Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Few For Friends

Last month my pal Ian at 500 Reasons Why the '80s Didn't Suck used reason No. 295 to tout the merits of 'Punch the Clock' by Elvis Costello and the Attractions. I mentioned to him that the album held a special place in my heart because, as a 13 year old, it was the first time I was able to go to a record store and buy a Costello album as a new release. At the time, the only Costello album I owned was 'Armed Forces,' on cassette no less. I fell for the band's charms after seeing the video for "Oliver's Army" late one Saturday on TBS's show "Night Tracks." It wasn't too many months after 'Punch the Clock' that I had caught up with all of Costello's previous efforts, and he quickly became my favorite artist. It's a position he held for the rest of the decade. 'Punch the Clock' is considered pretty lightweight stuff, but I have always enjoyed the TKO Horns and the backup singers known as Afrodiziak. So, Ian, you said you would like to hear what the band sounded like on stage in 1983. Here they are from Hammersmith Palace on Oct. 17 of that year. This is taken from a high-quality boot called 'Riot Act.' If you only have time for one song, go straight to "Clowntime Is Over." It's a terrific use of those horns and a very interesting arrangement.

"Let Them All Talk" (Live)
"Man Out of Time" (Live)
"Clowntime Is Over" (Live)

This next song is for a relatively new reader to this blog, but I have really enjoyed his banter in the comments section. Kevinpat is under the impression I missed the mark by choosing Costello's "Sulky Girl" instead of "All This Useless Beauty" during my seemingly never ending countdown of the best tunes of the 1990s. Well, I won't quibble. The title track from the 1996 album is stunning. Kevinpat mentioned how much he enjoyed that song stripped down to just piano and voice on his most recent solo tour. That reminded me a bit of a version I have from a small tour Costello did with Steve Nieve in the spring of '96. There is a little guitar with that piano here, Kevinpat, but I think this might be something you'll want to track down. It comes from this five-disc set of live recordings from five different U.S. stages. Many of the songs are from 'All This Useless Beauty,' but there are a smattering of others from throughout Costello's career. You'll like Costello's lengthy description of the song as he introduces it too.

"All This Useless Beauty" (Live)

Finally, this one goes out to Scott at Spools Paradise. If variety is indeed the spice of life, this talented Scotsman is living very well. Where else are you going to get Tracey Ullman and the Circle Jerks in back-to-back posts? The other day Scott showcased the musical stylings of accordion aficionado Clifton Chenier. Listen, I know zilch about Zydeco, but I know what I like, and I was sure I had something really good by Chenier somewhere. Then it hit me. With the help of rockabilly baritone Sleepy LaBeef, he recorded a jaw-dropping rendition of "Half a Boy and Half a Man" for the Nick Lowe tribute album 'Labour of Love' back in 2001. If you know the original, Paul Carrack is front and center with that bouncy keyboard riff. Well, it's all Chenier and his accordion here, baby. Man, do I love this one. I hope you do too.

"Half a Boy and Half a Man"

So, my dear friends, I learned a lot in the comments section of my post on Costello's "Sulky Girl" the other day, not the least of which was that we all have vastly different thoughts on the different eras of his career. Although I was trying to stick to Costello's work from the '90s, I got the feeling we all wanted to express our love for our favorite albums from, perhaps, a richer time in the discography. Let's do it. Give me your all-time top 5 Costello albums. Compilations are accepted if they are of the B-side variety and not best-ofs. I have a certain regular reader in mind with that rule. Here are mine:

1. 'Get Happy!!'
2. 'King of America'
3. 'This Year's Model'
4. 'Armed Forces'
5. 'Imperial Bedroom'

'Taking Liberties' just misses the cut. Who will be the first to draw blood?

Update: See comments below for details on this photo.


kevinpat said...

Oh I am so in!!! I need to think before I just shoot off because this will be in print. Ha! But to quote some silly movie line "I'll be back."

And hey!, thank you for the nod, Brian!! I gotta touch my Costello albums before this Sophie makes his choice(s) and then I'm useless beautying!

kevinpat said...

First off, I would never say "you missed the mark" Brian. Our experiences and our preferences make us hear things differently. And it's your list!

Secondly after listening 3 times to the live ATUB you posted I realized I'm right. Ha! Actually it's such a masterfully written song. It reinforces my argument that Mr. MacManus is right up there with Mr. Zimmerman, Ms. Mitchell, Mr. Waits, Mr. Lennon and Mr.McCartney, Mr. Morrissey and Mr. Marr et al for great songwriters of our generation. But as Mr. MacManus puts it…."nonsense prevails".

1. This Year's Model ~ Desert Island Disk (DID). Hands down. Ferocious, antagonistic, vengeful and In-Your-Face. During the Get Happy years I saw Costello play "Lipstick Vogue" in which he turned a search light onto the audience and blinded the crowd while he sang the song. Hahahahaha. Dude played the angry man so well! Perfect. I totally annoy people when I blast this in my car with all windows down and sing and point as I drive through town. Being my own Costello. Love it.

2. My Aim is True ~ "Woh! What the hell is this?!" 1977. F-ing game changing.

3. Blood and Chocolate ~ 1986. That year's model. "It's in your eyes."

4. All This Useless Beauty ~ Emphasis on the "Beauty". Great songs and great backing.

5. Brutal Youth/King of America/Spike/National Ransom/Get Happy/Armed Forces/Out of Our Idiot/Taking Liberties…... ~ Because I can't.

I'm so intrigued that you chose Get Happy as your favorite EC…….I never expected that Brian. Elvis's toe dipping into American soul music, which is great stuff, but I have wondered how there isn't much, let's say, ethnic music on your 90's list so far. But cool!!! I like your choice! I always laugh about this album because I thought it was in response to the supposed drunken brawl EC and band had with the Bramletts over Costello's inciteful remarks about…RayCharles? James Brown? Can't remember but that was classic rock and roll $h!t. Hahahahahaha. And then EC puts out Get Happy with all it's soul references and Sam & Dave cover. "Take that Bonnie Bramlett!" That is so Costello. Hahahaha.

Thanks for letting me sound off! Hope I didn't cross any lines. It's my Costello taking over.

The Swede said...

I was (and still am) very fond of 'Punch the Clock'. Yes, it's a little lightweight, particularly when compared to the masterpiece that was its predecessor, 'Imperial Bedroom', but I continue to find a lot to enjoy about the album. I was actually at the Palais gig that you've pulled three tracks from and also saw the band in Ipswich on the same tour. I'm a sucker for a powerful horn section, they were great shows.
I've seen Elvis in concert several times, but never with just him and Steve - that would be something. I have the 5CD set and really need to dig it out again after hearing 'All This Useless Beauty' again.
I hadn't heard this version of 'Half a Boy...' before today and it sure is great!
My Elvis Top 5 is as follows: 1) Imperial Bedroom 2) King of America 3) Blood & Chocolate 4) Armed Forces 5)This Year's Model. It's a very tough call!
(Have you heard 'Wise Up Ghost' by the way? An it-came-out-of-nowhere favourite in 2013.)

Echorich said...

Here goes:

1. Get Happy
2. Armed Forces
3. Blood & Chocolate
4. Taking Liberties
5. Painted From Memory

There has to be at least one in there that will annoy some...

george said...

I've always had a soft spot for Punch The Clock, the first EC album I bought, and in those Wilderness Years of 1982-84. Top 5? King Of America, Blood and Chocolate, Brutal Youth, My Aim is True, and Armed Forces, and in that order too. Will anyone go for Almost Blue? Looking forward to listening to the songs you posted today, Brian, thanks.

george said...

and I love that version of Half a Boy Half a Man, absolutely toptastic

kevinpat said...

It's me I know I know I know! I've been told by many. Really. But Imperial Bedroom leaves me cold. There! I said it. Throw whatever you got. It's already been thrown. I know. It's beloved. I must've got a bad copy or something….. Just doesn't work through my ears. I've tried. I'll blame it on my color-blindness. No Bedroom. Imperial or otherwise. Sorry. Please don't kick me out the Club. I promise to be good in the future. ("Punch…" is cool though. "Armed Forces"? Overcooked. Now I'll really go away….)

Charity Chic said...

1 Blood & Chocolate
2 King of America
3 Armed Forces
4 My Aim is True
5 Imperial Bedroom

Today's choice - could change tomorrow

I actually quite like Almost Blue but it is not a top fiver

Scott said...

1. This Year's Model
2. Get Happy
3. Blood And chocolate
4. My Aim Is True
5. Punch The clock

Like The Swede and George, I have always been a huge fan of Punch The Clock.I was a bit of a latecomer to EC, so think Punch The clock may have been the first album I bought by him, and then i worked backwards.

Scott said...

Hi Brian,thanks for your kind words about Spools. I like to think there is some nice variety on the blog. Today's post is very Tracey Ullman, could imagine her doing a cover of it. Love the Chenier/LaBeef track, that's how to do a cover. The link below is for an excellent Zydeco comp that is really good as an introduction...

Ian Balentine said...

Hi Brian

Sorry for the late reply, been away on holiday for the last week or so. Thanks for the shout out, and the performances which I'll view later tonight when I get an opportunity. It's great to see this little community of ours supporting one another like this or, perhaps more fittingly, FEEDING each other! Great write up, and thanks!

Ian Balentine said...

Oh, and top 5:

1.Armed Forces
2. Get Happy
3. My Aim Is True
4. This Year's Model
5. Imperial Bedroom

Echorich said...

@kevinpat - you aren't alone...although I feel it's one of those "better with age albums,"
Imperial Bedroom has never been an immediate Costello album for me. As a concept, Almost Blue works, it's just not music I am drawn to.
One album that will surely get overlooked here, but I really enjoy is Momofuku, the most recent Elvis Costello + The Imposters studio release. It's got a very positive vibe and Costello is strong throughout.

Brian said...

Fellas, Thanks for playing along. I'm typing this on my phone as I watch my children taking swimming lessons. Lots to say, but it will have to wait until this evening. I'm all thumbs. So, I'm sitting here with a pad of paper and a pencil tallying up our top 5 lists off of this tiny screen. Using a 1 to 5 point system, this is how we stack up so far (see last photo above for complete breakdown).

1. Blood and Chocolate (21 points)
2. Get Happy!! (18 points)
3. King of America (17 points)
3. Armed Forces (17 points)
5. This Year's Model (16 points)
6. My Aim Is True (13 points)
7. Imperial Bedroom (8 points)

All other albums have one appearance so far... So much to address here. If you haven't put in your favorites yet, feel free to join us. Thanks again.

Brian said...

You bastard. How dare you diss Imperial Bedroom. Ha! "Cold" is a word I have heard in conjunction with Imperial Bedroom before. I think Echorich had some wise words about the album in this string, but perhaps you may not come round to that one. Your five is very good, however. I loved Costello as the angry young man too. Obviously, I didn't see him in the '70s, but I have some tremendous bootlegs from the period where he is a real pisser to the crowd... and the performances are just so hard and loud. There is one in particular from '79 I will play something from soon.

The Swede,
So glad you put Punch the Clock in there. I'm a sucker for those horns too. I'm absolutely in awe you were at that London show. What a dream. I have never heard Wise Up Ghost, but I will give it a go now that you speak highly of it. I have lost my way a bit with his discography in recent years.

As you might have guessed, that B-sides rule was for you. I remember you telling me you always thought of Taking Liberties as a complete album, and I did too. It almost made my top 5.

Very strong, my friend. Thanks for backing Brutal Youth. So, you had some fine listening during the Wilderness Years after all. I am most surprised by the love Punch the Clock got today.

Yes, our choices do often change. Yet, my No. 1 and No. 2 have been the same for at least two decades. The rest of my list could include Taking Liberties and Blood and Chocolate tomorrow.

So right about this little community of ours. This has been a special day. Makes it all worth it. Armed Forces, eh? Way to go! Hope you enjoy the horns.

The Swede said...

I'd somewhat fallen off the Costello train too, which is why 'Wise Up Ghost' was such a pleasant surprise. I think the last LP I knew well was 'The Delivery Man'. If you do check it out, try to find the deluxe version, which features my favourite song on the album, 'Can You hear Me?', among the bonus tracks.
I'm going to spend some time with 'Momofuku' on Echorich's recommendation.

kevinpat said...

And then there is the Wendy James album "Now Ain't the Time for Your Tears" which apparently Elvis wrote for Ms. James upon request. And it's not bad despite the stretch for talent by Ms. James….

Brian said...

I never quite got the Wendy James thing. Costello wrote all of the songs (half were co-written by second wife Cait O'Riordan), and at least a few of them were also recorded by Costello. I know Puppet Girl, Basement Kiss and We Despise You showed up as Brutal Youth era B-sides right after James' album and that he already had them in the can before giving them to her. I'm guessing he thought this was not his best work and was happy to unload them for a chunk of change, but that's my take... don't really know if that's true. Pretty sure Pete Thomas was the drummer on that album too.

McPop said...

I have to chime in on this topic since Declan is one of my very favorites.
Top 5 (as of right now):
1 Imperial Bedroom
2 Get Happy
3 This Years Model
4 My Aim is True
5 Armed Forces
Bubbling under: Trust and Punch
Blood & Chocolate and King of America are both solid albums but don't warrant inclusion because some songs are too long on the former and some are too country on the latter (imho).

Brian said...

Great to hear from you, McPop. Figured you for a fan. Your list alters the less than scientific poll numbers a bit. Now Get Happy!! just edges out Blood and Chocolate as our collective No. 1. Although I'm not that surprised, all of your mentions were from the Columbia years. Did you care for anything after that? How long did you stick with him? You mentioned long songs on Blood and Chocolate, and I have a pretty good guess about the ones you mean, but I wondered if anyone was going to say Costello's Warner albums and beyond as a whole could have used a trim. Spike was 64 minutes long, for example. I am staying away from your King of America and Blood and Chocolate remark... otherwise the rest of us may come after you with torches and pitchforks and go old school on you. Ha! Keep in touch.