On Dec. 3, 1977, My Aim Is True, the debut album from Elvis Costello landed on the Billboard Top LPs & Tape chart at #139. It would peak at #32 (the album had been released during the summer in the UK and had reached #14).
Costello, born Declan MacManus, was the son of band leader Ross MacManus. Working as a computer programmer in the early ’70s, Costello performed in folk clubs at nights. In 1976, he formed a country-rock band, Flip City, and began sending out demo tapes of his songs. One tape finally caught the ear of executives at Stiff Records, who immediately signed the singer-songwriter to a contract as a solo act. He changed his name to Elvis Costello (Costello being his mother’s maiden name) and began work with producer Nick Lowe.
Lowe had encouraged a country-rock group from Mill Valley, Calif., Clover, to re-locate in Britain in the mid-70s. He recruited the band to be Costello’s initial backing band (John McFee on lead guitar and pedal steel guitar, Sean Hopper on piano and organ, Johhny Ciambotti on bass, and Mickey Shane on drums—McFee would join the Doobie Brothers in two years and Hopper would co-found Huey Lewis and the News).
As Costello and Lowe worked on the album, they released two finished songs as singles to test audience reactions. “Less than Zero” and “Alison” both failed to gain any traction on the UK singles chart in the spring of ’77.
By July, Costello had assembled a backing band that became the Attractions—Steve Nieve on organ and piano, Bruce Thomas on bass and Pete Thomas on drums. Costello’s first single with the Attractions, “Watching the Detectives,” would go to #15 in the UK (but would only reach #108 in the US).
My Aim Is True is a punk album. It was part of the new wave of passionate music coming from Britain, but it was a melodic the album with overt nods to reggae, ’50s rock ‘n’ roll and pure power pop. In addition to the great music, the LP also had Costello’s clever lyrics—at times hilarious, at times incredibly biting and bitter, but always insightful and unique. The genius of Elvis Costello, his love for numerous musical styles, and his ability to craft songs within those genres, was just beginning to be realized.
Here are three songs from a 1978 performance on Germany’s Rockpalast—sehr gut!
(BTW: the third song in the clip, “LipService,” is actually from Costello’s second LP This Year’s Model )