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Declan Patrick MacManus better known as Elvis Costello is an English musician, singer, songwriter, composer, record producer, author, and occasional actor. Costello is most associated with the first wave of British punk and new wave that emerged in the late 1970’s. Costello released his critically acclaimed debut album My Aim Is True in 1977. Shortly after recording it, he formed The Attractions which he later renamed The Imposters as his backing band. His second album, This Year’s Model was released in 1978 and his third album Armed Forces was released in 1979. His first three albums all appeared on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The Grammy award winning Costello and The Attractions were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003. Rolling Stone magazine ranked Costello number 80 on the list of 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
Born in London in 1971 Costello formed his first band, a folk duo called Rusty at sixteen. After completing his education Costello worked at a number of office jobs to support himself, most famously at Elizabeth Arden as a data entry clerk. Costello immortalized this job through the lyrics of his song “I’m Not Angry,” as the “vanity factory.”
By 1974 Costello had moved to London where he formed a pub rock band called Flip City who were active through 1976. The manager of his record company at the time suggested that the singer then calling himself D.P. Costello start using the first name Elvis.
Costello’s debut album 1977’s My Aim Is True achieved moderate commercial success with the singer appearing on the cover in what became his trademark oversize glasses, bearing some resemblance to Buddy Holly. Backing Costello on his debut was the American West Coast band Clover. Later in 1977, Costello formed his own permanent backing band, The Attractions, consisting of Steve Nieve (piano), Bruce Thomas (bass guitar), and Pete Thomas (drums).
In December 1977 Costello and The Attractions replaced the Sex Pistols on Saturday Night Live and were scheduled to play “Less Than Zero.” Stopping the song in mid-intro Costello instructed the band to play “Radio Radio,” a song that criticizes the commercialization of the airwaves and one he was forbidden to play by NBC. Costello was subsequently banned from the show (the ban was lifted in 1989). Costello’s insistence at performing “Radio Radio” proved a boon to his debut album and his popularity exploded in America after the performance.
Elvis Costello and The Attractions next commenced work on 1978’s This Year’s Model. The album is noted for the hits “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea,” and “Pump It Up.” The following year saw the release of Costello and The Attraction’s third album Armed Forces significant for the opening track “Accidents Will Happen,” which gained wide exposure thanks to its innovative animated music video. By the end of the 1970’s Costello was firmly established as both performer and songwriter with Linda Ronstadt and Dave Edmunds achieving success with his compositions.
Costello and The Attraction’s next album the soul-infused Get Happy!! was the first of many experiments with genres beyond those with which he is ordinarily associated. It also marked a distinct change in mood from the angry, frustrated tone of his first three albums to a more upbeat, happy manner.
An avid country music fan Costello has cited George Jones as his favorite county singer. Costello’s next album Almost Blue was a tribute to the country music that he had grown up listening to. The album covered country music songs written by Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, and Gram Parsons among others. The album received mixed reviews.
In 1983 Costello achieved his first Top 40 single with “Everyday I Write the Book,” aided by a music video featuring Prince Charles and Princess Diana lookalikes undergoing domestic strife at home. By this time tensions within The Attractions particularly the growing antipathy between Costello and Bruce Thomas had come to a head with Costello announcing the breakup of the band and what turned out to be his short-lived retirement.
Costello’s late 1980’s collaboration with Paul McCartney bore fruit for both artists. For McCartney it resulted in the critically acclaimed Flowers in the Dirt album. For Costello it resulted in the album Spike which contained his biggest hit single “Veronica.”
In 1996 Costello played a series of intimate club dates backed only by a piano player Steve Nieve. An ensuing summer and fall tour with The Attractions proved to be the death knell for the band. With relations between Costello and bassist Bruce Thomas at a breaking point, Costello announced that the current tour would be The Attractions’ last. The quartet performed their final U.S. show in Seattle, Washington in September before wrapping up their tour in Japan. Costello would still continue to work frequently with Attractions Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas; eventually, both would be members of his new back-up band, The Imposters.
In 2003 Costello, along with Bruce Springsteen, Steve Van Zandt and Dave Grohl honored Clash frontman Joe Strummer who passed the previous year by playing “London Calling” at the Grammy Awards.
In 2006 Costello and Allen Toussaint performed a series of benefit concert in New York City for Hurricane Katrina victims. These concerts set the stage for a collaboration between the two for Costello’s album The River in Reverse. In 2008 Costello toured with The Police on their summer reunion tour. In 2012 Costello paid tribute to music legends Chuck Berry and Leonard Cohen who were recipients of the first annual Poets, Essayists, Novelists (PEN) Awards for songwriting excellence at the JFK Presidential Library. In 2013 Costello released Wise Up Ghost a collaboration with the Pennsylvania hip-hop band The Roots. That same year Costello was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from the New England Conservatory.
In October 2018 Elvis Costello and the Imposters released the album Look Now which features three songs co-written with Burt Bacharach.
Sacramento’s K-ZAP 93.3 FM plays Elvis Costello. All part of 50 years of Rock, Blues and More, 24-7 on our station’s stream at K-ZAP.ORG/LISTEN/