Wait, You’ve Never Heard: Elvis Costello – My Aim is True

This feature always makes me feel like a musical moron. I know that I can’t possibly have heard all of the benchmark albums from over the years, but I feel like in my nearly 26 years I should have heard important albums, or at least one entire album from an important artist. That’s just basic music nerd logic! Especially if most of the bands I enjoy count someone as a major influence. Seek that person out! Find them! Enjoy them!

This is why I chose Elvis Costello this go around. Being a huge fan of bands like They Might be Giants, you would think that I would own an Elvis Costello album or two (he has over 30 for crap’s sake), but that isn’t the case. I haven’t even heard an entire album of his all the way through. I decided to start at the beginning and listen to his debut album, My Aim is True, through the suggestion of fellow CoS writer Dan Caffrey. After several listens, I’m completely happy with my decision and Dan’s suggestion.

I know that I like Elvis Costello. I have heard songs of his many times before—“Radio Radio” and “Alison” for example—but have just never sat down with an album. My Aim is True is fantastic to me for a couple of reasons. One being that this is Costello’s debut album. The first album he ever recorded. You couldn’t find a stronger way to bring your style to the world. It’s one of the strongest debut albums I have ever heard. Second reason it’s fantastic is now I can see where his influence goes. This album shows me why They Might be Giants sound the way they do in certain songs. It shows me definitively (as if I didn’t know before) where The Hold Steady partially get their sound and look. I really enjoy being able to look back and see where an artist starts and who nowadays tries to start in the same place.

I love that My Aim is True has all the urgency and power of the British punk movement combined with ’50s and ’60s pop aesthetic. Songs like “Miracle Man”, “No Dancing”, and “Alison” push that pop aesthetic to the forefront and create fantastic doo-wop and R&B melodies. It’s similar to what Jamie Lidell is doing nowadays to an extent. Taking the ’50s and ’60s ideas and adding the modern spin. Then he has songs like “Less Than Zero”, “Mystery Dance”, and “Sneaky Feelings” that borrow from 50’s rockabilly. “Less Than Zero” is one of my favorites on the album. The opening sounds like the same chord intro as “Twist and Shout” but stays more even keel than The Isley Brothers’ and Beatles’ hit. Another favorite is rockabilly heavy “Mystery Dance”. The chorus of “I can’t do it anymore and I’m not satisfied” with accompanied guitar riff is absolutely spot on, and the wailing piano in the background makes me want to shake all over the dance floor.

As I listened through the album, I was hard pressed to find a song that I didn’t like. The version I listened to was the 1993 Rykodisc reissue, which includes three bonus tracks plus six demos, two of which are album tracks, and the others were unreleased. Even the demos on this version are good. Most of them are just Costello on guitar and nothing else but vocals. The demo for “Mystery Dance” sounds like you’re sitting on Costello’s front porch while he stomps his foot on the boards and welcomes you to sing along with the chorus.

In the end, this feature does still make me feel a bit moronic but also happy that it gives me an excuse to listen to these albums. Not that I need an excuse other than that they are fantastic albums, but when you have a deadline, it makes it easier to get motivated. My Aim is True is a fantastic record, and it definitely makes me want to start a collection of as many Elvis Costello albums as I can get my hands on. I can now add “Alison”, “Less Than Zero”, and “Mystery Dance” to my list of favorite songs. Check it out if you haven’t before and are a fan of any of the bands I mentioned. It’ll be worth it. Thanks to Mr. Caffrey for the suggestion!


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