The Best Albums Of The Last 20 Years
The man who has become one of the most varied, infuriating and valuable songwriters of the last decade started off his career composing biting, punchy and pointed rock & roll songs, and he never wrote them with more bite or punch or point than on this extraordinary album, This Year's Model. "Radio, Radio," "Pump It Up," "No Action," "Lip Service" — nine years and ten albums later, the songs from Elvis Costello's blistering second LP still inevitably bring down the house whenever the artist decides to drop them into his live sets.
The album came out in 1978, not long after Costello's first LP, My Aim Is True, served notice to the world that the oddly named, anemic-looking, bespectacled Englishman was a literate and angry rocker to be reckoned with. Assaultive where its predecessor was beguiling, This Year's Model makes Costello's debut look tame in comparison. The Attractions (who did not back him on the first album) churn out a dense, rough, organ-dominated hard-rock sound, while Costello, then at the peak of his 'revenge and guilt" songwriting period, surveys the modern romantic terrain with keen cynicism, caustic wit and furious energy.
Not all of Costello's songs for the record are concerned with jealousy, possessiveness and the various deceits and vagaries of contemporary romance: "This Year's Girl" adroitly harpoons fashion trendiness, and in "Radio, Radio," Costello comes up with an indelible statement of purpose when he sings, "I want to bite the hand that feeds me / I want to bite that hand so badly." Rarely has he bitten as hard as on This Year's Model.
Elvis Costello's debut album, My Aim Is True, was perhaps the freshest record to come out of the British punk explosion of 1977. Costello, who looked like Buddy Holly after shock treatment, seemed to epitomize punk attitudes. Revenge and guilt, he explained at the time, were the only motivations behind his songs. Despite that belligerent posture, songs like the emotionally shaded ballad "Alison" and the gentle "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes" suggested that Costello's range of feeling was considerably broader than he was willing to let on.
Costello, a Liverpool native whose real name is Declan MacManus, was so desperate for a record contract in the mid-Seventies that he would walk into record-company offices with his guitar and play his songs in the hope of being signed. The results were less than zero. Eventually, he was signed by the English label Stiff Records at the urging of Nick Lowe, who produced My Aim Is True; Costello's manager, Jake Riviera, instituted the name change.
My Aim Is True is a witty, literate and acerbic collection of thirteen tuneful pop songs that assaulted the conventions of Seventies rock & roll. Against the bombast and indulgence of that decade's superstars, Costello offered concision, clarity and no compromise in songs like "Welcome to the Working Week," "Miracle Man" and "I'm Not Angry." Against their complacent optimism, he marshaled Dylanesque nihilism in "Less Than Zero" and Waiting for the End of the World." 'No Dancing" and "Mystery Dance" countered the sexual bravado of the disco age with insecurity and frustration. And on the album's centerpiece, "Watching the Detectives," Costello posited a chilling view of contemporary culture that incorporated paranoia, media-charged sexual resentment, violence and, yes, revenge and guilt.
The force of his songwriting and the powerful directness of his performances on My Aim Is True made it clear that Costello would be a talent to be reckoned with for many years to come. He had set himself the goal of restoring feeling to rock & roll, and his aim was very true indeed.
Get Happy!! is the ironic title of Elvis Costello's most clever and danceable record — a breathless outpouring of pop hooks and diabolical wordplay. The initial sessions for Costello's fourth album did not go well. "Things were getting more frantic," he later told writer Bill Flanagan. "We were taking more drugs, drinking more, had a more manic attitude." But Costello hated the resultant frenetic sound. He and the band went out to a pub for a drink and on a whim decided to record the songs "like Booker T. and the MGs." Thus Get Happy!! became Elvis's soul album — tortured, bilious, wired soul, but soul nonetheless.
Banging out these twenty songs, Costello and the Attractions affirmed their love of black music: the breakneck cover of Sam and Dave's "I Can't Stand Up" sets the tone for the album's blistering R&B-flavored New Wave. They do calm down for the lovely lament "New Amsterdam" which, like most of the album, grapples with Costello's chief obsession — the ever-tangled politics of deceitful lovers.
Many songs clock in around two minutes; many were written almost as quickly. "It wasn't in control," Costello said, "it was very maniacal and emotional. But somewhere in the heart of the better songs is some sort of purity. ... Sometimes when you're throwing away things like that, you'll write something really true to your secret feelings in spite of yourself."
Top 100 Albums Of The Last 20 Years
1. The Beatles - Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
2. The Sex Pistols - Never Mind The Bollocks
3. The Rolling Stones - Exile On Main Street
4. John Lennon - Plastic Ono Band
5. Jimi Hendrix Experience - Are You Experienced?
6. David Bowie - The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust
7. Van Morrison - Astral Weeks
8. Bruce Springsteen - Born To Run
9. The Beatles - The Beatles
10. Marvin Gaye - What's Going On
11. Elvis Costello - This Year's Model
12. Bob Dylan - Blood On The Tracks
13. Bob Dylan & The Band - The Basement Tapes
14. The Clash - London Calling
15. The Rolling Stones - Beggars Banquet
16. Patti Smith - Horses
17. The Beatles - Abbey Road
18. The Rolling Stones - Let It Bleed
19. The Band - The Band
20. Prince - Dirty Mind
21. The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground And Nico
22. The Who - Who's Next
23. Derek & The Dominos - Layla
24. Richard & Linda Thompson - Shoot Out The Lights
25. The Doors - The Doors
26. Neil Young - Tonight's The Night
27. The Clash - The Clash
28. Bruce Springsteen - Born In The U.S.A.
29. Elvis Costello - My Aim Is True
30. Sly & The Family Stone - There's A Riot Goin' On
31. The Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers
32. The Velvet Underground - Loaded
33. Captain Beefheart And The Magic Band - Trout Mask Replica
34. Rod Stewart - Every Picture Tells A Story
35. Pink Floyd - The Dark Side Of The Moon
36. Creedence Clearwater Revival - Willy And The Poor Boys
37. Stevie Wonder - Innervisions
38. Television - Marquee Moon
39. Prince - Purple Rain
40. Bruce Springsteen - Darkness On The Edge Of Town
41. The Band - Music From Big Pink
42. The Pretenders - Pretenders
43. Creedence Clearwater Revival - Green River
44. Jefferson Airplane - Surrealistic Pillow
45. Graham Parker - Squeezing Out Sparks
46. Joni Mitchell - Blue
47. Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin Iv
48. Aretha Franklin - Lady Soul
49. Randy Newman - 12 Songs
50. Big Brother And The Holding Company - Cheap Thrills
51. Bruce Springsteen - The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle
52. The Modern Lovers - The Modern Lovers
53. Talking Heads - Remain In Light
54. Graham Parker - Howlin Wind
55. The New York Dolls - New York Dolls
56. Paul Simon - Graceland
57. Talking Heads - More Songs About Buildings And Food
58. R.E.M. - Murmur
59. Van Morrison - Moondance
60. Original Soundtrack - The Harder They Come
61. John Lennon - Imagine
62. Jimi Hendrix Experience - Electric Ladyland
63. Bruce Springsteen - The River
64. Stevie Wonder - Talking Book
65. Elvis Costello And The Attractions - Get Happy!!
66. Neil Young And Crazy Horse - Rust Never Sleeps
67. Bob Dylan - John Wesley Harding
68. Michael Jackson - Off The Wall
69. Ramones - Ramones
70. The Rolling Stones - Between The Buttons
71. Neil Young - After The Goldrush
72. Fleetwood Mac - Rumours
73. Todd Rundgren - Something/Anything
74. Crosby, Stills And Nash - Crosby, Stills And Nash
75. Al Green - Call Me
76. Elvis Presley - From Elvis In Memphis
77. The Mothers Of Invention - We're Only In It For The Money
78. Sly And The Family Stone - Greatest Hits
79. Pink Floyd - The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn
80. Talking Heads - Talking Heads: 77
81. Miles Davis - Bitches Brew
82. The Byrds - Sweetheart Of The Rodeo
83. Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin Ii
84. Roxy Music - Siren
85. Michael Jackson - Thriller
86. Richard And Linda Thompson - I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
87. Sly And The Family Stone - Stand!
88. Iggy And The Stooges - Raw Power
89. Randy Newman - Sail Away
90. Various Artists - Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychadelic Era, 1965-1968
91. Aretha Franklin - I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You
92. Southside Johnny And The Asbury Jukes - Hearts Of Stone
93. Simon And Garfunkel - Bridge Over Troubled Waters
94. Talking Heads - Fear Of Music
95. Otis Redding - History Of Otis Redding
96. David Bowie - Changesonebowie
97. The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground
98. Steely Dan - Katy Lied
99. The Who - Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy
100. T.Rex - Electric Warrior
Cover, section front, CBS Records ad, and credits page.