Vox, November 1993

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Vox Record Hunter


Blood and vinyl

Nick Hamlyn

Elvis Costello has poured his heart into a host of albums, but which ones should touch your wallet?

A warning that Elvis Costello had no intention of keeping his discography simple appeared as early as '78 with the release of the Stiffs Live album. A souvenir of a tour by artists signed to Stiff, it included two exclusive live songs by Costello, one of which was an impassioned cover of Dusty Springfield's hit, "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself." The album is not exactly a rarity and was reissued at a bargain price, but it illustrates how Costello collectors have to keep on their toes.

Costello often donated stray tracks to suitable causes: a live version of "The Imposter" appeared on the Concerts For The People Of Kampuchea ('81); an obscure cover, "Psycho," was included on the BBC's Fundamental Frolics ('81); another cover, of the Merseybeats' "Really Mystified," was donated to Sometimes A Great Notion ('84); and a version of Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers To Cross" appeared on Live For Ireland ('87).

Costello has also worked with other artists, most notably his recent collaborations with Paul McCartney and Wendy James, and has produced albums for The Specials, Squeeze, and the Pogues. Collectors, however, should seek out his cameo appearances on records by artists as varied as Clive Langer, Nick Lowe, Madness, George Jones, Robert Wyatt, the Big Heat, Eurythmics, the Bluebells, Mental As Anything, Ricky Skaggs, John Hiatt, Roy Orbison, Chet Baker, and Twist's obscure This Is Your Life. Meanwhile, singles credited to The Imposter and The Coward Brothers are, of course, by Costello himself, as are the pieces by The MacManus Gang and Declan MacManus on the '87 soundtracks Straight To Hell and The Courier.

A glimpse of Costello's musical roots is on The Honky Tonk Demos, a bootleg EP containing six tracks that the solo DP Costello submitted to Charlie Gillett's Capital Radio show in '76. Costello's earliest singles sold so well that even now secondhand copies are not scarce. However, one rarity is the US pressing of "Alison," which has an additional synthesized string part, and an otherwise unobtainable live version of "Miracle Man" on the B-side. This Year's Model was first issued with a bonus single, coupling a reminder of Costello's love for country music, "Stranger In The House," with a contrasting cover of The Damned's "Neat Neat Neat." Armed Forces took the limited-edition one stage further by including a live EP, a set of postcards, and an elaborate fold-out sleeve. Complete copies of either album are about £10; £15 pounds will buy you the Canadian version of Armed Forces, which was pressed on yellow vinyl.

Impatient collectors paid £100 for '79's "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down," on the Two Tone label, when Costello was in legal conflict with WEA. Copies were later given away at gigs and its value dropped.

The most valuable single, surprisingly, is "Good Year For The Roses," worth £30, but only with the picture sleeve. Recent limited editions include cassette copies of Blood And Chocolate, packaged to look like bars of Cadbury's (£20), and US CD copies of Mighty Like A Rose in a padded case (also £20).

The earliest promotional item was the Live At The El Mocambo (now reissued on CD), which features Costello and The Attractions in blistering '78 form. A promotional picture-disc album containing tracks from his first two LPs was also issued in the US and, at £150, this is the most valuable Costello record.

On A Conversation With Elvis Costello (£50), lengthy interview segments preface Imperial Bedroom tracks. Other special promotional issues include Get Happy (£40), a 12-inch single of "Radio Radio" (£25), a 12-inch single of "I Wanna Be Loved" with two exclusive mixes (£20), and a US 12-inch of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" (£15).

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Vox, No. 38, November 1993

Nick Hamlyn summarizes rare releases.

Patrick Humphries reviews the 2½ Years box set.


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Page scan.

2½ Years

Elvis Costello

Patrick Humphries

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Prolific and unpredictable, Elvis Costello had an unremittingly dazzling beginning. Along with Van Morrison, Costello is the only act of merit not already boxed up, and this four-CD set launches the most ambitious career reappraisal since Bowie's EMI CD reissues. Included here are his first three albums, along with chronological bonus tracks, a 16-page booklet and Elvis Costello's first official live album.

The bravura triumphs which fill those first albums all emphasise the sheer rightness of Costello back then: the swaggering "Mystery Dance" and "No Action"; the intoxicating wordplay; the brash confidence. This is Elvis from the start and there is plenty of action—and quibbles. Any one of 50,000 Elvis fans will already have Live At El Mocambo, and the official Taking Liberties and Ten Bloody Marys... compilations have already swept up B-sides and non-album tracks. Which only leaves the widely bootlegged Honky Tonk Demos and two unissued songs.

El Mocambo is a storming souvenir of Costello & The Attractions at their live best: "Imagination (Is A Powerful Deceiver)," the earliest extant Costello, recorded with Flip City In 1975; the six bedroom demos were recorded before Costello signed to Stiff. Solo and acoustic, The Bedroom Tapes include an extra verse of "Mystery Dance," and the revealing "Cheap Reward" (chorus of "Lip Service" to the melody of "Stranger In The House"). This Year's Model outtakes are demos of "Big Boys" and "Green Shirt," which misses Pete Thomas's thunderous drums, but gains an extra verse. There is also "Running Out Of Angels," recorded on the run, an interesting tormented fragment.

All in all, while one would have hoped for more, there is no denying the individuality of these fingerprints on his imagination.


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Photo 2 by Chris Gabrin.

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Cover and contents page.


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