Elvis Costello is a British singer-songwriter, musician, and record producer. He was originally known for his moptop hairstyle, his energetic stage performances, and his nonconformist attitude towards the music industry.
Elvis Costello is one of the most influential musicians in modern music. He has been a member of the bands The Attractions and The Imposters. His albums include My Aim Is True, This Year’s Model, Get Happy!, and more.
Elvis Costello came as a sneering spitfire, the sharpest and meanest singer/songwriter in the initial wave of British punk in the 1970s, backed by the Attractions, a band with equal fury. With Armed Forces, a 1979 album that included “Oliver’s Army,” “Accidents Will Happen,” and his cover of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love, and Understanding,” a trio of singles that became new wave standards, Costello galloped away from the loud, fast rules of punk, demonstrating his musical and verbal facility. Costello’s career was marked by fast musical development and stylistic shifts, as he built a library that appeared to cover every imaginable genre of popular music. Many of his most esoteric efforts came after he’d built a devoted following in the 1980s via a succession of rapid-fire masterpieces, the majority of which were supported by the Attractions. Costello later reformed the band, and he still keeps most of the players in his current backing band, the Imposters, but beginning with 1989’s Spike, he took advantage of the liberties that came with being a solo act, bouncing from dense pop to classical compositions to collaborations with ’60s icons Paul McCartney and Burt Bacharach. In the 2000s, he performed with the Imposters, worked with both New Orleans R&B veteran Allen Toussaint and the renowned hip-hop group the Roots, and recorded Americana albums with his longtime collaborator T-Bone Burnett. His eclecticism never felt forced: the one constant throughout his career was an insatiable taste for music, as demonstrated by albums like the jazz-inflected Hey Clockface and Spanish Model, on which he recreated This Year’s Model with current Latino vocalists.
Costello (born Declan McManus) was the son of British musician Ross McManus. During the early 1970s, he worked as a computer programmer while playing under the moniker D.P. Costello at different folk clubs. He became the leader of the country-rock band Flip City in 1976. He made numerous demo recordings of his own songs during this period in the hopes of getting a record deal. Jake Riviera, one of the founders of the budding indie record company Stiff, received a copy of these recordings. In 1977, Riviera signed Costello as a solo artist to Stiff; at the time, the singer/songwriter used the moniker Elvis Costello, combining his first name with Elvis Presley’s and his surname name with his mother’s maiden name.
Costello started recording his first album with the American band Clover providing backing, with former Brinsley Schwarz bassist Nick Lowe producing. The first single from these sessions, “Less Than Zero,” was released in April 1977. The song, as well as its follow-up, “Alison,” which was released the following month, failed to chart. Costello’s regular backup band had been formed by the summer of 1977. The Attractions, which included bassist Bruce Thomas, pianist Steve Nieve, and drummer Pete Thomas (no related to Bruce), had their live debut in July 1977.
My Aim Is True, Costello’s first album, was released to good acclaim in the summer of 1977 and reached number 14 on the British charts, but it wasn’t released by his American label, Columbia, until later that year. Costello took part in the Stiff label’s Live package tour in the autumn, with Nick Lowe, Ian Dury, and Wreckless Eric. Jake Riviera left Stiff to establish Radar Records at the end of the year, bringing Costello and Lowe with him. The reggae-tinged “Watching the Detectives,” Costello’s final song for Stiff, became his first success, peaking at number 15 before the end of the year.
Costello’s debut album with the Attractions, This Year’s Model, was released in the spring of 1978. This Year’s Model was a greater success than My Aim Is True, reaching number four in the United Kingdom and number 30 in the United States. Armed Forces, which came out the next year, was a more ambitious and musically varied album than any of his previous albums. It was another smash success, reaching number two in the United Kingdom and breaking into the Top Ten in the United States. The album’s first song, “Oliver’s Army,” likewise debuted at number two in the United Kingdom; none of the singles from Armed Forces charted in the United States. He produced the Specials’ self-titled first album in the summer of 1979, the pioneers of the ska revival movement.
The soul-influenced Get Happy!! was released in February 1980, and it was the first album on Riviera’s new record label, F-Beat. Get Happy!! was another success, reaching number two in the United Kingdom and number eleven in the United States. Later that year, Taking Liberties, a compilation of B-sides, singles, and outtakes, was published in the United States; a similar album, Ten Bloody Marys & Ten How’s Your Fathers, was issued as a cassette-only release in the United Kingdom, with different songs from the American version.
Trust was the sixth album produced by Lowe for Costello and the Attractions, and it was released in early 1981. Trust charted at number nine in the United Kingdom and reached the Top 30 in the United States. Costello and the Attractions started recording a country covers album in the spring of 1981 with Billy Sherrill, a well-known Nashville producer who has worked with George Jones and Charlie Rich, among others. The resultant album, Almost Blue, received mixed reviews when it was released at the end of the year, but the song “A Good Year for the Roses” was a British Top Ten success.
Geoff Emerick, who engineered many of the Beatles’ most renowned albums, produced Costello’s next album, Imperial Bedroom (1982), which was an ambitious collection of lushly orchestrated pop. Despite receiving some of his greatest reviews, Imperial Bedroom failed to chart in either England or America, debuting at number six in the United Kingdom. Costello collaborated on Punch the Clock with Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, who were responsible for many of the early 1980s’ greatest British singles. The collaboration was a financial success, with the album reaching number three in the United Kingdom (number 24 in the United States) and the song “Everyday I Write the Book” reaching the Top 40 in both the United Kingdom and the United States. With his next album, 1984’s Goodbye Cruel World, Costello attempted to repeat the success of Punch the Clock, but the album was a commercial and critical disaster.
In the summer of 1984, after the publication of Goodbye Cruel World, Costello went on his first solo tour. In 1985, he remained very quiet, releasing just one new single (“The People’s Limousine,” a collaboration with singer/songwriter T-Bone Burnett released under the name the Coward Brothers) and producing the Pogues’ second album, Rum Sodomy and the Lash. Both albums suggested he was heading toward a more stripped-down, folky sound, and 1986’s King of America reinforced that notion. King of America was basically a country-folk record, recorded without the Attractions and issued under the moniker the Costello Show, and it got the greatest reviews of any album he had produced since Imperial Bedroom. It was followed by the edgy Blood and Chocolate, a reunion with the Attractions and producer Nick Lowe, at the close of the year. Costello’s last album with the Attractions was released in 1994.
Costello signed a new global record deal with Warner Bros. in 1987, and he started composing songs with Paul McCartney. Spike, his most musically varied compilation to date, was released two years later. Spike introduced songs written by Costello and McCartney for the first time, including the hit “Veronica.” “Veronica” became his greatest American success, reaching number 19 on the Billboard Hot 100. Two years later, he released Mighty Like a Rose, an album that was similar to Spike in terms of variety but darker and more difficult. Costello composed a whole album for former Transvision Vamp vocalist Wendy James called Now Ain’t the Time for Your Tears in 1993, collaborating with the Brodsky Quartet on The Juliet Letters, a song cycle that was the songwriter’s first effort at classical music. The rights to Costello’s pre-1987 catalog (My Aim Is True to Blood and Chocolate) were leased to Rykodisc in America the same year.
Costello returned with the Attractions for the bulk of Brutal Youth, his most direct and pop-oriented album since Goodbye Cruel World, which was released in 1994. In 1994, the Attractions accompanied Costello on a global tour and performed with him until 1995. In 1995, he released Kojak Variety, a long-awaited compilation of cover songs. Costello released All This Useless Beauty in the spring of 1996, which included a handful of original songs he had written for other artists but never recorded himself. In 1998, he released Painted from Memory, a collaboration with the renowned Burt Bacharach. The album was highly acclaimed, although it only charted in international markets outside of the United States and the United Kingdom. When Costello’s label started to freeze up owing to political maneuvering, a jazz version of the album produced with Bill Frisell was placed on hold. Costello and Bacharach, undeterred, took the road and played in the United States and Europe. Following Bacharach’s departure, Costello recruited Steve Nieve to the tour and embarked on what became known as the Lonely World Tour. This carried them into 1999, when Costello made major contributions to both Notting Hill and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. In fact, he co-starred in the latter alongside Bacharach as one of a pair of Carnaby Street musicians, although street musicians with a beautiful grand piano at their disposal.
Continuing his tour with Nieve, he started singing the last song without a microphone, forcing the crowd to sit in total quiet, as he normally did with nothing but his dulcet baritone filling the hall. Costello found himself on Universal when the record company’s numerous mergers ended, and he put their promotional skills to the test with a second greatest-hits album (The Very Best of Elvis Costello). The record was heavily marketed by the label, and it became a success in his home Britain. Unfortunately, they also made it plain that they had no plans to give a new album the same promotional effort, allowing him to pursue other interests while waiting for his record contract to expire. His debut effort was a duo of pop classics with Anne Sofie Von Otter, which featured a few songs written by Costello himself. The album was issued on the Deutsche Grammophon label in March 2001, perfectly timed to coincide with Rhino Records’ massive re-release of his complete discography up to 1996. Fans were treated to an additional CD of rare content and liner notes written by Costello himself on each disc, making them great gifts.
In 2001, he was offered a residence at UCLA, where he gave numerous performances and assisted with music education throughout the year. He also started working on When I Was Cruel, a self-produced album featuring Pete Thomas and Nieve (now known as the Imposters), which was released on Island Records in the spring of 2002; at the end of the year, he released Cruel Smile, a collection of B-sides and leftovers from the album’s sessions.
When I Was Cruel marked the beginning of another fruitful period for Costello, who is known for his prodigious output. North, a compilation of classically inspired pop songs pitched midway between Gershwin and Sondheim, was released in 2003. The Girl in the Other Room, his first collection of original work, was released the following year, and he collaborated on it with his new wife, Diana Krall. That autumn, Costello released two albums of his own original material: Il Sogno, a classical piece, and The Delivery Man, a rock & roll concept album recorded with the Imposters. My Flame Burns Blue was released in 2006 as a live album with Costello leading the Metropole Orkest, a 52-piece jazz orchestra. The CD included old Costello songs (with new orchestral arrangements) as well as new compositions and a full rendition of Il Sogno.
In 2006, Elvis Costello & the Imposters released The River in Reverse, a collaboration with R&B veteran Allen Toussaint, and in 2008, Momofuku, another effort attributed to Elvis Costello & the Imposters. Costello collaborated with legendary producer T-Bone Burnett for a series of recording sessions in the same year, the results of which were collected into Secret, Profane & Sugar Cane and released in early 2009. National Ransom, the pair’s follow-up album, was released the following year. Costello & the Imposters released The Return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook!!! in 2011, which was recorded live at the Wiltern in Los Angeles over a two-day period. The next year was rather quiet, but towards the end of 2012, he published In Motion Pictures, a fresh collection of music he provided to films.
In 2013, Costello focused his efforts on the Roots, a hip-hop group. Wise Up Ghost, which was originally intended to be a reworking of songs from his extensive repertoire, evolved into a full-fledged collaboration and received good reviews upon its September 2013 release on Blue Note. Costello stated in 2015 that he had finished writing his memoirs and that the book, titled Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, will be released in October 2015. Unfaithful Music & Soundtrack Album, a companion album, included a career-spanning collection of songs from Costello’s repertoire, as well as two previously unheard choices.
Costello announced in July 2018 that he was undergoing treatment for a “small but extremely aggressive malignancy.” He was not only on the mend when he gave the news, but he was also working on a new record with the Imposters. Look Now was released in October 2018 and received a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album the following year. It was the group’s first album together in a decade. Look Now was soon followed by Hey Clockface, Elvis Costello’s first solo album in 10 years, released in 2020.
Costello decided to rework the album of the same name after revisiting the master tapes for “This Year’s Model” for a soundtrack contribution to David Simon’s The Deuce, preserving the original Attractions backing tapes and adding new Spanish-language vocals by contemporary Latino musicians such as Juanes. The Spanish Model that resulted was released in September 2021.
Elvis Costello was born on 25 October 1954 in London, England. He is a singer-songwriter and musician who has been active since the late 1960s. Reference: elvis costello spouse.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who has Elvis Costello written songs for?
Elvis Costello wrote songs for many artists, including the Beatles.
What is Elvis Costellos biggest hit?
His biggest hit was Less Than Zero which reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100.
What genre of music is Elvis Costello?
Elvis Costello is a British rock and roll singer-songwriter, best known for his critically acclaimed albums My Aim Is True (1977) and This Years Model (1978).
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