Elvis Costello & The Attractions

Classic Attractions: Pete Thomas (drums),
Bruce Thomas (bass), Elvis Costello
(guitar, vocals), Steve Nieve (keyboards)


Consistent quality and sheer longevity have marked Elvis Costello as one of the UK's premier songwriters. Gibson Keddie and Paul Scott sort out a mutual fave Costello tune...

As the opening chords of Everyday I Write The Book chime in (in a swirling stereo pan in the cans), it could be the start of any Motown or R&B classic; only pinpoint production and studied mixing indicate that it's a more recent song than any such '60s groover. However, the comparison is nonetheless valid, and soon the listener is being treated to a bouncing, mockingly ironic love song written in the way that only Elvis Costello can; cleverly angular, and puffed out with its little victory in the face of relationship defeat. And check out that bass line - talk about the art of making a song special.

Elvis meet... Elvis
The son of famous UK bandleader Ross McManus, Elvis Costello (Declan McManus to his dad) had been a computer programmer in the pre-punk'70s, who effectively capitalised on his profession's nerdy look for his nascent public image, and released a debut album of equal parts vitriol, distaste and detached concern, all mixed in with sheer bloody hummability. My Aim Is True (Stiff) was recorded in 1977, with Nick Lowe at the controls, and a studio band made up of most of jobbing American country rock

"Equal parts vitriol, distaste and sheer bloody hummability"

band, Clover (later to become Huey Lewis and the News), My Aim Is True was a million miles away from any "alternative" rank amateur new wave three-chord fumblings, and served absolute notice of Elvis' looming star songwriter quality.
Soon after, a full-time band, The Attractions was formed to back Costello, consisting of Steve Nieve on keyboards, drummer Pete Thomas, and bassist Bruce (no relation) Thomas. This outfit's first release was 1978's This Year's Model, producing irresistibly catchy hits like Oliver's Army, and Elvis was a star.

Back to the future
By the early ''80s, Costello's writing muse had already undergone various periods of mood indulgence: raw-edged rock (This Year's Model, Armed Forces), cod-soul (Get Happy), and early country (Almost Blue), 1 983's Punch The Clock witnessed Elvis wearing a soulboy beatnik look, where the songwriter found himself trying to come to terms with a national zeitgeist dominated by the relentlessly jingoistic fall-out of the Falklands war, elegantly summed up on Shipbuilding.
But the mood of the album remains buoyant throughout, and nowhere more so than on Everyday I Write The Book. Soon after this, Elvis would be solo and Attraction-less. Later, bassist Bruce Thomas wrote a road book exposé of the band, opening wounds which have never healed, despite a brief Elvis & Attractions reunion in 1994. Litigious repercussions are ever-present and ongoing, hence Bruce Thomas declined our offer to comment on the song. Still, none of these legal shenanigans should detract from listening in quiet awe as Thomas uses a veritable litany of bass playing nuances (syncopated and reverse-arpeggiated offbeats, double-stops, triads, counterpoints) to lift the song to exalted heights - in fact, in much the same way that James Jamerson did with all those Motown classics years before.


Paul Scott transcribes the delightful noteplay of
Bruce Thomas' Wal bass tone on the Costello classic

Performance Notes
Everyday I Write The Book is one of Elvis Costello's few relentlessly upbeat songs. Recently-penned sleeve notes suggest that this song was cobbled together in a few spare minutes on tour as a cod-'60s ditty, but the subtle layering on the final production places it quite definitely as an early '80s creation. The unmistakable tone of Bruce Thomas' Wal bass sits well forward in the mix, with keyboards, possibly banjo and a dancing Synclavier line bubbling under the hook in the chorus.
Four distinctly separate sections make up this bass line. The intro (bars 1 to 8) has a simple repeated rhythmic phrase on the root of each chord. The first six bars of the opening verse that follow the intro are very unusual.
While keeping a monumentally funky groove going, Bruce Thomas plays different inversions of the basic triads from each chord. By moving, in the first instance, from first inversion E major to root position G# minor to second inversion C# minor, he creates a very unsettling effect. This is resolved in bar 15, where he punches out the roots of the chords in a variation on a typical funk pattern.
The bass line under the chorus at bar 19 feels as if it's going to be another take on an R'n'B approach. However, the stretch from F# at the eleventh fret back to D# at the sixth fret in bars 20, 22 and 24 keeps the ears and fingers busy coping with the large downwards interval of a minor tenth.
The part that I've called the bridge at bar 25 toggles backwards and forwards between C# minor and E major with patterns that keep an essentially static chord progression dancing, before returning to the funk rhythms of bars 31 and 32.
This transcription covers several different and contrasting rhythms in a few short bars and would be excellent reading practice for anyone wishing to sharpen up their bass playing skills.