..it looks like fun.
(#4 in a series of 10 albums that shaped my musical taste)
Declan Patrick MacManus pitched up at Stiff Records with a plastic carrier bag full of songs, a bristling punk attitude and the desire to tell the world all about it, joining a grab bag of artists punching well above their weight – Nick Lowe, Wreckless Eric, Motorhead, Richard Hell, The Damned et al. – and ultimately making the biggest impression on me. I’ve probably got more Elvis Costello records than any other artist, but none better than his first.
Recorded in 24 hours at a cost of £2000 whilst Elvis extricated himself from his day job, My Aim Is True is thirty five minutes of frustrated ragged glory. Songs of love, loss and barely repressed anger, barbed insults and spiky puns. A hefty whack at the Fascist movement in Less Than Zero (subtly reworked for the US market by reference to Lee Harvey Oswald). The anti-love song Alison (does he want her back? does he want to kill her?). The smack in the mouth of Welcome To The Working Week – “Now that your picture’s in the paper being rhythmically admired..”. 82 seconds long and the best Album 1 Side 1 Track 1 of all time? Could be. Red Shoes and the snappiest line on the record – “I said I’m so happy I could die, she said ‘drop dead’ and left with another guy”. Bespectacled geeks rejoice, here is your champion! And there’s more..
It all burst out of Costello in a rush and a push: by the time of its release he’d moved things up a gear, his astringent lyrics married with increasing sophistication in arrangement and melody to produce the equally brilliant This Year’s Model only eight months later. He’d also acquired the Attractions – teenage keyboard prodigy Steve Nieve, inventive bassman (and future nemesis) Bruce Thomas and pub rock scene drummer Pete Thomas – and an aggressive demeanour, which led to some memorable moments on stage and off in subsequent years.
If you don’t have My Aim Is True, don’t delay, buy today. Costello’s later recordings might have finer melodies and more sharply defined lyrics, but for intensity and passion, you can’t beat it. The US version also has the awesome Watching The Detectives – bonus.
Here’s a brooding Phil-Spector-a-like number from the album that you might not be too familiar with (live at Eric’s, Liverpool – 2nd August 1977):
Recommendation: track down the live bootleg called Angry Young Sod to get the best impression of Elvis in concert back then, playing My Aim Is True, looking forward to This Year’s Model.
P.S. Part 5 of The Sacred Days You Gave Me: we move on to 1978
(#3 in a series – 10 albums that shaped my musical taste)
1977 – Sixteen years of age. Every week a new NME to pore over, every week a fresh crop of original new music to investigate, the scene just bursting with life. It was hard to keep up. Each new acquisition felt more personal than it does today.. you’d found something special, with sounds that hadn’t been made before. Small dynamic record labels, a brilliant DIY design ethic, bands springing up from nowhere.
The NME pumped up The Clash like nobody’s business (the zenith a staggering nine page screed by Lester Bangs spread across three issues), so it was inevitable I bought the album. It looked fantastic, ripped up, fluorescent, controversial. It opened with a tubthumping flurry and a headlong rush into a new world.. “He’s in love with rock and roll, woahh..”. It was itchy, it buzzed, it had drive and determination, it had.. reggae! I was exhilarated but confused, and later to find out that the Clash were too – a Mott The Hoople fan who thought he was Keith Richards, a pub rock idealist posh bloke called Woody, a punk Stuart Sutcliffe following the dots he’d printed on the neck of his bass, plus a drummer who never quite fit (and not on the sleeve as a result). But somehow it all stuck together, glue in a brown paper bag, and The Clash rode a wave of disaffection, dodging brickbats and a hail of gob, committing the unbelievable heresy of signing for a major label, and becoming an ultimately irresistible live force.
To some it was just a load of Jackson Pollocks – rudimentary drumming, mindless terrace chants, fakers, charlatans, amateurs – but their paint splattered battle fatigues looked great to me. They didn’t articulate how I felt, but they did articulate how I thought I should be feeling. I was always a follower, but what a gang to be in.
The Last Gang In Town, no less.
P.S. Part 4 of The Sacred Days You Gave Me: another one from 1977.
I’ve been spending a happy hour or two with Paul Trynka‘s new biography of Iggy Pop – a rattling good read it is too. It fit my bill – long enough to keep me going for a while (I read fast), unpretentious, the balance between pure info and story just right. The Guardian reckoned it didn’t “capitalise on the raw drama that is intrinsic to [Iggy’s story]..” – phoo, like Anthony Keidis’ book, you mean?
Mister, if that means I have to trawl through endless tales of prodigious quantities of drugs and sex to get to the real heart of the matter, then I’ll decline the offer, thanks. Very nicely done, Paul: I hope Iggy is pleased with the end result.
There is nothing more to be said on the fall and rise (and fall and rise, encore) of Iggy pre, during and post-Stooges than lies between the pages of this book.. especially interesting are the ‘Iggy and Dave’ passages, which saw me put Mr. Osterberg’s ‘The Idiot’ and ‘Lust For Life’ plus Mr. Bowie’s ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’ on heavy rotation on the ship’s stereo as I navigated the book.
Plenty of reviews out there, you don’t have to take my word for it.. plus some interesting stuff on the Trynka web site.
Stooges bonus: Longtime Iggy roadie Jos Grain spent a little time writing a rider for the great man.. very funny, not to be missed, read it here.
Gratuitous YouTube post: The Stooges at their peak, Cincinnati, 1970.