14: Welcome to the Working Week..Elvis Costello

So, it’s ok to go back to work as long as you can’t work from home (I can!) and its safe to do so (?) and you can get there without using public transport (??), or you can use public transport if its safe(???)

What better way to welcome the new normal than the very first track of the very first album from Elvis Costello. Costello, like the Police of the Stranglers managed to be just punk enough to straddle the fine line between credibility and music which was all important in 1977.

This was largely a matter of luck on Costello’s part. WTTWW was recorded as part of the ‘My Aim is True’ sessions at the end of 1976. During this period the Sex Pistols swore on TV and the musical landscape changed overnight. Costello was a superior songwriter, he would have been another Warren Zevon with different timing.Instead he was the best new wave songwriter He had impressed Stiff records enough for them to stump up enough money for an 8 track studio, some time for producer Nick Lowe and a backing band, it was the princely sum of £2,000.

The backing musicians were Californian band Clover who, had specialised in countryfied soft rock since the start of the decade. The lead singer of Clover who unsurprisingly wasn’t needed on the sessions was no other than Huey Louis later Huey Lewis of 80s fame. Clover were generally well liked with the London pub rock crowd, they were the ones who took Dr Feelgood out for the night in San Francisco which lead to the song ‘Milk and Alcohol’. They had spent quite a bit of time in London they were good guys and good musicians, but they were going nowhere fast.

Produce Lowe had managed to rein in their funkier tendencies with a pretty boxy garage band sound but Clover still managed bar band shuffles and some tasteful guitar licks. Costello probably wasn’t complaining, he’d been playing this sort of thing round the pubs of London with his band Flip City, a couple of years later he would be redeclaring his love of country in vinyl with ‘Almost Blue’. By early 1977 he had a record which sounded like a good bar band playing some incredible songs (the outtakes show him dipping into some real country)

Just six months later Costello had a more muscular band in the Attractions. I had heard them doing some radio sessions and it was clear that they were something exceptional. There were also the singles starting with ‘Less than Zero’ and ‘(The Angels Want to) wear my Red Shoes’ which gave the impression Costello was a rather edgy goodtime merchant, the music was familiar, the energy and lyrics were different.

And so, I was willing to trek down to Robin’s records and purchase the LP. It wasn’t risk free, record sales assistants could be very judgemental, I had long hair, they had long hair, I’d have been more worried if had been the Dammed but despite his Oxfam Jacket and skinny jeans Elvis was just about acceptable.

WTTWW isn’t the best track on the album but it hits hard

“now your picture’s in the paper being rhymical admired”

There are few albums with a better opening line

The thing that really impressed me about the song was the length just one minute 23 seconds long there’s not a second wasted. It might seem like a minor point, but this really was the energy of the time as the Talking Heads would have it ‘say something once, why say it again? ‘There’s also an attitude about it that is pure country dealing with adult issues. Songwriters didn’t usually write about work, they didn’t even get out of bed until midday. Costello had been catching the tube to work everyday just like the rest of us and like a lot of us he didn’t want to be doing that anymore.

I also love the sound of the record, Nick Lowe was famous for bashing a record out a quick as he could, its very live sound but its also immediate. Finally there’s also the inevitability of the debut record containing some really strong material Costello had been polishing some of these nuggets for a while, and it showed.

Costello was soon to move on, the Attractions could play good time grooves like ‘Sneaky Feelings’ but they would soon move on to a sound more aligned with a more aggressive new wave genre. In fact, the band had re-recorded the album over a couple of days with a view to releasing these tracks when the record was repressed, six months into his career he was looking to re-write his history.

It didn’t happen of course and with such a varied back catalogue My Aim is True makes more sense, pub rock meets punk rock meets singer songwriter and an all time great record.

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