It has been quite a while since hackneyed rock and roll writers, desperate for a box to put Elvis Costello in, anointed him as the punk rock era’s Angry Young Man. One wag called him the Angry Young Dork, in deference to his odd horn-rimmed glasses, which didn’t seem too rock and roll at all.
Costello changed my music-fan life, for sure. Until I heard his first album, My Aim Is True, late in 1977, I was tradition bound. Then my world opened up. He seemed to ring with the best of the 50s, 60s and punky 70s, all at once. His distinctive Liverpool/London singing voice sounded fine.
It’s fair to say that my rock-fan life has not quite been the same since I first heard "Red Shoes" in 1977. After The Beatles and then The Band broke up, I thought I had reached the end of the line n tock and roll. Then Costello came along and paved the way for my personal resurgence. I quickly accepted Graham Parker and the Rumour, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Squeeze, Dire Straits, The Pretenders, and many other top-shelf new bands and singers.
But they all paled next to Costello, especially when The Attractions — keyboard maestro Steve Nieve, bassist Bruce Thomas and drummer Pete Thomas (no relation) — backed him from 1977 to 1986. Those were Costello’s early, glory years. He managed to continue coming up with dynamic songs, lyrics, riffs and hooks.
After he and The Attractions parted company, his music became more personal and adventurous. I loved Mighty Like a Rose’s variety, from track to track. I loved the acoustic-y King of America and the wild bashing sounds of Blood and Chocolate, both released in 1986.
I am still in awe of Painted From Memory, the album he did with Burt Bacharach and a terrific backing band. That album is always high on my repeat list on my iPhone.
Costello’s concerts continue to set standards for innovation and excellence.In the past year I thrice saw him play as a solo act in and around Manhattan, when he performed some 30-plus songs in each concert.
I’ve seen the man 80 times in concert over the years, since the first night in 1977. He has never let me down. Happy Birthday, Elvis.