Elvis Costello (born Declan Patrick MacManus, 25 August 1954) is an English singer-songwriter. He came to prominence as an early participant in London's pub rock scene in the mid-1970s, and later became associated with the punk rock and New Wave musical genres. Steeped in word play, the vocabulary of Costello's lyrics is broader than that of most popular songs, and his music has drawn on many diverse genres; critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote, "Costello, the pop encyclopedia, can reinvent the past in his own image".
Costello was born Declan Patrick MacManus in St Mary's Hospital, London, the son of Lillian (n?©e Ablett) and Ross MacManus, a musician and bandleader. He is of Irish heritage. Costello lived in Twickenham, attending what is now St Mark's Catholic Secondary School in neighbouring Hounslow. With a musically inclined father (his father sang with The Joe Loss Orchestra), Costello's first broadcast recording was alongside his dad in a television commercial for R. White's Lemonade ("I'm a Secret Lemonade Drinker"). His father wrote and sang the song; Costello provided backing vocals. The ad won a silver award at the 1974 International Advertising Festival.
Costello moved with his Liverpool-born mother to Birkenhead in 1971. There, he formed his first band, a folk duo called Rusty with Allan Mayes. After completing secondary school at St. Francis Xavier's College, he moved back to London where he next formed a band called Flip City, which had a style very much in the pub rock vein. They were active from 1974 through early 1976. Around this time, Costello adopted the stage name D.P. Costello. His father had performed under the name Day Costello, and Elvis has said in interviews that he took this name as a tribute to his father.
To support himself, he worked a number of office jobs, most famously at the Elizabeth Arden ??? immortalised in the lyrics of "I'm Not Angry" as the "vanity factory" ??? where he worked as a data entry clerk. He worked for a short period as a computer operator at the Midland Bank computer centre in Bootle. He continued to write songs, and began actively looking for a solo recording contract. On the basis of a demo tape, he was signed to independent label Stiff Records. His manager at Stiff, Jake Riviera, suggested a name change, combining Elvis Presley's first name and Costello, his paternal grandmother's maiden name.
Costello's first single for Stiff was "Less Than Zero," released on 25 March 1977. Two months later, his debut album, My Aim Is True (1977), was released to moderate commercial success (No. 14 in the UK and, later, Top 40 in the US) with Costello appearing on the cover in what became his trademark oversize glasses, bearing a striking resemblance to a menacing Buddy Holly. Stiff's records were initially distributed only in the UK, which meant that Costello's first album and singles were initially available in the US as imports only. In an attempt to change this, Costello was arrested for busking outside a London convention of CBS Records executives, "protesting" that no US record company had yet seen fit to release Elvis Costello records in the United States. Costello signed to CBS' Columbia Records label in the US a few months later.
Costello's backing on the debut album was provided by American West Coast band Clover, a roots/country outfit living in England whose members would later go on to join Huey Lewis and the News and The Doobie Brothers. Later in 1977, Costello formed his own permanent backing band, The Attractions, consisting of Steve Nieve (born Steve Nason; piano), Bruce Thomas (bass guitar), and Pete Thomas (drums; unrelated to Bruce Thomas). He released his first major hit single, "Watching the Detectives", which was recorded with Nieve and the pair of Steve Goulding (drums) and Andrew Bodnar (bass), both members of Graham Parker's backing band The Rumour (whom he had used to audition for The Attractions).
Elvis Costello, Cardiff, 1979
On December 17, 1977, Costello and The Attractions appeared as the musical guest act on the episode of Saturday Night Live hosted by Miskel Spillman (an elderly woman who won the show's "Anybody Can Host" contest, where an ordinary person gets chosen to host an episode of Saturday Night Live) as a last minute fill-in for the Sex Pistols. He did not appear on the show again until 1989. Following a whirlwind tour with other Stiff artists (captured on the Live Stiffs album, notable for Costello's recording of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David standard "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself") the band recorded This Year's Model (1978). Some of the more popular tracks include the British hit "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea" and "Pump It Up". His U.S. record company saw Costello as such a priority that his last name replaced the word "Columbia" on the label of the disc's original pressing.
A tour of the U.S. and Canada also saw the release of the much-bootlegged Canadian promo-only Live at the El Mocambo, recorded at a Toronto rock club, which finally saw an official release as part of the 2 1/2 Years box set in 1993. It was during the ensuing United States tour that Costello met and developed a relationship with former Playboy model Bebe Buell (mother of Liv Tyler). Their on-again-off-again courtship would last until 1984 and would allegedly become a deep well of inspiration for Costello's songwriting. In 1979, he released Armed Forces (originally to have been titled 'Emotional Fascism', a phrase that appeared on the LP's inner sleeve). Both the album and the single "Oliver's Army" went to #2 in the UK. Costello also found time in 1979 to produce the debut album for 2 Tone ska revival band, The Specials.
Costello's standing in the U.S. was bruised for a time when in March 1979, during a drunken argument with Stephen Stills and Bonnie Bramlett in a Columbus, Ohio Holiday Inn hotel bar, the singer referred to James Brown as a "jive-ass nigger", then upped the ante by pronouncing Ray Charles a "blind, ignorant nigger". Costello apologised at a New York City press conference a few days later, claiming that he had been drunk and had been attempting to be obnoxious in order to bring the conversation to a swift conclusion, not anticipating that Bramlett would bring his comments to the press. According to Costello, "it became necessary for me to outrage these people with about the most obnoxious and offensive remarks that I could muster." In his liner notes for the expanded version of Get Happy!!, Costello writes that some time after the incident he had declined an offer to meet Charles out of guilt and embarrassment, though Charles himself had forgiven Costello ("Drunken talk isn't meant to be printed in the paper").
Costello worked extensively in Britain's Rock Against Racism campaign both before and after the incident. This incident inspired his Get Happy!! song "Riot Act".
Costello is also an avid country music fan and has cited George Jones as his favourite country singer. In 1977 he appeared the Jones' duet album My Very Special Guests, contributing "Stranger In The House," which they later performed together on an HBO special dedicated to Jones.
The soul-infused Get Happy!! would be the first, and ??? along with King of America ??? possibly most successful, of Costello's many experiments with genres beyond those he is normally associated with. The single, "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" was an old Sam and Dave song (though Costello increased the tempo considerably). Lyrically, the songs are full of Costello's signature wordplay, to the point that he later felt he had become something of a self-parody and toned it down on later releases; he has mockingly described himself in interviews as "rock and roll's Scrabble champion." His only 1980 appearance in North America was at the Heatwave festival in August near Toronto.
In 1981, the band released Trust against growing tensions within the band, particularly between Bruce and Pete Thomas. In the U.S., the single "Watch Your Step" was released and played live on Tom Snyder's Tomorrow show, and received airplay on FM rock radio. In the UK, the single "Clubland" scraped the lower reaches of the charts; follow-up single "From A Whisper To A Scream" (a duet with Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze) became the first Costello single in over four years to completely miss the charts.
Following Trust, Costello released Almost Blue, an album of country music cover songs written by the likes of Hank Williams ("Why Don't You Love Me (Like You Used To Do?)"), Merle Haggard ("Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down") and Gram Parsons ("How Much I Lied"). The album was a tribute to the country music he had grown up listening to, especially George Jones. It received mixed reviews. The first pressings of the record in the UK bore a sticker with the message: "WARNING: This album contains country & western music and may cause offence to narrow minded listeners." Almost Blue did spawn a surprise UK hit single in a version of George Jones' "Good Year For The Roses" (written by Jerry Chesnut), which reached #6.
Imperial Bedroom (1982) marked a much darker sound, due in part to the production of Geoff Emerick, famed for engineering several Beatles records. Imperial Bedroom remains one of his most critically acclaimed records, but again failed to produce any hit singles. Costello has said he disliked the marketing pitch for the album. Imperial Bedroom also featured Costello's song "Almost Blue"; jazz singer and trumpeter Chet Baker would later perform and record a version of this song.
In 1983, he released Punch the Clock, featuring female backing vocals (Afrodiziak) and a four-piece horn section (The TKO Horns), alongside The Attractions. Clive Langer (who co-produced with Alan Winstanley), provided Costello with a melody which eventually became "Shipbuilding", which featured a trumpet solo by Chet Baker. Prior to the release of Costello's own version, a version of the song was a minor UK hit for former Soft Machine drummer Robert Wyatt.
Under the pseudonym "The Imposter", Costello released "Pills And Soap", an attack on the changes in British society brought on by Thatcherism, released to coincide with the run-up to the 1983 UK general election. Punch the Clock also generated an international hit in the single "Everyday I Write the Book", aided by a music video featuring lookalikes of the Prince and Princess of Wales undergoing domestic strife in a suburban home. The song became Costello's first Top 40 hit single in the U.S. Also in the same year, Costello provided vocals on a version of the Madness song "Tomorrow's Just Another Day" released as a B-side on the single of the same name.
Tensions within the band were beginning to tell, and Costello announced his retirement and the breakup of the group shortly before they were to record Goodbye Cruel World (1984). Costello would later say of this record that they had "got it as wrong as you can in terms of the execution". The record was poorly received upon its initial release; the liner notes to the 1995 Rykodisc re-release, penned by Costello, begin with the words "Congratulations!, you've just purchased our worst album". Costello's retirement, although short-lived, was accompanied by two compilations, Elvis Costello: The Man in the UK, Europe and Australia, and The Best of Elvis Costello & The Attractions in the U.S.
In 1985, he appeared in the Live Aid benefit concert in England, singing the Beatles' "All You Need is Love" as a solo artist. (The event was overrunning and Costello was asked to "ditch the band"). Costello introduced the song as an old northern folk song, and the audience was invited to sing the chorus.
In the same year Costello teamed up with friend T-Bone Burnett for a single called "The People's Limousine" under the moniker of The Coward Brothers. That year, Costello also produced Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash for the Irish punk/folk band The Pogues. It was then that he met his second wife, Pogues bassist Cait O'Riordan.
By 1986, Costello was preparing to make a comeback. Working in the U.S. with Burnett, a band containing a number of Elvis Presley's sidemen (including James Burton and Jerry Scheff), and minor input from the Attractions, he produced King of America an acoustic guitar-driven album with a country sound. Around this time he legally changed his name back to Declan MacManus, adding Aloysius as an extra middle name. Costello retooled his upcoming tour to allow for multiple nights in each city; playing one night with The Confederates (James Burton et al.), one night with The Attractions, and one night solo acoustic.
In May 1986, Costello performed at Self Aid, a benefit concert held in Dublin that focused on the chronic unemployment which was widespread in Ireland at that time. Later that year, he returned to the studio with the Attractions and recorded Blood and Chocolate, which was lauded for a post-punk fervour not heard since 1978's This Year's Model. It also marked the return of producer Nick Lowe, who had produced Costello's first five albums. While Blood and Chocolate failed to chart a hit single of any significance, it did produce what has since become one of Costello's signature concert songs, "I Want You". On this album, Costello adopted the alias "Napoleon Dynamite", the name he later attributed to the character of the emcee that he played during the vaudeville-style tour to support Blood and Chocolate. (The pseudonym had previously been used in 1982, when the B-side single "Imperial Bedroom" was credited to 'Napoleon Dynamite & The Royal Guard', and was later appropriated by the 2004 film Napoleon Dynamite).
In 1989, Costello, with a new contract with Warner Bros., released Spike, which spawned his biggest single in America, the Top Twenty hit "Veronica", one of several songs Costello co-wrote with Paul McCartney in that timeframe (see "Collaborations" section below).
In 1991, having grown a long beard, Costello released Mighty Like a Rose, which featured the single "The Other Side of Summer". He also found time to co-compose and co-produce, with Richard Harvey, the title and incidental music for the mini-series G.B.H. by Alan Bleasdale. This entirely instrumental, and largely orchestral soundtrack garnered a BAFTA, for 'Best Music for a TV Series' for the pair.
In 1993, Costello experimented with classical music with a critically acclaimed collaboration with the Brodsky Quartet on The Juliet Letters. During this period, Costello wrote a full album's worth of material for Wendy James, and these songs became the tracks on her 1993 solo album Now Ain't the Time for Your Tears. Costello returned to rock and roll the following year with a project that reunited him with The Attractions, Brutal Youth. In 1995, Costello released Kojak Variety, an album of cover songs recorded five years earlier, and followed in 1996 with an album of songs originally written for other artists, All This Useless Beauty. This was the final album of original material that he issued under his Warner Bros. contract. In the spring of 1996, Costello played a series of intimate club dates, backed only by Nieve on the piano, in support of All This Useless Beauty. An ensuing summer and fall tour with the Attractions proved to be the death knell for the band. With relations between Costello and bassist Bruce Thomas at a breaking point, Costello announced that the current tour would be the Attractions' last. The quartet performed their final U.S. show in Seattle, Washington on September 1, 1996, before wrapping up their tour in Japan. To fulfill his contractual obligations to Warner Bros., Costello released a greatest hits album titled Extreme Honey (1997). It contained an original track titled "The Bridge I Burned", featuring Costello's son, Matt, on bass.
In the intervening period, Costello also served as artistic chair for the 1995 Meltdown Festival, which gave him the opportunity to explore his increasingly eclectic musical interests. His involvement in the festival yielded a one-off live EP with jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, which featured both cover material and a few of his own songs.
In 1998, Costello signed a multi-label contract with Polygram Records, sold by its parent company the same year to become part of the Universal Music Group. Costello released his new work on what he deemed the suitable imprimatur within the family of labels. His first new release as part of this contract involved a collaboration with Burt Bacharach. Their work had commenced earlier, in 1996, on a song called "God Give Me Strength" for the movie Grace of My Heart. This led the pair to write and record Painted From Memory, released under his new contract in 1998, on the Mercury Records label. They also recorded an updated version of Bacharach's song "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" for the soundtrack to Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, with both appearing in the film to perform the song. He also wrote "I Throw My Toys Around" for The Rugrats Movie and performed it with No Doubt. The same year, he collaborated with Paddy Moloney (The Chieftains) on "The Long Journey Home" on the soundtrack of the PBS/Disney mini-series of the same name. The soundtrack won a Grammy that year.
In 1999, Costello contributed a version of "She", released in 1974 by Charles Aznavour and Herbert Kretzmer, for the soundtrack of the film Notting Hill, with Trevor Jones producing. For the 25th anniversary of Saturday Night Live, Costello was invited to the program, where he re-enacted his abrupt song-switch: This time, however, he interrupted the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage", and they acted as his backing group for "Radio Radio."
2000 to present
Costello performing with The Imposters in 2005.
In 2000 Costello appeared at the Town Hall Theatre, New York, in Steve Nieve's opera Welcome to the Voice, alongside Ron Sexsmith and John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants.
In 2001, Costello was announced as the featured "artist in residence" at UCLA (although he ended up making fewer appearances than expected) and wrote the music for a new ballet. He produced and appeared on an album of pop songs for opera singer, Anne Sofie von Otter.
In 2002 he released a new album, When I Was Cruel, on Island Records, and toured with a new band, the Imposters (essentially the Attractions but with a different bass player, Davey Faragher, formerly of Cracker). On 23 February 2003, Costello, along with Bruce Springsteen, Steve Van Zandt, and Dave Grohl performed a version of The Clash's "London Calling" at the 45th Grammy Awards ceremony, in honor of Clash frontman Joe Strummer, who had died the previous December. In March 2003, Elvis Costello & The Attractions were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In May, his engagement to Canadian jazz singer and pianist Diana Krall was announced. In September, he released North, an album of piano-based ballads concerning the breakdown of his former marriage, and his falling in love with Diana Krall.
In 2004, the song "Scarlet Tide" (co-written by Costello and T-Bone Burnett and used in the film Cold Mountain) was nominated for an Academy Award; he performed it at the awards ceremony with Alison Krauss, who also sang the song on the official soundtrack. Costello co-wrote many songs on Krall's 2004 CD, The Girl in the Other Room, the first of hers to feature several original compositions. In July 2004 Costello's first full-scale orchestral work, Il Sogno, was performed in New York. The work, a ballet after Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, was commissioned by Italian dance troupe Aterballeto, and received critical acclaim from the classical music critics. Performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, the recording was released on CD in September by Deutsche Grammophon.
Costello's hand prints on the European Walk of Fame, Rotterdam
Costello released another album that same month: The Delivery Man, recorded in Oxford, Mississippi, and released on Lost Highway Records. The Delivery Man was hailed as one of Costello's best albums.
In July 2005, a CD recording of a collaboration with Marian McPartland on her show Piano Jazz was released. It featured Costello singing six jazz standards and two of his own songs, accompanied by McPartland on piano. In November 2005 Costello started recording a new album with Allen Toussaint and producer Joe Henry. The River in Reverse was released in the UK on the Verve label on May 29, 2006.
In 2006 the studio recording of Nieve's opera Welcome to the Voice, for Deutsche Grammophon, Costello interpreted the character of Chief of Police, with Barbara Bonney, Robert Wyatt, Sting and Amanda Roocroft.
Also released in 2006 was a live recording of a concert with the Metropole Orkest at the North Sea Jazz Festival, entitled My Flame Burns Blue.
In 2007 Nieve's opera Welcome to the Voice was released on CD by Deutsche Grammophon, reaching #2 in the Billboard classical charts.
The soundtrack for House M.D. featured Elvis Costello's interpretation of "Beautiful" by Christina Aguilera, as well as appearing in the second episode of Series 2.
Costello has been commissioned to write a chamber opera by the Danish Royal Opera, Copenhagen, on the subject of Hans Christian Andersen's infatuation with Swedish soprano Jenny Lind, called The Secret Songs. Some of the songs were previewed on the Opera's main stage in October 2005. However, since Costello has repeatedly missed deadlines, plans have been changed: extracts from the projected opera will be interspersed with songs from The Juliet Letters for performance in the Opera's studio theatre (Takelloftet) in March 2007. It will be directed by Kasper Bech Holten and will feature Danish soprano Sine Bundgaard as Lind.
On May 6, 2008, Fender Musical Instruments released Elvis Costello Jazzmaster, an exact representation of the late 1960s heavily modified Fender Jazzmaster guitar he had used to record his first 1977 album, My Aim Is True. Its features include a post-1968 neck design, a walnut stain finish and a tremolo with easier and greater travel, essential for that "Watching the Detectives" tone, or what Costello called "that spy movie sound".
On April 22, 2008, Momofuku was released on Lost Highway Records, the same imprint that released his last studio album, The Delivery Man. The album was, at least initially, released exclusively on vinyl (with a code to download a digital copy of the album). That summer, in support of the album, Costello toured with The Police on the final leg of their 2007/2008 Reunion Tour.
On 5 February 2008 it was announced Costello would play a homecoming gig at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall on 25 June.
On 28 June 2008, Costello gave his first performance in Poland, appearing with the Imposters for the closing gig of the Malta theatre festival in Pozna?.
In July 2008, Costello (as Declan McManus) was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Music from the University of Liverpool.
In November 2008, Costello was the Chief of Police in Welcome to the Voice on the stage of the Th?©??tre du Ch??telet in Paris, with Sting, Joe Sumner of Fiction Plane (Sting's son) and Sylvia Schwartz.
Costello is the host for a Sundance Channel series entitled Spectacle in which Costello talks and performs with stars in various fields. It airs on Wednesdays, beginning 3 December 2008.
Costello was featured on Fall Out Boy's 2008 album Folie ? Deux, providing vocals on the track "What a Catch, Donnie", along with other artists who are friends with the band.
Costello appeared in Stephen Colbert's television special A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All; in the program, he was eaten by a bear, but later saved by Santa Claus; he also sang a duet with Stephen Colbert. The special was first aired on 23 November 2008. Costello released Secret, Profane & Sugarcane on June 9, 2009. The album is a collaboration with T-Bone Burnett, who previous worked with Costello on his King of America and Spike sets. It was his first on the Starbucks Hear Music label and a return to country music in the manner of Good Year for the Roses.
Costello has been married three times. In 1974, Costello married Mary Burgoyne. The couple had a son, Matthew, and divorced in 1984. In 1986, Costello married Cait O'Riordan, then bassist for the band The Pogues. The couple split at the end of 2002. Costello became engaged to singer Diana Krall in May 2003. In December, Costello and Krall married at the London estate of Sir Elton John. Their twin sons Dexter Henry Lorcan and Frank Harlan James were born 6 December 2006 in New York City.
Wikinews has related news: Canadian jazz star Diana Krall gives birth to twin boys
In addition to his major recorded collaborations with Bacharach, the Brodsky Quartet, and von Otter, Costello has frequently been involved in other collaborations.
In 1987, Costello began a long-running songwriting collaboration with Paul McCartney. They wrote a number of songs together, including:
"Back On My Feet", the B-side of McCartney's 1987 single "Once Upon A Long Ago", later added as a bonus track on the 1993 re-issue of McCartney's Flowers in the Dirt
Costello's "Veronica" and "Pads, Paws and Claws" from Spike (1989) (Also, McCartney plays Hofner bass but does not have a writing credit for "This Town" - the opening song for the album.)
"So Like Candy" and "Playboy to a Man" from Mighty Like a Rose (1991)
McCartney's "My Brave Face", "Don't Be Careless Love", "That Day Is Done" and "You Want Her Too" from Flowers in the Dirt (1989)
"The Lovers That Never Were" and "Mistress and Maid" from Off the Ground (1993).
"Shallow Grave" from All This Useless Beauty (1996).
Costello talked about their collaboration:
When we sat down together he wouldn't have any sloppy bits in there. That was interesting. The ironic part is, if it sounds like he wrote it, I probably did and vice versa. He wanted to do all the ones with lots of words and all on one note, and I'm the one trying to work in the "Please Please Me" harmony all over the place.
In 1987, he appeared on the HBO special Roy Orbison and Friends, A Black and White Night, which featured his long-time idol Roy Orbison, and was invited back to Saturday Night Live for the first time since 1977.
In 1988 Costello co-wrote "At the Other End (of the Telescope)" with Aimee Mann; this song appears on the Til Tuesday album Everything's Different Now.
In 2005 Costello performed with Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong at a Elvis Costello concert special. They played both Costello and Green Day songs together, including "Alison", "No Action", "Basket Case" and "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)".
In 2007 Costello collaborated with the Argentinean/Uruguay an electro-tango band Bajofondo on the song "Fairly Right" from the album Mar Dulce.
In 2008 Costello collaborated with Fall Out Boy on the track "What A Catch, Donnie" from their album Folie a Deux.
In Jenny Lewis' 2008 release, Acid Tongue, Costello provided vocals for the song "Carpetbaggers".
Costello has worked with Paul McCartney, Tony Bennett, Lucinda Williams, Lee Konitz, Brian Eno, and Rub?©n Blades, as well as many other talented musicians not listed above.
Costello is also a music fan, and often champions the works of others in print. He has written several pieces for the magazine Vanity Fair, including the summary of what a perfect weekend of music would be. His collaboration with Bacharach honoured Bacharach's place in pop music history. Costello also appeared in documentaries about singers Dusty Springfield, Brian Wilson, Wanda Jackson, and Memphis, Tennessee-based Stax Records. He has also interviewed one of his own influences, Joni Mitchell.
In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked him #80 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.