Sunday, July 22, 2012

my aim is true

Elvis Costello emerged fully formed as a singular artist with the ambitious expression of his clever and cathartic blend of classic rock and roll with roots, reggae, punk, and pub music. Declan Patrick Aloysius MacManus got his start doing backup vocals on a commercial with his dad Ross MacManus, a song called 'I'm a Secret Lemonade Drinker' for R. White's Lemonade.  He later played in a folk duo called Rusty while in school in the Merseyside town of Birkenhead.  When he finished school he played in London pubs with a band called Flip City and married Mary Burgoyne in 1974, with whom he had a son Matthew.  While he worked various office jobs, he wrote songs and tried to shop his demo tape around to get a recording contract.  Independent label Stiff Records was interested in hiring him as a songwriter; but they were so impressed with the new demos they had him record, they gave him his own shot.  

Costello remembers:  "'My Aim Is True' was recorded at Pathway Studios, Islington in a total of Twenty four hours studio time and at a cost of 2000 pounds. As I still had my 'day-job' these sessions had to take place on 'sick days' and holidays during late 1976 and early 1977. The musicians were members of the Marin county band Clover, who could not be credited at the time due to contractual reasons. The producer was Nick Lowe, who I had met, unlikely as it may sound, in The Grapes public house, opposite The Cavern, Liverpool in 1972...Pathway Studio was no bigger than the average front room with a control booth barely able to contain two people and the 8-track mixing board. Nick Lowe was now the full time producer. We had the full Clover line-up – minus the singers, Alex Call and Huey Lewis - jammed into this tiny space. John Ciambotti was on bass and Sean Hopper played keyboards in addition to Shine and McFee. I was pinned behind an acoustic baffle with my amp and a vocal mike. It was rather like recording in a telephone booth. Overdubs were barely an option. Everything is heard pretty much as it was played...When I think about how Nick produced this record I have a mental picture of a big cloud of Senior Service smoke and his arms waving wildly about the tiny control booth. He was emotional, hilarious, incredibly enthusiastic and generous, though I certainly wouldn’t have embarrassed him by saying any of this at the time. He was just being 'Nick'. Whatever he was doing, it worked."

'Less Than Zero' was released as a single in March of 1977.  Costello recalls:  "I continued with my computer job after my first single came and went without troubling the charts. I’d been given a new name: 'Elvis Costello'. It sounded like a dare. People had weirder names than that in those days. I didn’t give it another thought until August 1977. It also seemed that the squarer I looked the better the camera liked it. The cover image of this album was one of the few usable frames as the rest of the session reveals how comical the whole knock-kneed stance seemed to the photographer and subject...After the failure of two single releases, Stiff records nevertheless decided to release the album and asked me to 'turn professional' and find a band that would become the Attractions."

'My Aim Is True' went to thirty-two in New Zealand and the US, twenty-five in Australia, and peaked at number fourteen in Sweden and the UK.  It has been certified silver in the UK and platinum in the US.  Costello confesses:  "There was at least as much imagination as experience in the words of this record. Whatever lyrical code or fancy was employed, the songs came straight out of my life plain enough. I hadn’t necessarily developed the confidence or the cruelty to speak otherwise."

'Alison' was the second single; but also failed to chart.  Costello confesses:  "I wrote 'Alison' and most of these songs late at night, singing sotto voce, so as not to wake up my wife and young son. I didn’t really know what they sounded like until I got into the studio. I had based the chorus of 'Alison' on the Detroit Spinners’ 'Ghetto Child' but I don’t think I mentioned this at the session."

"'(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes' was written on the Inter-City train to Liverpool between Runcorn and Lime Street stations, a journey of about ten minutes. I had to keep the song in my head until I got to my Mother’s house where I kept an old Spanish guitar that I had had since I was a kid. The lyric is a funny notion for a twenty-two year old to have written."

'Watching the Detectives' was released as a single in October of 1977 and appeared on later versions of 'My Aim is True'.  The backing band included Steve Nieve on keyboards, Steve Goulding on drums, and Andrew Bodnar on bass.  It was his first single to see any action on the charts, going to one hundred and eight in the US, sixty in Canada, thirty-five in Australia, and fifteen in the UK.   Costello says:  "Something was supposed to be changing. I spent a lot of time with just a big jar of instant coffee and the first Clash album, listening to it over and over. By the time I got down to the last few grains, I had written, 'Watching the Detectives'. The chorus had these darting figures that I wanted to sound like something from a Bernard Herrmann score. The piano and organ on the recorded version were all we could afford."

According to Elvis:  "'Less than Zero' was a song that I had written after seeing the despicable Oswald Mosley being interviewed on BBC television. The former leader of the British Union of Fascists seemed unrepentant about his poisonous actions of the 1930’s. The song was more of a slandering fantasy than a reasoned argument."  

In December of 1977, Costello started to play 'Less Than Zero' during his first appearance on 'Saturday Night Live' and then stopped mid-verse to switch to 'Radio, Radio' which the producers had told him specifically not to play.  As a result, he was banned from the show for more than a decade.

He reunited with Clover in 2007 for this version.  

Costello says:  "The faster tunes often came to me when riding on the Underground, particularly '…End of the world', which was a fantasy based on a real late night journey."

'Mystery Dance / 
Waiting for the End of the World / 
Lip Service'

'My Aim Is True' 

full album:

Original Album
01 00:00 "Welcome to the Working Week"
02 01:24 "Miracle Man"
03 04:52 "No Dancing"
04 07:32 "Blame It on Cain"
05 10:21 "Alison"
06 13:39 "Sneaky Feelings"
07 15:48 "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes"
08 18:31 "Less Than Zero"
09 21:42 "Mystery Dance"
10 23:19 "Pay It Back" – 2:33
11 25:48 "I'm Not Angry" – 2:57
12 28:45 "Waiting for the End of the World"
Bonus Tracks
13 32:07 "Watching the Detectives" – 3:45
14 35:52 "Radio Sweetheart" – 2:25
15 38:15 "Stranger in the House" – 3:01
16 41:16 "Imagination (Is a Powerful Deceiver)" – 3:38
17 44:53 "Mystery Dance" (Demo version) – 2:13
18 47:08 "Cheap Reward" (Demo version) – 2:15
19 49:23 "Jump Up" (Demo version) – 2:06
20 51:29 "Wave a White Flag" (Demo version) – 1:53
21 53:23 "Blame It on Cain" (Demo version) – 3:30
22 56:52 "Poison Moon" (Demo version)

No comments:

Post a Comment