MY AIM IS TRUE

22 March 2011

[Cover of My Aim is True]There was only one Elvis until Elvis Costello came along, after that people had to add “Presley” to make the distinction.

The name caused a stir at the time, it was seen as a punk rock thing, disrespect, an attack on America, God, Music, and whatever else the loonies could come up with.

I’d heard the name, but it put me off a bit.  I wasn’t exactly intrigued enough to beat a path to Elvis Costello’s work.

It was 1977.  I was supposed to be at woodwork or something at high school, but instead a crowd of us congregated in Floyd’s house.  We smoked and chilled in the living room watching cartoons and idiotic children’s television, like “Rainbow” and “Trumpton”. On the turntable was ELP or Yes, I cannot recall exactly…

I’m not sure if it was Barbara Thomson or Moray Robertson, but one of them changed the LP to  “My Aim is True“, and I sat up as my world changed. What a half hour that was!

Yes, this really is that good. It is one of the few times in my life that I had to scribble down the name of a record and immediately go out to buy it, to have to own it.  It was raining, but I caught a bus on Ayr Rd for Glasgow. I bought it in the “Listen” Record Shop on Renfield St.  I have owned it ever since, in many formats.

Sometimes, when nothing else will do, it hits the spot exactly.  It has very short songs, the songs have intros, verses, bridges and choruses.  There are guitar solos, so it is not punk. The melodies are catchy, and every part is completely necessary — full of hooks and colour.

There is a great variety in the rhythms, and his voice is perfectly matched to everything else.  The songwriting is superb — music and lyrics, the musicianship is flawless, but the secret ingredient is Nick Lowe’s production.  That makes this as perfect a work of art as it could ever be.

It has an energy, a purity of tone and of purpose.  It is as clean as a new whistle, fresh and dewy new. It sounded like nothing of its time, and it still is of itself, a standalone classic.

Costello was poor, so he had to record this album in just four short burst sessions after work, hence his demos would have had to have been crafted to a pretty high degree. I read in Sounds, NME or Melody Maker, that his demos were superb, but it was only recently that I found some MP3 versions, and they are amazing as “unplugged” versions — different in key, but complete and polished beyond what I recognise as “demo”.

I have always liked that approach myself, I love the energy of live takes, that is what comes across in old Motown records, or the Pixies, or even the Jazz stuff I like best.  Through Elvis’s “My Aim is True”, I discovered things about myself, about my base tastes.

[Press release picture of Elvis Costello from 77]For example, I like variety, especially in rhythm, I like dynamics and interest, I like the raw energy of single takes and a well-rehearsed live band putting the song first.  I was shocked to realise the importance of backing vocals; the Attractions were a tight band. I realised that a band has to be slick and sharp, but the whole thing lives or dies with the singer at the end of the day. There has to be something to love or hate about the lead frontman.

“My Aim is True” is a perfect record, the order of the songs, the dancability, the singalongability, the image, the fun, the tears (Alison), the words that resonate with real people with real feelings in a real world.

  1. Welcome to the Working Week [E maj] 1:22;
  2. Miracle Man [E maj] 3:31;
  3. No Dancing [D maj] 2:39;
  4. Blame it on Cain [G maj] 2:49;
  5. Alison [E maj] 3:21;
  6. Sneaky Feelings [G maj] 2:09.
  1. (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes [E maj] 2:47;
  2. Less Than Zero [F maj] 3:15;
  3. Mystery Dance [G maj] 1:38;
  4. Pay it Back [G maj] 2:33;
  5. I’m Not Angry [Db maj] 2:57;
  6. Waiting of the End of The World [G maj]3:22.

Only recently did I find out that the Attractions were actually more-or-less a band called Clover that I had seen supporting Huey Lewis or Thin Lizzy. There y’go, who knew? I would recommend this album to anyone who plays in a band — listen and learn!

This is one of the few albums I have always had to have around, that has lasted through everything, I thank Elvis Costello for that, from the bottom of my heart.

[Embedded video of Elvis Costello & The Attractions doing “Red Shoes”  on Top Of The Pops September 1977, YouTube.com]

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