Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Declan Patrick McManus, 25 Aug. '54, Paddington, London) Singer/songwriter, easily the most important to emerge from 'new wave' in UK. He tried to keep his early life a mystery, but he is the son of Ross McManus, big- band singer with Joe Loss, infl. by dad's record collection. First band was country-flavoured Flip City, some London gigs (no records, but later bootlegs); also played folk clubs as solo. Married young; was computer programmer for Elizabeth Arden ('vanity factory' in song 'I'm Not Angry'). Turned up with guitar to perform for baffled A&R men in legendary method of auditioning; once arrested for busking outside CBS convention. Disc jockey Charlie Gillett (author of Sound Of The City) played early Costello tapes on Honky Tonk Radio London show. Signed with Stiff '77, early work prod. by Nick Lowe, overseen by maverick manager and Stiff boss Jake Riviera (Andrew Jakeman), singled out by critics for intensity and vitriol: 'Less Than Zero' indictment of English fascism; 'Alison' later covered by Linda Ronstadt (to his well- publicized distaste); '(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes' followed by first hit: 'Watching The Detectives', no. 15 UK '77, reggae track backed by the Rumour. Early interviews enhanced image: claimed that he understood only hatred and revenge, kept little black book with names of those who'd thwarted career. Debut LP My Aim Is True '77 recorded with Clover (lead singer went on to front Huey Lewis and the News), hailed as an instant classic, compared to the work of Graham Parker, Bruce Springsteen and Van Morrison. Backing group the Attractions formed with session bassist Bruce Thomas (Al Stewart, Sutherland Bros), drummer Pete Thomas (John Stewart, Chilli Willi), excellent keyboardist Steve Nieve (b Nason; attended Royal College of Music): revealed on Stiff tour (with Wreckless Eric, Ian Dury) to be a tight, responsive unit (made own LP Mad About The Wrong Boy '81). This Year's Model '78 brought praise for striking songs '(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea', 'Pump It Up', 'No Action'; Armed Forces '79 best seller yet (original title Emotional Fascism), incl. 'Oliver's Army', 'Accidents Will Happen', 'Green Shirt'. Promoting LP in USA March '79, had fistfight with Stephen Stills in a bar in Columbus, Ohio (also punched by Bonnie Bramlett): allegedly racist remarks about Ray Charles hurt credibility with UK's Rock Against Racism as well as US music press, but the incident was probably due to drinking and typical rudeness; he gave up touring in USA but sales were unaffected.

Get Happy '80 was infl. by soul music, incl. 21 tracks: 'Motel Matches', 'Clowntime Is Over', UK single hits 'I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down', 'High Fidelity', 'New Amsterdam', etc; Trust '81 incl. hit 'Clubland', also 'New Lace Sleeves', 'Big Sister's Clothes'. Duetted with diverse artists George Jones, Yoko Ono, Tony Bennett, John Hiatt; fondness for country music already evident in own songs 'Radio Sweetheart', 'Stranger In The House'; then Almost Blue '81 was a lavish set of favourite C&W songs, with sticker 'This album contains Country and Western music and may produce radical reaction in narrow-minded people'. Documented on UK TV's South Bank Show, prod. in Nashville by Billy Sherrill, LP incl. covers of hits by Don Gibson, Gram Parsons. New-wave treatment of Hank Williams classic 'Why Don't You Love Me' left it unrecognizable, but the rest was straight: incl. single hits 'A Good Year For The Roses', 'I'm Your Toy', 'Sweet Dreams'. Imperial Bedroom '82 co-prod., over-arranged by long-time George Martin associate Geoff Emerick; concept LP about pain of love and deceit incl. additions to canon 'Tears Before Bedtime', 'Town Crier', 'Beyond Belief', singles 'You Little Fool', 'Man Out Of Time'. Appeared in film Americathon, title song of film Party, Party was UK hit single '82; acted in UK TV series Scully '84; prod. records by the Specials, Squeeze, Bluebells, Pogues; has also joined onstage acts like Ricky Scaggs, Los Lobos, Richard Hell, Delbert McLinton; own songs covered by Robert Wyatt, Dave Edmunds, George Jones etc as well as Ronstadt. I'm Your Toy 12]im[ EP '82 incl. alternate version of 'Toy' with orchestra, made at the Royal Albert Hall, plus more tracks from Nashville. Generous 20-track collections Taking Liberties '81 (USA), 10 Bloody Marys And 10 How's Your Fathers '84 (UK) yield insight into scope of work. Punch The Clock '83 also soul infl.; incl. 'Shipbuilding', Falklands lament among his finest (trumpet solo by Chet Baker); also 'Everyday I Write The Book', first USA top 40 hit (but all LPs charted strongly in USA, Armed Forces at no. 10). Alter ego 'Imposter' prod. singles 'Pills And Soap' '83 (song incl. on Punch The Clock), 'Peace In Our Time' '84; Goodbye, Cruel World '84 incl. hits 'I Wanna Be Loved', 'The Only Flame In Town', 'Turning The Town Red'. Late '84 toured USA and UK as solo supported by T-Bone Burnett, onstage together as the Coward Brothers, doing unlikely songs Scott McKenzie's 'San Francisco', Beatles' 'Baby's In Black'; released single 'The People's Limousine' '85. Burnett prod. LP King Of America '86 with all-star cast (David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, James Burton, Jim Keltner, etc), hailed as Costello's best since Almost Blue: credited to the Costello Show, songs to D. P. McManus, except cover of Animals' '65 hit 'Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood'. Blood And Chocolate '86 on Imp prod. by Lowe; reunion with Attractions as strong as ever: sweep of contemporary subject matter and absorption of popular culture standing with that of any chronicler in popular music. He married the Pogues' bassist Cait O'Riordan '86, contributed cover of Richard Thompson's 'The End Of The Rainbow' to Anti-Heroin Project album It's A Live-In World; US shows incl. guests the Bangles, Tom Petty, Tom Waits, Huey Lewis. Out Of Our Idiot '87 was another compilation of B-sides etc incl. new track 'So Young' (from '79). When he was rumoured to be writing songs with Paul McCartney, Rolling Stone quoted Graham Parker: 'Actually, me and Ringo are collaborating -- we're going to do a concept album about hair salons.' He switched to WB for Spike '89, with dense texture and artfulness said by some to be his best ever, others his worst: eclecticism in rock is still a contradiction in terms. Mighty Like A Rose '91 was the more familiar abrasive persona, but cohesively arranged, dozens of guests on various tracks incl. his father on trumpet. Girls, Girls, Girls on Columbia was another collection: 31 tracks on vinyl, 51 on cassette, 47 on CD. The Juliet Letters '93 on WB was a song cycle with the Brodsky (string) Quartet (the critics tried to be polite); Brutal Youth '94 incl. the Attractions, with Nick Lowe and Steve Nieve. He contributed to Hal Willner's tribute album to Charles Mingus and the film of the sessions prod. by Ray Davies. He organized an arts festival on London's South Bank and released a limited edition live set of sombre jazz ballads, Deep Dead Blue '95 with Bill Frisell; Kojak Variety same year on WB is an album of cover versions, described as a mixed bag, critics evidently surprised by the mid-'90s fad of such albums: time was when many a singer was willing to sing other people's songs. All This Useless Beauty '96 with the Attractions was a return to form, described as intelligent and accessible, charming even some who regard him as overrated. Most of Costello's albums are now reissued and repackaged on Rykodisc CDs; the first 15,000 copies of The Costello Show: King Of America incl. bonus disc Live On Broadway 1986 while 2]fr1/2[ Years incl. three albums plus a Toronto radio concert '78.