My Aim Is True was recorded at Pathway Studios, Islington in a total of Twenty four hours studio time and at a cost of 2000 pounds. As I still had my "day-job" these sessions had to take place on "sick days" and holidays during late 1976 and early 1977. The musicians were members of the Marin county band Clover, who could not be credited at the time due to contractual reasons. The producer was Nick Lowe, who I had met, unlikely as it may sound, in The Grapes public house, opposite The Cavern, Liverpool in 1972. After the failure of two single releases ("Less Than Zero" and "Alison"), Stiff records nevertheless decided to release the album and asked me to "turn professional" and find a band that would become the Attractions. At the subsequent auditions I was assisted by Steve Goulding and Andrew Bodnar from The Rumour, but after playing "Alison" and "Less Than Zero" for the 20th time it became essential to do something in order to relieve the boredom.
Having gone to the trouble of learning two brand new songs, it was this line up which recorded a version of "No Action" (Now sadly lost) and "Watching the Detectives" to which Steve Nieve later added Piano and Organ.
Radio Sweetheart and Stranger In The House -- Two of only three "out-takes" from My Aim Is True (The other, a version of "Living in Paradise", is also lost). "Radio Sweetheart" Was my first "professional recording", was originally picked to be my Stiff Records debut single. Having been pushed onto the b-side by "Less Than Zero", it was also left off the album due to a difference in sound: It was the only track cut at the sessions to prominently feature an acoustic guitar! The case of "Stranger in the House" is more obvious. Despite John McFee's use of a pedal steel guitar on the album, the inclusion of a "Country Song" was thought to be commercial suicide in 1977.
"Stranger in the House" was given away on a free single with the first 50000 copies of This Year's Model and was later released on the 10 Bloody Marys and 10 How's your Fathers and Taking Liberties compilations. It also served as a demonstration record for George Jones, with whom Elvis sang on George's My Special Friends album.
Imagination (Is A Powerful Deceiver) -- A "Pre-Professional Recording" made by Stiff Records co-founder Dave Robinson on the unique 7-track machine at Hope and Ancher Studios, Islinton, sometime in 1974/75. It features the band Flip City. There is no personnel listing, but it is included with thanks to all long-term band members: Mich Kent (bass), Malcolm Dennis or Ian Powling (Drums), Steve Hazelhurst (guitar), and Dickie Faulkner (percussion). (Also Mike Whelan and Ken Smith).
Mystery Dance -- Another "Pre-Professional Recording" made in my bedroom and later broadcast for the first time by Charlie Gillett on his BBC Radio London programme "Honkey Tonk". We discussed recording it for Charlie's Oval Records label, but before this could happen Jake Riviera heard the song on a tape which I hand-delivered to Stiff Records on the day they opened for business with the release of Nick Lowe's "So It Goes". Although it was the first (and only) demo Stiff had received, I became the second signing to the new label.
Cheap Reward, Jump Up, Wave A White Flag, Blame It On Cain, Poison Moon -- Pre-Professional recordings" from the same bedroom session as "Mystery Dance", most of which were broadcast by Charlie Gillett.
Despite the presence of familiar titles and lyrics which re-appear in later compositions, this group of songs are in a radically different style to those on My Aim Is True. With hindsight I must confess that I am uneasy with my blatant imitation of certain American singers and songwriters. However to be truthful I learned a great deal from trying (and failing) to copy such artists as Randy Newman, Hoagy Carmichael, Lowell George, John Prine and The Band. Even though some of the names became unfashionable in 1976, and I abandoned this particular borrowed style in favour of the more direct sound of My Aim Is True, I hope the listener will be amused, one way or another, by these steps in my apprenticeship.
-- Elvis Costello