channeling his fury into a totally sincere version.
It's a defiant cry for basic human decency, and it points the way forward
I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention Barney Bubbles' masterful sleeve design. BB was the in-house art director for Stiff Records and basically did all Costello-related graphics from MAIT to IbMePdErRoIoAmL. Everything he ever did was awesome.
I highly recommend picking up the book Reasons To Be Cheerful for a great look at Barney Bubbles' body of work.
And hey: I almost forgot this weird personal experience I had with the first copy of Armed Forces I ever bought.
It was 1993, I had *just* become a fan. I only owned The Juliet Letters, his recent album with The Brodsky Quartet.
I had borrowed my friend Jeff's entire Costello collection and copied it all onto cassette tapes, but all mixed up and out of order.
I was hooked, but had no idea what the chronology of his discography was.
And I was ready to start buying them on CD.
Rykodisc (Demon in the UK) was starting to reissue all of Costello's early albums on CD, with new liner notes and bonus tracks, beginning with a box set, "2 1/2 Years", which contained the first 3 albums plus the Live At El Mocambo concert on CD.
I snapped it up immediately.
My Aim Is True & This Year's Model sounded familiar and great, but when I played Armed Forces, it sounded unlike anything I had heard from Costello, on any of my cassettes.
Turns out Ryko had somehow mistakenly pressed a CD of gregorian chants onto a disc with this label!
It says something about Costello that I got a few minutes into the disc before I knew for sure that Armed Forces wasn't an album of gregorian chants.
I couldn't immediately rule it out as a possibility. He could still surprise us and release one, next year or the year after.
And that's the end of Day 4 of 45 Days Of Elvis Costello.
I'll close it out with this bit from the end of "Party Girl" where the music is quoting the end of Abbey Road:
And what the heck, a little snippet of Costello & The Attractions, live on TV in 1979...
Ok, believe it or not, this is the first @ElvisCostello album that is definitely in my Costello Top 5.
It's 20 songs, with The Attractions once again totally changing their sound, this time to emulate more of a Stax/Motown R&B vibe.
Released February 15, 1980
I feel like Get Happy marks the beginning of Costello dropping the angry pose & revealing that he loves music
That might sound stupid bc the first 3 LPs are obvsly jam-packed w/musical allusions but the public persona disguised a lot of his enthusiasm
This 1980 @ElvisCostello TV commercial is tongue-in-cheek but also mostly tells the truth about Get Happy!!
I love the music videos that were filmed for Get Happy!! I love how ramshackle they are, how they seem to have been shot all at once, how not all of them were for songs that were singles! They capture the spirit of the LP really well.
"Love For Tender" (not a single):
And the DANCING!
Costello's revved-up version of "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" was a perfect example of the new Costello. The intensity was still there, but he was no longer hiding his enthusiasms, he was celebrating them.
I actually heard EC's version of this song first, so I was stunned to discover how different the Sam & Dave original is
I can't emphasize this part enough: one of the best things about being a Costello fan is that he is constantly shining a light on the music that inspires him
Can you name the song he is referencing in the opening line of this song? It's obvious, but I didn't catch it for years!
"Possession" (another non-single!):
Some of Costello's nods are hiding in plain sight and it takes years before the penny drops.
More great dancing, and another lifted opening line! Do you know what it is?
(This song was used to great effect in a Sopranos episode where the FBI is trying to plant a bug in Tony's house. It also obvsly inspired the title to Nick Hornby's novel.)
The Supremes' "Some Things You Never Get Used To"!
(I'm kicking myself now that I forgot to mention yesterday how "Accidents Will Happen" quotes "You Keep Me Hangin' On"!)
It's amazing to me how many tracks on this record could've/should've been hit singles. "King Horse" should be one of Costello's most famous songs, not a deep cut!
Costello says that the guitar part in "King Horse" alludes to The Four Tops' "Reach Out (I'll Be There)" but I never would have caught the reference if he hadn't pointed it out.
Some songs veered so close to the songs that inspired them that Costello has compared it to sampling, as in this song, "Temptation":
Before I tweet out the answer, I'll double the mystery!
Here what Costello wrote about the song in the liner notes for GIRLS+₤÷GIRLS=$&GIRLS in 1989.
He has since REVEALED who the VERY FAMOUS ROCK STAR is/was...
Booker T. & The MG's: "Time Is Tight"
In concert, Steve Nieve would frequently segue into directly quoting this song during "Temptation" and you almost can't tell the difference!
I highly recommend tracking down this 2006 CD compilation of Booker T & The MGs, 15 tracks selected by @ElvisCostello + liner notes by him, too!
Or, for those of you without access to a CD player or disc drive, follow these links...
Oh, and who was the VERY FAMOUS ROCK STAR Costello originally wrote "Temptation" about?
"Who's this kid with his mumbo jumbo...?"
Backing up just a bit, to "High Fidelity"-- this whole LP started out closer to the vibe of Armed Forces, before EC thought better of repeating himself & reimagined the record entirely.
The original arrangement of this song was fashioned after Bowie's Station To Station:
Decades later, Costello would perform "High Fidelity" on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon backed by @theroots, using the original, discarded arrangement (which The Roots' producer @StevenMandel remembered but Costello himself had forgotten...)
Not to skip too far ahead, but this would lead to "High Fidelity"'s original riff becoming the base for Wise Up Ghost's "Cinco Minutos Con Vos" (which was itself a sort-of sequel to another Costello song we haven't arrived at yet!)
And we still haven't gotten through all of the music videos from Get Happy!!
"New Amsterdam" is a solo track! The Attractions attempted a fine version of it, but it couldn't match the feel of EC's demo.
I finally saw him perform this, at his most recent concert, in Amsterdam!
He threw in a quote-- as I have heard him do on MANY live concert recordings but never before at a show I was attending-- from The Beatles' "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away."
Costello recorded a cover of "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" in the early 90s, which came out first as a b-side & then on the now-out-of-print bonus disc for Kojak Variety. (While EC's main catalog is mostly available via streaming, lots of stuff is not currently "in print")
"Men Called Uncle" is another song from Get Happy!! that wasn't a single but oh man this song is wayyyyyyy too good to be a deep album cut:
Including not one but TWO cover songs on the LP was also indicative of EC pivoting from his angry persona to that of the guy who loved his record collection & knew how to channel that love into new music
"I Stand Accused" also felt somewhat related to his recent difficulties:
The Merseybeats' "I Stand Accused"
I don't have any interesting insights or trivia about "Clowntime Is Over" except to say that it is one of many performances on this record where The Attractions sound even more perfect than usual.
The one song that EC admits was directly inspired by his recent controversy is "Riot Act," which sounds like it was written as a farewell/potential escape hatch should this be the end of his career.
It would not be the last time he announced his retirement as a recording artist.
And the long, dark night of the soul that is the Riot Act solo demo:
It should be noted that the original release of Get Happy!! was 20 songs, its first CD reissue added 10 bonus tracks, and the Rhino reissue added 20 more, bringing the total to 50 TRACKS! 50!!!
Thankfully, this was not the beginning of the end, merely the end of the beginning.
There are some who lost interest at this point, just when things were starting to really get interesting...
To close out the day, I'll flash-forward a bit, to a 1982 performance of "King Horse" which begins with a The O'Jays' "Backstabbers"!
(Full clip at )
Costello would return to this song a couple of years ago, for the soundtrack to @vinylHBO starring my pal @GriffLightning of Amazon's The Tick, who dresses up once a month to play sidekick Watto in The George Lucas Talk Show at UCBNY. Small world, huh?
Day 6: Taking Liberties/Ten Bloody Marys & Ten How's Your Fathers
4 albums in & Costello already had enough b-sides & region-exclusive non-album singles to make up an entire LP.
TL was for the USA, 10BM&10HYF for the UK. Both collections are top tier Costello material!
Released November 1980
"Taking Liberties" was released in the US & Canada & contained a few essential album tracks that had been inexplicably left off of the US editions of This Year's Model & Armed Forces: "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea", "Night Rally" & "Sunday's Best."
Released (on cassette only) November 1980
"Ten Bloody Marys & Ten How's Your Fathers" was the UK equivalent but replaced those UK album tracks with tracks that were on the US LPs: "Watching The Detectives" "Radio Radio" & "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding."
Now, I believe all these tracks had all been released in both territories, if not on the album then as singles & b-sides. So my guess is that for Costello diehards, they already had these, just not on an LP...
The remaining tracks on both LP collections were 15 previously released non-album tracks (b-sides & singles) plus two previously unreleased tracks.
This was Costello's second 20-song LP of 1980.
Both collections open w/an outtake from the Armed Forces sessions, "Clean Money," that sounds more like This Year's Model.
It's an early draft of Get Happy!!'s "Love For Tender" & I really *wish* it had been licensed to be the theme music for #Ozark on @netflix.
"Tiny Steps" is a prime example of how @ElvisCostello often releases some of his best recordings as non-album tracks. This is as strong a track as anything on his first 4 LPs:
I always liked this track, but the @333books volume about Armed Forces by @humanfranklin made me appreciate it even more, especially pointing out to listen for how drummer Pete Thomas' playing is particularly inventive throughout:
From Costello's 1989 liner notes for GIRLS+₤÷GIRLS=$&GIRLS:
Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "Where The Woodbine Twineth" (SPOILER ALERT!)
Costello's winning streak as a pop songwriter was so strong by this point that he inadvertently gave away "Girls Talk" to Dave Edmunds, who had a massive hit with it.
Here's the Dave Edmunds hit version. (I've also heard a stellar live recording of @AimeeMann performing it at a Costello tribute concert.)
Costello wrote this song thinking of Dusty Springfield...
Two years later, Dusty Springfield recorded it!
Fun fact: future Imposters bass player Davey Faragher played on this track!
(As far as I can tell, it has only been played ONCE at an Imposters show, in 2012- and I can't tell if it was a full band performance or just EC & Steve!)
In some ways, the eclectic nature of these compilations strikes a new template that a great many future Costello albums (including his next one) will follow. While the first 4 LPs basically had 4 distinct styles, this one sometimes shifts completely from one track to the next...
Whether it was intentional or not, these records served as a sort of proof of concept that he could put a melancholy Rodgers & Hart cover on the same LP with a surf music pastiche or garage band number; he didn't have to conform to any one style, not even a little bit.
This solo demo recording is (I *think*) a fan favorite-- "Hoover Factory" -- I am basing on this on nothing more than that any time this song comes up in conversation with other Costello fans, everybody loves it, even though it is certainly at the obscure end of his catalog.
Costello called "Wednesday Week" "a two-part trifle in which insincere lovers put each other on something rotten" & said the 2nd half was a nod to @PaulMcCartney's WINGS.
That switch at the 1:15 mark transforms this from a Benny Hill rave-up to something far more tremendous:
"Getting Mighty Crowded" by Van McCoy almost made it onto Get Happy!! and would've fit right in on that record:
And here's Betty Everett's original:
Both collections close with the excellent EC solo track, "Ghost Train," a re-working of a song he had written with Allan Mayes back when he was in Rusty:
I have run past midnight for Day 6 due to Labor Day indiscipline, but if you think that's an outrage, just check out how angry "Bob Broad" was in his review of Taking Liberties for the Connecticut College Voice in September 1980!
(I wonder which round of expanded Costello reissues caused Bob Broad's head to explode?)
No liner notes to link to, but it is fun to point out that he sleeve note by Columbia Records VP Gregg Geller is mostly lifted from the sleeve note for the 1958 LP "Gene Vincent Record Date"!
The album is on Spotify, thankfully, so all these great songs remain "in print" in our current streaming music distopia.
(As we get deeper into his catalog, post-1987, a huge chunk of Costello's non-album material becomes harder to find...)
Another LP that usually lands in my personal Costello Top 5, Trust borrows from the hodge podge/anything goes template of Taking Liberties, but w/all new songs.
If each of his first 4 LPs defied expectations, now he would switch things up from one track to the next
Released January 23, 1981
This was a mere two months after Taking Liberties & less than a year since Get Happy!!
Costello decribed Trust as"easily the most drug-influenced album of my career" & said that "it was completed close to a self-induced nervous collapse."
Alternate titles under consideration included "Cats & Dogs" and "More Songs About Fucking & Fighting."
Opening track "Clubland" was not a hit single, though it deserved to be, especially with this stylish & sinister music video directed by Barney Bubbles:
He has occasionally quoted snippets of George Benson's "On Broadway" when performing "Clubland" in concert, and it does feel like kind of a seedy answer song; here is The Drifters' version:
There are times when I am in absolutely no mood to listen to "Lovers Walk" and then there are times when simply no other song will do:
It is hard to beat Get Happy!! for deep album cuts that should've been hits or at least better known within Costello's body of work, but "You'll Never Be A Man" is among Trust's heavy hitters:
Costello has written that "You'll Never Be A Man" "borrowed some musical ideas from The Pretenders' "Brass In Pocket" and several other @ChrissieHynde songs."
I mean, in what world is "Pretty Words" a semi-obscure song in any songwriter's body of recorded work? For most artists, this would be among their top 10 most beloved songs. This is the danger of writing more than 700 of them, I suppose...
Also, this is a great Attractions album. I mean, that might sound stupid to say-- they almost always sound great-- but I feel like this record captures some of their best performances, including "Strict Time":
One thing that I find peculiar about Trust is that I like roughly half of its tracks significantly more than I like the other half & yet I can't name a single track I would want to cut from the album. Each one adds to the overall effect.
("Luxembourg" is among the lesser half)
And yet, "Luxembourg" adds a texture to Trust that adds to the overall effect of the LP. I'm not sure, given the choice, that I would want to replace it, even w/a superior song from the same sessions.
Here is an earlier demo version, "Seven O'Clock", written for Dr. Feelgood:
"Watch Your Step" is another non-hit single! But it's perfect! I mean, what more did people want?
Maybe it would've been a bigger hit if it had been released with this as its music video:
It is fascinating to hear how wrong the early versions of "Watch Your Step" were. Fun, but wrong!
Another early version that is super fun but also wrong:
The final, perfect version of "Watch Your Step" actually sounds a lot like Get Happy!!'s "Secondary Modern" to my ears:
But no song on TRUST is more perfect than its crown jewel, "New Lace Sleeves." Apparently this was a song he started writing when he was a teenager.
Another excellent music video directed by the great Barney Bubbles:
"From A Whisper To A Scream" is a fun little song that gets a big jolt from the presence of guest vocalist @GlennTilbrook from Squeeze (whose 1981 album, East Side Story, was co-produced by EC w/Trust co-producer @RogerBechirian!)
Costello returns the favor on that album, making a sneaky vocal cameo on "Tempted."
Oh, and in case you were wondering what the deal was w/the kid at the mixing board in the clip 2 tweets above, that performance was from the UK television show, "Jim'll Fix It" where kids make wishes & that kid's wish was to be a roadie
The animated intro is super creepy, and...
...of course if you've never heard of Jimmy Saville b4, he was a beloved TV host who was considered eccentric, then after he died in 2011 it was revealed that he was a predatory sex offender. He was knighted in 1990
Sorry for the shockingly dark side note, but that's the context
"Different Finger" is simultaneously one of the most minor tracks on Trust AND one of its most significant.
As a song, it is good but slight; however, its inclusion is almost brazen, a simple country song that probably doesn't "belong" with these other songs. Which is the point.
Costello has only played this song 4 times in 37 years, even though there have been many contexts in which it would've been appropriate, so he clearly likes it less than, say, "Indoor Fireworks" or "Poisoned Rose."
But its placement on Trust was a major statement.
[It also ended up serving as a bit of foreshadowing for his next album, but we'll get to that soon enough...]
"White Knuckles" is a brutal song which Costello said was "privately modeled on a couple of XTC records" but he kept that a secret from The Attractions to avoid risking "a rebellion."
UGH, I can't find the clip but I believe the lyric "He needs her like the axe needs the turkey" is a Preston Sturges line from The Lady Eve...
Costello's aggressive early persona & so many songs about bad relationships led some people to think his songs were misogynistic, but I think he is consistently taking sides against cruel & selfish men, even in many cases (cryptically) taking aim at his own infidelities
"Shot With His Own Gun" is just Costello with @SteveNieve on piano. It is artsy and theatrical, another place where the album is doing whatever it wants to, and another song that previews a certain slice of Costello's future ambitions. He won't be categorized.
"Fish 'N' Chip Paper" was Costello going after Britain's tabloid news culture, including the likes of Rupert Murdoch:
The album closes on an EC solo track, "Big Sister's Clothes" which is the first time he would write a song inspired by UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, but certainly not the last...
One thing I will continue to lament throughout this thread is that a lot of Costello's recordings are either out of print or remain unreleased.
The main stuff-- all the albums-- are all streaming. But interesting stuff like this Trust outtake are harder to find now:
This is the version of that song I found on YouTube:
I was lucky to become a Costello fan during the era when his back catalog was being splendidly reissued on CD
First, Demon/Rykodisc re-released the albums w/bonus tracks, then Rhino Records put out the all of the 1977-1996 albums w/entire 2nd discs filled with bonus material.
The albums from 1997-present have never been reissued in this way, largely because during that time the CD era ended and we are now in the weird era of streaming, and it's unclear whether any kind of archival program would be worth the trouble...
But fans who devoured all the bonus discs from 1977's My Aim Is True to 1996's All This Useless Beauty basically know that every record from Painted From Memory to Wise Up Ghost likely has a "phantom" 2nd disc's worth of quality bonus material that remains unreleased...
Here's another example of fun bonus material from Trust: for a brief period, Costello entertained the possibility that The Attractions might contribute some songs for the album. Steve Nieve wrote this one, which Costello attempted, but it didn't make the cut.
ACK! I should have mentioned this yesterday or the day before: somehow in 1980, The Attractions made their own album WITHOUT Costello, produced by @RogerBechirian!
The full album is on YouTube:
Another fun out-of-print Trust outtake, "Slow Down" by Larry Williams:
...and Larry Williams' original:
Costello, solo and in a melancholy mood, covering Cole Porter's "Love For Sale."
This at-the-time unreleased recording pointed not only towards his next LP, but also, the one after that...
And the same goes for his cover of one of the most depressing songs ever, "Gloomy Sunday":
I'll close out Day 7 of 45 with a bit of Costello appearing on Tom Snyder's Tomorrow Coast-To-Coast, presenting a humbler & more authentic persona to the public. He seems nervous, but genuine. It's an improvement:
Elvis Costello & The Attractions go to Nashville to record an album of country standards with veteran producer Billy Sherrill.
Like perhaps a lot of people, I didn't "get" this album at first. It made no sense to me.
Eventually, it made *perfect* sense.
Released October 23, 1981
Adopting an aggressive, angry persona had gotten him some attention but also nearly destroyed his career, pretending to be something he wasn't
Recording a covers album of country songs was arguably the most authentically "punk rock" move he ever made
Looking back, this album is less of a surprise, given all the left turns Costello's recording career has made since 1981.
I have also seen Almost Blue given credit for helping pave the way for "alt country."
On its initial release, the LP came with this warning sticker:
It's hard to know what fans at the time might've made of Costello's previous attempts at country songs-- was "Stranger In The House" just a one-off, a genre exercise? Was "Different Finger" him showing off, a reminder that he could write all kinds of songs? Was he serious?
The promotional campaign for Almost Blue seemed intent on making it clear that this was not some kind of put-on, that this was a deeply felt record of some songs that meant a lot to him.
In the UK, the record gave Costello a big hit single with his cover of George Jones' "A Good Year For The Roses."
With the exception of the twins from The Shining glumly mouthing background vocals & Steve Nieve on violin, this video is pretty straightforward & sincere:
Any suspicions that Costello wasn't 100% genuine in his love for this music must've evaporated pretty quickly, I'm guessing; his thrill at performing with George Jones on this TV special (while suffering from the mumps) is impossible to mistake for anything else:
The South Bank Show did an episode about the making of Almost Blue which actually helped unlock the album's appeal. I liked the record on first listen, but seeing Costello's process, including his struggles with producer Billy Sherrill, actually made me enjoy it more...
It's fascinating to watch Costello being revaluated at a point when he had been a public figure for less than 5 years.
Back in the era of physical media, this doc would've made an excellent bonus DVD for a reissue of the album:
Costello seems intent on making this album almost as a kind of musical ambassador, showcasing a style of music that his audience might not otherwise seek out...
Here, Costello gives a kind of capsule history of how Nashville became the center of country music, and we are introduced to legendary producer Billy Sherrill (on his speedboat):
Costello has a preliminary meeting with Sherrill and then gets right down to recording, with Johnny Cash's "Cry, Cry, Cry" (which would not make the album until it was reissued with bonus tracks):
Interesting glimpses of Nashville circa 1981:
Billy Sherrill expressing his muted feelings about the project, and then displaying even less enthusiasm in the studio. Costello seems to be having fun, at this point:
I had forgotten what an emotional roller coaster this doc is: Costello, eager to impress the legendary Sherrill; Sherrill, sometimes expressing enthusiasm but guarded towards Costello & openly skeptical in the studio...
FASCINATING in-studio exchange between Sherrill & Costello.
Costello has commented that the doc makes Sherrill into the villain of the piece, and the editing of some of this does him no favors; the most enthusiastic he gets is when he says he hopes to "buy another boat!"
Sherrill's expressions in this montage are basically GIFs in a pre-GIF era.
I don't know how fair this montage is in terms of representing his disinterest in Costello singing George Jones, but my guess is that they wouldn't have cut it this way if it wasn't at least close.
Costello talks about his 2 favorite Sinatra albums, and his love for Hank Williams, and we see an unimpressed Billy Sherrill take in The Attractions' deconstruction of HW's "Why Don't You Love Me Like You Used To Do?"
Billy Sherrill "double bluffs" Costello & The Attractions by challenging them to double-track the entire take:
In this doc, Sherrill always seems to be in a better mood when he's on his boat than when he's in the studio
Two of the grimmest minutes of the whole film, as Costello & the band take in some local bar culture while he muses on guns, failure and Robert Altman's regionally unpopular film, Nashville:
More in-studio drama as Costello attempts an original song only to be met with Sherrill's passive-aggressive disapproval:
After hours, Costello and the band drown their sorrows and complain about Sherrill. Meanwhile, we cut back to Sherrill on his boat. Everybody has a different way of processing what's happening in the studio.
And then Sherrill is MIA:
Costello on Gram Parsons, one of the biggest influences on this album (with 2 of the 14 songs, just like George Jones):
Costello emoting like mad on Parsons' "I'm Your Toy" and excitedly discussing why he's satisfied with the take (his enthusiasm met with what seems like some mild resistence from Bruce and good-natured teasing from Pete.)
Sherrill: "We did so many tracks... I don't know what we've done, to tell you the truth."
Costello: "I got the 'sound' that I wanted."
Costello listening to the finished version of "Sweet Dreams":
After all the tensions of making the album, Costello finishes listening to "Sweet Dreams" looking satisfied, and closes on a pretty great story about the day the background singers completed "A Good Year For The Roses."
The film concludes with a one-off concert in Aberdeen, Scotland, with The Attractions and John McFee.
(Note that, as on the record, Costello reverted from "drunk" back to "loaded", per Billy Sherrill's correction)
Whoops! Costello isn't done talking! He has more thoughts, about sadness and self-destruction, edited in between songs:
And that's the end of the film! Directed by Peter Carr and the whole thing can be found in non-chopped-up form on YouTube:
And now, I'll alternate between some clips of Costello introducing the album tracks on a 1981 promotional LP with some clips of other artists' versions of the same songs...
"Why Don't You Love Me Like You Used To Do"
Costello opening the album like that is a kind of fake-out, as if to suggest that it's going to be an LP full of brutalized country classics.
Hank Williams' original:
The 2nd track, "Sweet Dreams", couldn't have been a bigger contrast to the way the record opens, with swelling strings and swooning background singers.
This is just two years since he was singing nervy, paranoid pop songs like "Two Little Hitlers" and "Goon Squad."
Patsy Cline's version:
"Success" is thematically not a million miles away from some of the songs on his previous records...
And future Costello collaborator Loretta Lynn's version:
Costello re-named Gram Parsons' song "I'm Your Toy" instead of keeping its less dignified original title.
Both Parsons tracks on this record are high points, Costello is well-suited to his songs as a singer...
The Flying Burrito Brothers' "Hot Burrito #1":
So much of Almost Blue is about Costello passing along what he (at some point) discovered to an audience he knows might otherwise be reluctant to hear it. "Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down" is exactly the kind of song I would've avoided as hokey C&W prior to hearing this version:
Merle Haggard's original version:
"Brown To Blue" is the first of the two George Jones tracks. It's no shock that the best songs on the album are songs of heartbreak, which has been Costello's most fruitful recurring theme over 4 decades.
Jones' original version:
Costello's love for George Jones will eventually lead to him recording a whole entire album's worth of demos that is among my favorite things EC has ever done. But we are many days away from that...
"Good Year For The Roses":
And Jones' original:
"Sittin' And Thinkin'":
Hearing Charlie Rich's original, it's easier to understand why Billy Sherrill was so resistant to Costello's re-working (even though I think both versions are good!)
Oops, I forgot that there are THREE George Jones songs, not two! This one was co-written by Lawton Williams, and Costello altered the title to reflect the UK spelling of "color."
"Colour Of The Blues":
And, once again, Jones' original version:
Costello covering Billy Sherrill's own "Too Far Gone." It's a good song, but after re-watching the 'making of' doc, I'm struck by how much Costello wanted Sherrill to appreciate what he was doing.
Tammy Wynette's version:
And Bobby "Blue" Bland's version:
"Honey Hush" by Lou Willie Turner. A change of pace after so many sad songs!
Big Joe Turner's version:
Maybe my favorite song on the album, largely due to @SteveNieve's gorgeous, fluid piano part. Costello & The Attractions nail it in one take. (This was the one we saw EC enthusing about in the doc, and he was right.)
The 2nd Gram Parsons track, "How Much I Lied":
Gram Parsons' original version:
I have gone wayyyyy past Day 8 for this one, and if I don't stop soon, Almost Blue will become a 2-day album and I will never catch up.
Here's the thing: the original LP is less than 35 minutes long.
The 2004 Rhino reissue bonus disc is more than TWICE that long. Seek it out.
If you like Almost Blue, the extras are worth seeking out, as they are NOT on streaming (though you MIGHT find them on YouTube.)
It's enough unique studio outtakes to make "Almost Blue Volume 2" plus basically a full live album.
What the hell, here are a few choice clips from the OOP bonus material.
A duet with Johnny Cash on "We Oughta Be Ashamed":
And another gem that didn't make the album, "Honky Tonk Girl":
Okay, that's Day 8 of 45 Days Of Elvis Costello. It was a long one, but worth it, I think. Almost Blue is a significant turning point in his disography.
Produced by the great @GeoffEmerick (of The Beatles) this was EC & The Attractions at their most ambitious.
Refreshed from his Nashville adventure, Costello newest batch of songs would have The New York Times comparing him to Cole Porter & George Gershwin
Released July 2, 1982
The easy/lazy comparison is to call this Costello's Sgt. Pepper & I actually don't think that's a bad point of reference. (At least, I can't think of a better one right now.)
Hiring Emerick, the thought of Pepper must have crossed his mind once or twice...
After EC had baffled many US listeners with Almost Blue, this New York Times profile made it seem as if Costello's new focus was The Great American Songbook (although only a couple of songs on IbMePdErRoIoAmL overtly leaned in that direction)
A promo LP, entitled "A Conversation With...... Elvis Costello" featured EC introducing each track, at length.
That seems like a good way to work through the album...
Costello's first spoken introduction is a full 10 minutes long, as he is not merely introducing the opening track but explaining the context of the entire album...
Costello talking about his & Emerick's shared ideas about how the record should sound...
More about Emerick's legendary career, and then he pivots to talking about the songs that were under consideration for IbMePdErRoIoAmL
Costello talks about the way the songs changed when he brought them into the studio, specifically "Beyond Belief":
And then, at last, he segues into the magnificent opening track, "Beyond Belief":
It's not hard to seek out the complete track elsewhere, but the chorus of "Beyond Belief" (which doesn't arrive until the very end of the song) is too good not to post.
Pete Thomas recorded his drum part in one take, while nursing a hangover.
The 2nd track, "Tears Before Bedtime" was originally tested out as a country song for Almost Blue, and basically rejected (on camera) by producer Billy Sherrill.
Here is that version:
Another early version of "Tears Before Bedtime," from the IbMePdErRoIoAmL sessions:
Costello introduces "Tears Before Bedtime":
"Tears Before Bedtime" was one of the first Costello tracks I ever heard. My friend Jeff, who would later loan me my first Costello CD, was putting this track on a mix tape and asked me to do the lettering on it because his handwriting is unreadable.
By the way, this song keeps evolving! The current arrangement, which premiered on tour with The Imposters two years ago, is my favorite:
Costello on "Shabby Doll": "it's one of those songs where the title needs to be repeated as many times as possible."
Costello talks about why the intro to "The Long Honeymoon" always makes him laugh, and how Sammy Cahn turned down the offer to write the lyrics for it:
"The Long Honeymoon" is one of those songs that every time I hear it, I think, "oh wow. this is a perfect song."
Costello talking about the development of "Man Out Of Time" as a song, and also about its inspiration...
More of Costello's 1982 thoughts leading into the stunning "Man Out Of Time":
It is fun to hear the early drafts of "Man Out Of Time" as it struggled to find its perfect, final shape:
There are so many directions the song could've gone in that would have led to it becoming a less majestic song than it ultimately turned out to be...
"Man Out Of Time" on Late Night With David @Letterman, 1982:
Costello talks about another one of IbMePdErRoIoAmL's perfect songs, "Almost Blue." (No relation to the previous album of the same title, except that it is a sad song.)
He also talks about wishing he could play the trumpet, and wishing that Chet Baker would sing this song:
"Almost Blue" is one of Costello's most-covered songs, and for good reason.
Costello would work with Chet Baker on the next album, but he wouldn't discover that Baker had added "Almost Blue" to his live repertoire until after his passing in 1988...
Costello talks about the musical evolution of "...And In Every Home":
Costello talking about all the "cheeky" musical references @SteveNieve snuck into his orchestral arrangement on "...And In Every Home":
Here is a rehearsal take of "...And In Every Home" from the session tape that Costello has said sounded a lot like Trust.
(This is clearly not the early "rocker" version he spoke of in the clip I posted above, but preparing for the orchestral album version.)
"It's better to live than to die young, y'know?" - Elvis Costello on "The Loved Ones."
For a great many years, this was one of the only album tracks he had never played live. (He eventually got around to playing it-- in 1996! He has since played it many times, apparently...)
"Human Hands" is "just a straightforward love song" according to Costello, who claims to have never written such a thing prior to this:
Can anyone identify the chord Costello plays on this song that "everybody said was completely wrong"?
"Kid About It" is a beautiful, sad song EC wrote on the morning after John Lennon's murder, although it isn't "about" that.
"Little Savage" is "sort of a love song, in spite of itself" says Costello:
Costello thinks most love songs are either desolate or "starry-eyed" and that "Little Savage" is for the people "stuck in the middle":
An earlier take on "Little Savage" sounds as if their might have been some alcohol involved at some point prior to its recording, or maybe it's was just exhaustion:
Costello talks about writing the music for "Boy With A Problem" and giving it to @chrisdifford to write the lyrics, then how The Attractions completed the backing track in Costello's absence:
...and how "Boy With A Problem" was a last-minute addition to the album that almost didn't make it!
"Pidgin English" is described by Costello as "a political song":
"Pidgin English" was also the first track to be fully completed during the process of making IbMePdErRoIoAmL:
Some fun details about how they figured out the "sound" of "Pidgin English" in the studio:
"A tongue-in-cheek sound effects record, with serious lyrics" - Costello, wrapping up his thoughts on "Pidgin English"
Some fascinating insight into Costello's approach to singing songs "in character," specifically the "creep" in "You Little Fool":
Costello has tended to criticize this song as a timid choice to be the single for such an adventurous album, but I've always thought "You Little Fool" was one of the most underrated pop songs in his catalog:
In the music video for "You Little Fool," Elvis & all three Attractions play supporting roles, some quite dramatically!
Who gives the best performance?
And the dramatic conclusion of the same video, with Elvis' big scene:
Elvis talks about the running order of the album:
Costello talks about "Town Cryer," "a proud song" to close out the album.
(He also talks about the insane alternate version which I will post in a minute.)
"I wanted it to sound like The Impressions, y'know? But obviously I can't sing as good as Curtis Mayfield." - Elvis Costello on "Town Cryer":
"The Attractions Go To Rio!" version of "Town Cryer," also known as the "Barry White Version." Recorded on a lark, released as a b-side. Imagine a version of IbMePdErRoIoAmL where this is the closing track:
Costello talks about coming up with the title, which at one point was going to be This Is A Revolution Of The Mind:
And how they finally landed on the title IbMePdErRoIoAmL (pronounced "Imperial Bedroom"):
My goodness, it is nearly 3:30am. This megathread was an insane idea that I am quickly falling behind on.
Thankfully not all of the days will be as content-heavy as the past two. The AB doc & the IB promo LP both involved a lot of dumb editing of clips on my phone.
A few more quick/fun things. Some of the b-sides will pop up on a compilation LP next week, so I'll stick to rarer finds here in the wee small hours of the morning...
Sing along with The Attractions' superb backing track for "Boy With A Problem":
The other performance from that 1982 Letterman episode: "Kid About It"
For headphones: my mix of "Beyond Belief" featuring its first draft, "The Land Of Give And Take," panned to one side with the LP version in the opposite ear.
(For the full track, go to: )
Also released in 1982, Elvis Costello's self-declared "worst song," the title track to the motion picture "Party Party."
(Truly, it isn't that bad. It's a catchy little number that EC has singled out for exclusion on nearly all of his deluxe expanded CD reissues.)
OK, that brings Day 9 of 45 Days Of Elvis Costello to a close, wayyyyyy too late/early...
This album sometimes takes some heat, as it was Costello admittedly looking to score a hit.
Personally, I have always really loved Punch The Clock & see less of a distinction between the orchestral pop of IbMePdErRoIoAmL & the kind of record this is.
Released August 5, 1983
IbMePdErRoIoAmL had brought Costello a new level of critical acclaim, but no hit singles.
He brought in producers Clive Langer & Alan Winstanley to do their thing, and it worked.
Langer & Winstanley were the big UK hitmaking producers on a hot streak, but they also did make really good records. They were a smart choice.
Madness: "Our House"
Costello was acutely aware that a lack of chart success could lead to less freedom to do what he wanted, but as crass commercial pivots go, he was still picking people whose work he respected.
Dexys Midnight Runners: "Come On Eileen"
The thing that PTC is best known for is "Everyday I Write The Book," which was Costello's first Top 40 single in the US.
4 years ago, he was basically DONE in America, and now he had a single on the charts and it was a love song with a radio-friendly modern sound.
This song is probably the most 80s-sounding track on the record, but it clearly delivered exactly what Costello was looking for.
It is a shocking change of image to look at him here compared to just a few years prior.
ALSO: these Charles & Diana look-alikes were pretty swell.
The song began as a kind of Merseybeat spoof, Costello showing off how quickly he could write this kind of basic pop song. In recent years, this is often the arrangement he has favored when playing the song live:
He has also played it in medley with Nick Lowe's "When I Write The Book" a song which had already basically covered this territory with Rockpile in 1980:
On their way to figuring out how to turn it into a hit, they flirted with this reggae version:
The Attractions were augmented by The TKO Horns and Costello was supported vocally by backing singers Afrodiziak, and the recording process was more of a "building block" approach than the band was used to.
I think it's a fun sound:
It could be that my ears are broken, but apart from EIWTB, the rest of this album doesn't sound as characteristically "80s" as its reputation would suggest.
Here's an atypically upbeat song about marriage, with a lot of words:
"The Element Within Her" is another quick piece of pop fluff, but I have to say I am really glad that Costello made one album like this. He has made so many records that are explicitly avoiding being this, it's fun to hear him not fighting some of these pop impulses.
Two things, in "Charm School":
1) "a girl with a trick, and a man with a... calling"
2) "they say it's hell to finance, too, and I just want to romance you (do-do-do-do-do-do-do)"
This album is FUN.
I think "The Invisible Man" (a song which has its roots in Trust outtake "Twenty-five to Twelve" & the later outtake "Seconds Of Pleasure" which I failed to post in all the frenzy of tweets yesterday) is just about as fun a wordy pop song as Costello has ever written:
Honestly, this album is mostly remembered for the hit single and two "political" songs which I will get to in a minute, but it is absolutely loaded with deep cut album tracks which are catchy as hell and full of clever lyrics, like "Mouth Almighty":
"I had forgotten all about The Case Of The Three Pins" is one of my favorite opening lines to a song.
"King Of Thieves," yet another terrific obscure song on this record:
"Love Went Mad" was a song Costello didn't think much of, and he came close to swapping it for another song after PTC's original release, but the line "I wish you luck with a capital F" feels particularly mischievous for a 1983 pop album:
"Heathen Town" is the song that almost took its place, a fun song that quotes from Guys & Dolls:
"Sit Down, You're Rockin' The Boat"
("and the devil will drag you under")
Ok, now to the 2 "political" songs that gave this pop album a certain edge.
"Shipbuilding" is a song that Clive Langer wrote the music for & then Costello wrote lyrics, originally for Robert Wyatt. It is a devastatingly sad anti-war ballad inspired by The Falklands War:
Costello's version for PTC added a beautiful trumpet part played by Chet Baker:
The other political song was "Pills & Soap" -- first released as a single under a pseudonym, The Imposter.
It was a rush-released protest song that made no difference in thwarting Thatcherism, but it did get to #16 in the UK pop charts...
The BBC freaked out that the song's political content might violate "fairness" rules during an election but Costello got away with it by saying the song was about "man's abuse of animals."
Costello has cited Grandmaster Flash's "The Message" as his inspiration for the style of the song:
Barney Bubbles' proposed album design for PTC was rejected in favor of the more conventional version they went with. (He committed suicide in November 1983.)
Bubbles was such a key part of the "look" of every Costello release prior to this. (Things would be very hit-or-miss for EC, design-wise, from this point on...)
Also in 1983: Costello accepts an invitation to appear on a Count Basie TV special, only to blow out his voice in concert the night before. Unwilling to back down from the chance to perform with this legendary band, he soldiers on and suffers the consequences...
Costello looks SO nervous dueting with Tony Bennett-- oozing casual confidence and swagger-- that it is almost hard to watch:
I would only post that clip knowing I could immediately flash-forward 11 years to Costello's guest appearance on Tony Bennett's MTV Unplugged.
Costello still seems (charmingly) a little nervous, but he nails it. (He's a better singer in 1994 than he was in 1983, inspiringly.)
Another fun thing from 1983, Costello's guesting with Madness on their song, "Tomorrow's Just Another Day."
Here's a live performance:
And the excellent studio recording, which I believe came out as a Madness b-side:
Costello in concert, adding The Beat's "Stand Down Margaret" after playing his own "Big Sister's Clothes":
The Beat (aka "The English Beat"):
If you like Punch The Clock-- or even maybe more so if you don't-- it is really worth seeking out the Rhino Records 2-disc reissue. Costello's solo demos are a totally different take on the same material, minus the Langer/Winstanley production sheen:
Some of the songs sound so completely different in these acoustic demos, it really is a terrific alternate version of the record:
I really like Costello's Punch The Clock phase. Recordings of his live tour wThe Attractions + The TKO Horns + Afrodiziak all sound amazing & the whole period is a satisfying blend of pop ambition & political activism. It's a much more genuine & complicated public persona now.
This is a much friendlier version of Costello, smiling where he once would've given the camera a bug-eyed glare. Was he happier during this phase? Hard to say. It may be that this pose is as much show biz artifice as the "Revenge & Guilt" era. But I like these songs, a lot.
I'm calling it! That's Day 10 of 45 Days Of Elvis Costello (I have NYC Comedy shows tonight to prep for!)
Costello has famously dismissed this as his "worst record" and there aren't a lot of contenders for that particular title.
It has some good stuff on it, including some fine songs that don't sound their best. It feels like a confused record.
Released June 18, 1984
This was another LP produced by Langer & Winstanley, only this time Costello seems torn between trying something new or repeating the successful formula of Punch The Clock.
It lands somewhere in the middle.
There's gonna be plenty to pick at on this record, but I'm gonna start out by defending a track which I hated at first but grew to love, not in spite of its garish 80s production but BECAUSE of it: the @realdarylhall duet, "The Only Flame In Town."
This music video is super dumb, but I have come to appreciate the song as a fairly perfect pop confection, blaring saxophone and all.
Costello has reinterpreted it as a more somber ballad, but the lyric isn't built for that. It's built for this. This is a fun/sad pop single.
Costello's attempts to reclaim this particular song (to make it something akin to his later flame-based ballad "Indoor Fireworks") always feel like he is trying fit a square peg into a round hole.
(Obviously, I can imagine someone prefering the more maudlin version. EC does!)
But there are other things going on here. The song is fine. It's fun!
But what would prompt the radical change of image in this alternate music video: no glasses??? And I can't tell for certain but is that a rattail he's sporting???
It's a kind of simple pop songwriting that Costello excels at, when he permits himself to. Books, for "Everyday I Write The Book," fire, for "The Only Flame In Town." I bet if you gave him any word, he could whip up a pop song for it, like an improv team taking a suggestion.
I think Langer & Winstanley turned the trifle Costello wrote for them into exactly the song it needed to be. But I don't think, deep down, Costello really wanted to make that record. For the first time, perhaps, he wasn't sure what kind of album he wanted to make.
Costello's marriage had finally broken down, that was likely a big part of it.
The 2nd track on the album, "Home Truth," reflected the gloom of his personal situation. It also seemed like it belonged on a totally different album from "The Only Flame In Town."
Costello's solo demos for GCW (many of them on the OOP Rhino reissue) point towards a much simpler & starker sounding album.
There are a handful of tracks on GCW that I really, really like without any caveats or reservations. "Room Without A Number" has a kind of cluttered, claustrophobic sound but I think it works:
"Inch By Inch" is another genuinely good song, only slightly marred by the dated synthesizer sounds of 1984. (It's easy to imagine this same track sounding a little bit better if they had recorded it one year earlier or later):
"Worthless Thing" is one of my all-time favorite Costello songs.
I don't even mind the 80s production touches. The song just WORKS for me, on every level, especially the chorus:
The specifics are a time capsule of the moment it was written during, but it feels like Costello is being prescient about the horrorshow of the modern broadband corporate media landscape to come: "they're gonna take this CABLE now and STICK it down your THROAT."
And this is why the 2-disc expanded Rhino reissue of GCW is one of the most essential things to track down. Even most of the albums BEST tracks are presented in superior live or demo form:
"Love Field" seems to be the one track on GCW that Costello really likes, including it on a few "best of" collections as the sole representation of this album.
"You lie, so unfolded, in a love field" is a fantastic opening line...
The two singles were the tracks where Costello fully allowed Langer/Winstanley to do their thing.
I kinda wish that EC had made 2 records, one where he gave in & made a full-on 80s-style LP in the style of those singles & another bare-bones album of heartfelt, sad songs.
Costello's cover of Farnell Jenkins' "I Wanna Be Loved" is another track it took me a while to warm to but I really appreciate the way it commits to & sustains a mood.
This excellent music video (dir. by Evan English) was the thing that ultimately led me to like the song more:
The extras casting for this is pretty spectacular-- the choices for style of kissing are fascinating, esp. those which are near misses or oddly aggressive.
ALSO: Costello is vocalizing over the pre-recorded track, a striking device he would return to in the video for "Veronica."
This music video was copied TWICE by @u2! They have basically admitted to Costello that when they are at a loss for what to do for a music video, they simply re-make the video for "I Wanna Be Loved."
And @U2's second re-make of "I Wanna Be Loved," for "The Sweetest Thing":
Teacher's Edition's original record of "I Wanna Be Loved" from 1973:
The 2nd half of the album is where things really start to lose some steam.
"The Comedians" isn't bad-- I like it, overall, even though I have no idea what he's singing about (that has never been a deal breaker for me with Costello songs)-- but he would improve it later...
Costello re-wrote the song almost entirely, for Roy Orbison, replacing its rather cryptic verses with a narrative the listener can actually make sense of, a parable of betrayal set atop a ferris wheel. The song is transformed:
"Joe Porterhouse" usually leaves me feeling a little underwhelmed, unless I approach it with lowered expectations, in which case it pleasantly surprises me, and then the cycle begins all over again...
The bones of the song in demo form are identical, but I find this simple rendition makes me want to lean in and listen:
[RECORD SCRATCH] twitter failed to post this tweet, 2 tweets back...
Orbison takes ownership of the song from the very first line: it is his song now. When I hear Costello sing it now, I hear him singing a Roy Orbison song.
"Sour Milk-Cow Blues" is a song that feels like it is supposed to be fun but I have never enjoyed it, despite always being open to it. I feel like it's very close to being a fun song.
Beyond the reference in the title, is there any other connection to "Milk Cow Blues"?
Honestly, Costello's song exhausts me, I can't hear one but I don't know if his song just breaks my brain & wears me out. I kind of turn off listening halfway through it, involuntarily...
"The Great Unknown" - I like this song a LOT. The album version is a little bit plodding, but it's not enough to do any real damage to a good song.
I'm a sucker for a lyric like "Footprints set in sentimental cement / Now burden down his bones":
Costello's solo demo for "The Great Unknown" is slow but somehow feels like it has more of a lift to it. Goddamn, this is a good song. If I ever heard him play this in concert (unlikely), I would absolutely LOSE IT.
"The Deportees Club" is another bummer of a song. It's baffling that Costello has done his kind of raving song so well on albums before and since, but I find this one basically unlistenable:
Costello also rescued this song, after the fact. (Often, this process happens before he records and releases a song, this one just got slapped onto an album before it was ready.)
Recently humiliated idea-lover Malcolm @Gladwell did a podcast episode that talked at length about the transformation of "The Deportees Club" to its final, superior form as "Deportee":
The album closes on a somber political ballad, "Peace In Our Time" which Costello played on The Tonight Show with guest host Joan Rivers:
From a 1995 Record Collector interview, Costello talking about that Tonight Show performance, and admitting that he "lifted" the melody for "Peace In Our Time" from someone else's song!
(Anyone know whose song he stole it from?)
Around this same time, Costello wrote & recorded the theme song for a TV series by his pal playwright Alan Bleasdale, called Scully:
The basic track was produced by Langer & Winstanley (credited as "The Mono Kings") but the guitar & vocals were done later w/Jon Jacobs (Geoff Emerick's assistant on IbMePdErRoIoAmL) & it honestly sounds so much better than most of GCW:
UPDATE: from @CharlieSedarka, an answer to the question of where EC "lifted" the melody for "Peace In Our Time." (I should have re-read those Rhino liner notes this morning but this thread is like a runaway freight train!)
I can hear it, although his reference to "lifting" the melody was clearly at least half-joking. (He's good at adapting his influences so it's never outright theft, he always bends it or twists it a little to make it his own...)
Some more fun gems from the GCW bonus disc: the demo for "Mystery Voice" contains bits that would wind up in "Room With No Number" & "Worthless Thing."
(I like those songs better than this, but I like this song better than other GCW tracks!)
"Blue Murder On Union Avenue" is an early draft of "Worthless Thing."
Again, I prefer how it ended up, but this version ain't half bad, and it is fascinating to observe the development of a song like that.
Speaking of Blue Murder, I know I already posted a TV clip of Costello performing "Peace In Our Time" but I need to post this one just so you can see him perform in this blue sweater:
And here is the final half of the Top Of The Pops performance where the BBC became furious when drummer Pete Thomas looked into the camera and mimed a drum fill on his head, revealing the state secret that TOTP used pre-recorded music & lip syncing...
Costello being interviewed by Joan Rivers on The Tonight Show, 1984. Costello brought a little devil puppet along with him, for some reason.
(Watch him slyly take it from its resting place atop Steve's keyboard)
Joan Rivers throws names of musicians at Costello, and he doesn't hold back.
(I believe this clip will have consequences for Costello in 1997. We'll return to it then.)
"I'm CRAZY about you!" exclaims a delighted Rivers. "Because you tell the TRUTH!"
EC did a solo tour after recording GCW, & quickly figured out where he had gone wrong on this record.
That tour featured a healthy sampling of cover songs. One of them was @johnhiattmusic's "She Loves The Jerk" which EC had also recorded while doing the demos for GCW:
Costello recorded a guest vocal on a cover of "Living A Little, Laughing A Little" for @johnhiattmusic's 1985 album Warming Up To The Ice Age.
Costello was presumably unavailable for Hiatt's music video shoot, which then clearly adapted to make his absence its main plotline:
Hiatt does his best Costello imitation throughout, all leading up to a big surprise cameo appearance at the end, clearly filmed at a different time and place...
The song is, of course, a cover of the song made famous by The Detroit Spinners...
...which Costello sang a tiny snippet of at the end of "Alison" on his 1983 tour with The TKO Horns.
This is one of my very favorite things, the way this builds at the very end:
A couple more quick things before I close out Day 11 and go to sleep...
One of the more fun covers from his 1984 solo tour, Jerry Dammers' crowd-pleasing "What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend":
Also from that tour, a partial clip of Costello performing The Beatles' "Yes It Is."
This is another song where if he played this at a concert I was attending, I would LOSE IT.
Here is a brief interview with Costello from 1984, split into 2 parts, including an impressively swift & honestly too-close-for-comfort mimed strangulation:
Part 2 of that interview (no mimed strangulations!):
A GIF of the sudden mimed strangulation:
Also a GIF of Pete Thomas miming a drum fill on his head on Top Of The Pops!
Almost an hour of a 1984 concert with The Attractions at Forest Hills, NY:
And I think that pretty well does it for Day 11 of 45 Days Of Elvis Costello!
This is totally self-indulgent, but if a person can't be self-indulgent during a 45-day twitter thread...
Costello did one of those features where people name pop culture things they like, & he listed as his "favourite TV show" a program I will be appearing in 2 eps of in S2...
Day 12: King Of America
A major album, with a lot of big changes.
The Attractions are mostly sidelined as Costello & producer T Bone Burnett assemble a cast of American session musicians-- including members of Elvis Presley's TCB band-- to make one of his greatest records.
Released February 21, 1986
Technically, it's not even an "Elvis Costello" album-- it's listed as "The Costello Show featuring the Attractions and Confederates."
After the confused, fractured sound of Goodbye Cruel World, this album is brimming with confidence & genuine feeling.
Costello also starts pulling back from his stage name, crediting himself as Declan Patrick Aloysius MacManus-- his actual name, with the addition (I think) of "Aloysius"-- and also as L.H.C, for his nickname as a guitar player, "The Little Hands Of Concrete"
1985 was the first year without a new Costello album since his debut, but he did tour a bit, and released a single with T Bone Burnett under their aliases Henry & Howard Coward, aka "The Coward Brothers":
Elvis & T Bone became fast friends in 1985, and The Coward Brothers were a comic device for them to perform covers of famous songs in concert, claiming to have written them.
(This Is Spinal Tap had come out a year earlier & I suspect that this is not a coincidence.)
After 4 albums in a row where Costello was dealing with various levels of ambitous orchestration & production techniques that sometimes weren't his cup of tea, this new album would be a chance to simplify. The lessons learned on Goodbye Cruel World would pay off on this record.
The advance single was perhaps the 2nd worst choice the record company could've picked to represent the album, a perfectly fine cover of Nina Simone's "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood."
It's not bad but after GCW & a longer than usual gap between records, this wasn't the most impressive way to return
The NME ran a review basically saying that the single was proof EC was in a creative rut (a hysterical take which the critic would disown once the LP came out)
Nina Simone's original:
And The Animals' version, which EC's seems modeled after:
I think it was a significant blunder for this album to announce itself this way, when literally almost ANY other track would've been a more impressive lead single
(Even though the LP is considered a classic within EC's oeuvre, it was not a hit record & could've used the help)
The album opens with the perfectly titled "Brilliant Mistake," a song which I knew I was going to love from the very first line, and then the song just gets better and better and better:
Here he is opening the song in concert with a (slightly mangled) quote from "Tangled Up In Blue."
While Blood On The Tracks is a masterpiece often linked to Dylan's marital woes, Costello's personal life appeared to be on the upswing as he made KOA...
In the gap between records, Costello produced The Pogues' LP "Rum, Sodomy And The Lash" and ended up romantically involved with bass player Cait O'Riordan, a relationship that would last until 2002...
O'Riordan co-wrote the album's 2nd track, "Lovable":
It's startling to compare this album to his previous attempts at Country or Americana-influenced music of 5 or 10 years earlier. KOA feels so much more assured; there's no longer the slight feeling of him trying out a genre.
This song, "Our Little Angel," is astonishingly good:
(Of course, being backed by members of Elvis Presley's TCB band on several tracks probably goes a long way towards making it feel effortlessly authentic.)
"Indoor Fireworks" is Costello's 2nd fire-based love song in as many consecutive albums; almost an answer song to "The Only Flame In Town," an attempt to out-do the things he felt went wrong on the previous record:
"Little Palaces" is a deep cut but it's as clear an example I can think of to demonstrate Costello's skill as both songwriter and performer. One of the casualties of him writing so many songs is that material this strong can get buried under a mountain of other great songs:
[The massive upside, of course, is that obviously this is just an overwhelming amount of great music to discover and re-discover, but it's also shocking how much of it even someone as obsessive as I am can actually overlook or forget about sometimes.]
"I'll Wear It Proudly" is a defiantly positive love song sung w/absolute conviction. I'm not suggesting that this is totally w/o precedent in his catalog at this point, but it does feel like it digs down to a specific place of feeling that he hadn't explored previously:
Also, the final minute of Crowded House's "Don't Dream It's Over" quotes "I'll Wear It Proudly":
ALSO: @thomyorke points to "I'll Wear It Proudly" as a song that was a huge influence on him, and he has performed it in concert. (A collaboration between @ElvisCostello & @Radiohead would be fascinating...)
King Of America isn't a concept album, but it does seem like it has a few kinds of songs that are sort of linked to one another.
"American Without Tears" feels like it starts out Side 2 as a kind of echo or reflection of the way "Brilliant Mistake" started out Side 1:
He would of course write a sequel to this song and at one point in time a few lucky audiences were able to hear them performed back-to-back as a 9-minute epic...
Legendary musicians Ray Brown & Earl Palmer make up the rhythm section on two tracks, which appear on the album in reverse order from how they were recorded.
First, the celebratory cover of J.B. Lenoir's "Eisenhower Blues":
Admittedly, sometimes this is perhaps the kind of track that EC maybe enjoys performing more than I enjoy listening to him perform
I think this & the cover of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" are both songs I could imagine being left of the LP w/o weakening it
I think the best justification for leaving "Eisenhower Blues" on the album isn't that it gives the record a boost of needed energy-- it already has that, from other songs-- but simply that it was a victory lap after nailing "Poisoned Rose" w/that line-up & EC wanted it on there.
Yeah, he coulda released "Eisenhower Blues" as a b-side & replaced it with any of several stronger originals, but this LP already has plenty of those.
It meant a lot to him to have these musicians on one of his albums.
Here is that perfect take of "Poisoned Rose":
"The Big Light" is a nice big jolt of fun energy (that feels like literally the flip side of "Glitter Gulch" on Side 1) once again feat. TCB band vets James Burton, Jerry Scheff & Ron Tutt:
Seeing Johnny Cash & The Carter Family performing "The Big Light" feels almost like an out-of-body experience for me, I can only imagine how strange & thrilling it must've been for Costello:
And then, the album draws to a close with as strong a 3-song sequence as Elvis Costello will ever record in his lifetime.
"Jack Of All Parades" is 5+ minutes of perfection. The way the drums hit as chorus kicks in sends a chill down my spine, every time:
I'm splitting the song up into segments here, and it's all so terrific.
Every slight variation in the structure of the song takes my breath away. And then, at the very end of this 2nd clip, we hear the appearance of @SteveNieve on piano, for the song's glorious final minute...
The coda to this song, with @SteveNieve's gorgeous piano sweeping in to make an already extraordinary song fully take flight, alerts the listener to the fact that this album promised Attractions but so far delivered only Confederates.
The next song will be their only appearance!
Costello intended for The Attractions to play on half the album but things went too well with the new musicians and rising tensions meant things went less well with his original band.
Except for on THIS song, "Suit Of Lights":
The Attractions are in absolutely top form here, in a song inspired by Costello watching his dad perform before a rude audience who couldn't be bothered to pay attention. The band would soon fall apart, but they have rarely sounded better:
The album closer, "Sleep Of The Just" is a beautiful-sounding song that is actually a pretty funny act of petty revenge against a soldier he had an unpleasant interaction with at the border of Northern Ireland.
Costello conjures a scenario in which this soldier is getting a hard-on looking at pictures of his sister, a topless model.
"His family pride was rising up as he cast his eyes down."
The LP literally ends on a dick joke, in one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard.
There are some good outtakes from King Of America, but I'm not sure this album needed any more good songs from Elvis Costello.
I like "Suffering Face" but I can't honestly say that it should take the place of the two cover songs on the album.
Same with "King Of Confidence" - as strong as it is (and it's shocking that it didn't come out as a b-side at the time), the album already has more great Costello originals than it needs...
A few more things...
Costello performing "Little Palaces" on Irish TV a year later:
A bunch of good clips of Costello & The Confederates on tour in Japan a year later, with Nick Lowe:
They sound especially nice on this version of Lowe's "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love & Understanding?"
And an Amnesty International TV commercial from 1986, featuring Costello:
The same year Costello stages a comeback in an entirely new musical direction w/a new cast of players, he ALSO makes a 2nd LP w/The Attractions that is essentially a sequel to This Year's Model AND somehow doesn't disappoint.
Released September 15, 1986
In any other year, this record on its own would've been a big deal. Nick Lowe is back in the producer's chair for the first time since Trust in 1981. And yet, this is somehow a "back to basics" adventure which doesn't tread over familiar ground.
Costello re-christened himself "Napoleon Dynamite" 18 years before filmmaker Jared Hess used the name for his movie.
Hess claims he had no idea: "I listen to hip-hop, dude. It's a pretty embarrassing coincidence."
Costello: "The guy just denies completely that I made the name up ... but I invented it. Maybe somebody told him the name and he truly feels that he came to it by chance. But it's two words that you're never going to hear together."
With its startling cover imagery harkening back to Barney Bubbles' painting for IbMePdErRoIoAmL w/a new work by the artist Eamonn Singer (aka EC; pronounced "Aimin' Singer" as in My Aim Is True), the LP announces its unsubtle intentions loudly w/opening track, "Uncomplicated":
No-brainer-shoulda-been-a-single "I Hope You're Happy Now" is classic 1978 Costello w/8 more years of bitter experience thrown in for good measure. It's zippy, quick & funny & The Attractions sound like a band unleashed.
It's also a song that took 2 years & multiple attempts
For some unknown reason, Costello & The Attractions played this song on The Tonight Show two years earlier, when it wasn't on the album they were promoting:
It was attempted for Goodbye Cruel World but wisely left off. This version is so close but it's not where it needs to be yet:
Going back to the drawing board as he did with so many songs from GCW, Costello re-imagines the song as an understated ballad in this solo demo from 1985:
Then there's this Confederates version from the King Of America sessions (supposedly "accidentally" released on a UK Singles box set in 2003) which is pretty damn good! It's a much gentler take on the song before it snaps back to being loud & fast for its perfect version on B&C:
I don't know whose idea it was for the singles for this LP to be the longest & most nightmarish tracks -- on an album where more than half the songs feel like potential hit singles.
"Tokyo Storm Warning" was a single you had to flip over halfway through:
Am I the only one who hears the classic "Sesame Street" theme music in "Tokyo Storm Warning"?
I did not buy this "Japanese God-Jesus Robot" when I saw it on ebay earlier this year. But I think about it often. And when I visited Japan in 2015, I looked everywhere for one.
I *did* however buy the withdrawn cassette edition that was made to look like a Cadbury's chocolate bar until @CadburyUK complained about it and it was deleted. Way to ruin the fun, company that makes candy!
I haven't had time to dip into this up to this point in the thread, but there was a great 1992 BBC radio documentary series about Costello where they talked to EC & various other ppl like Nick Lowe & Attractions bass player Bruce Thomas
Here's EC on the way he approached B&C:
Nick Lowe, in 1992, talking about the tensions & internal dynamics of EC & The Attractions during the making of Blood & Chocolate:
"Home Is Anywhere You Hang Your Head" is a great example of The Attractions' sound on this album. Even on a slow, measured track like this, they are a million miles away from the numb feeling of GCW. It's a grinding, churning sound that breathes like a living thing:
Costello in 1992, talking about how much he annoyed The Attractions when making Blood & Chocolate, and Bruce Thomas talking about how much he disliked the song "I Want You."
(These interviews were prior to The Attractions 90s reunion, when the band was split up & estranged.)
"I Want You" is Blood & Chocolate's centerpiece-- nearly 7 minutes long, it starts from a place of unbearable tension & doesn't let up
But while it was easy for listeners to assume the Costello of 1978 was singing from his own POV, this feels more clearly like character work
In part, this was because EC had produced a massive body of work by now; it was impossible to imagine that every song was HIM
But also, there is an element of theatricality to this performance-- what Bruce Thomas dismissed as a Norman Bates routine-- that is one of its strengths
It was almost like a method acting version of Randy Newman; no one thought Costello was really a psycho, but he threw himself into the character w/a Daniel Day-Lewis level of vocal commitment
The final minute has the mics switch off until it is just the vocal mic + distant music
From the Brooklyn Steel concert earlier this year, 2 minutes & 20 seconds of Costello once again taking this song to new places:
"Blue Chair" would eventually be a single, but a different version than this one. Which is bonkers, because this feels to me like a great pop single. (In my ideal world, a song like this would've had a shot at getting airplay on the radio in 1986.)
"Battered Old Bird" is the type of song that is cursed to mostly vanish from the touring repertoire once the album is done being promoted. Which is a shame, because it's a big, meaty song.
(He's played it exactly once since 1987.)
I mean, I get it-- on any given tour, a song like this takes up a lot of real estate, and it would probably always be better to play 3 songs from Get Happy!! or This Year's Model instead.
Still, listen to Costello really going for it with this song:
And here's the part where they use the "Strawberry Fields Forever" trick to stitch two different takes together:
While in most ways King Of America & Blood & Chocolate couldn't be more different, they both end with a sequence of 3 absolutely knockout songs.
B&C's begins with "Crimes Of Paris":
"Poor Napoleon" has a sound that jumped out at me the first time I heard it and I get that exact same feeling every time I hear it, still:
I finally got to hear him play "Next Time Round" in concert earlier this year!
I love how Blood & Chocolate begins with "you think it's over now but this is only the beginning" & ends by predicting what will happen "the next time 'round." This is a well-sequenced record.
Here's a snippet of him closing out a 1986 Attractions concert by segueing from "Poor Napoleon" into Lennon's "Instant Karma.":
Costello followed the release of B&C with a hugely ambitious tour involving two full bands (Attractions & Confederates) & five different kinds of show per city (including the one with the giant Spinning Songbook, where audience members spin the big wheel to pick the songs.)
Costello, speaking to Rolling Stone in 1989 about the Costello Sings Again tour: "Do you know how much money I lost on that? But it was worthwhile because people damn well talked about it."
There were also guest M.C.'s at the shows, including the likes of Tom Waits, Roberto Benigni, Penn & Teller, Buster Poindexter & members of the Chicago Bears.
Here's @pennjillette yelling for Costello to play a Prince song, which he does:
(Full clip: )
I really like "Uncomplicated" on the record and as an opening track specifically but part of me feels like it was also not the best ambassador for an album that contains quite a few very catchy & melodic pop songs:
"I Hope You're Happy Now" is, I think, a much better entry point for the album overall. It's short & aggressive & funny & gets its point across in a way that would make me want to seek out the record.
"Uncomplicated" got a lot of TV time for a song that I think can be a little bit alienating as a first impression
It's also interesting that Costello opted to play a cover of "Leave My Kitten Alone" on TV instead of any of the other songs from the record, like "Blue Chair" or "Crimes Of Paris":
"Leave My Kitten Alone" was recorded during the B&C sessions but didn't make it onto the album & didn't even come out as a b-side!
EC would release a version on the covers album Kojak Variety but this more rowdy take wouldn't come out until the 2-disc Rhino edition of B&C:
And now, some intros that Costello recorded as Guest VJ on MTV in 1986...
(Might as well include some clips of the videos he chose...)
Public Image Ltd: "Rise"
"The Napoleon Dynamite Polka Hour"
Talk Talk: "Life's What You Make Of It"
Tom Waits: "In The Neighborhood"
Costello outros the Tom Waits video and then introduces a Talking Heads song wordlessly...
Talking Heads: "Burning Down The House"
X: "Burning House Of Love"
Outro for X, plugging the Costello Sings Again tour, then an intro for The Rolling Stones:
The Rolling Stones' ridiculously horny music video for "She Was Hot."
I have never heard this song before, and this video is BONKERS.
This insane Rolling Stones video continues as this woman makes everyone who sees her go sex crazy:
Whitney Houston: "How Will I Know"
Elvis Costello outros Whitney, intros Bob:
Bob Dylan: "Subterranean Homesick Blues"
The Pretenders: "Don't Get Me Wrong"
Costello outros The Pretenders & has an umbrella malfunction
The Pogues: "Dirty Old Town"
Final outros and farewells as Costello's Guest VJ hour comes to a close...
I'll wrap up now with a performance of one of the Blood & Chocolate songs being performed in concert by The Confederates.
The Attractions were about to split up, fired by Costello bc he couldn't afford to keep them on salary. He wanted to try some new things...
It's the sequel to Taking Liberties/10 Bloody Marys & 10 How's Your Fathers!
The big yellow sticker seems to be there so people could tell it was actually an "Elvis Costello" LP, which sort of cuts against the joke of its deliberately cheap cover design
Released December 4, 1987
It was technically credited to "Various Artists" since the tracks were released under so many different pseudonyms.
It's amazing to realize that 7 different artist names are included and they didn't even have one track by "The Imposter."
It's a much stranger & less cohesive collection than the previous mop-up releases, indicative that 1981-1986 was a much less cohesive period for Costello as a recording artist, something that was even truer for his non-album work
I've already posted about some of these tracks when tweeting about the albums during which they were recorded and/or released as b-sides
The CD reissues of the 90s & 00s made this album & TL/10BM&10HYF temporarily redundant, all of this material became bonus tracks:
Since those reissues are all now out-of-print & expensive, these collections have kept two entire LPs' worth of Costello's oeuvre available in the streaming age.
(Costello b-sides & bonus material from 1987-2018 have no equivalent compilations & require some searching)
EC: "This song was borrowed from the great Joe Camilleri, then of Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons, after our first trip to Australia. Unfortunately our only @AbbeyRoad session fell on a Bank Holiday & was blighted by flying coffee cups, technical resistance & overwhelming blueness."
The original version by Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons:
One difference between this and the earlier b-sides collections is that there are more covers of other people's songs, reflecting his post-Armed Forces openness about his musical enthusiasms.
"Get Yourself Another Fool" by Frank Haywood & Ernest Tucker:
As performed by Sam Cooke:
And a bit of thread foreshadowing (x2!) with this clip of Sir Paul McCartney performing the same song decades later with Diana Krall on piano:
"Walking On Thin Ice" is significant beyond being @ElvisCostello's only cover of a @yokoono song -- it was produced by Allen Toussaint, who will obvsly figure prominently in this thread on 2 more days, one soon & one later...
Yoko's original, with some nice 80s footage of her in NYC:
This was recorded for a Yoko One tribute album in 1984; here is a delightful photo of them together that looks like it was taken around 2010-ish
A GCW-era cover of Richard Thompson's despairing "Withered & Died."
(Costello had seriously considered asking @RthompsonMusic to play guitar on GCW, but sadly never made the call.)
Richard Thompson's own distinctive performance of the song in concert:
And (pre-break-up) Linda & Richard Thompson:
Costello in 1985 was especially enamored of the saddest songs Richard Thompson could write.
(This isn't on OOOI, but is a King Of America Rhino bonus track)
And here is another take of that song which Costello donated to a substance abuse charity compilation only to have a producer add harmony vocals & synth bass without his permission:
Costello & Nick Lowe recorded this Bacharach song for a joint single to promote a tour they were doing, and Columbia Records refused to release it because they worried that it was "too good" and would distract from their other singles:
The Shirelles' version:
The Beatles' version:
And this version by Smith featured in Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof":
The IbMePdErRoIoAmL-era single, his cover of Smokey Robinson's "From Head To Toe":
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles' original:
B-side "The World Of Broken Hearts" didn't make it onto either the CD or LP edition of Out Of Our Idiot, which easily could have been a 2-disc/3-LP set:
And here is that Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman song as performed by The Amen Corner:
Also not on Out Of Our Idiot: b-side "Night Time" by Paddy Chambers, on which Costello sings "we can have a little party/laugh & sing & EVERYTHING"
and also "maybe first we'll dig a movie/then we'll hit the high spots feelin' groovy"
"Night Time" by The Escorts
The Coward Brothers are credited as producers on the single version of "Blue Chair" which was partly recorded during the KOA sessions; a new vocal arrangement was recorded in January 1987:
Probably my favorite track on OOOI is "Black Sails In The Sunset," a Trust outtake that didn't become a b-side until "Tokyo Storm Warning" 5 years later!
This is the song I think of first when considering how Costello puts out some of his best work as b-sides or bonus tracks:
Another prime track, which Costello has basically admitted should have made it onto Punch The Clock, is "The Flirting Kind." Both this and "Black Sails" are among my very favorite Costello songs:
Costello's demo (not on OOOI) is an early attempt to write a Bacharach-style song. I always wished he would have given Burt a crack at re-writing/re-arranging it when they were doing concerts for Painted From Memory in 1998...
Two b-sides from The Costello Show demonstrate why King Of America leaned more heavily on The Confederates than The Attractions.
"Shoes Without Heels" (backed by TCB's Burton/Scheff/Tutt) is good enough that it could've/should've been on the album:
Meanwhile, the only other Attractions recording from the KOA sessions is significantly less impressive than "Suit Of Lights." It's fine, even a little fun, but neither the song nor the record feels like it belongs anywhere near KOA:
"Big Sister" an early draft of "Big Sister's Clothes" from the Trust sessions:
But I think I prefer this blurry, slurred version from the same sessions to the one that ended up as a b-side & on OOOI. This version has the feel of a political argument made in a bar at 3am:
Some non-b-side outtakes that emerged on later reissues strike me as more interesting than a few of the ones that made it onto OOOI, including this B&C track, "Forgive Her Anything." (I think Costello was still hoping this song would find its way onto an album eventually):
Up until 1996, Costello avoided having "title tracks" but he wasn't above naming songs after albums they weren't on ("Almost Blue") -- my guess is that the solo track "Imperial Bedroom" was never even considered for inclusion on IbMePdErRoIoAmL:
One of the more unusual tracks on OOOI has its origins in Alex Cox's spaghetti western parody, Straight To Hell, a movie which features Dennis Hopper, Grace Jones, Courtney Love, The Pogues and Elvis Costello as the butler, "Hives."
Costello contributed the song "A Town Called Big Nothing" to its soundtrack, credited to The MacManus Gang & featuring Sy Richardson delivering the narration that is the song's main vocal.
(Also featured: Ross MacManus on trumpet & flamenco clapping!)
This is a really fun song, I am surprised that Costello hasn't written more in this style, basically prose over music.
(I'd be curious to hear the fragments of fiction in his memoir set to music and performed by actors)
The ending to this feels suitably epic.
I believe Costello has said this song has more of a plot than the movie (which I have never seen)
Someone made a supercut of all of Costello's appearances as "Hives":
Or you could just watch this 15 seconds:
Ok, that's it for Day 14 of 45 Days Of Elvis Costello!
Now we reach the point in the timeline where a number of "lost" @ElvisCostello albums emerge; most are eventually released officially & at least one possibly never will be
Easily the most significant of these is the one he made with Sir @PaulMcCartney
The collaboration mostly took place in 1987/88, including the recording of basically 2 albums (one of raw demos & one of full studio sessions) that weren't officially released for 30 years.
It's complicated! Let's get into it...
Also, how fortuitous that we have arrived at this material today, with #PaulMcCartney once again making headlines both for his new album #EgyptStation and also for adding a provocative & previously unknown footnote to The Story Of #TheBeatles...
The latest headlines of course adding yet another detail to the list of ways that the Lennon/McCartney partnership differed from that of McCartney/Costello (we can reasonably speculate)
In total, we're talking about 15 songs written by McCartney & Costello.
And there are multiple ways to hear these songs, but originally, they were sort of split up and came out on 5 different solo records between 1989 & 1996.
Then, in the late 90s, a bootleg emerged, containing a bunch of the original demo recordings by McCartney & Costello, including songs that inexplicably had never been recorded by either of them.
I remember learning that this existed & worrying that I would never find a copy.
I don't recall how I tracked down my copy, but I remember that once I got it, I couldn't believe what I was hearing; I was astonished that something so great could sit in a vault for a decade, unreleased.
I played it constantly.
I wondered if it would remain forever unreleased. Eventually, in the YouTube era, you could find all the demos pretty easily. After a while, I kind of figured they would never officially come out, since they were already "out there" for anyone curious who knew to look for them.
Then, finally, last year, everything that had been bootlegged was finally released in McCartney's Flowers In The Dirt Archive Edition box set, along with a ton of Costello/McCartney recordings that had never leaked...
Even better, the original batch of two-man acoustic demos were released on vinyl, as a 2nd LP accompanying the original solo album.
Costello now had an answer to any inquiries about a McCartney/Costello joint album: "As to whether a record should come out. It has. This is it."
It's sort of amazing to me how quietly it was released, but I think it was bad timing & also there was a slight element of burying the lede: there is naturally going to be less buzz about bonus tracks on an archival release than if it had been framed as a lost album by 2 legends
"The Lovers That Never Were" (original demo)
Paul's vocal here is astonishing, and Costello's voice blends with his perfectly.
(If you own most of Costello's albums & are hearing this demo for the first time now, I'm guessing it means you have a new album to rush out and buy.)
Early sessions for Flowers In The Dirt involved Costello as co-producer as well as contributing vocal harmonies, but eventually the album went in a different direction. Paul's attempt at this song for FITD is solid but loses a lot minus EC's harmonies:
And this is the version that Sir Paul eventually released, on his 1993 album. Off The Ground.
It's not bad-- the bones of the song are strong-- but it doesn't give me the same feeling that the original demo does:
A hidden track on the deluxe edition is a @GeoffEmerick remix of "The Lovers That Never Were" demo, which is kind of a halfway point between the raw demo and the way it eventually sounded on an album.
I wonder if they tried this approach on any of the other demos? I like it.
When I first heard it on a bootleg CD, "Tommy's Coming Home" floored me.
How had a song THIS good not found a home on ANY Costello or McCartney album between 1989 & 1998?
Also, why didn't they just release THIS recording? It's perfect. (19 years later, they did, of course.)
In 2017, we finally got to hear a more produced version of "Tommy's Coming Home" and it is good but also falls short of the magic on those original demos. There is something magical they captured on those first recordings together that seems to difficult to re-create.
A 2nd then-unreleased song on the bootleg was mis-titled "Twenty-five Fingers"
Maybe it was the long shadow of "Tommy's Coming Home" that caused me to underestimate this song at the time or maybe the improved sound quality in 2017 made me like it more now
"Twenty Fine Fingers":
The more version of this they attempted in 1988 is a little more polished than the demo, but basically captures the spirit of it. I think this should've found a place on Flowers In The Dirt:
"So Like Candy" is one of the greatest songs from their collaboration, and the version that ended up on 1991's Mighty Like A Rose is probably my favorite album version of any of their songs.
Still, this demo with Paul & Elvis singing it together is stunning:
I mean, I know it's easy to second guess other people's decisions but how on earth Paul didn't include THIS 1988 band version of "So Like Candy" is something I will never be able to understand:
And oh MAN this arrangement has so many fun specific touches that did not carry over to Costello's eventual version on MLAR. I love the final 60 seconds of this:
Paul DID include this duet, "You Want Her Too," on FITD & I think it makes a pretty clean journey from fun demo to fun album track:
At first listen, this sounds like the album version, because it's the same "take."
This is a little bit cleaner-sounding than the FITD version, and I prefer it:
Someone who knows more about this kinda stuff can maybe tell me what they did to the version I just tweeted to turn it into this version that appeared on FITD:
This song always struck me as Paul & Elvis doing their own version of Michael Jackson's duet with Paul on Thriller, "The Girl Is Mine":
Speaking of which, as a child I never realized that this insane drawing on the lyric sheet for Thriller was BY Michael Jackson, depicting MJ & PM pulling apart an Olive Oyl-esque "girl."
"That Day Is Done" was a deeply personal song to Costello, and Paul's version on Flowers In The Dirt was one of that album's high points:
Elvis & Paul's demo for "That Day Is Done" was the only one of the original batch of EC/PM demos that wasn't on that bootleg CD I had. I was surprised when I finally heard it that Paul is almost the supporting vocal, since I mostly associated the song with his version of it...
Even though I know this song is actually more of an Elvis song than a Paul one, I still have a built-in feeling that when EC eventually did his version with The Fairfield Four, they were "covering" a McCartney song! I'm stupid.
I'm gonna present this one in reverse order, the way I experienced it.
The Flowers In The Dirt version of "Don't Be Careless Love" is for some reason a track I never clicked with. McCartney's vocal is impressive, but I found myself returning to this song less than the others:
AND YET: the DEMO for "Don't Be Careless Love" was a revelation! Easily the song that I prefer the most in demo form compared to its later shape.
It really is a shame that they didn't just release these demos "as is" back in 1988 when they would have made a much bigger splash:
This is pure irresponsible speculation on my part, but it always seemed to me like McCartney was the one who pulled back from this partnership; he seemed a little defensive about it sometimes in interviews.
"My Brave Face" was a pretty terrific Paul McCartney single:
Which is a shame, because a full-on McCartney & Costello album would've been a huge development in Costello's career, and might've boosted his fan base in a way that would've prevented a few later albums from struggling to find an audience.
The demo of "My Brave Face" is great:
"Playboy To A Man" was one of the more throwaway numbers they wrote, but I enjoy it:
The 1988 band version feels dated now; it feels like the kind of solo McCartney track I tend to skip:
Flashing forward slightly: I am of the minority opinion that the crazy way that Costello decided to sing "Playboy To A Man" on 1991's Mighty Like A Rose was EXACTLY what the song needed and that his production choices saved the song:
The first of the McCartney/MacManus songs to be released was a Paul track that Costello helped with the lyric a little, "Back On My Feet." It was a McCartney b-side, and a pretty splendid one. A good start!
The last of the McCartney/MacManus songs to be released (before the FITD box set) was "Shallow Grave" on 1996's All This Useless Beauty. (This was also the only one of their songs to be performed on record by The Attractions.)
The Paul & Elvis demo for "Shallow Grave" is a totally different mood than the Attractions version, much more relaxed:
The 15th McCartney/MacManus song is actually a demo they both forgot about until it was time to put together the box set, "I Don't Want To Confess":
EC & PM have done very little live performing together, which is unfortunate bc they sound so good singing live together.
Here they are playing The Beatles' "The One After 909":
And because this mid-90s performance was at a charity event attended by Prince Charles, McCartney cheekily suggested they perform their song, "Mistress And Maid."
Costello on working with McCartney:
Paul on working with Elvis:
Well, I am running wayyyy over with Day 15 and could easily just keep posting McCartney/Costello things, but it's long past time to wrap it up.
I'll conclude with EC's performance of "Penny Lane" at The White House (back when we had an actual president) honoring Sir Paul:
Costello's collaboration with McCartney is both a big deal that produced a couple of hit singles & a slightly well-kept secret, in the sense that I think that are still fans of both artists who would love those original demos who have yet to hear them, or even hear ABOUT them.
That Day (15) is DONE! 45 Days Of Elvis Costello will continue after I sleep & vote
Oh, and just one more thing, from this week's headlines:
Day 16: Spike
Costello switches labels, moves to Warner Bros and makes a big-budget album without The Attractions (except drummer Pete Thomas on one track) and numerous guest stars!
T Bone Burnett is once again producing but this time it sounds nothing like King Of America...
Released Februay 6, 1989
After 2 LPs in 1986 and a b-sides compilation in 1987, Costello took his time making his next move. Feeling undervalued at Columbia Records, he made the switch to Warners worldwide, and took the opportunity to make a record that was large in scope.
EC (1989): "I always wanted ["...This Town..."] to be the opening track... It wasn't making a big-deal statement, but I do think the entrepreneur is the scourge of English and Irish and certainly Australian society."
EC (1989): "The song won't ring true in America, though, 'cause the battle there was lost a long time ago. It's almost become a virtue and you've got your entrepreneurs who are like, 'lovable eccentrics.' Like Donald Trump, or Cal Worthington."
Like Garry Trudeau, @ElvisCostello was among the first to depict @realDonaldTrump as a ridiculous & dangerous fraud, and took pleasure in dramatizing his humiliating public downfall (coming soon IRL any day now, one can hope...)
Costello appeared on the cover of SPY magazine as Beelzebub, holding a business card which displayed the actual phone number for The Trump Organization.
It does bring to mind a Costello lyric from a few years later: "It's a dangerous game/that Comedy plays/Sometimes it tells you the truth/sometimes it delays it."
The rare "sweetheart mix" is identical with the exception of multi-part harmonies singing the word "sweetheart" over the word "bastard."
Spike is another one of those Costello albums where the demos are like a stripped-down alt-version of the more ornately produced LP, which in this instance was a globe-trotting affair where different parts of a song might be recorded at different times in different countries.
Spike is a particularly outward-looking album, it feels like a collection of short stories to me. It's also his most musically eclectic LP since Trust.
"Let Him Dangle" is a style of song he had previously avoided, a story song based on true events that makes a political point:
This is a performance from the BBC special "Everything You Wanted To Know About Spike" and if you think this 2nd clip is intense, wait until the next part...
Costello's level of commitment actually takes the song to a different level compared to the album version. The look in his eyes here is ferocious:
Elvis talking about "Let Him Dangle":
This is one of the songs on SPIKE where I don't really know what's going on, but I like it anyway.
This demo has a nice vibe but is missing something pretty big that the album version adds to it...
Allen Toussaint on piano! Plus The Dirty Dozen Brass Band!
Costello talks about the way a televised nature documentary inspired some of the imagery in "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror":
It should be noted that this was a big hit album with his biggest American hit single, "Veronica."
It's a peculiar album to be a commercial success, even more bc it was propelled mainly by a song about an older woman experiencing dementia:
This was a song Costello brought (in nearly finished form) to his first session with McCartney.
The video, directed by Evan English, uses the effect of EC sometimes singing over the prerecorded track:
"Veronica" was one of the first Costello songs I was aware of, I liked it when I saw the video on MTV.
Over time, the snare drum in the album version caught my attention and it became distractingly hard not to hear it.
I now prefer the solo demo version:
This was one of the first SNL episodes I stayed up to watch live, with host Mary Tyler Moore & musical guest Elvis Costello, his ban finally lifted after over a decade in exile:
I have no memory of the second song-- did I fall asleep before it happened? Maybe. Or maybe I just remember "Veronica" bc that was the song I already knew.
"God's Comic" is overtly Costello doing his version of a Randy Newman song.
Over the years it has occasionally expanded into a 10-minute long epic, complete with multiple comedic monologues & impressions of Elvis Presley singing songs by U2 & Blondie.
As produced on the record, I think this is excellent stuff-- the music is sly & funny, never pushing too hard, and Costello's multi-tracked "dead" vocals on the chorus are strange and perfect.
This is the kind of song that makes me think he could do ANY kind of song.
"Chewing Gum," a song I intially found too abrasive-- largely due to @marcribotmusic's guitar stylings, which I soon grew to appreciate/love-- now impresses the hell out of me as a song which efficiently spells out a sordid little scenario and then pays it off at the end
"Tramp The Dirt Down" is the record's most notorious track, as angry an anti-Thatcher song as anyone wrote in the 1980s, with a chorus that addresses MT directly (albeit in character) and looks forward to a day "when they finally put you in the ground."
Costello has spoken of the song being cathartic, getting the idea out of his head and into a song. It does seem as though it comes from the place in his head from which "I Want You" emerged, the place where intense, 6-minute long psychotic character pieces are born:
Costello seemed to deliberately design the song to go too far and then pull back to something sadder and more resigned in its final moments:
From 1991, an additional section of lyrics he performed in concert that speak to the specifics of post-Thatcher England (John Major described as "the glove puppet that they put in her place / the simpering chump with the whimpering face"):
And from 1985, an early draft of the song, Betrayal, recorded with The Attractions during the King Of America sessions. (The song has a long way to go here before it finds its shape.)
"Stalin Malone" is an instrumental beginning to Side 2-- this album makes excellent use of The Dirty Dozen Brass Band...
The out-of-print Rhino edition of Spike is filled with treasures & curiosities, and the "vocal" version of "Stalin Malone" falls squarely in the latter category-- interesting, but proof that his decision to scrap the recited lyrics in this instance was a wise one:
I think "Satellite" might be the lost classic on this record. For one thing, I don't quite understand why they didn't try this out as a follow-up single after the chart success of "Veronica." I feel like it would've had the best chance of any other songs on Spike...
It's also a song which anticipates a lot about the ways that technology, sexuality & loneliness are about to intersect in the following decades. This song feels way ahead of the curve for 1989...
It's also another of EC's pre-Painted From Memory attempts to write a Bacharach song; I wish he had convinced Burt to write an arrangement for it back when they were doing concerts together.
I think this song has some of Costello's best writing:
"She went back to a pitiful compromise/he'd go back to his family/But for the matter of a thousand miles/that separated them entirely."
Costello talks through the process of writing "Pads, Paws & Claws."
Part One: what he had before he met up with Paul McCartney
The creation of "Pads, Paws & Claws"
Part Two: what Paul McCartney added to the song
I know it's easy to nitpick the choice of singles, but could there have been a worse choice of follow-up to "Veronica"?
"Baby Plays Around" was written by Cait O'Riordan with some contributions by Elvis. It is a nice song & works well on the album, but as a single? Talk about a loss of momentum! (I can't imagine this was a WB pick, so this seems like possible self-sabotage.)
"Miss Macbeth" features Pete Thomas on drums, along with about a dozen other non-Attractions musicians.
The credits on the sleeve include this note: "In Absentia: Bruce & Steve"
EC: "When I made up my mind to do Spike the way I did, I said to them, "Listen, fellas, there's four or maybe five songs on the record that we could approach, sometimes in collaboration with other musicians, sometimes just the four of us." And Steve didn't want to do it."
The Spike demos on the out-of-print Rhino edition are all so great, it's fascinating to hear him approach these songs solo compared to the big budget all-star album versions.
"Coal-Train Robberies" is the songs on Spike I'd imagine would've been set aside for The Attractions.
On original release, it was designated as a CD/cassette-only track, left off the LP, (which instead ends with 2 slow/sad songs in-a-row.)
I don't know what Costello is screaming in the final moments of "Coal-Train Robberies" but I like the way he is screaming it:
Spike's last few songs include two that feel similar in vibe, although the style & the specifics are different; I always feel like he should have chosen one or the other, that including both sort of diminishes the effect of each of them.
"Any King's Shilling":
Of the two, I'd be more inclined to keep "Last Boat Leaving," which feels like more of a powerful note to end the album on.
The LP doesn't even have "Coal-Train Robberies" to break up these two songs, & it feels like Spike turns into a bleak concept album in its final moments...
Obviously, I have run wayyyy over for Day 16. Going to try to make up the time today and catch up.
"Put Your Big Toe In The Milk Of Human Kindness" (demo, written for an unnamed Disney film; REJECTED):
Spike feels like one of the major milestones in Costello's career. It's not a Top 5 EC album for me, but there are days when it is Top 10. It sometimes gets written about as if it is an overproduced mess, but I disagree with that.
"Coal-Train Robberies" (demo):
Costello returns to Late Night With David Letterman for one of his only appearances with a sit-down interview. In a few years, Dave will be at CBS & Costello will become something of a regular...
Costello segues from "Pads, Paws & Claws" into "Leave My Kitten Alone" and then segues over to the guest chairs by Dave's desk:
Costello is in good form in this interview. This is major progress compared to almost any earlier interviews in his career. He even gets a Donald Trump burn in there.
He continues to unpack "God's Comic", name-dropping Andrew Lloyd Webber & The Monkees. Then a commercial break! Then he starts analyzing the provocative Spike cover art and plugging his concert tour. They really gave him a lot of airtime for this...
After the success of "Veronica," Warner Bros offered Costello a budget to record some material for b-sides. He realized that for the same amount of money it would take to hire a big studio in L.A., he could go to Barbados and record an entire album...
Released May 9, 1995 (recorded in 1990)
At this point, Costello was planning on making his next album with The Attractions, and was thinking of this album as a chance to make another record with some of the musicians he had been touring & recording with since 1986.
There was no timetable for the release of Kojak Variety.
It was mentioned in the Juliet Letters liner notes as an upcoming album of "favourite songs" and this 1994 Billboard article listed it in a sidebar about Costello's various unreleased recordings:
The album -- most of it, anyway -- leaked.
I bought this CD in 1994 in an Illinois record shop near Tinley Park, hours before attending my first Costello concert.
"Barbados Mega Mixes" had 13 of Kojak Variety's 15 tracks.
Costello had harsh words for the "gangsters & thieves" who had pirated his record. But there was nothing that would've stopped me from buying Barbados Mega Mixes that day. I had a solid year of listening to it before it came out legitimately, and I have no regrets!
Not that 4 "rights" undo a wrong, but I just now calculated that I have bought this album legitimately 4 times-- 1995 CD, 1995 cassette (for driving), 2004 Rhino 2-disc reissue & 2014 vinyl LP.
Opening with a false start, Costello covers Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "Strange" an especially good showcase for @marcribotmusic's guitar playing:
Screamin' Jay Hawkins' original:
This is a pretty straightforward album-- he's not deconstructing or radically reinterpreting these songs. My own preference leans slightly more towards the "popular ballads" than his versions of the R&B songs, but his enthusiasm is infectious.
"Hidden Charms" by Willie Dixon:
"Hidden Charms" by Howlin' Wolf:
"Remove This Doubt" was the b-side of The Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On" (as in "but she keeps him hangin' o-o-on" from "Accidents Will Happen") and it was written by Holland/Dozier/Holland.
I love Costello's vocal group harmonies on this:
The Supremes' original:
Costello's cover of Dylan's "I Threw It All Away" is a perfect match.
(Costello will later open for Dylan in concert and then co-write approx. 20 songs with 1967 Bob without the use of a time machine. More on that in 24 days.)
Little Richard performing "Bama Lama Bama Loo" on American Bandstand:
"Must You Throw Dirt In My Face" is one of the few songs where Costello puts a new spin on the original, to great effect, I think:
The Louvin Brothers' version:
From 1994, Costello adds "Must You Throw Dirt In My Face" on at the end of a particularly energetic performance of "Alison" backed by The Attractions. The tension builds all the way through this until it finally explodes at the end:
Drew Baker & Danny McCormick's "Pouring Water On A Drowning Man."
This was the single, although I don't recall hearing it, even on my local Costello-friendly radio station at the time...
James Carr's version:
Ray Noble's "The Very Thought Of You" is the oldest song on Kojak Variety, and one of the best known:
The first recording of it, sung by Al Bowlly:
Costello performing this song with Chet Baker, Live At Ronny Scotts, in 1986:
"Payday" by Jesse Winchester, which includes a reference to one of 15-year old @PaulMcCartney's favorite people, Brigitte Bardot:
And the original by Jesse Winchester, who would years later be a guest on EC's tv series, Spectacle:
Costello tackles another Bacharach song, this time making it slower and sadder, in a good way.
And by The Drifters:
"Running Out Of Fools" was the one song on KV I didn't hear until the official release in '95. Covering a song made famous by Aretha Franklin must've been daunting, but EC wisely chose a song that is a good fit for him. The opening line would fit right in on This Year's Model:
Aretha Franklin's version:
And another, because WHY NOT?
"Days" was not on the bootleg I owned, but it was released on a movie soundtrack prior to Kojak's release. Believe it or not, I had never heard The Kinks' original before; I heard this one first:
And this was one of the few tracks Costello really did a total rearrangement of; I was shocked when I heard how chipper the Kinks' version was:
The only "outtake" from the Kojak sessions was "Ship Of Fools," and it was never intended for KV, but for a Grateful Dead tribute album.
The Grateful Dead's original:
There was a limited edition of 200 CDs secretly distributed among the reular copies of Kojak Variety that included 2 bonus tracks from an Attractions session that happened years after KV was recorded...
"Step Inside Love" by Lennon/McCartney:
And McCartney singing it (unreleased until the Anthology series)
And the version Elvis would've been familiar with, by Cilla Black:
The 2nd KV secret bonus track is a Henry Glover/Titus Turner song called "Sticks & Stones":
The best known version of the song is by Ray Charles; the lyrical content of the song makes it hard to imagine that Costello wasn't nodding back to the events of 1979...
The out-of-print Rhino edition contains both those tracks plus many other treasures, a big chunk of which I will save for a few days from now. The bonus disc gives the album a serious run for its money...
"You've Got To Hide Your Love Away":
And by The Beatles:
"Sally Sue Brown" by Arthur Alexander
And the original:
Here's a fun moment from TV 1995:
It is funny that Kojak Variety was made bc EC thought he was about to reunite with The Attractions, then he didn't, and by the time it was released they were his band again, and then the year after that they broke up again. "I've Been Wrong Before," indeed...
That's a wrap for Day 17 of 45 Days Of Elvis Costello!
I don't know if they ever actually made promotional lollipops to promote Kojak Variety, of if they just made this image for advertisements...
It was, of course, EC referencing the TV series Kojak, where Telly Savalas had his trademark lollipops (a substitute for cigarettes)...
I don't know if this is real or not, but I found this image of a promotional lollipop wrapper but it was linked to an auction that had ended. Why do I want this so badly?
Day 18: Mighty Like A Rose
This is a Top 2 Costello album for me, and on many days it is my absolute #1 favorite.
I'm not just being contrarian: I really do feel like this record shows off everything I like about EC, and in addition to that, it is a perfectly sequenced LP.
Released May 13, 1991
Here's the thing with this album: I think it's a masterpiece.
I also think that Mighty Like A Rose was received as the work of a madman because Costello grew a big crazy beard and completely exploded his image.
I feel strongly that if he had released Mighty Like A Rose while maintaining his Buddy Holly look, people would've reacted as if it was a classic return to form, or like it was IbMePdErRoIoAmL meets This Year's Model-- a sophisticated LP that still has a lot of raw, rough edges
Likewise, if he had released Spike looking like this, I think people would have said that it was a truly insane record, and its more bizarre turns would have felt more pronounced.
The album opens with a Beach Boy song dipped in acid, "The Other Side Of Summer."
I remember seeing this on MTV when I only knew him as the guy who did "Veronica" and thinking he had lost his mind. Was this a parody? Why was he now totally unrecognizable?
Of course, in time I would realize that "The Other Side Of Summer" is one of Costello's best songs, an anti-summer pop anthem that takes no prisoners, even famously going after his idol, John Lennon, with the line "was it a millionaire who said 'Imagine no possessions'?"
Here is is on SNL, performing it with G.E. Smith @gesmithmusic & The Saturday Night Live Band:
This record got a decent promotional push, I think. And it might seem stupid, but I remember being confused by how he had totally transformed himself. I was just a dumb teenager, but it was enough to distract me from the music, at the time.
The early buzz on this record- Q magazine suggesting it might be his best yet- seemed to curdle very quickly, & pretty soon this entire late 80s/early 90s era would be referred to as "The Beard Years" even though this was the only LP that came out while he was sporting a beard
In part that is because, while "The Other Side Of Summer" is a fun-sounding pop confection to open the record, there is more anger & bile in the early going of this album than there was on This Year's Model, only now it was perceived as grumpy & sour.
The 2nd track, "Hurry Down Doomsday (The Bugs Are Taking Over)" is a literally apocalyptic song that is actually pretty funny lyrically but is sonically kind of an clattering assault on the senses, the kind of thing that one could imagine easily turning away the casual listener.
I remember EC saying that this album had developed a reputation for featuring a lot of production trickery when much of it was actually achieved w/more "live in the studio" recording, citing that @jburtonmusic's "backwards" guitar solo was just him playing, no added effects:
I, like many, originally assumed that the crazy backwards guitar solo was Marc Ribot, not James Burton. This was a contrary album, designed to confound expectations.
The 3rd song on the album is perhaps the angriest "fuck you" song Costello has ever written or recorded: "How To Be Dumb"
It is a song basically directed straight at Attractions bass player Bruce Thomas:
This was supposed to be an Attractions album, remember?
Then those discussions fell apart.
THEN Attractions bass player Bruce Thomas wrote a novel, The Big Wheel, which was a Roman à clef about life on the road. Costello was referred to only as "The Singer."
Costello was furious, even though the novel didn't really say anything all that terrible about him; it was a betrayal.
Listening to this song knowing the full context makes it so much more brutal. He parodies BT's prose, and insults him over a dozen different ways throughout:
Costello singing "DUMB-DUMB-DUMB-DUMB-DUH-DUMB-DUMB" over the bassline and then screaming "BYE BYE!!" is hilarious, all by itself.
This is a scorched earth response to Bruce's book. He is SO mad.
Also hilarious: they would reunite to record Brutal Youth in, like, 3 years.
So far, the first three tracks of this album could easily be mistaken for the ravings of a lunatic, right? A Beach Boys parody, a post-apocalyptic rant which also has a Sting joke in it, and the angriest song of his career directed squarely at his former bass player & his novel?
If the album had continued in this vein, it would have quickly become too much ro bear. "All Grown Up," makes a sudden shift & suddenly this LP has segued from bile to empathy in one move. Almost 10yrs since IbMePdErRoIoAmL, his songwriting skills have only grown stronger:
The sequencing of this record is brilliant. The pause afforded by "All Grown Up" separates "Invasion Hit Parade" from the opening three tracks in a way that allows it to be perceived as a more reasonable commentary on a world gone mad:
"Invasion Hit Parade" was written prior to Gulf War I, recorded during the buildup of troops, & released in its immediate aftermath. Before I realized what the timeline was, I assumed the song was explicitly written about it. It has remained sadly relevant ever since.
Also, Ross McManus, Elvis' dad, plays trumpet on this track!
"Harpies Bizarre" is another slam-dunk piece of smart, sophisticated songwriting; a gorgeous melody and every line is a keeper:
Part of what I love so much about this album is the way it makes use of everything he has learned between 1977 & 1990; it is a kind of summing up, a record he couldn't have made in the late 70s or early 80s, while still holding on to what was great about his work in those years
Costello has said that "After The Fall" was "intended to be a comic song" and on more than one occasion I have seen people refer to it as his take on early Leonard Cohen:
"Georgie And Her Rival" opens Side 2; while the 1st half of the LP is dominated by a relentlessly bleak view of the world, things start to lighten in the 2nd half
It's not that everything is suddenly rainbows & puppy dogs-- there are still lies & heartbreak, but also hope
Costello has expressed regrets about the pop arrangement of this song, saying it should have been slower & more tragic; I think it is a perfect Elvis Costello pop song and wouldn't change a thing about it:
"So Like Candy" is I think my favorite of all the McCartney/MacManus songs, and I think Paul should've scooped it up for himself. It is a song that feels equal parts Paul & Elvis, in the best possible way:
This song also anchors the second half squarely in the personal realm, whereas even the most intimate songs on Side One feel like they are outward-looking, taking in the world at large. Mighty Like A Rose isn't a concept album but its song sequence has an unmistakable ARC.
An intro ("Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 2") played by The Dirty Dozen Brass Band leads into the 2nd McCartney/MacManus track on the record, "Playboy To A Man."
Some people hate this track & the weird way he sings it (sometimes, apparently, through a long, rusty metal pipe):
I think this is overtly a Comedy Song, and I think it's fucking funny. (That kind of thing is obvsly highly subjective, tho I do have some minor credentials in this area.)
"Sweet Pear" is a love song drenched in self-loathing unlike any of the many sad love songs Costello has written before or since, featuring another appearance by The Dirty Dozen Brass Band:
"Broken," a song by Costello's then-wife, Cait O'Riordan, is often singled out as somehow ruining the album, which is bonkers.
While I'd certainly be surprised if it was anyone's favorite track, I think it serves an important purpose, mood-wise, in the flow of the LP
I think "Broken" is a despairing gasp, a hold-your-breath moment that makes the final song, "Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4," even more magnificent as an album closer.
Going from "Sweet Pear" straight into this would not create the same effect:
Even people who hate the album overall tend to concede that this final song is great.
One thing about how perfect I think Mighty Like A Rose is: there is an outtake, "Just Another Mystery" that I think is truly amazing, even better than several tracks on the album, and yet I cannot imagine swapping out any of the songs to make room for it:
Here's the deluxe CD packaging from 1991. It contained no extra musical content, it just looked & felt fancy. I don't know why I like this packaging so much, I think I just felt like this album was so good that it deserved something a little better than a normal jewel case.
One thing I should be clear about: I love The Beard & the overall messing with his image that took place around this album. I think it was fun. But I also think it led to a lot of lazy dismissals of an ambitious album as somehow overcooked or self-indulgent, bc he looked crazy
And the album wasn't a flop, it did alright! But the conventional wisdom in the 90s was that this was somehow a lesser period for him, which I think couldn't be further from the truth
His MTV Unplugged appearance is interesting-- some excellent performances, including the "Rolling Thunder" arrangement of "The Other Side Of Summer":
Costello was certainly capable of doing a knockout set of acoustic re-arrangements of the classics from his back catalog; instead, he mostly played songs from MLAR, along with covers from his then-unreleased Kojak Variety...
MTV didn't air this part, where Costello introduced Mose Allison's "Everybody's Cryin' Mercy" with a remark about MTV running "adverts for the army."
(I assume that MTV execs would've preferred he play a different "Alison.")
I tried uploading this full unaired MTV Unplugged a few years back, but the YouTube robots flagged & blocked it. I wish there was an easy way for people to see this widely bootlegged performance online, it's a great snapshot of Elvis with The Rude 5, his 1991 touring band...
At this point, Kojak Variety was newly recorded (relatively) but wouldn't hit record shops for another 4 years...
It's hard to tell if Costello is playing so much Kojak Variety material bc he is excited to perform it, or if he is defying the powers that be at MTV by deliberately avoiding the songs they surely must've wanted him to play...
A few years later, Costello would seemingly be much more agreeable about performing the kind of thing MTV might've been hoping for at the time:
Not sure whether MTV would've been flattered or insulted that he went out of his way to add their name to the list of big things that are about to be wiped out in the coming apocalypse:
"Bama Lama Bama Loo," unlike the other Kojak material he played that day, actually made it into the broadcast:
Costello would use the melody from "Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4" in the BAFTA-winning musical score he did with Richard Harvey for Alan Bleasdale's tv drama, G.B.H., starring Michael Palin.
EC had not yet learned musical notation, but that was about to change...
And it looks like that's a wrap for Day 18 of 45 Days Of Elvis Costello!
Day 19: The Gwendolyn Letters (aka The Wendy James Demos)
We have now reached the 3RD "lost album" in the @ElvisCostello timeline (after McCartney/McManus, released 2017 & Kojak Variety, rel. 1995) & this is the one which may not ever see the light of day as an official release!
Released May 11, 1993: "Now Ain't The Time For Your Tears"
Singer/Songwriter @THEWENDYJAMES had split from Transvision Vamp & asked Pete Thomas if Costello would consider writing a song for her. She wrote EC a letter & he sent her 10 songs, w/instructions to record all or none.
EC: "Well, it was just a challenge... I didn't want to give her one song to put amongst all this cartoon punk. I was up for writing a whole album of cartoon punk songs for her. In double-quick time... It was a fun way of spending the weekend."
EC: "When I recorded the demos, I didn't make any attempt to sing them in a pristine way. I happened to have a cold, so I wasn't in any voice to sing them. I tended to double-track the vocals, so it took away the personality of the voice..."
"London's Brilliant" (b-side, 1994):
(By the way, that b-side was vinyl & cassette-only. It was never put out on CD.)
Before I go deeper into this "lost album" I should give a little context:
None of the demos were included as bonus tracks for the deluxe Rhino reissue series. There was some speculation at the time that they were being saved, perhaps for a limited edition Rhino Handmade release. It never happened.
The never-leaked demo is for opening track "This Is A Test" and it sounds so much like a Costello song that you can almost hear his voice.
(ALSO: Pete Thomas played drums on WJ's album.)
EC: "It was a weekend's work on my part-- well, two days to write the songs, two to record the demos. I had a lot of fun doing it."
"Basement Kiss" (b-side, 1994):
Costello obviously has some slight affection for these songs, as a few have turned up in concert over the years.
"Basement Kiss" (live with The Attractions, 1994; released as a b-side in 1996):
"Puppet Girl" was released as a b-side and was regularly featured in the set list during his 1994 tour with the reunited Attractions:
The demo for "Earthbound" was never released as a b-side, but has floated around on bootleg CDs, mp3s & has lived on YouTube for years...
But in 2011, despite never having released a version of it himself, EC gave "Earthbound" one of the spots on his giant spinning songbook!
(I wonder how many EC diehards in the audience knew what a rare song they were hearing, the few times the wheel stopped there in concert)
"Do You Know What I'm Saying?" was released as a b-side on a promo-only CD that I think I paid what felt like A LOT of money to acquire in 1994 & it was WORTH it to have this excellent song that would never become available on a reissue.
(Also a b-side on CD & cassette single)
Costello played a fragment of this song in concert, on two occasions-- in 2012!!
I can't really think of an EC song that is similar to this one. It's a shame that it's one of his most obscure ones, barely given a release at all...
It's worth noting that 5 of the songs were co-written with @rockyoriordan, including the earworm, "We Despise You."
I feel like if these demos were issued as a 10" limited edition for #RecordStoreDay, it would be one of the most sought-after items and would sell out immediately:
"Fill In The Blanks" is another demo which leaked, but was never released as a b-side. These demos all feature Pete Thomas on drums, and Costello playing everything else, and they were recorded at Pathway Studios, where he recorded My Aim Is True.
"The Nameless One" is stream-of-consciousness Costello in Blood & Chocolate mode, written on demand at a moment's notice and never released as a b-side. Contains one of my favorite "Costello shouting" moments ever:
Actually, there are a few really fun shouted moments in this demo...
I feel confident in asserting that this is the only song to name-check both Hogan's Heroes AND Logan's Run, not to mention two famous Huckleberrys (Hound & Finn.)
Costello's voice is absolutely, painfully SHOT by the time he recorded this closing ballad, and yet to me it sounds perfect. The way he audibly struggles to sing that opening line is a moment that is so fragile, it's a wonder it was caught on tape.
"I Want To Stand Forever":
These demos are more than just a footnote in Costello's career & I hope someday someone convinces him to rescue them from the purgatory of YouTube & release them all properly.
It's a short album, dashed off in a weekend, but it is kind of his "Basement Tapes" at this point...
Honestly, a 10" vinyl edition of The Gwendolyn Letters, with sleeve art by Eamonn Singer (aka @ElvisCostello) would be a perfect #RecordStoreDay2019 release (hot on the heels of the smash hit record #LookNow, in all good record shops October 12th!)
Okay, that's a wrap on Day 19 of 45 Days Of Elvis Costello!
Rankings are tricky things, but on most days The Juliet Letters is a Top 5 Costello album for me. (Always within my Top 10.)
At first glance, an oddball album but also an album where the songwriting is less coded & more approachable than on many previous Costello albums.
"For Other Eyes" is a song that is exploring the same terrain as some of the songs on This Year's Model-- jealousy & betrayal (there's even a telephone in play a la "No Action")-- just using a different sound & style.
This is such a deeply somber starting point, but I remember listening to this song for the first time and THIS was the part where I could feel something change in me.
Perhaps it should be played at his sentencing, w/apologies to actual pigs:
The album was sparked by an article about a professor in Verona who was answering real letters written to "Juliet Capulet" the way children write to Santa Claus.
"Expert Rites" is a song from the POV of that professor:
Paul Cassidy's instrumental coda to "Expert Rites," "Dead Letter."
This album was a true songwriting collaboration between Costello & The Brodskies, they wrote these songs together, music & lyrics being contributed by all.
The first broadly comic song on the LP, "I Almost Had A Weakness" is "an eccentric aunt's curt reply to a begging letter."
EC's defensive quote when promoting the album: "This is no more my stab at "classical music" than it is the Brodsky Quartet's first rock and roll album."
People often think this is an odd point-of-entry for EC, but I think that assumes that This Year's Model is the center of his oeuvre & everything is judged in relation to that
In 2018, TJL is no longer an outlier in Costello's body of work; it is a good example of what he does
Can you hear the Merrie Melodies reference hiding in plain sight in this song? (I didn't catch it for years, until it was pointed out to me.)
"Why?" is a song sung from a child's POV.
Costello's singing voice changed on this record, and I'm not sure why, but it would never be the same after this. (Part of it might be confidence, but it sounds like some kind of actual, measurable change occurred.)
When she began performing with The Brodsky Quartet, @bjork sang a couple of Juliet Letters songs in concert.
"Why?" is an almost comically perfect match of singer & song, I can't think of another person who would be a better fit. It almost feels like he wrote it w/her in mind.
I'm kind of surprised that more of these songs haven't found their way into Costello's setlists for shows he has performed solo or with The Imposters or Steve Nieve. He has tended to only perform most of these when appearing live with the quartet.
"Who Do You Think You Are?":
The album is highly theatrical in parts but that's a feature, not a bug. And its strangest tangents all strengthen he piece as a whole, which is rooted in a bunch of really well-written, emotionally charged songs.
Bjork & The Brodskys performing "Who Do You Think You Are?" in concert:
By the way, if you have never heard Bjork's version of "Hyperballad" with The Brodsky Quartet, it is breathtaking:
...the end of this version gives me goosebumps:
"Taking My Life In Your Hands" might be my favorite track on the album, as well as perhaps the best example of Costello's new 1993 pipes:
...and the song has a twist ending!
Costello & The Brodsky Quartet on The Tonight Show with @jayleno back in 1993 with musical cameo appearance by Denzel:
Strange that this wasn't a @Letterman appearance, but his long run of Late Show appearances begins one year after this, and after that he would only visit The Tonight Show on a couple of notable occasions...
Another broadly comedic/theatrical song, "This Offer Is Unrepeatable" is a piece of junk mail, barked and bellowed:
Costello pushing his vocal "sneer" to its absolute limit on the final word of this song:
"Dear Sweet Filthy World" is a suicide note, one of several devastatingly sad songs on this record. I'm not even sure this is the bleakest of them! The comical songs do a lot of heavy lifting in keeping this LP from becoming a drag.
Costello's range both technically as a vocalist and as an actor-through-song has grown tremendously by this point. I'm not certain that he was capable of this even a few years prior:
Starting a song out by literally singing an address might seem like it would be a joke, but this song is quietly powerful, the way it bobs & weaves as its author avoids getting to its main point (arriving at it just after this clip)...
The sting at the end of this is a gut punch.
I think I can detect an echo of one of Costello's favorite songs, David Ackles' "Down River."
Ackles' song isn't in the form of a letter, it's one side of a telephone conversation, but the effect is similar.
Here's Costello performing it with Elton John on EC's TV show, Spectacle, in 2008:
Pt 2 of that clip:
And David Ackles' original:
David Ackles' original, pt 2:
"Jacksons, Monk And Rowe" is a catchy pop single about D-I-V-O-R-C-E, specifically a person sending their signed papers to the titular law firm:
This is one of the cheeriest numbers on the record, in the tradition of recent singles "Veronica" & "The Other Side Of Summer" which contrasted darker subject matter with sunny music:
Costello & The Broskys playing the single as the 2nd song on The Tonight Show:
I really thought that this would be the first of many albums by Costello & The Brodsky Quartet. They sounds so great here. They have continued to work together, but I keep thinking a 2nd joint album will emerge someday, fingers crossed...
(Btw, "Jacksons, Monk And Rowe" really was the single!)
B-side & album track, "This Sad Burlesque" goes from pre-election hopes to post-election blues in a way that I related to going as far back as Reagan/Mondale.
It was inspired by UK elections in 1992 & feels almost quaint now in the reality show mafia nightmare of Trump's America
But just LISTEN to the way Costello's voice quivers on "Laughter cannot dignify."
Another fun, lush pop number, "Romeo's Seance"!
EC (from his TJL liner notes): "In "I Thought I'd Write To Juliet" a cynical writer quotes the contents of a letter that he has received. This "soldier's letter" is closely related to one sent to me during the build-up to the Gulf War tragedy..."
EC: "I would not like to comment further, except to say that it is not included as a simplistic political gesture, either "for" or "against" anything, but rather to illustrate the predicament of the two characters in being forced to reconsider their assumed positions."
EC: "From the concluding mayhem a single note emerges leading into Michael Thomas' "Last Post." Despite its title this piece does not have any military significance. It seems to me to have a clear sense of peace, though not without strong feeling."
"Damnation's Cellar" is another 'light' number nestled in amongst some pretty emotional songs near the end. This record is very carefully put together to make sure things don't get too bleak...
This whole album hit me like a ton of bricks when I first heard it.
One of the more crowd-pleasing encores in EC & The Brodskys' live repertoire, "an old California folk song":
There was a live promo EP of them performing this at New York's Town Hall and I still remember the day I got my hands on a copy, hearing this arrangement...
Did Costello take voice lessons in the early 90s, in addition to learning musical notation??
I've never had the chance to see a concert with Elvis & The Brodskys, I hope they do another tour at some point...
A few more things before I conclude Day 20...
A haunting cover of the traditional ballad, "She Moved Through The Fair":
Another "lost album," this one produced by Costello as a demonstration album, on spec, for George Jones!
EC had an idea that GJ should record some non-country songs in his own style & ended up making a whole album as proof-of-concept:
Released August 3, 2004
A few of these demos trickled out as b-sides in the 90s, but all 10 tracks were officially released on the jam-packed bonus disc for the (now out-of-print) Rhino reissue of Kojak Variety
As much as I enjoy KV, I like Costello's GJ demo album even better!
EC proposed the idea to GJ directly in Interview magazine: "Have you ever considered doing an album where all of the songwriting came from outside the country area, even though you might do typical George Jones interpretations?"
EC: "There are a lot of songwriters whose work you've never touched, like Hoagy Carmichael, or someone more up-to-date, like Tom Waits."
GJ: "Hey, I've never thought of that, but that's a good idea."
GJ: "However, it would have to be the kind of material that I could transform my way, to the country style."
GJ: "Thank you. For this kind of record, I would have to have help from someone familiar about this situation, as you are, that could pick out certain types of songs."
GJ: "Great. I'll tell you what. Let's get a few songs together and see what we can do with them. I would love for you to send me a tape of some of the things you might like to see on an album like this."
If I were to rank Costello's 3 covers albums, The George Jones Demos would best both Kojak Variety & Almost Blue.
It really is Elvis Costello Sings Songs In The Style Of George Jones; that sounds like a novelty record but it is GREAT.
"My Resistance Is Low" by Hoagy Carmichael:
Jane Russell with Hoagy Carmichael in the 1952 feature film The Las Vegas Story (with Victor Mature):
Costello went into the studio and cut all 10 of these tracks in a single day, with Pete Thomas & Paul "Bassman" Riley.
It makes me wonder how many volumes of Kojak Variety Costello could record if given a month of studio time.
Tom Waits' "Innocent When You Dream":
Tom Waits' original:
On one level, it's a parlor trick, but Costello does it in a way that is so thoughtful that it transcends any sense of gimmickry. (And these were never really intended for anyone's ears but Jones.')
T Bone Burnett's "I'm Coming Home":
T Bone Burnett's original:
One of Costello's favorite songs by one of his favorite songwriters. I feel like he plays this every chance he gets.
Dan Penn's "The Dark End Of The Street":
And as performed by James Carr:
One of the few tracks to be released as a b-side in the 90s, Paul Simon's "Congratulations." This is a really outstanding arrangement for Jones.
(Costello has covered Simon several times -- has @PaulSimonMusic ever made any public comment about Elvis?)
Paul Simon's original:
One of my favorite Costello recordings, his cover of Dylan's "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go."
EC enthused that no one but Dylan could write a lyric as good as
"Situations have ended sad/Relationships have all been bad/Mine have been like the lanes & rambles"
Of course, Dylan's actual lyric (he would realize after making the demo) is "Mine've been like Verlaine's and Rimbaud."
I love that Costello's misheard lyric is also a great line...
Costello revisits "Pouring Water On A Drowning Man" and I think I prefer this to the version he released on Kojak Variety!
I already posted James Carr's version earlier in this thread, so here's Percy Sledge's:
Gram Parsons & George Jones were the two songwriters who loomed largest over 1981's Almost Blue, so it makes perfect sense that Costello would pitch Jones on doing a Parsons song.
EC's multi-tracked vocal harmonies make this a highlight among the demos.
"Still Feeling Blue":
Gram Parsons' original:
Elvis Costello covering Bruce @Springsteen in the style of George Jones, and it's a knockout.
This was a b-side in 1996 & I nearly burned a hole in my cd-single by playing it so often.
And Springsteen's MTV version, (borrowing Elvis' trick of singing a new vocal over the backing track for the video):
Costello closes his album with George & Ira Gershwin's "How Long Has This Been Going On?"
Peggy Lee & Benny Goodwin's version:
Costello sent his demo album to George Jones, but never heard back about it, or knew for certain if he'd received it.
A few years later, when Jones & Costello were guests on a Ricky Skaggs TV show, Jones (in Costello's words) "diplomatically failed to mention these recordings."
Not long after Costello made his pitch to Jones, @RickRubin basically did a similar thing for Johnny Cash, who had a spectacular run of final albums with the American Recordings series, often covering unexpected non-country songs in his distinctive style.
Although the Kojak Variety bonus disc is out-of-print, at least these recordings *did* get a proper official release, albeit an unusual one, nestled in amongst other bonus material.
I will never fully give up hope that @ElvisCostello's George Jones demos album will be released on vinyl, to be regarded as its own very special record.
I think one of the things that really makes this one of my favorite things that Costello has ever done is that he primarily did it for FUN, and because he just really wanted to hear George Jones make that record.
In a career largely defined now by his contagious musical enthusiasm, things like this and the Wendy James demos are him going the extra mile to make fun things happen.
One final semi-related item: in the late 90s, Costello often performed a bit during "God's Comic" where he would speculate about the songs Elvis Presley would've performed if he had lived, including songs by Duran Duran, Blondie & U2.
He has a knack for this kind of thing:
This tweet won't age well but here are 3 copies of Kojak Variety w/the bonus disc that has The George Jones Demos on it. (I would snap up that $25 one)
And that looks like it's a wrap on Day 21 of 45 Days Of Elvis Costello!
No useful links today!
Nothing on Spotify. A few tracks can be found on YouTube, but you may have to really dig around to find them
Here is what Costello wrote about TGJD in his Kojak Variety liner notes:
Day 22: Brutal Youth
This was the first Costello album to be released AFTER I became a fan, the first one I got to anticipate.
I had spent he previous year immersing myself in EC's 1977-1993 discography. It was a lot. And the announcement of the new record was a big deal.
Released March 8, 1994
I had barely had time to lament the 1987 break-up of The Attractions before I was presented with a full-on reunion LP. Better yet, there wasn't a whiff of nostalgia to it; this wasn't an album of them trying to recapture the old times. It sounded fresh.
I was a freshman in college at Mizzou (mentioned a lot in Season 2 of Ozark on Netflix) and local radio station @1023BXR started playing tracks from Brutal Youth over a month early.
I managed to catch more than half of the album on cassette tape before it was released.
"Idiophone" was the original working title-- it means "an instrument the whole of which vibrates to produce a sound when struck, shaken, or scraped, such as a bell, gong, or rattle"-- and it is also the name of this instrumental b-side, with EC playing all instruments:
Another all-EC track from one of the earliest sessions is this Yeats poem set to music by EC, "A Drunken Man's Praise Of Sobriety."
This was my first Costello b-side, or the first time I bought a CD just to get the b-side. It's barely over a minute & I was not disappointed:
Though this is generally thought of as an Attractions reunion album, the full band only plays on 5 tracks, less than half of the album. They came together gradually, over the course of the sessions.
Track 2, "Kinder Murder" features just Elvis with Pete on drums:
"20% Amnesia" is almost an Attractions track, but not quite. It's Elvis & Pete & Steve Nieve, with Elvis on bass.
Featuring the great line:
"It's a dangerous game that Comedy plays/Sometimes it tells you the truth/Sometimes it delays it"
Nick Lowe then joined EC & Pete & Steve, playing bass on 7 of the album's 15 tracks
This line-up was dubbed "The Distractions" and they opened the album with "Pony St." (a song with EC overtly playing characters, much as he had on The Juliet Letters):
Before I get to the full Attractions reunion, I'm gonna take a brief tangent & go back a few years, to the 1st records I actually heard Bruce & Pete Thomas on, bc I was a John Wesley Harding/@WesleyStace fan before I ever listened to a Costello album.
"Here Comes The Groom":
Pete & Bruce played on Harding's excellent 1st 2 studio albums in 1990/91, around the same time that EC tried & failed to get the band back together for Mighty Like A Rose. Costello was, at the time, incredibly unkind in interviews when talking about Harding
"Cathy's New Clown":
The Good Liars was the name of Harding's backing band & its rhythm section was the same as The Attractions. Some would comment on a vocal similarity btwn Harding & Costello but I never heard much similarity in their songwriting styles, beyond both being clever
I suppose another superficial similarity is that John Wesley Harding was/is a stage name, and he would eventually revert to his real name, @WesleyStace, when he began writing highly acclaimed novels (soon also using that name as a recording artist...)
Unless my eyes deceive me, that's Pete & Bruce off towards the back corner in this music video for "The Devil In Me."
Both these albums are packed with songs I really love, but of the two I think I probably prefer 1991's The Name Above The Title.
"The Person You Are":
I realize this is a sizable detour I'm taking in the middle of a packed day during a 45-day twitter thread but I thought it was worth mentioning bc there is a connection to Costello but especially bc Harding/Stace has his own distinct oeuvre that is worth exploring...
Harding/Stace only worked w/Bruce & Pete on those 2 albums but since then has made many, many fine records & excellent books & if you can ever catch his Cabinet Of Wonders shows, they are excellent. Go to wesleystace.com for more!
Here is one of my favorite songs of his:
OK, back to "Brutal Youth."
This is Elvis & The Attractions, reunited. They sound great. When I first taped this song off the radio in February 1994, I listened to it over & over again:
I could be wrong about this, but I *think* this outtake is the Attractions' very 1st attempt at a new song during the Brutal Youth sessions. Bill Flanagan wrote an account of this session & how they were struggling to get "Distorted Angel" right...
...only to NAIL the tricky "You Tripped At Every Step" on the first take!
Here is a detailed account of that session from Bill Flanagan's 1994 Musician article...
Pete Thomas credits producer Mitchell Froom with helping make the Attractions reunion happen.
I can't believe I haven't mentioned Froom yet! He produced Mighty Like A Rose & Brutal Youth, my two favorite Costello albums.
His name as producer is enough to get me to buy a record.
Want to feel old? Elvis Costello was 39 when he made Brutal Youth.
"This Is Hell," another of the 5 Attractions tracks, is a good counter to any claim that this is purely a "back-to-basics" LP.
As a song, it would fit in better on Spike than any A's album; it doesn't sound like anything they've done before + EC's voice is different/stronger now
One of the things I love about BY is that his voice is stronger than ever, but he is still creatively using multi-tracked vocals/background harmonies all over. Early on, I feel like these were sometimes used to compensate for limitations, now they are boosting his strengths...
Costello (in 1994) talking about "Clown Strike":
"Still Too Soon To Know" (a Distractions track) was one of the few songs that was new to me on the day of release, since it was easily the least "radio-friendly" song on the album (& I therefore wasn't able to catch it on my advance cassette...)
Deborah Chessler's "It's Too Soon To Know," as first recorded by The Orioles:
I have one minor quibble with the vinyl edition of Brutal Youth -- it's a double LP but its midpoint is in a different place than on the 1994 cassette.
It really feels like there should be a break between S2S2K & "20% Amnesia."
Also, I don't know if this is a typo in the Brutal Youth vinyl gatefold cover, a bit of commentary by someone at @MusicOnVinyl or a joke inserted by Costello himself for the reissue:
If the first 9 tracks on Brutal Youth feel like a Trust/Spike-like assortment of varying styles of song, the back half of the album feels to me like an equally diverse array of deeply personal pop songs dealing w/memory, regret & clear-eyed self-reflection, both mock & serious:
Another Comedy song, "My Science Fiction Twin" takes the piss out of his own image by inventing a Costello doppelgänger who can do it all:
"His almost universal excellence is starting to disturb me/They asked how in the world he does all these things/and he answered 'Superbly.'"
Maybe my favorite track on the album, "Rocking Horse Road" features Costello imagining the domestic life he might have led if he hadn't left home to tour the world & become a rock star.
Elvis & The Distractions are a severely underrated combo; their playing on "Rocking Horse Road" takes a simple song & makes it soar, somehow
My favorite 60 seconds on the album, as guitar & keyboard seem to become one sound while drums & bass skip along together, flawlessly:
Costello (in 1994) talking about "Rocking Horse Road" in great detail:
"Just About Glad" manages to find another shade of regret that is tonally 180° from "Rocking Horse Road":
Bill Flanagan, from his 1994 article about Costello: "He thinks pop fans with good ears will find it as funny as he does that the bass on the Faces-like 'Just About Glad" plays the melody line of the song, because that's what Ron Wood often does."
Flanagan, cont'd: "(He thinks it's a further hoot that the Faces always sang randy songs about getting laid and in his version the singer is relieved that he did not get laid.)"
Costello (in 1994) talking about "Just About Glad" and how it was actually Warner Bros who encouraged him to find a place for it on the album:
"All The Rage" is a "Fuck You" to all his critics, esp. those who wanted an LP like this. It feels like he is exacting revenge against anyone who wrote anything bad about the previous 3 albums: "Spare me the drone of your advice... I've heard it all before/you'll say it anyway."
And this is the ONLY even slightly negative thing I will say about Brutal Youth-- and I will almost immediately walk it back, bc this record is PERFECT & my opinion is wrong-- I kind of wish that "All The Rage" was the final song, bc this is such a perfect way to end the album:
"Favourite Hour" feels closer to The Juliet Letters than anything else on the album. And did I seriously just suggest cutting this track from the album, just so it could close with the perfect "All The Rage"? The guy who tweeted that doesn't know what he's talking about.
I do tend to think of "Favourite Hour" as a kind of postscript; EC all by himself, playing piano
I once heard him perform this in a context so weird I don't think I can do justice to the story via twitter. I have to tell it to you in person. Ask me about it if you ever meet me.
A song that didn't make it onto Brutal Youth, but is still fun to hear, "Abandon Words." Featuring the apparently unnamed line-up of Elvis, Pete & Elvis' eldest son, Matt MacManus, on bass:
"Poisoned Letter" is a fun rant that Costello stripped for parts to make two superior songs, "My Science Fiction Twin" & "All The Rage." A great example of Costello knowing that he hasn't quite gotten it right & figuring a better way...
Featuring Elvis, Pete & Nick Lowe:
EC & The Attractions reunite on Late Show With David @Letterman. I remember watching this live and then nearly wearing out the VHS tape I recorded it on:
At this point, I think I already had plans to drive 7 hours to Chicago to see them in concert. I watched this clip a lot before that, in anticipation:
Later in 1994, @Letterman did a week of shows in L.A. that coincided with EC & The Attractions west coast tour dates, so they were booked again.
I believe this must have sparked the idea that it would be cool for Dave to have Elvis on at every possible opportunity from now on...
Is "Dishonoured Jimmy" from "Kinder Murder" any relation to Jimmie from "Standing In The Rain" & "Under Lime"? Grandson of the cowboy singer?
Costello & The Attractions on Jools Holland, playing "Rocking Horse Road":
At this point, it felt like they were back together for good and nothing could possibly go wrong!
Costello plays the same song solo:
From the same appearance, a sit-down guitar version of "Shipbuilding":
When Elvis Costello appeared on The Larry Sanders Show, this was my pop culture obsessions colliding in the best possible way. Larry wanting him to play "Pump It Up" was a perfect joke:
Each character's level of Costello fandom was precisely designated: Larry wants him to play "Pump It Up"; Phil brings in his copy of Trust to get signed; Beverly goes out to buy a copy of Spike; Hank has no idea who he is.
I am giving Beverly the benefit of the doubt that she already owned Spike on vinyl or cassette:
Larry & Artie both asking the same tired question about "Alison" was the kind of joke that felt so specifically targeted to the fragment of the audience that would appreciate it, it almost felt like a private joke. "Is that about a specific person? Or a pet?"
Costello & The Attractions performing "13 Steps Lead Down" while The Larry Sanders Show falls to pieces around them:
Hank Kingsley thinking that "coconut" is funnier than "chicken" is way off:
"This reminds me of the time Angela Lansbury was on."
That's it for Day 22 of 45 Days Of Elvis Costello!
(This one took almost 36 hours bc I recorded a 12 hour podcast in the middle. "Day 23" will begin shortly.)
This was an EP that Costello put out of him & guitarist @BillFrisell performing a set of songs at London's South Bank for a music festival he curated in 1995.
Released August 14, 1995
This EP came out less than 2 months after it was recorded, as a limited edition EP. My hope at the time was that this was to be the first in a series of Meltdown 95 releases, or a prelude to a box set...
I remember reading detailed accounts of this 9-day music festival and driving myself crazy with jealousy that people got to attend all these shows. If I had an Elvis Costello time machine, it would be hard to choose between this and the 1986 tour.
Costello did shows on 5 of the 9 nights, with Steve Nieve, The Jazz Passengers, The Fairfield Four, The Brodsky Quartet, Fretwork, Marc Ribot, The Punishing Kiss Band & a last-minute line-up dubbed "The Irish All-Stars." His set with Frisell was the only one released.
It's a very low-key performance, one I honestly tend to revisit primarily for this performance of "Poor Napoleon":
Also, this very fine performance of "Love Field":
I spent the mid-90s imagining there would soon be some kind of deluxe Meltdown box set containing EC's performances, all of which I believe were professionally recorded. But I tended not to revisit Deep Dead Blue unless I was in a VERY specific mood.
A few more tracks trickled out from Meltdown years later on the bonus disc for the (now out-of-print, of course) Rhino reissue of The Juliet Letters.
"Pills & Soap" with The Brodsky Quartet:
Many of the songs that Costello performed that week are songs that he has never released studio recordings of, and I assume there are some he has never even attempted or considered for a record.
"King Of The Unknown Sea" with The Brodsky Quartet
Surely of all the songs Costello performed that week, Lerner & Loewe's "Gigi" was perhaps the most unexpected:
Another "live at Meltdown" track from the OOP Juliet Letters reissue, "Skeleton" with The Brodsky Quartet:
1995 was when Warner Bros finally released Kojak Variety but that summer all I could think of was Meltdown, and all the performances I didn't get to see.
John Dowland's "Can She Excuse My Wrongs" performed with Fretwork & Composers Ensemble:
Costello's Meltdown experience led to a great many performances & recordings to come in the following years, including continued work w/The Jazz Passengers & Debbie Harry (@BlondieOfficial)
"Doncha Go 'Way Mad" (from the 1997 JP album, Individually Twisted):
Costello premiered the song "Put Away Forbidden Playthings" with Fretwork at Meltdown 1995...
Which led to this striking version-- sung by countertenor Michael Chance -- on Fretwork's 1997 album, Sit Fast:
And Costello eventually released his own version in 2006, from a 2004 concert with The Metropole Orkest:
I was very surprised when this EP was reissued by @MusicOnVinyl a few years ago. (Those editions have a tendency to go out of print and become prohibitively expensive, so if you like this one & want it on vinyl, I would act now rather than wait!)
The title track:
And that's Day 23 of 45 Days Of Elvis Costello!
This EP isn't streaming, and there are no liner notes, but there's this on YouTube:
Today is the one day in this 45-day thread I have set aside for a single song, not only bc it happens to be my favorite song (EC or otherwise) & my favorite record (as produced by Brian Eno) but bc I think there is enough to unpack to give it its own day
Released March 18, 1996
This was a song written & recorded for "Songs In The Key Of X: Music From & Inspired By The X-Files."
It is credited to "Elvis Costello with Brian Eno" and I remember being excited to see that it was over 6 minutes long. I was expecting something weird.
I had relocated to the UK by this time, abandoning 2 disappointing years as a theatre major at @Mizzou (see Ozark, Wyatt ref earlier ⬆️) to be part of the 1st year of students at @PaulMcCartney's just-opened Liverpool Institute For Performing Arts (@LIPALiverpool)
Unhappy with @Mizzou's theatre department and looking for a change, I spot an item in USA Today: @PaulMcCartney is opening a performing arts academy in Liverpool & Costello is going to teach there.
They are looking for American students.
Curious, I write for more info...
Long stort short, I end up flying to NYC for an audition, getting into LIPA, moving to Liverpool, eventually London, etc etc.
Look, here's my graduation photo where I am seated relatively close to 2018 #1 album recording artist @PaulMcCartney:
All this really just to say that it was a Monday when I bought Songs In The Key Of X. (New CDs came out on Mondays there then, instead of Tuesdays.)
I remember buying the CD at HMV in Liverpool City Centre after class, and heading back to my student housing to listen to it...
My friend @JeffFalzone was visiting during spring break from UCSanta Cruz & he had been hanging out in my room while I was at class
All This Useless Beauty was due in less than 2 months & THAT was the big deal Costello thing; this little X-Files song was just a fun thing, nbd...
I still remember the feeling of listening to the first 60 seconds of this song for the 1st time.
By time that strange wet blobby percussion kicked in for the chorus, I knew that unless something went horribly wrong in the next 5 minutes, I had a new favorite song & record:
There was something about the line "She'll stand on tiptoe for you in a grey and tattered tutu" and specifically the way Costello sang it that cut right through me; it felt both surprising and inevitable. (Also the alliteration of "tattered tutu" somehow avoided feeling silly)
We listened to the song and then immediately played it again. I don't even recall how many times, but it was a lot.
The song casts a spell, it hooks you in and then it doesn't let go. It's also a tremendously confident song: it takes its time bc it knows it's worth it.
The kicker arrived in the song's final 2 minutes, when Costello unexpectedly name-checked our home state while running down a list of strangely named American towns-- why Chris Carter didn't immediately pitch a Darin Morgan-penned spin-off called "Peculiar, MO" is beyond me.
Costello has rarely written "sequel" songs ("American Without Tears #2" & "Under Lime" are the two examples that come to mind) but if he ever got the itch to delve fully into the world of Peculiar, Missouri, I have a hunch that song would be even stranger than "My Dark Life."
EC: "David Was, who was co-ordinating the music [for Songs In The Key Of X] rang me & said, ‘What about Brian Eno?’ I said, 'What are you, a fucking mind reader? I just met him yesterday…’"
EC: "So I called [Brian Eno] and said, 'What about one day in the studio? And whatever we do is the record…’ Because I know he likes that kind of spontaneity. One day and no re-mixing.”
From Brian Eno's published diary of that year. Costello was one among many big names Eno talked to that day:
Brian Eno's account of their day in the studio together, which Costello said at the time was the most fun he'd had in a recording studio in years:
God, Eno writing about his day with Costello is really funny. At times "miffed" and trying to distract Costello, but ultimately impressed and happy with the record they made:
EC (in 1996): "There’s a lot going on in that song, it’s about when I went to Russia last year. Truthfully, I think it has more plot than a lot of X-Files episodes. I love the X-Files, but the whole point of them is to be enigmatic.”
In 1996, Costello only played the song in concert on one occasion-- a solo version that was released on the limited edition Costello & Nieve box set. Greil Marcus wrote a whole piece just about that performance of "My Dark Life"...
GM: "Often a performance begins with the feeling that something crucial is being held back."