OH, I JUST DON’T KNOW WHERE TO BEGIN

So there I am wandering along the street with, as is regular, the i-pod on shuffle. The best part of 35,000 songs are on it so it can often be years since I last heard what comes through the headphones. Like with this:-

mp3 : Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Accidents Will Happen

If I was to sit down and thoughtfully list all my favourite EC songs, then this might get a place maybe around the 30s or 40s; not that I don’t like it, but it has never been one that I thought was truly outstanding, mainly as I never took to the way it faded away at the end…..the ‘I know, I know’ refrain annoyed me somewhat back in the day. And listening again while I was walking, I realised it still does…..but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that the opening two and half minutes are rather splendid in that spiteful, new wave sneer that he was so food at when he first burst onto the scene.

It climbed only as far as #29 in the UK charts on its release in 1979, indicating perhaps that it was one that didn’t appeal all that much beyond the immediate fan base.

It came with two b-sides that both come in at around two minutes in length and which, the best part of 40 years on, remain very enjoyable listens, and also highlight how difficult it was to pigeon-hole this most talented of performers:-

mp3 : Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Talking In The Dark
mp3 : Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Wednesday Week

JC

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #136 : ELVIS COSTELLO & THE ATTRACTIONS

A GUEST POSTING by JONNY THE FRIENDLY LAWYER

They Said It Couldn’t Be Done…And It Can’t!

A few weeks ago JC posted Charged Particles #12, featuring a pair of songs by Graham Parker. In the comments folks got into a discussion about how the ‘angry young men’ of the era–Parker, Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson–had fared since their original heyday. I observed that, while I wasn’t that fond of Costello’s genre exercises and anemic later-career albums, I rated his early LPs so highly that “I don’t think I could narrow down a 10 song ICA from just his recordings with the Attractions.” It was Brian who responded: “Nobody has had the guts to do that so far.”

Of course Brian’s right. I once made a playlist for my daughter of ‘essential’ EC songs and there were almost 100 on it. And how can you pick less than 6 or 7 from Get Happy!! alone? In the past I tried to come up with several possible Elvis ICA’s — Best guests (Green, David Hidalgo, Mick Jones, Emmylou), Best collaborations (Coward Bros., Jimmy Cliff, Bill Frisell, Allen Toussaint), Best ‘color’ songs (Red Shoes, Green Shirt, Blue Chair etc.). I even have a list of songs with my favorite Bruce Thomas bass parts (B-Movie, Pump It Up, I Stand Accused, and so on.) But they were all cowardly. No, there’s absolutely no way to have a 10-song Elvis Costello ICA.

But then I thought there’s so much crappy news these days and the world is so fraught with stress, why not pitch something distracting into the mix that people actually care about? Why deny ourselves the pleasure of a good-natured pub argument, even if we’re thousands of miles apart? In fact, as I’m writing this I’m smirking a little, picturing you lot glaring angrily at your laptops, spluttering, “How could that bastard have left out X or Y or Z! It’s an outrage!”

So, what the hell — with no discussion of the songs at all here’s an ICA of the TEN BEST songs by Elvis Costello and the Attractions:

1. Accidents Will Happen
2. Beyond Belief
3. Clean Money
4. High Fidelity
5. Man Out Of Time
6. Oliver’s Army
7. Pump It Up
8. Radio, Radio
9. Strict Time
10. 5ive Gears In Reverse

BRING IT ON, homies.

JTFL

CHARGED PARTICLES…..HERE’S JONNY!!!!!! (2)

THE GUEST SERIES FROM JONNY THE FRIENDLY LAWYER

Today’s charged particles come from the same act, from the same album. It’s everyone’s favorite wordy old uncle, Elvis Costello, serving up a pair of tracks from his 1980 ‘Motown’ LP with the inimitable Attractions, Get Happy!!

Temptation: From EC’s liner notes to the 1989 Rykodisc reissue:“Another drunken composition (or is it decomposition). On the run from a cleverly isolated Dutch studio, we sought excitement in a small cafe. Sure enough I started to fall ‘in love’ with the waitress, but was hustled back to work before the trouble began. I began my protestations of desire in the taxi, and although other grim thoughts came to mind, the song was ‘complete’ by the time we reached the studio. Naturally we recorded it right away and in a childishly literal gesture I insisted on playing organ (very badly).”

Possession: More liner notes: “This started out as a holier-than-thou snipe at a VERY FAMOUS ROCK STAR, who I imagined to be breathing his own artificial atmosphere. However by the time we came to record it I’d had a good lungful of the same poison, but had also located that slippery addictive feeling that you get just before giving in to something wicked. It proved to be the saving of the song, together with a few pints of beer and a riff borrowed from Booker T and the The MGs.”

JTFL

JC adds…

Given this is going to be a regular series, I asked Jonny for some thoughts and ideas for an image or photo to illustrate his posts (they’re not all going to be single artists like today’s effort).

We settled on the above for now;  it is the handiwork of Sam, the Friendly Artist.  Some of his other creations may feature in due course.

FAST, FRENETIC, FEROCIOUS AND FABULOUS

So there I was making my way through the really enjoyable Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink when I got to a few paras on Pages 347-348 that made me put down the book and fire up the laptop:-

Yet in the midst of all these follies we stumbled into a television studio in Cologne and delivered the only videotaped performance of us in which I can begin to see what all the fuss was about.

It’s clear from the off tha we went on spoiling for a fight, clearly uncomfortable about playing in front of a sedate, long-haired crowd that looked as if it might have come to see Tangerine Dream.

Pete Thomas opened the first number with more of a drum solo than his usual drum into of ‘Mystery Dance’. We played three songs straight off at top speed before I yelped an unconvincing ‘Good evening’.

My manner was sullen, almost as if I was in a hurry to get this over with, in stark contrast to the rather open-faced portrait from the back of ‘My Aim Is true’ that was blown up as a backdrop to the tiny stage. Bruce Thomas was prowling round on his side of the stage, and Steve Nieve was wearing a mean pair of shades and playing the toy-town keyboard setup that was all that was at his disposal then.

The studio was airless and asphyxiating under the hot television lights and as the fuel of our initial liftoff was burned away, we had to create some space in the songs from ‘This Year’s Model’ just to catch our breath. The songs from ‘My Aim Is True’ were barely recognisable and we even previewed a new song called ‘Two Little Hitlers’, the title of which was a provocation in itself.

Singing directly into the camera had always looked ridiculous when I was lip-synching, but this was real flesh and blood, spit and sweat and strain. My gestures and peculiar movements would be flattered by any description as dancing, but they were directed straight at the viewer, ignoring the studio audience completely.

This was television, not a picture of somebody playing in a box.

We ran one song into the next, not risking the absence of applause, and tried to blow ‘Night Rally’ to pieces before careering through a finale of four fast songs from ‘This Year’s Model’, leaving the ‘Rockpalast’ studio without a backward glance.

Strangely enough, that tape contains the last trace of my innocence and utter conviction before the songs began playing me.

I put the book down as I simply had to see if the performance matched the hype of Elvis’s build-up.

It does. It really does. Especially those four songs that come back-to-back from 24:40 onwards.

Set list:-

01 Mystery Dance
02 End Of The World
03 Lip Service
04 Two Little Hitlers
05 The Beat
06 Night Rally
07 This Year’s Girl
08 No Action
09 (I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea
10 Lipstick Vogue
11 Watching The Detectives
12 Pump It Up
13 You Belong To Me

It’s watching such a performance that makes me realise how much of an impossible task it would be to come up with an ICA given how many songs from this era really need to be included and yet how many great songs were still to be written and recorded in the years still to come. So I’m happy to duck out and say that Elvis Costello will be the subject of the Sunday singles series as and when that of Buzzcocks comes to an end.

The other thing this performance captures is the talents of all four musicians. A few pages previously in the book, Elvis had acknowledged this saying that:-

The difference was that The Attractions could play rings around everyone else. I just had to stand in the middle and sing. I can’t think of anyone else in the class of ’77 who could have played the piano intro of ‘Little Triggers’, let alone the bass and drums of ‘Lipstick Vogue’, a song which was taken at a tempo that was just this side of impossible in the studio and even faster and more ferocious in a live performance.

mp3 : Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Lipstick Vogue

Fancy a cover version?

mp3 : Andrew Poppy & Claudia Brucken – Lipstick Vogue

Enjoy.

E.C. IS GOD

Elvis Costello <> Spectacle: Elvis Costello With...

(This is another posting lifted from the old blog back in March 2007 –  I had intended to feature one his singles today but instead felt it worthwhile sharing the old stuff)

I like to roam around hundreds of music blogs – sometimes looking for good ideas to steal and call my own – but mostly to read what other people have to say and occasionally listen to the mp3s they put up with the postings.

Many bloggers have a section that details the names of their favourite singers and bands, and I’ve come to discover that there is a name of a great singer/songwriter that doesn’t crop up all that often, and yet if you asked music-lovers the world over whether or not they like him, you would get an awful lot more folk shouting ‘AYE’ than you would those that would whisper ‘NAY’. I’m talking about Declan Patrick McManus aka Elvis Costello.

Have a think about this man’s recording career which now spans 30 years, and how many different styles and genres he’s had a go at. There’s been New Wave, Stax/Motown, Country & Western, Easy Listening, Classical, Jazz/Swing, Folk, Cover Versions, Protest Songs, Soundtracks, Pop and Rock.

I wouldn’t even begin to try to count how many labels he’s recorded for far less calculate just how many singles and LPs he has released in various guises. And there must have been at least eight Best Of compilations over the years.

He’s also been involved in high-profile recordings with folk of the stature of Paul McCartney and Burt Bacharach (and they have stature whether you’re fans or not). He’s produced umpteen bands over the years, not least The Specials and The Pogues, the latter of whom he helped turn from a cult act into a chart act. And he’s been in numerous TV and film productions, often appearing as himself. He’s written songs and whole albums for other artistes.

So quite clearly the man is a living legend.But as I said his name rarely appears in the list of favourites that you find on many blogs.

I suppose part of the difficulty in anyone automatically reeling-off EC as one of the all-time greats is the fact that he has turned his hand to so many different things, some more successfully than others, and I don’t think there can be too many who can claim to own every bit of music he’s recorded and released over the past three decades. And given how long he has been going, there will naturally have been the occasional duff LP put out, and perhaps one or two of the projects were a bit too vain, and possibly even pretentious, rather than of top-drawer quality. I don’t think even EC would say that writing for, recording with and producing Wendy James in her thankfully brief post-Transvision Vamp solo efforts would be a high point of his career.

Some bloggers might have been embarrassed by some of the daft things he has said or done over the years, such as the drunken racist comments he uttered about James Brown & Ray Charles in the late 70s. Or the fact that he has been less than flatteringly portrayed in a number of rock biographies, not least this,  written by Bruce Thomas the long-time bassist with The Attractions.

But overall, there can be surely no argument that as a composer and lyricist, there are few who can hold a candle to the talents of Elvis Costello in the latter part of the 20th Century, particularly in his prime of the late 70s and throughout the 80s. I could probably post any of maybe 100 songs to illustrate my point, but instead I’ve gone for this handful including some lesser known stuff:-

mp3 : Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Watching The Detectives
mp3 : Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Man Out Of Time
mp3 : Elvis Costello – Brilliant Mistake
mp3 : Elvis Costello – Little Palaces
mp3 : Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Battered Old Bird

The first two were singles. Tracks 3 & 4 are on King of America. Track 5 is one of many outstanding tracks on Blood & Chocolate.

And here’s a cover version of a Nick Lowe song that he did as a b-side in 1991

mp3 : Elvis Costello – The Ugly Things

Enjoy

THEY CALL HER NATASHA WHEN SHE LOOKS LIKE ELSIE

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Before I get started on the music…..I just want to say that if you want evidence of how far we’ve come in terms of interior design and decor then have a look at the sleeve above.  That carpet and wallpaper was incredibly representative of just about everyone’s homes in the late 70s.  Nowadays, you have to go to certain pubs in certain less salubrious parts of towns and cities to get the full effect.  But I digress.

From 1978.  A deserved Top 20 hit for Elvis Costello & The Attractions.

mp3 : Elvis Costello & The Attractions – (I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea

Here’s a wonderfully penned review:-

“(I Don’t Want to Go To) Chelsea” is a brilliant ska-inflected rocker from Elvis Costello’s debut with crack backing band the Attractions on the excellent This Year’s Model LP. The track was inexplicably left off the original American CBS release in 1978, U.S. fans having to wait to hear this bristling jolt of pop until a collection of British B-sides, Taking Liberties, was issued in 1980.

“Chelsea” features the flashy yet powerful drumming of Pete Thomas and a taught bass line from (brother in name only) bassist Bruce Thomas locked in an impressively tight groove, providing the surging engine over which Steve Nieve adds some swirling organ. Costello makes economic use of his guitar, contributing a stinging quick riff and well-placed accent chords throughout. The lyrics rain down in a torrent, Costello blurting out accusatory lines with an embittered sneer, “Photographs of fancy tricks to get your kicks at 66/He thinks of all the girls that he’s going to fix/She gave a little flirt gave herself a little cuddle/But there’s no place here for the mini-skirt waddle/Capital punishment, she’s last year’s model/They call her Natasha when she looks like Elsie/I don’t want to go to Chelsea.”

The music modulates for the chorus dropping down as Costello continues his tirade against the shallow nature of vanity and fixations on beauty: “Oh no it does not move me/Even though I’ve seen the movie/I don’t want to check your pulse/I don’t want nobody else/I don’t want to go to Chelsea,” the band slamming to a quick stop on the last line.

An excellent live version can be heard on Live at El Mocambo, recorded in Toronto in 1978. The band plays up the ska quotient, adding a kind of shuffling dance beat, the song played at a furious tempo. Costello adds back slashing reggae accent guitar. The band stretches out making dramatic use of the song’s many breaks, at one point reducing the music to two pulsing notes, Costello expertly milking the vocals for dramatic effect, squeezing as much venom from the word as possible. The band powers through a brisk syncopated finish.

Those words got me to track down said live version:-

mp3 : Elvis Costello & The Attractions – (I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea (live)

It is rather tasty if not quite living up to the powerful review.  But it was well worth the 79p download from itunes.

Chelsea was a 45 long gone from the collection but I found a second-hand copy quite recently.  Here’s the b-side:-

mp3 : Elvis Costello & The Attractions – You Belong To Me

A song with its roots in the pub rock sound that was very instrumental in paving the way for punk/new wave here in the UK.  Only a b-side/album track, there’s a lot of bands of that era would have jumped all over it as a single if they had written it…

Enjoy.

THIS BREAK UP MUST HAVE BEEN A KILLER…

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Early summer of 1986.  There was a very unusual opening to an edition of Whistle Test.  No presenter telling us what was coming up on the show.  Just a quick blast of the theme tune and straight into what turned out to be a stunning performance by Elvis Costello & The Attractions of a song which contains what must be one of the most vicious and vindictive lyrics ever penned:-

He’s a fine figure of a man and handsome too
With his eyes upon the secret places he’d like to undo
Still he knows who knows who and where and how
And I hope you’re happy now

He’s got all the things you need and some that you will never
But you make him sound like frozen food, his love will last forever
Still he knows what you want and what you don’t allow
And I hope you’re happy now

I hope that you’re happy now like you’re supposed to be
And I know that this will hurt you more than it hurts me

He’s acting innocent and proud still you know what he’s after
Like a matador with his pork sword, while we all die of laughter
In his turquoise pajamas and motorcycle hat
I hope you’re happy now because you’ll soon put pay to that
I knew then what I know now I never loved you anyhow
And I hope you’re happy now

It’s really only when you see them written down on the page that you get the full extent of the bitterness contained in the lyric.  All spat out over an incredibly catchy, infectious and jolly tune:-

mp3 : Elvis Costello & The Attractions – I Hope You’re Happy Now

One of my favourite tracks from Blood & Chocolate which is is my favourite EC album.  At the time with nine years of extensive chart hits behind him, it felt as if he’d been going forever and a day.  27 years on and he shows little sign of slowing down

There’s also a great solo, maybe even demo version of the song:-

mp3 : Elvis Costello – I Hope You’re Happy Now (acoustic)

This version was originally  made available on the b-side of the 12″ of I Want You which is another song with an uncompromising and uncomfortable lyric but it has the tune to match:-

mp3 : Elvis Costello & The Attractions – I Want You

Enjoy? It doesn’t seem the appropriate word somehow….