For a taste of some classic, no-frills rock 'n' roll, pick up on My Aim Is True (Columbia) by 22-year-old Elvis Costello.
Forget the unfortunate timing involving his first name and ignore the fact that he dresses as if he just stepped out of a Happy Days episode. Elvis Costello has come up with the first totally inspired (as opposed to copied or derived) rock album in years.
Costello is a British computer programmer who writes short songs (13 of them crammed onto this album) that don't fool around. The lyrics get straight to the point and the music is devoid of strings, harps, synthesizers and other recording trappings that came to dominate rock music after the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper album 10 years ago.
Most of all, he improves upon the rock form by stripping it down to nothing but man, voice and guitar (well, okay, a little bass and drums) and shaking it at you in its splendid nakedness. If this catches on at all, we may gladly see the demise, or at least decline, of the extended, improvisational guitar solo that became the flagship of modern rock after 1968.
Listen to Costello sing "Less Than Zero" or "Mystery Dance" and you'll begin to wish he had come along five years ago to close the open spaces in pop music that eventually were to attract such annoyances as disco and punk rock.
This Elvis has the intellect and sense of direction that Buddy Holly gave rock music two decades ago. Yet he comes along at the same kind of opportune moment as did another Elvis, when the field is crying for a new runner to lead the herd.
Costello, however, is neither Holly nor Presley. There are only eery traces of both in this album — and a hint that rock 'n' roll could survive after all.