#167: My Aim Is True by Elvis Costello


My Aim Is True by Elvis Costello (1977)

Favorite Tracks: "Welcome to the Working Week" and "Miracle Man" and "Blame it On Cain" and "Alison" and "Less Than Zero" and "Pay It Back"

Thoughts: The last time we listened to Elvis was back in 2011 for #474! I love when an artist picks a lyric from one of their songs instead of the song's title for the album name. It particularly makes sense in this case because "Alison"--the song's title, wouldn't make a lot of sense for the album's name. (Unless of course all the songs are written about/for her.) A sort of similar example is an Elton John remix album I learned about from QuizUp (I'm obsessed AND contributing content!) called Good Morning to the Night--a lyric from his song "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters." The point is, I love that the album's name is My Aim is True, and it's Elvis' debut album. Pitchfork reported it to be "held by many as the most impressive debut in pop music history."

The album opens with the fun and quick "Welcome to the Working Week." Side 1 continues with other classic rock/punk/50s-style tracks, most of which reminded me of early Springsteen, so of course I loved them. Track 5 is one of the best ballads of all time: "Alison." My first exposure to this song came from one of my favorite albums, Acoustic by Everything But the Girl. I recently finished reading Tracey Thorn's autobiography, Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up and Tried to Be a Pop Star, and she only mentions the album in passing, not even by name! I was disappointed, but if it's not an album she wants to be associated with, there's nothing I can do about it. It takes up a huge part in my emotional and musical life. Elvis' original version on this album is great, more instrumental and confident. Everything But the Girl's version chooses to take the ultimately condescending lyrics and turn it into a desperate love song to a former lover. I think hearing the lyrics sung by a woman to another woman vastly shaped my initial impressions of the song, versus a man to a woman. The way she sings "I'm not gonna get too sentimental like those other sticky valentines / cause I don't know if you were loving somebody / I only know it isn't mine" comes off as much more melancholy than jealous.

I could listen to this version on repeat forever.

Side 1 ends with peppy "Sneaky Feelings" and keeps rocking into Side 2's "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes." The next track was the first single off the album, "Less Than Zero," which while about a fascist, has a very fun lyric-less chorus. Elvis was asked by his record label to play it on Saturday Night Live (after the Sex Pistols couldn't get visas) and he started it live, but 10 seconds later addressed the audience saying there's "no reason for us to be playing this here" (the song is about a British politician) and they began playing "Radio, Radio" (a song from his second album, This Year's Model, which had not been officially released in the US yet). He was then banned from the show until 1989 (the song change threw off the scheduling for the rest of the live show).

Is This Better Than Every Picture Tells A Story?: Tough call. Just as good I would say.

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