Music History

Elvis Costello's My Aim is True turns 35

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After splitting with Flip City -- yet retaining a few songs he'd written with the band -- Costello began sending demo tapes around to all the major labels of the time, enduring rejections left and right until the summer of 1976 when the London based Stiff Records took an interest. Still living in the suburbs, Costello was only aware of the burgeoning punk scene through the pages of rock magazines like NME, Sounds and Melody Maker , only vaguely aware of Stiff Records, the label that would put out the first "official" punk record, Damned, Damned, Damned.

Casually assigned as producer of Costello's debut album, Lowe would turn out to be an incalculable asset to Costello's early career, producing his first five albums and penning the mega-hit "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love and Understanding" (not to mention having a respectable career of his own). The two were already pretty chummy from their pub-rock days, and neither wasted any time getting to work on what would be a very exciting project. Recorded in a series of six, four hour sessions at a cost of 1,000 pounds, Costello would call in "sick" to work in order to complete My Aim is True. Within a matter of months, he would quit his job at the Elizabeth Arden factory to become a full time musician.

The title of the record is plucked from Costello's second single, "Allison," a tune rooted in a theme that would remain consistent throughout the punk-crooner's songwriting career: desire and betrayal. Perhaps the reason so many disaffected, High Fidelity-style young men latched on to Costello's music, was the way he would describe a conflicting ardor for, and silent rejection from, the women of his life. It was a pose that many a proud males have taken on: I hate you, but you still own my heart. Less a Morrissey type of self loathing, yet not quite a Johnny Rotten fuck-you-bitch, Elvis Costello existed in the kinetic middle-ground of love and revenge. "Oh I used to be disgusted/ now I try to be amused," he sings on "(the Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes."

This method was also applied in the political realms, like in the anti-fascist "Less Than Zero;" or in protest of a cultural fascism in the media with "Radio Radio": he preached against evils, but rarely provided a specific framework to fix things. It was clear to the minds behind Stiff Records that they had a unique voice on their hands, someone who both embodied the rage and indignation of the punk movement, yet had a lyrical and musical eloquence to express those frustrations, like a marriage of Bob Dylan and Tony Bennett.

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Josiah M. Hesse
Contact: Josiah M. Hesse