New Vinyl Times, February 1981

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New Vinyl Times
  • 1981 February

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The Costello file — an undocumented history

New Vinyl Times

"Less Than Zero" single

— Tiny independent label, Stiff Records, receives a demo tape from Dec Costello. They are excited with the song "Mystery Dance" which they see as a perfect song for Dave Edmunds to record.

— It turns out that Dec Costello's demos had been rejected a year earlier by Stiff when he submitted them under the name Declan P. MacManus. Searching for a new identity, Declan MacManus, who had taken on his mother's maiden name "Costello," is at the drunken suggestion of manager/Stiff Records co-owner Jake Riviera dubbed "Elvis" after the King of rock 'n' roll.

— Elvis Costello's first single ("Less Than Zero/Mystery Dance") is released on Stiff Records and the name "Elvis Costello" is assumed to be a spoof pseudonym perpetrated by producer Nick Lowe.

— "Less Than Zero": The cryptic lyrics derive from Costello's reaction to British Nazi Party leader Oswald Mosley's appearance on a British TV talk show. ("Hello Mr. Oswald with your Swastika tattoo...")

— Producer for the single is Stiff recording artist Nick Lowe (producer of Graham Parker) who had introduced Costello to Stiff Records after a chance reunion with Costello upon Costello's return to London from Liverpool. The two's friendship went back to Costello's days as a roadie for Nick Lowe's earlier band, Brinsley Schwarz.

My Aim is True

— A full album is recorded in five days on a miniscule budget of $4000. The decision to make an album was inspired by the abundant songwriting material evidenced at the "Less Than Zero" recording session.

— Backing musicians for most of the album are a transplanted Marin County country rock group of unknowns — Clover. Members of Clover have today landed themselves in Tommy Tutone, Huey Lewis and the News, and the Doobie Brothers. None are counted among the members of the Attractions.

— For the Reggae sound on "Watching the Detectives" Nick Lowe utilizes Graham Parker's crack backing band, The Rumour.

— None of the backing musicians on the album are credited due to British musician Union rules.

— "The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes": The red shoes are the Doc Marten boots worn by England's violent skinhead youth gangs.

— "I'm Not Angry": The song's references to "...working all day in the vanity factory..." go back to Costello's days as a computer operator at the Elizabeth Arden Cosmetics plant in Liverpool.

— Creative source material for much of the album is taken from Elvis' little black "Revenge Book" of all the people he fantasizes getting even with if he ever becomes successful.

This Year's Model

— Costello puts together a new band for his second album — the Attractions. The Attractions are made up of Pub Rock veteran drummer Pete Thomas (formerly in Chilli Willi who were managed by Jake Riviera), novice keyboard whiz Steve Naive, and Bruce Thomas on bass. Thomas was recruited through an ad placed in the New Musical Express by Stiff but was nearly rejected out of hand by Costello when he listed his favorite groups as Graham Parker and Steely Dan.

— Costello leaves his wife, Mary MacManus, and son Mark, for model Bebe Buell (ex-girl friend to Rod Stewart, Todd Rundgren, and Jimmy Page) after the two meet backstage at Costello's celebrated Hollywood High School concert.

Armed Forces

— Emotional Fascism is picked as the original title for the album but is discarded as too controversial.

— The desire of Costello and Nick Lowe for a U.S. hit single becomes obsessive. "Accidents Will Happen" is seen as the sure-fire vehicle but fails to make a dent in the charts although the album sells over a half million copies.

— "Green Shirt": The shirt in the song is a trademark blouse worn by TV news commentator Angela Rippon — England's answer to Barbara Walters.

— Although Nick Lowe's "Little Hitler" came out first (on his Pure Pop For Now People album), he had actually borrowed the title from a Costello demo of "Two Little Hitlers".

Get Happy!!

— Costello takes on his first producing assignment handling ska-sensations The Specials' debut. The album is an unprecedented success in England.

— Costello records an album's worth of material in Amsterdam but scraps it, deciding all he had done was make a too-polished "superior Jags record." The Jags being an English hit-making Costello sound-alike band.

— Searching for source material and inspiration, Costello goes to famed London oldies emporium Rock On record store. He leaves with bags of original '60's Stax and Atlantic Memphis soul singles.

— "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down": Elvis' version of an obscure B-side by soul duo Sam and Dave is released before the album on the Specials' Two-Tone Records, solely in Holland.

— Jake Riviera and Elvis Costello form F-Beat Records to release Costello, Rockpile, and promising newcomers when Riviera's Radar Records is shut down. F-Beat comes after initial plans for Costello to record for the Specials' Two-Tone label falls through.

Taking Liberties

— Taking Liberties is a U.S. release only. It is a collection of the numerous British non-album B-sides, give-away 45's, and 12" singles for which Costello had become notorious.

— "Hoover Factory": The song is about an actual factory, located outside of London, incongruously built with an elaborate Egyptian motif which had long been admired Costello and dates from his first demo tape.

— "Big Tears" features Mick Jones of the Clash on lead guitar.

— "Radio Sweetheart" dates from Elvis' pre-Stiff country-rock days as Dec Costello and Flip City.

— "Stranger in the House" was originally written as a tribute to style of his beloved Country music idol George Jones. Costello's dream of meeting the legendary George Jones was more than realized when Jones recorded "Stranger in the House" in a duet with Elvis.

— After the massive Heatwave Festival outside of Toronto in summer of 1980, Costello vows never to tour North America again. In January, 1981 he reappears for a massive U.S. coast-to-coast "English Mugs Tour" with Squeeze as opening act.

— In London club dates before the tour, Elvis Costello, billing themselves as "Otis Westinghouse and the Lifts," surprised Squeeze audiences by showing up as Squeeze's opening act;

— Costello brings Glenn Tilbrook, lead singer from Squeeze, to do co-lead vocals on "From a Whisper to a Scream." Costello's interest in Squeeze extends to plans for him to produce their next album.

Tags: TrustLess Than ZeroMystery DanceDave EdmundsDeclan MacManusJake RivieraStiff RecordsNick LoweOswald MosleyGraham ParkerBrinsley SchwarzMy Aim Is TrueCloverHuey LewisThe Doobie BrothersThe AttractionsWatching The DetectivesThe Rumour(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red ShoesI'm Not AngryElizabeth ArdenThis Year's ModelPete ThomasChilli Willi & the Red Hot PeppersSteve NaiveBruce ThomasGraham ParkerSteely DanBebe BuellRod StewartTodd RundgrenJimmy PageHollywood High SchoolArmed ForcesEmotional FascismAccidents Will HappenGreen ShirtAngela RipponPure Pop For Now PeopleTwo Little HitlersGet Happy!!The SpecialsStaxI Can't Stand Up For Falling DownSam & Dave2 Tone RecordsF-BeatRockpileRadarTaking LibertiesHoover FactoryBig TearsMick JonesThe ClashRadio SweetheartFlip CityStranger In The HouseGeorge JonesHeatwave FestivalTorontoEnglish Mugs TourSqueezeOtis Westinghouse & The LiftsGlenn TilbrookFrom A Whisper To A ScreamSqueeze: East Side StoryBob DylanCole Porter


New Vinyl Times, February 1981

New Vinyl Times profiles Elvis Costello and reviews Trust.


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Cover and page scans.


Elvis Costello

New Vinyl Times

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Each new Costello album is an advance and a consolidation. On last year's Get Happy, Costello delivered a Stax soul-in-fluenced, bottom heavy sound, rough and dense. On Trust, he's recorded with a cleaner mix, but with the same brilliant array of styles, sounds, and voices, from grandiose pop to rockabilly primitive and cocktail lounge cool. All of this with new lyrical installments in the Costello world view, sardonicism and bottled-up passion, the stuttered rage and ironic philosophizing. With tangled and witty wordplay Costello has made himself the most distinguished lyricist since the early Bob Dylan, with lyrics worthy of James Joyce and Cole Porter. Costello has come along with the New Wave, but he stands head and shoulders above the rest, each release a testament to a new genius.


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