Elvis Costello arrived on American shores as the angry young man on the cover of My Aim Is True. But even in his brutal youth, he showed a tender side that s served him well on such classics as King of America and last year's country-flavored effort, Secret, Profane & Sugarcane.
There's not a song on that album that wouldn't sound great if he dusted it off at his upcoming solo acoustic performance in Scottsdale. But here's hoping he'll consider these classics from his first 10 years.
1. "I Want You" (1986)
Only Costello could make the words "I love you" feel as much like hands around your throat as they do in the opening lines of this slow-burning ballad. And it just gets creepier from there, his vocals dripping with contempt as he begs his former lover for the "stupid details" of her new romance while sputtering his way through lines as twisted as "I want to hear he pleases you more than I do."
2. "Riot Act" (1980)
The majestic track that brought Get Happy!! to a tortured close, it starts with a trembling admission that "Forever doesn't mean forever anymore" in one of Costello's more vulnerable vocal performances to date. And that crack in his voice on the line "I would be happier with amnesia," as an air of desperation takes hold of the track, is flawless.
3. "Alison" (1977)
This understated ballad from My Aim Is True has the feel of an old pop vocal standard, but the words are pure Costello gold as he confronts a former flame ("Well, I see you've got a husband now. Did he leave your pretty fingers lying in the wedding cake?").
4. "Party Girl" (1979)
The empathy Costello only hinted at on "Alison" is in full bloom on this Armed Forces highlight. A soulful pop ballad that builds to a breathtaking, Beatlesque climax, it's based on the real-life story of a girl he barely knew who turned up in the gossip pages, where certain assumptions were made about her character, just for being seen with him.
5. "Little Triggers" (1978)
The odd track out on his explosive second album, This Year's Model, "Little Triggers" finds him hung up on a femme fatale he accuses of pulling emotional triggers with her tongue while the Attractions rock a stately 6/8 soul groove.
6. "Motel Matches" (1980)
From Get Happy!!, this heartbreaking country-soul ballad is a cryptic little cheating song where everyone seems guilty of getting something on the side. The title refers to both the women he's been cheating with and the actual motel matches that incriminate the woman he's been sneaking out on ("giving you away like motel matches").
7. "Watch Your Step" (1981)
This midtempo ballad from Trust finds him making the most of having Steve Nieve around to play piano and melodica. At first, he warns "you'd better watch your step," but in the second verse, he puts a spin on that with a sneering, "You think you're young and original. Get out before they get to watch your step."
8. "Almost Blue" (1982)
This melancholy ballad would have been a perfect fit for Frank Sinatra's In the Wee Small Hours if only Costello had thought to write it as an infant. As it stands, this Imperial Bedroom highlight inspired a cover by jazz great Chet Baker.
9. "Boy With A Problem" (1982)
Squeeze's Chris Difford wrote most of the words to this heartbreaking tale of domestic abuse and romantic dysfunction. And Costello responded with one of his most emotionally vulnerable vocals, just the thing to put across a final line as powerful as "I feel like a boy with a problem. I can't believe all you've forgotten, sleeping with forgiveness in your heart for me."
10. "Our Little Angel" (1986)
The first song recorded for King of America, it takes one of Costello's more memorable honky-tonk choruses and surrounds it with minor-key verses that place it closer to the English folk tradition. But what really seals the deal here are the lyrics, from "You think that you'll be sweet to her but everybody knows that you're the marshmallow valentine that got stuck on her clothes" to "Get your mind off the sweet behind of our little angel."