Blitz, May 1978

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Elvis Costello: The promise of a future

Mike McDowell

When the initial hysteria has faded, the one name guaranteed to have the most lasting impact on the rock and roll developments of the 1970s will no doubt be Elvis Costello. Never since the creative musical boom of 1964-1968 has there been an artist with such incredible perception of rock and roll sensibility capable of applying a common sense approach to lyrics while simultaneously provoking the intellect. Musically, Elvis Costello blends the well-executed economics of Buddy Holly with the lyrical high plane of logistics typified by Michael Nesmith. The result: solid rock and roll music that proves that intellectual stimulation and fun can be synonymous.

But as can be expected, commercial acclaim for one so gifted is rare amongst the tastes of a public that has been force-fed a steady diet of such musically irrelevant studio puppets as the Bee Gees, Donner Summer and Samantha Sang. Is there room at the top for relevance? Alan Freed proved that there was in the early 1950s by introducing the likes of the Moonglows, the Five Satins and Chuck Berry to an unsuspecting public weaned on Kitty Kallen and Jimmy Boyd. And strictly via enlightenment from the print media (since airplay for Costello's recordings is next to nonexistent), the Detroit area proved themselves more than ready to accept Elvis Costello as the long awaited saving grace of rock and roll music.

In the course of two sell-out performances in the Detroit area the night of April 22, the apprehensive Costello warmed to a hero's welcome and delivered one of the most intense, driving, exuberant performances of rock and roll music since Chuck Berry's landmark Eastern Michigan University concert in the Fall of 1932 or the Monkees' historical appearance at the Olympia Stadium in July, 1967. As a city whose very name is oftimes associated with rock and roll, Detroit embraced the new-found messiah with an enthusiasm characteristic of the city's legendary musical reputation. Both sets consisted entirely of material from Elvis' two albums, My Aim Is True and the recently released This Year's Model. The Attractions (Bruce, Steve and Pete) showed a marked improvement over the last several months, delivering a tasty Merseybeat feel on the Dave Clark Five-ish "You Belong To Me" and the Beatle-like bounce of "Lip Service". The highly acclaimed "Mystery Dance", "Red Shoes" and incurably addictive reggae feel of "Watching The Detectives" earned Costello a nine minute standing ovation, assuring all present that an exciting musical event of immense proportions was on the verge of exploding with wide-reaching hysteria.

Nonetheless, in their traditional role as an intellectual vacuum, the gutless airwaves of the radio may find themselves deserted by the public they try so hard to manipulate, simply by virtue of their reluctance to accept artistic integrity as an integral element of rock and roll music. The acid-tongued poigniant philosophy of Costello sums it up: "We intended to play Detroit once before, but were stopped by one thing -- the radio. The radio doesn't know we exist, and vice versa". Thus the prototype for "Radio, Radio", Costello's hard-hitting slam against the unfaithful child of rock and roll, executed with the ironic delivery characteristic of the sorely missed cruisin' music.

After the show, the tired but content Costello seemed to take his new-found stardom in stride, in keeping with his pronounced disdain for the hero ethic. As such, Costello's reaction upon learning of his selection as this magazine's favorite new male vocalist of 1977 was an indifferent "Terrific!". Costello's hastily added "I'm glad you enjoyed the show" leads one to believe that his aim is true not for his sake, but for the sake of rock and roll. It's about time.


Blitz, No. 26, May 1978

Mike McDowell profiles Elvis Costello and reports on his concert with The Attractions, Saturday, April 22, 1978, Royal Oak Music Theatre, Royal Oak, MI.

John Clayton reviews This Year's Model.


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This Year's Model

John Clayton

The best album I've heard was released on March 17. By the time you read this it will, I'm sure, have etched its eleven slices of rock 'n' roll heaven permanently into your memory. Of course, I'm talking about Elvis Costello and the Attractions' new album, This Year's Model. A second hit single "I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea" preceded the album, but This Year's Model is really like a juke-box full of hit songs! My personal favourites have to be "No Action", 1 minute and 57 seconds of sheer delight - I defy even the most reluctant dancers to keep their seats to "This Year's Girl", a savage indictment of the beauty queen/fashion syndrome which shows Elvis' ultimate sympathy for the Farrah Fawcett Majors of this world, "The Beat" with its delightful steal from the opening of Cliff Richard's "Summer Holiday" and the strident but melodic "Pump It Up" which is also Elvis' latest British single. British fans have been as quick to respond to the album's excellence as they were to buy tickets for Elvis' nation-wide spring tour at which every venue was sold out days in advance, putting it straight into the upper reaches of the chart.

Costello collectors should note that the first 50,000 copies of the British release of This Year's Model contained a free single combing a solo Elvis country and western cut "Stranger in the House" and a live version of the Damned's punk classic "Neat Neat Neat". Import shops may still have copies, but you'll need to be quick! As well as having different cover/liner shots, all British copies of the album also contained two songs not on the American version, "Chelsea" and "Night Rally", a dramatic anti-fascist song, whereas the American release, on Columbia, contains the fabulous "Radio, Radio" which isn't on the British release! An intriguing question to consider is whether the Stranglers will be able to consolidate on their position as a top-flight band during the course of 1978. It was perhaps unreasonable to expect the "No More Heroes" album to achieve the same level of success as their astonishing debut "Rattus Norvegicus". Indeed it didn't, but recent signs are that Hugh Cornwell, Jean-Jacques Buinel and company may be losing their way, with unimpressive concert reports and a depressingly disappointing new single "Nice 'n' Sleazy". The Stranglers' contribution to last year's renaissance of British pop was undeniably massive, so here's hoping that their forthcoming third album "Black and White" and European tour prove my fears unfounded.

Elvis Costello's devastating version of Dionne Warwick's "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself" is alone worth the price of the Live Stiffs album. A complementary film capturing the sheer madness of this latter-day package tour is already drawing in the crowds in London.


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