July 22, 1977: Elvis Costello ‘My Aim Is True’ Debuts

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The original cover (minus the yellow background added later)

Recorded in four six-hour late-night sessions in a London eight-track studio, My Aim Is True was the debut album by the audaciously named soon-to-be 22-year-old singer-songwriter Elvis Costello, née Declan Patrick McManus. Produced by Nick Lowe, former bassist for the pub-rock band Brinsley Schwarz and a labelmate on the cheeky upstart indie Stiff Records, it reportedly cost a mere £2,000 to make, and was released in the U.K. on July 22, 1977.

Costello was backed on the album by members of the American band Clover – guitarist John McFee, bassist John Ciambotti, keyboard player Sean Hopper and drummer Mickey Shine – a longtime minor country-rock act in the San Francisco Bay Area who had moved to London and signed to Phonogram Records. They were uncredited on the disc for contractual reasons, although some early PR materials identified them as The Shamrocks.

Similarly, Costello was pushed as an unknown who had dropped off the first demo tape soon after Stiff Records had opened its doors. But he had been playing the London pub-rock scene with the band Flip City and on his own as D.P. Costello – taking the surname of his paternal great-grandmother that his father, a professional singer and trumpeter, had also used as a stage name – and as a fan of the group Brinsley Schwarz he already knew Lowe.

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Two singles from the disc had already been released – “Less Than Zero” and “Allison” – but made virtually no impact. By the time the album came out and began to garner Costello positive ink in the music press – it eventually hit #14 on the British album chart – he had started gigging with his new backing band The Attractions.

CBS Records was holding its international convention at a London hotel that same July. So Costello and his group set up in front of the building and started playing as label executives came out on their lunch break, and ended up getting arrested. The stunt piqued the interest of A&R exec Gregg Geller, who acquired the album and, duly impressed, signed Costello to CBS’ Columbia label for the U.S.

Related: Elvis Costello concert review

Another single of a song not on the album, “Watching the Detectives” – recorded with bassist Andrew Bodnar and drummer Steve Goulding of Graham Parker’s backing band The Rumour and Attractions keyboard player Steve Nieve – came out in October and reached #15 on the U.K. chart. It was added to the U.S. version of My Aim Is True that came out in November of ’77. A second recording of My Aim Is True in July ’77 with the Attractions has yet to see the light of day (but maybe someday…).

We spoke to the the Columbia Records marketing exec who led the launch of Costello’s career in the U.S. Read his inside story here.

Costello continues to tour regularly. Tickets are available here and here.

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