RAM, February 24, 1978

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Elvis Costello

It's your turn to be the future of Rock & Roll!

Nick Kent

So take off those silly glasses and start acting like A Star

Like even I'm in an Elvis Costello song. El reckons he saw me one night on a tube bound for Osterley and.... "you were obviously pretty 'out of it' 'cos you didn't even notice all the other people in the compartment staring at you. I was just amazed that one person could draw that much reaction from others. After I saw you there, I came up with 'Waiting For The End Of The World.' You're the guy in the opening verse."

I touch my forelock at the imparting of this factoid. After all, being in a Costello song is a deal more prestigious than being a name in this little black book he carries around, and which possibly might soon be making quite a name for itself.

Elvis's black book? Oh, it's just full of these names of folk who have crossed our El, who have hindered the unravelling of his true destiny these past years. Maybe they were responsible for not signing him to their label (prior to the Stiff inking this is) or maybe they referred to him as another Van Morrison sound-alike just like all those other squat, nervy types with short hair and glasses with whom such parallels appear obligatory in today's music press.

Whatever the cause, they're all marked men, cows before the slaughter, names and livelihoods about to come under the thunder of Costello.

Elvis is very into revenge, see. "The only two things that matter to me, the only motivation points for me writing all these songs," opines Costello with a perverse leer, "are revenge and guilt. Those are the only emotions I know about, that I know I can feel. Love? I dunno what it means, really, and it doesn't exist in my songs.

"Like" — he's into this discourse now — "when I played earlier in front of all those reps or whatever they're called — all those guys working for Island (Stiff's UK distributor – ed) — did you hear me introducing 'Lip Service'?

"'This song is called 'Lip Service' and that's all you're gonna get from me'. That was straight from the heart, that, 'cos last year I actually went to Island with my demo tape and none of them wanted to know. Back then they wouldn't give me the time of day. But now..."

Now, Elvis is gloating because suddenly he's one of the new breed golden boys, already a name to be bandied about, with two excellent singles under his belt and a much-raved-over album finally in the shops.

And of course, all the pop pen-pushers are latching on fast, getting nosey about the past and generally pushing for an intimate gander at the man behind the horn-rims and insect ungainliness.

Results thus far have been pretty uneventful, however, what with the press boys generally getting scattergunned by Elvis' tight-lipped "Fuck-you" fiestiness and backing off under the deluge to pen pieces loaded with said one-dimensional verbal acidity.

My single encounter with Costello, however, was a good deal more revelatory, basically because we both ended up drunk and talked for some four hours. Still he refused to discuss his past musical endeavours in any detail and it was only afterwards, by chance, that I learnt about his former identity as one D.P. Costello, lead singer of a bluegrass group called Flip City whose collective high-point was the totally unexciting fact of them having a residency as house support-band at the Marquee maybe two years back.

Remaining text and scanner-error corrections to come...

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RAM, No. 78, February 24, 1978

Nick Kent profiles Elvis Costello (excerpts from New Musical Express) .

Annie Burton reviews My Aim Is True.

Phil McNeill interviews Ross MacManus (from New Musical Express).

Also included is the Stiff Fourplay flexi-disc.


1978-02-24 RAM cover.jpg 1978-02-24 RAM page 22.jpg
Cover and page scan.

My Aim Is True

Elvis Costello

Annie Burton

1978-02-24 RAM page 30.jpg

There's nothing average about Elvis Costello. The more you listen to My Aim Is True, the more Costello's nonconformity strikes you between the ears.

Like all singer/songwriters, he's necessarily an egotist. (Obviously you have to be, to consider your opinions, your perceptions and so on worthy of public performance). But he's not your average deliverer of personalized love songs; no baby I lerv you why don't you lerv me slushy whines here. The album's only track possibly definable as a love song is the tender, rueful "Alison" (its chorus provides the My Aim Is True title line); that track, like the rest of Costello's songs, is still hard-edged, pointed, and in no way mushy. That point is clearly spelt out in Alison's first verse: "I'm not gonna get too sentimental / like those other sticky valentines." He goes on, neatly illustrating both his nifty, neat expression of emotion and his control of word play: "Cause I don't know if you are loving some body / I only know it isn't mine."

Neat, huh? He does the same thing time and again throughout the songs on this album, deftly turning cliches inside out, building up a chorus for an unexpected punch line, taking the sympathetic emphasis from some observed third person onto himself ("No Dancing"), always maintaining a strong sense of realism by piling up true life detail, keeping imagery skillfully scaled down to life size. He's what you might call a slow dazzler; at first it's the music that grabs you, the simple four or five piece basic R&B band dominated by drums and workmanlike guitar. The band's mixed well back so the Costello tonsils dominate; only after close listening can you hear just what those uncredited musicians are up to, particularly the guitarist; when he's given a short space for himself (or themselves — Elvis plays rhythm guitar, but lead is played by someone within the Stiff family, maybe even Dave Edmunds) he fills it with economical tight licks. But it's the lyrics that dominate, even though their full impact takes time to absorb.

The musical mood changes from track to track — fast rock 'n' roll on "Mystery Dance," a riff reminiscent of "Heartbreak Hotel" and, incidentally, the closest Elvis Costello comes to his namesake; "I'm Not Angry" has a wild guitar, clashing cymbals pattern that makes you know he's not angry, he's furious.

Costello stands outside the established patterns, but unlike the punks deliberate childish defiance which recognizes authority, and is therefore ultimately part of it, Costello is using the established conventions against themselves. His voice sounds instantly familiar, but there's no one person you can pin him to as an imitator; instead his voice is an amalgam of rock singing styles, forged into a style of his own. On My Aim Is True the only recognisable style that isn't original is the Spectorism of "No Dancing"; the fact that it's been achieved without Spector's wall of sound machinery and dozens of overdubs is remarkable in itself. Costello, strange and vengeful little person that he is, has emerged as the most original and straight out musically addictive character for quite some time. Sharp, witty, (take the "legendary hitchhiker" lines of "Waiting For The End Of The World," for instance) perceptive, original and a remarkable singer as well....

There's no stopping him now.

1978-02-24 RAM page 23.jpg
Page scan.

1978-02-24 RAM page 48.jpg

Stiff Fourplay flexidisc.jpg
Stiff Fourplay flexi-disc.


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