|Birth name||Declan Patrick MacManus|
|Also known as|
|Born||25 August 1954|
|Discography||Elvis Costello discography|
|Member of||The New Basement Tapes|
|Formerly of||The Attractions|
Declan Patrick MacManus(born 25 August 1954), better known by his stage name Elvis Costello, is an English songwriter, singer, record producer, author, and television presenter. Music critics consider Costello to be one of the most gifted and versatile songwriters of his generation. His first album, My Aim Is True (1977), is widely regarded as one of the best debut albums in the history of popular music. The album spawned no hit singles, but contains some of Costello's best-known songs, including the ballad "Alison". Costello's next two albums, This Year's Model (1978) and Armed Forces (1979), recorded with his backing band the Attractions, helped define the new wave music genre. From late 1977 through early 1980, each of the eight singles he released reached the UK Top 30. His biggest hit single, "Oliver's Army" (1979) sold more than 400,000 copies in Britain. He has had more modest commercial success in the US but has earned much praise among music critics. From 1977 through the early 2000s, Costello's albums regularly ranked high on the Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics' poll, with his 1978 album This Year's Model and his 1982 album Imperial Bedroom voted the best album of their respective years.[a] His biggest US hit single, "Veronica" (1989), reached number 19 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Born into a musical family, Costello was raised with knowledge and appreciation of a wide range of musical styles as well as an insider's view of the music business. His opportunity to begin a professional career as a musician coincided with the rise of punk rock in England. The primitivism brought into fashion by punk led Costello to disguise his musical savvy at the beginning of his career, but his prolific musical output encompasses R&B, country, jazz, baroque pop, Tin Pan Alley and classical music. From the 1980s onward, Costello has frequently made music in genres other than rock, often collaborating with established artists in those genres. He has released album-length collaborations the classical ensemble the Brodsky Quartet, New Orleans R&B songwriter and producer Allen Toussaint and hip-hop group the Roots. Costello has written more than a dozen songs with Paul McCartney and had a long-running songwriting partnership with Burt Bacharach.
Costello has had hits with songs written by others, including an uptempo version of the Sam & Dave ballad "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down", the Jerry Chestnut song "A Good Year for the Roses", and the Charles Aznavour hit "She". One of the songs he is best known for, "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding", was written by Nick Lowe and recorded by Lowe's group Brinsley Schwartz in 1974, but remained obscure until Costello released his version in 1979. Costello's own songs have been recorded by artists including Linda Ronstadt, George Jones, Dave Edmunds, Chet Baker, and Alison Krauss.
Costello has won two Grammy awards, two Ivor Novello awards, four Dutch Edison awards, an MTV Video Music Award, a BAFTA award, an ASCAP Founders award, and a Gemini award. In 2003, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2016, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. From 2008 to 2010, Costello hosted a television show called Spectacle: Elvis Costello with..., on which he interviewed other noted musicians. In 2015, he published a well-received memoir called Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink.
Costello was born Declan Patrick MacManus,[b] on 25 August 1954, at St Mary's Hospital in Paddington, west London, the only child of a record shop worker and a jazz musician. Both parents were from the Liverpool area and had moved to London together a few years earlier. Costello's father was Catholic and of Irish descent, but his mother is neither.[c]
Costello's mother, Lillian MacManus (née Ablett, born 1927, died 2021), was born and raised in Toxteth, Liverpool, the daughter of a gas-main layer and a mother who became increasingly disabled by rheumatoid arthritis as Lillian grew up. Responsible for caring for her younger brother and sick mother, Lillian left school at 13 and took the first of a series of jobs at music stores. After moving to London with her future husband Ross in 1951, she took a job in the record department in Selfridges department store and continued selling records through the 1960s. Even after she no longer worked selling records, Lillian maintained a keen interest in a wide variety of music, including the popular music of the day.
Costello's father, Ross MacManus (born 1927, died 2011), was a professional trumpet player and singer, born and raised in Birkenhead, across the River Mersey from Liverpool. He began his career in music in the late 1940s, playing trumpet in bebop bands in Birkenhead and Liverpool. He segued to playing trumpet and singing in modern jazz bands after moving to London in 1951. By 1954, he was sufficiently well-known for his son's birth to be announced in the New Musical Express. From 1955 to 1968, he was a featured singer in Joe Loss Orchestra, one of Britain's most popular big bands. Ross had a solo cabaret act from 1969 through the 1990s, playing workingmen's social clubs in the North of England, Scotland, and Wales. Ross recorded for small record labels under a variety of aliases, including Day Costello – Costello being Ross's paternal grandmother's maiden name. He also recorded advertising jingles. In 1973, he sang the "Secret Lemonade Drinker" jingle featured in a series of popular and long-running advertisements for R. Whites.[d]
Ross's father, Patrick Matthew McManus,[e] known as Pat, was also a professional musician. Pat was raised in an orphanage from age eight, where he learned to play trumpet. He later played trumpet as an army bandsman, a ship's musician for the White Star Line, and an orchestra musician in music halls and in theaters showing silent films. Costello has said that Pat, being the first in the family to make a career in music, is the reason he himself is a musician.
Costello spent most of his childhood in Twickenham, in west London, before moving to Liverpool with his mother in 1970. Costello was raised Roman Catholic and served as an altar boy until he was 14.
Costello's parents had separated by the time Costello was ten years old, after which he was raised by his mother. Ross continued to be a significant presence in Costello's life and the two remained close until Ross's death in 2011. Costello has said that a childhood spent watching his father work gave him an innate sense of how to be a musician but also an understanding that a career in music was a job like any other, requiring discipline and hard work.
Costello's parents never insisted he take music lessons or otherwise pushed him to follow in the family business. Instead, they raised him in a home filled with music, encouraged his musical curiosity, and supported his efforts to find his own way toward a career in music. Lillian told journalists that she knew before he was born he would have a career in music and that she listened to a broad range of music while she was pregnant with him with the intention of giving him an early start in music appreciation.
As a young child, Costello's musical influences came from his parents' record collection, which encompassed a wide range of styles but centered on traditional pop music and jazz. Ross's job with the Joe Loss Orchestra required him to sing many of the pop hits of the day for the band's weekly radio show. To learn these songs, Ross received demonstration copies of the original artists' records, which he brought home to rehearse. When Costello grew old enough to have an interest in the current pop hits, Ross began giving him five or six of these demonstration records per week. Costello has said, "That's why I know so many songs."
Chief among Costello's early favorites among the hit-makers of the day were the Beatles. Costello has said that, having turned nine years old in 1963, he was exactly the right age to experience the full force of Beatles fandom as he grew up. He has described the Beatles as his biggest musical influence. Costello was also deeply impressed by the songs of his future collaborator, Burt Bacharach, which he knew through the hits British artists Cilla Black and Dusty Springfield had with them.
As Costello grew into his teen years, his favorites included British beat groups the Small Faces, the Kinks, and the Who, Jamaican rocksteady and reggae acts who were popular Britain, and especially Motown artists, who he knew mainly through their British hit singles and through the Motown Chartbusters compilation series. By the time Costello reached his mid-teens, Joni Mitchell had become an important and enduring influence on him. When Costello moved to Liverpool, he found he didn't enjoy much of the progressive rock that was popular with his Liverpool peers, so, casting around for music he might like, he developed an interest in the Grateful Dead and other country-influenced groups like the Byrds and The Band, and through them, country music.
Costello was a well-behaved if sometimes argumentative student, but not generally an academically outstanding one. Not having scored well enough on his eleven-plus exams to go on to grammar school, he attended a secondary modern school in Hounslow and then a comprehensive school in Everton, Liverpool, for sixth form.[f] Costello did, however, show an early talent for writing. His mother told a journalist that, when Costello was 11 years old, his school entered him into a writing contest held by the Times of London intended for people aged 16 to 25, for which he won a prize. As he finished secondary school, he earned one A-level, in English, despite having made a firm decision to pursue a career in music a few months earlier and putting little effort into his final months of school.
Although he never had any alternative career plan, Costello had previously been reluctant to commit to a career in music, partly because his upbringing had made him aware of the potential pitfalls involved. The shock of witnessing a teenage friend's death in a traffic accident changed his mind. He would later write, "Suddenly, everything but music seemed like a waste of precious time."
Costello completed his formal education in 1972 and, still living at home with his mother, set out to find a job that would earn him a steady wage while he pursued a career in music. He soon took a job as a computer operator at the Midland Bank data center, in the Merseyside town of Bootle, because, at £20 a week, it paid slightly better than other unskilled work he felt he was qualified for.[g] According to Costello, the job consisted of essentially manual labor such as mounting tape reels and loading punched cards. Because the job involved frequent periods of waiting for the mainframe computers to complete their tasks before beginning them on the next one, it gave Costello time to write songs while at work. Except for a few months in 1973 when he worked as a clerk at the Midland Bank Putney branch, he continued to work full-time as a computer operator until a few weeks before his first album was released in July 1977.
Costello began writing songs and teaching himself to play guitar by age 14. To test his songs in front of an audience, he performed them in folk clubs that permitted amateur musicians to perform unpaid. He played these clubs regularly in London and continued in similar clubs when he moved to Liverpool at age 16, although folk music venues that welcomed original songs were scarcer in Liverpool than in London. By 17, he was occasionally being paid a little money. On the eve of the release of his debut album in 1977, Costello told a journalist that by that time he had written hundreds of songs.
At the beginning of 1972, Costello was invited to join a folk-rock band called Rusty by the band's founder, an 18-year-old veteran of the Liverpool music scene named Allan Mayes. As other members left, Rusty soon became a duo, with Mayes and Costello singing and playing acoustic guitars. For a little over a year, Rusty played regularly in small venues like pubs, clubs, schools, and community centers, mostly in and around Liverpool, unpaid or for small amounts of money. In Mayes's estimation, Costello was already a talented songwriter, able to quickly write songs in a variety of styles, and could sing like Neil Young or Robbie Robertson. Mayes has said he introduced Costello to Brinsley Schwarz, a band that would be an important influence on him. While in Rusty, Costello wrote an early version of a song he would record in 1980 as "Ghost Train", although by then little remained of the Rusty version except the central narrative idea of a married double act making their way through the low end of show business. In 2022, Costello reunited with Mayes to record and release an EP called The Resurrection of Rust. The EP contained songs that were typical of Rusty's shows in 1972, including the early version of "Ghost Train", then called "Maureen and Sam".[h]
By early 1973, Costello had determined that the music scene in Liverpool was too small to support his ambition to have a career in music, so he arranged to transfer from his job as a computer operator in the Midland Bank data center in Bootle to a position as a clerk at the bank's Putney branch. Returning to London, Costello moved into the same Twickenham flat where he had lived with his mother a few years earlier, by then occupied by his father (Ross), Ross's second wife, and their infant son. When booking himself into London clubs, he began using the name Declan Costello, adopting a family name that Ross had once made a record under, because it was easier to spell and understand than MacManus when he spoke on the phone. Around this time, Costello accompanied Ross to Costello's first professional recording session, for the R. White's "Secret Lemonade Drinker" commercial jingle. Ross sang the lead vocal while Costello played guitar and sang backing vocals.[i]
In the second half of 1973, Costello formed a band called Flip City with several slightly older men who, like him, were fans of Brinsley Schwarz and other pub rock bands. The members of Flip City also shared Costello's enthusiasm for The Band, the Grateful Dead, and Clover. For most of 1974, Costello shared a rented house in southwest London with some of his bandmates. Flip City played the London pub rock circuit through the end of 1975, occasionally opening for more prominent bands such as Dr. Feelgood, but generally making little money and attracting little notice. Flip City's performances consisted of a mix of Costello's original songs and covers of rock, R&B, and country songs. Their repertoire of Costello originals included early versions of songs that would appear on his first two albums as "Pay It Back", "Miracle Man", "Living in Paradise", and "Radio Radio". Costello wrote all but one Flip City's original songs, did most of the singing, and chose the cover songs they played. A friend from those days told later told a journalist, "It wasn't so much that he imposed the ideas; he was the one who had the ideas." None of the other members of Flip City shared Costello's commitment to pursuing a career in music and some disapproved of his desire to make money from his music.
Costello became engaged to marry a former schoolmate in late 1973. By then he had found a job as a computer operator at the Elizabeth Arden cosmetics factory in North Acton, in northwest London, similar to the one he had in Bootle and with similarly low wages. By early 1975, Costello was a husband and father and was struggling to support his family. Flip City's live engagements added little to his income, rarely paying more than the band's expenses.
Costello recorded demos with Flip City at several sessions from mid-1974 through mid-1975, hoping to use them to get live bookings, secure a recording contract, or sell Costello's songs for other artists to record. All but the first of these sessions were at a small studio owned by Dave Robinson, future Stiff Records founder. Robinson later said that he thought Flip City "could not play at all" but Costello was talented and ought to "find a real band."
After Costello became successful, Flip City's demos were widely bootleg, often misleadingly labeled to imply they were outtakes from the My Aim Is True sessions or otherwise affiliated with Stiff Records. The only Flip City recording to have been officially released is Costello's song "Imagination (Is a Powerful Deceiver)", recorded in early 1975, which appeared as a bonus track on the 1993 and 2001 reissues of My Aim Is True. In the liner notes to the 2001 reissue, Costello wrote that, in retrospect, the song sounded to him like "a very early attempt to write a song like 'Alison'."
Even before disbanding Flip City in late 1975, Costello was writing songs he did not include in the band's repertoire. He recorded some of these as solo demos for Dave Robinson in mid-1975. For the next year, he shopped these and other solo demos to music publishers and record companies, hoping to be hired either as a songwriter or a recording artist. He sent out as many as 20 songs on a single tape to publishers, not yet realizing that no publisher would have the patience to listen to so many songs. Sometimes he went to publishers' offices to perform his songs in person. None of this generated anything but rejections until he began creating "show reels" of no more than six of what he believed were his most attention-getting songs, selected to appeal to the recipient of each demo tape.[j]
By February 1976, Costello was booking himself into clubs as a solo act under the name D.P. Costello, D.P. being his initials and a nickname he was sometimes called by his family. While working as D.P. Costello, he learned to sing and play guitar very loudly and developed a forceful stage presence, although he was still playing to small audiences for very little money. Few of the songs he had played with Flip City were included in these performances. Instead, he was debuting some of the some of the songs that would start to get the attention of the music industry. One was "Mystery Dance", a rockabilly crowd-pleaser that he regarded as a novelty song. Another was "Wave a White Flag", a ragtime-style song Costello has described as his first song that consistently got a reaction out of audiences. This song was inspired by observing his flatmates, "a wiry speed freak and his pregnant wife" as Costello would later call them, involved in a mutually abusive relationship. Costello included both these songs on the six-song demo tape he sent to London radio presenter Charlie Gillett, who thought "Wave a White Flag" was the best of the six. Gillett played several songs from the tape on his radio show later that year, the first time any Costello song received airplay.[k]
Sometime in 1976, lack of money forced Costello, his wife, and their toddler son to move in with relatives near Heathrow Airport, on the far west side of London. This meant Costello's commute to work in North Acton took him past the Hoover Building in Perivale. Around the same time, he was starting to become aware of the nascent punk movement, although he would not hear any of the British punk bands until they began releasing records. He was, however, inspired by the Modern Lovers' song "Roadrunner", with its reference to such quotidian landmarks as the Stop & Shop, to write a song about the historical Art Deco building he rode past every day. Although he did not record it until 1980, Costello regarded this song, "Hoover Factory", as an artistic breakthrough. In the period just prior, he had been trying to imitate songwriters Randy Newman and John Prine. "Hoover Factory", he later recalled, got him "through the door to a different, less ingratiating way of speaking" in his songwriting. The next song he wrote was "Radio Sweetheart, which would become the B-side of his first single.
In mid-August 1976, Costello included "Mystery Dance" and "Radio Sweetheart" on a demo tape he gave to Stiff Records, a new independent label that had just released its first single. Partly due to the airplay received from Charlie Gillett around the same time, Costello was soon evaluating offers from several record companies, including Gillett's own Oval Records. Costello chose to work with Stiff Records because they seemed prepared to move the fastest. Stiff had been founded by Jake Riviera, who managed several acts Costello admired, and Dave Robinson. Nick Lowe, whom Costello was on friendly terms with because he had attended so many performances by Lowe's band Brinsley Schwarz, was the label's first artist and soon became its in-house producer.
Accounts of how strong an interest Stiff Records took in Costello, and how quickly, vary depending on who is doing the telling. Costello's recollection is that Stiff initially wanted him as a songwriter for other artists and their interest grew gradually over several months, toward a plan to release an album. Costello and Nick Lowe have said that the original plan was to have Dave Edmunds record Costello's song "Mystery Dance".
In mid-September, about a month after Costello's first contacted Stiff, they arranged a recording session for him at Pathway Studios, an inexpensive studio in North London, in which he recorded his songs "Mystery Dance" and "Radio Sweetheart". As Costello understood it, this session was intended both to create a full-band, studio demo for Edmunds's consideration (Costello's demo had been created at home and included only Costello's voice and guitar) and to test Costello as a recording artist. If the results were good, Stiff might release the two songs they recorded as a single. At this session, Costello sang and played guitars, Lowe played bass, and two members of Clover played guitars and drums. Clover were a country-rock band from Marin County, California, who were managed by Riviera and Robinson and had recently relocated to England.
Neither the plan to have Edmunds record "Mystery Dance" nor to release the two songs as a single came to be. Costello continued to make home demos of new songs he was writing and bring them to the Stiff Record's office, although he was unsure if they were making any impression. Within a few weeks, Stiff told Costello that their plan was to have him record more sessions, with all members of Clover except their two singers, Alex Call and Huey Lewis. One tentative plan was to release an album with Costello on one side and Wreckless Eric, another Stiff artist who had first contacted Stiff in mid-October, on the other. Costello strongly disliked the idea of being paired on an album with Eric, so he set out to quash that plan by proving he had "five times more songs" than Eric. Finding Pathway briefly available one day, Costello quickly recorded demos for at least nine new songs, accompanying himself on electric guitar. Included were four songs that would be recorded for My Aim Is True.
Starting in late November or early December, Costello began traveling Headley Grange in East Hampshire, where Clover were living, to spend the day rehearsing and working out arrangements for a batch of his songs and then recording the songs with the band the next day at Pathway. Costello still held a full-time office job, so he did this by taking sick days and holidays. These sessions were spaced over several weeks to accommodate Costello's work schedule and Stiff's tight finances. All songs on the UK version of My Aim Is True were recorded at these sessions, except "Mystery Dance" which had already been recorded in September. My Aim Is True was recorded and mixed in six four-hour sessions for a total cost of about £1,000. The final mix of the album was completed at Pathway on 26 January 1977. Producer Nick Lowe, recording engineer Barry Farmer, and Clover bassist John Ciambotti have all said they found Costello confident, well-prepared, and mature beyond his years during the making of this album.
Knowing that his album would have to compete for attention with punk music, Costello included only songs he felt were his most simple, direct, and aggressive. He did not include songs that might, as he later said, "give the game away that I knew more than three chords." Costello has said his main inspiration for the sound of My Aim Is True was Van Morrison's 1970 album His Band and the Street Choir. His inspiration for the sound of individual songs included music closer to Clover's country rock, like the Band and the Byrds, as well as Motown, Bruce Springsteen, and bands more closely related to punk like the Velvet Underground and Television.
By February 1977, Riviera and Robinson, who were now Costello's managers, had given him his new stage name, Elvis. The reference to Elvis Presley, who was still alive at the time, was simply intended to get attention. Costello neither particularly liked nor disliked Presley. Because Costello had seen his father, Ross, work under a variety of stage names, he gave little thought to the name change. Riviera and Robinson also helped give Costello a distinctive appearance that contrasted to the contemporaneous ideas how pop stars looked. Costello already wore conservative clothes and short hair. Riviera and Robinson swapped the unobtrusive rimless glasses Costello had worn to correct astigmatism since he was a teenager for a pair with large black frames.
Costello's first single, "Less than Zero" backed with "Radio Sweetheart", was released at the end of March 1977. It received a few brief, mixed reviews in the British music press and sold very few copies. Released two months later, his next single "Alison", which would become one of his best-regarded and best-known songs, also sold very little. A third single, "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes", released in early July, initially sold as poorly as the first two. By this time, Costello was receiving increasingly prominent, positive coverage in the British music press.
My Aim Is True had been completed since the end of January, but its release was delayed, first because Stiff had wanted to release records by other artists who seemed more tied to transient music trends and then because of legal difficulties with Stiff's distributor, Island Records. It was released on 22 July 1977. Two weeks earlier, Costello had left his job as a computer operator at Elizabeth Arden on the condition that Stiff pay him, as an advance on future royalties, a regular stipend equal to the wages he had been earning at his job.
In mid-June 1977, Costello held auditions for a bassist and keyboardist for a backing band for a tour to promote My Aim Is True, wanting a sparser sound than on the album. Pete Thomas, formerly of pub-rock band Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers, who were managed by Jake Riviera, had agreed to be drummer, although Thomas was then living in California and needed to be brought back to England. Steve Goulding and Andrew Bodnar, rhythm section of the Rumour, also participated in these audition sessions, so that Costello could test how the musicians auditioning played as part of a band. Chosen were bassist Bruce Thomas (no relation to Pete), who was 28 years old and had ten-years' experience in professional bands, the most successful being the Sutherland Brothers and Quiver; and keyboardist Steve Nieve (then Steve Nason), a 19-year-old student at the Royal College of Music who had formal musical training but no experience in any kind of pop group. The band, soon named The Attractions, would be Costello's touring and recording band for the next seven years.
Costello used the time with Goulding and Bodnar to arrange and rehearse "Watching the Detectives". He recorded the song with them at Pathway a few days later. Costello had written the song a few weeks earlier, partly inspired by the Clash's newly released first album. When Costello first listened to that album, he did not like it and did not know what to make of it. Costello was by then living, with his wife and child, in a block of flats reserved for low-income families in otherwise more affluent Whitton in west London. Struggling to make sense of what he would later call the "flimsy but furious sound" of the Clash album, he listened to it all night, at home, on headphones. In the morning, he wrote "Watching the Detectives". Some of the musical ideas, which Steve Nieve fleshed out when he overdubbed his piano and organ parts a few weeks later, were inspired by film scores Bernard Herrmann had done for Alfred Hitchcock. Costello later called the recording of "Watching the Detectives" his first experience of "making records as opposed to recording some songs in a room." The song would be released as a non-album single in the UK and as a track on the US version of My Aim Is True.
Through a combination of effective publicity stunts, like Costello busking in front of the London hotel hosting the CBS Records business convention, and genuine enthusiasm for Costello's music among music journalists, My Aim Is True received extensive, favorable coverage in the UK music press. The album reached number 14 on the UK album charts, its highest position, within a few weeks of its release. When "Watching the Detectives" was released in mid-October, it became the first of Costello's single to chart in any country, reaching number 15 in the UK singles chart. This was the first of an unbroken streak of eight Costello singles to reach the UK top 30. When Costello began touring the US in mid-November, he received prominent coverage in the US press, even though he played venues holding fewer than a thousand people. By this time, Costello had signed to Columbia Records, who released My Aim Is True in the US in early November. The album gradually climbed to number 32 on the US album charts and was named among the best albums of the year by US music critics. In mid-December, Costello and the Attractions appeared on Saturday Night Live, where they angered the show's producer by unexpectedly playing the then-unrecorded song "Radio Radio" during the live broadcast. (Also see 1977 Saturday Night Live appearance.)
By late 1977, Costello had moved from Stiff Records to Radar Records, a new label founded by an associate of Jake Riviera. Riviera had split from Dave Robinson and was now Costello's sole manager. For the next year and a half, Costello's records were released on Radar in Britain.
Costello recorded This Year's Model, his second album and his first with the Attractions, during short breaks from touring, from November 1977 through January 1978. It was recorded at Eden Studios, in west London, in a total of eleven days. Nick Lowe produced the album. Costello has said inspirations for the sound of the album included 1960s beat groups like The Who, the Kinks, and the Small Faces, as well as contemporary acts like Talking Heads. The biggest influence on the sound of This Year's Model was the Rolling Stones' 1966 album Aftermath, a favorite of Attractions drummer Pete Thomas. Costello was not much of a fan of the Rolling Stones and had never heard the album until a few months before making This Year's Model, but had listened to Aftermath many times while traveling with the Attractions. Costello has called This Year's Model "a ghost version of Aftermath" and has said that he wrote "This Year's Girl" as an answer song to the Rolling Stones' "Stupid Girl". Costello has said he wanted This Year's Model to sound "both spiky and sour" and used delayed and detuned guitars, organs, and drums to achieve this effect. He also overdubbed vocal harmony with his own lead vocals in a way that, he has said, "created a sirenlike effect that cut through almost anything that we put around it."
Most of the songs on This Year's Model were written while Costello was still working a full-time office job, before his first album was released. These songs included "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea", the album's first single and biggest hit. Costello has said that Bruce Thomas and Pete Thomas gave the song syncopated rhythm that he had not imagined when he wrote it. The single was released in early March 1978, a few weeks before the album, and reached number 16 on the British singles chart. Another British hit single from the album, "Pump It Up", which reached number 24, was written later, while Costello on tour with other Stiff Records acts, in reaction to what he later called his "first exposure to idiotic rock and roll decadence." The album entered the British charts at number 4, its highest position. The US version of the album was released without "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea" and "Night Rally", a song Costello had written in response to the rise of the National Front, a far-right and fascist political party in Britain. The US version included "Radio Radio", which was not on the UK version. The album reached number 30 in the US albums charts but spent fewer weeks on the chart than My Aim Is True. "Radio Radio" was released as a non-album single in the UK in October 1978, where it reached number 29 on the singles charts.
This Year's Model was highly praised by music journalists in Britain and the US. In their review of the album, Melody Maker called it an "achievement so comprehensive, so inspired, that it exhausts superlatives." The NME review read similarly, saying the album was "so ridiculously good that one's immediate inclinations are to clamber effusively over the top, superlative peaking superlative." The Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics' poll voted it the best album of 1978. Rolling Stone named it among the best five albums of 1978.
For the seven months following the completion of This Year's Model, Costello and the Attractions continued touring Britain, Europe, and North America, playing larger venues and debuting new songs that Costello was writing for his next album.
Costello and the Attractions recorded Armed Forces in August and September 1978, in six weeks of studio time, at Eden Studios. It was produced by Nick Lowe like Costello's previous albums, but by now Costello was in control of the recording process. Like This Year's Model, the album's musical influences came from the music Costello and the Attractions listened to while traveling on tour. The primary influences for Armed Forces were the David Bowie albums Station to Station, Low, and "Heroes"; the Iggy Pop albums The Idiot and Lust for Life; the ABBA album Arrival and several of the group's greatest hits compilations; Cheap Trick; the Kraftwerk's album Autobahn and The Man-Machine; as well as the late-period Beatles albums Yellow Submarine and Abbey Road. Costello has said that Armed Forces was his first album of songs he'd written with an awareness of having an audience. The lyrics on Armed Forces reflected experiences he'd had on the road and things he'd seen, including building signage and advertisements, particularly in the US, as well his continued concern over the rise of far-right political groups in the UK. The album was originally to be called Emotional Fascism. According to Costello, the songs on the album "looked out at the threat in the world but also to the enemy within." Costello has said that, by this time, he felt the attention success had brought him was making him an "unpleasant character" and that he was "looking to discourage admiration and flirting with a sort of controlled fall from grace."
Just before completing the album in late September, Costello and the Attractions played to an audience of 150,000 in Brockwell Park, in south London, as part of the second Rock Against Racism music festival. A few weeks later, they began six months of touring that included, for the first time, Japan and Australia, as well as the UK, Europe, Canada, and the US. Around this time, Linda Ronstadt released her Living in the USA album, which contained her version of Costello's song "Alison".  Ronstadt's album sold more than two million copies, earning Costello lucrative songwriter's royalties. 
The first song released from the Armed Forces sessions was "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding", a song written by Nick Lowe, which was released in November 1978 as the B-side of a Lowe single. Lowe had released his version of the song on a 1974 Brinsley Schwarz album, but it had attracted little notice. Costello and Lowe have both said that Lowe wrote the song as a gentle parody 1960s peace anthems, but Costello and the Attractions played it without irony. Although it was not a hit, it is among the songs Costello is best known for. When Armed Forces was released in early January 1979, the song appeared on the US version, but not on the UK version.
Armed Forces debuted at number 2 on the UK album chart, its highest position, and spent 28 weeks on the chart. It sold 300,000 copies (BPI certified Platinum) in the UK by June 1979. In the US, Armed Forces sold 500,000 copies (RIAA certified Gold) before the end of February. The albums spent 25 weeks on the US album chart, peaking at number 10 in mid-March.
The British music press praised the album. NME said Costello has outstripped his contemporaries and "the only comparisons worth making are to the Beatles and Bowie." Melody Maker praised Costello's improved vocal tone and phrasing. It also singled out Steve Nieve's favorably, saying "Nieve's keyboards have a range and bite unique in contemporary rock." Armed Forces was critically well received in the US as well. The Village Voice wrote that the album contained a "grander, more heroic sound" and that "Costello offsets his new epic style with arrangements that are as witty and sly as his lyrics." The Washington Post praised Costello's "agile and effective" singing voice and said the album's lyric showed him to be "a master — a maniac — of the word game, tossing puns, double entendres and inverted clichés like confetti." Rolling Stone wrote that the songs on Armed Forces "barrel right by, leaving an impression of jubilant and spiteful energies at war with each other."
Costello's best-selling single, "Oliver's Army", with Costello's version the Rodgers and Hart standard "My Funny Valentine" on the B-side, was released in Britain in February. Costello has said he wrote the song after his first visit to Northern Ireland and was inspired by seeing young British soldiers on the streets of Belfast as a part of the Troubles. The song was almost relegated to a B-side until late in the production process, when Nieve added a piano part inspired by ABBA's 1976 international hit "Dancing Queen". "Oliver's Army" reached number 2, where it spent three weeks, on the British singles chart. It sold more than 400,000 copies in Britain. It was also his biggest hit single in the Republic of Ireland, reaching number 4 on the Irish singles chart.
The concert tour promoting Armed Forces was marked by bad publicity. Costello and the Attractions played some shows that audiences considered too brief and refused to return for encores. Audiences in Sydney, Australia, and Berkley, California, responded by vandalizing the concert venues. At a concert in St. Louis, Missouri, Costello disparaged a radio station described as an "unofficial sponsor" of the concert and praised a rival station. After a concert in Columbus, Ohio, on March 15, Costello got into a drunken argument at a hotel bar with members of the Stephen Stills band and entourage. The argument culminated in Costello disparaging James Brown and Ray Charles with racially charged insults, in comments he would later call "the exact opposite of my true feelings". When Costello's comments were reported in the press a few weeks later, the resultant bad publicity was sufficiently severe and widespread to be widely regarded, including by Costello himself, as the reason Costello never achieved the top-level commercial success in the US that had been predicted for him. (Also see 1979 Columbus, Ohio, incident.)
In early May, "Accidents Will Happen" was released, the second single from Armed Forces and the only one released in the US. According to Costello, the song was written in response to his own marital infidelities. Musically, Costello tried to model the song on the Burt Bacharach and Hal David song "Anyone Who Had a Heart". The song reached number 28 on the British singles chart. In the US, it reached number 101, missing the Billboard Hot 100 but charting higher than any previous Costello single.
In June, Costello had a hit as a songwriter when Dave Edmunds released his recording of "Girls Talk", a song Costello had written but not yet recorded. Edmunds version reached number 4 on the British singles chart and number 65 on Billboard Hot 100.
Costello's 1980 Get Happy!! album featured a sound based on vintage American soul music. Some songs marked a distinct change in mood from the angry, frustrated tone of his first three albums to a more upbeat, happy manner. The single, "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down", was a rendition of an Sam and Dave song. Lyrically, the songs are full of Costello's signature wordplay. His only 1980 appearance in North America was at the Heatwave festival in August near Toronto.
In January 1981, Costello released Trust amidst growing tensions within the Attractions. 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 UK Singles Chart; 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 chart. Costello also co-produced Squeeze's 1981 album East Side Story (with Roger Béchirian) and performed backing vocals on the group's hit "Tempted".
October saw the release of Almost Blue, an album of country music cover songs written by 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 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 a radical reaction in narrow minded listeners". Almost Blue did spawn a surprise UK hit single with a version of George Jones' "Good Year for the Roses" (written by Jerry Chesnut), which reached No. 6. Costello had long been an avid country music fan and has cited George Jones as his favorite country singer. He had appeared on Jones' duet album My Very Special Guests, contributing "Stranger in the House", which they later performed together on a 1981 HBO special dedicated to Jones.
Imperial Bedroom (1982) featured lavish production by Geoff Emerick, famed for engineering several Beatles records. It remains one of his most critically acclaimed records, but again it failed to produce any hit singles—"You Little Fool" and the critically acclaimed "Man Out of Time" both failed to reach the Top 40 in the UK. Costello collaborated with Chris Difford, also of Squeeze, to write the song "Boy With a Problem". Costello has said he disliked the marketing pitch for the album. Imperial Bedroom also featured Costello's song "Almost Blue", inspired by the music of jazz singer and trumpeter Chet Baker. Baker later recorded his own version of the song.
In 1983, he released Punch the Clock, featuring female backing vocal duo (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 Baker. Prior to the release of Costello's own version, a version of the song was a minor UK hit for former Soft Machine founder 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 Charles and Princess Diana 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.
Tensions within the band – notably between Costello and bassist Bruce Thomas – were beginning to tell, and Costello announced his retirement and the break-up of the group shortly before they were to record Goodbye Cruel World (1984). Costello later expressed disappointment with the final album's production, describing it as "probably the worst record that I could have made of a decent bunch of songs.". 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. Daryl Hall provided backing vocals on the song "The Only Flame in Town" from the album Goodbye Cruel World.
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 English folk song", and the audience was invited to sing the chorus. In the same year Costello teamed up with friend T-Bone Burnett for the single "The People's Limousine" under the moniker of The Coward Brothers. That year, Costello also produced Rum Sodomy & the Lash for the Irish punk/folk band the Pogues and he sang with Annie Lennox on the song "Adrian" from the Eurythmics record Be Yourself Tonight.
Growing antipathy between Costello and Bruce Thomas contributed to the Attractions' first split in 1986 when 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. It was billed as performed by "The Costello Show featuring the Attractions and Confederates" in the UK and Europe and "The Costello Show featuring Elvis Costello" in North America. 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, one night with the Attractions, and one night solo acoustic. In May 1986, he 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, Costello returned to the studio with the Attractions and recorded Blood & 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 & 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 & Chocolate. (The pseudonym had previously been used in 1982, when the B-side single "Imperial Bedroom" was credited to Napoleon Dynamite & the Royal Guard; whether the title of the 2004 film Napoleon Dynamite was inspired by Costello is disputed). After the tour for Blood & Chocolate, Costello split from the Attractions, due mostly to tensions between Costello and Bruce Thomas. Costello continued to work with another Attraction, Pete Thomas, as a session musician for future releases.
Costello's recording contract with Columbia Records ended after Blood & Chocolate. In 1987, he released a compilation album, Out of Our Idiot, on his UK label, Demon Records consisting of B-sides, side projects, and unreleased songs from recording sessions from 1980 to 1987. He signed a new contract with Warner Bros. and in early 1989 released Spike, which spawned his biggest single in the U.S., the Top 20 hit (it reached number 19) "Veronica", one of several songs Costello co-wrote with Paul McCartney. At the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards on 6 September in Los Angeles, "Veronica" won the MTV Award for Best Male Video.
Costello and Paul McCartney wrote these songs together in a short period of time, that were released over a period of years:
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. In 1988, Costello co-wrote "The Other End (Of the Telescope)" with Aimee Mann; this song appears on the Til Tuesday album Everything's Different Now.
In 1991, Costello released Mighty Like a Rose, which featured the single "The Other Side of Summer". He also co-composed and co-produced, 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, he 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, he 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, and also his final album with the Attractions.
In 1994, he sang "They Can't Take That Away from Me" with Tony Bennett for MTV Unplugged, appearing on the album released from the broadcast.
In the spring of 1996, Costello played a series of intimate club dates, backed only by Steve Nieve on the piano, in support of All This Useless Beauty. An ensuing mid-year tour with the Attractions proved to be the death knell, 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 1 September 1996, before wrapping up their tour in Japan. Costello continued to work frequently with Attractions Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas; eventually, both became members of Costello's new back-up band, The Imposters.
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 had 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 "God Give Me Strength" for the movie Grace of My Heart. This led the pair to write and record the critically acclaimed album Painted From Memory, released under his new contract in 1998, on the Mercury Records label, featuring songs that were largely inspired by the dissolution of his marriage to Cait O'Riordan. Costello and Bacharach performed several concerts with full orchestral backing, and also recorded an updated version of Bacharach's "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 of The Chieftains on "The Long Journey Home" on the soundtrack of the PBS/Disney The Irish in America: Long Journey Home miniseries. The soundtrack won a Grammy Award in 1999.
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. Costello's version of the song reached number 19 on the UK singles chart. For the 25th anniversary of Saturday Night Live, Costello was invited to the programme, 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".
From 2001 to 2005, Costello re-issued his back catalogue in the U.S., from My Aim Is True (1977) to All This Useless Beauty (1996), on double-disc collections on the Rhino Records label. These releases, which each contained second discs of bonus material, ultimately fell out of print by 2007 after Universal Music acquired the rights to Costello's catalogue. Universal subsequently released new deluxe editions of My Aim Is True and This Year's Model with new bonus material of full-length concerts from the time of each album's release. These deluxe editions also fell out of print and Universal has reverted to re-releasing Costello's pre-1987 albums in their original context without bonus material.
In 2000, Costello wrote lyrics to "Green Song", a solo cello piece by Svante Henryson; this song appears on the Anne Sofie von Otter album For the Stars.
In 2000, Costello appeared at the Town Hall, 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 artist-in-residence at UCLA and wrote the music for a new ballet. He produced and appeared on an album of pop songs for the classical singer Anne Sofie von Otter. He released the album When I Was Cruel in 2002 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, Steven Van Zandt and Dave Grohl, performed a version of the Clash's "London Calling" at the 45th Grammy Awards ceremony, in honour of Clash frontman Joe Strummer, who had died the previous December. In March, Elvis Costello & the Attractions were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He announced his engagement in May to Canadian jazz singer and pianist Diana Krall, whom he had seen in concert and then met backstage at the Sydney Opera House in Australia. That September, he released North, an album of piano-based ballads concerning the breakdown of his former marriage, and his falling in love with Krall.
The song "Scarlet Tide" (co-written by Costello and T-Bone Burnett and used in the film Cold Mountain) was nominated for a 2004 Academy Award; he performed it at the awards ceremony with Alison Krauss, who 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. In September 2004, Costello released the album The Delivery Man, recorded in Oxford, Mississippi, on Lost Highway Records, and it was hailed as one of his best.
A CD recording of a collaboration with Marian McPartland on her show Piano Jazz was released in 2005. It featured Costello singing six jazz standards and two of his own songs, accompanied by McPartland on piano. In November, 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 the following year in May.
A 2005 tour included a gig at Glastonbury that Costello considered so dreadful that he said "I don't care if I ever play England again. That gig made up my mind I wouldn't come back. I don't get along with it. We lost touch. It's 25 years since I lived there. I don't dig it, they don't dig me....British music fans don't have the same attitude to age as they do in America, where young people come to check out, say Willie Nelson. They feel some connection with him and find a role for that music in their lives".
In 2005, Costello performed with Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong. They played both Costello and Green Day songs together, including "Alison", "No Action", "Basket Case" and "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)". In late 2005 Costello performed with Allen Toussaint in New York City at some Hurricane Katrina Relief Concerts and produced the studio album The River in Reverse. Also, Costello had a collaborative history with Toussaint, beginning with a couple of scattered album tracks in the 1980s, and skipping ahead to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina with the production of The River in Reverse.
After Hurricane Katrina, Costello and Allen Toussaint performed in New York at a series of Hurricane Relief benefit concerts in September 2006. By week's end, Costello had written "The River in Reverse", performed it with Toussaint and discussed plans for an album with Verve Records executives. The result was Costello's The River in Reverse which is a collaboration with New Orleanian, Allen Toussaint and recorded with The Crescent City Horns. Costello turned to older songs to reflect the national malaise at the time.
In a studio recording of Nieve's opera Welcome to the Voice (2006, Deutsche Grammophon), Costello interpreted the character of Chief of Police, with Barbara Bonney, Robert Wyatt, Sting and Amanda Roocroft, and the album reached No. 2 in the Billboard classical charts. Costello later reprised the piece on the stage of the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris in 2008, with Sting, Joe Sumner (Sting's son) and Sylvia Schwartz. 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. The soundtrack for House, M.D. featured Costello's interpretation of "Beautiful" by Christina Aguilera, with the song appearing in the second episode of Season 2.
Costello was 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, it remained unfinished. In a performance in 2007 directed by Kasper Bech Holten at the Opera's studio theatre (Takelloftet), finished songs were interspersed with pieces from Costello's 1993 collaborative classical album The Juliet Letters, featuring Danish soprano Sine Bundgaard as Lind. The 2009 album Secret, Profane & Sugarcane includes material from Secret Songs.
On 22 April 2008, Momofuku was released on Lost Highway Records, the same imprint that released The Delivery Man, his previous studio album. The album was, at least initially, released exclusively on vinyl (with a code to download a digital copy). That summer, in support of the album, Costello toured with the Police on the final leg of their 2007/2008 Reunion Tour. Costello played a homecoming gig at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall on 25 June 2006. and, that month, gave his first performance in Poland, appearing with The Imposters for the closing gig of the Malta theatre festival in Poznań. In 2006, Costello performed with Fiona Apple in the Decades Rock TV special. Apple performed two Costello songs and Costello performed two Apple songs.
In 2007, Costello collaborated with the Argentinean/Uruguayan 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". In November 2009, Costello appeared live with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at Madison Square Garden and performed the Jackie Wilson song "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher".
In July 2008, Costello (as Declan McManus) appeared in his home city Liverpool where he was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Music from the University of Liverpool. Costello was featured on Fall Out Boy's 2008 album Folie à 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 Colbert. The special was first aired on 23 November 2008. Costello released Secret, Profane & Sugarcane, a collaboration with T-Bone Burnett, on 9 June 2009. 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.
In May 2009, Costello made a surprise cameo appearance on-stage at the Beacon Theatre in New York as part of Spinal Tap's Unwigged and Unplugged show, singing their fictional 1965 hit "Gimme Some Money" with the band backing him up.
In December 2009, Costello portrayed The Shape on the album Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, a collaboration between rock singer John Mellencamp and novelist Stephen King. In February 2010, Costello appeared in the live cinecast of Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion, singing some of his own songs, and participating in many of the show's other musical and acting performances. On 30 April 2011, he played the song "Pump it Up" with the Odds before the start of a Vancouver Canucks playoff game at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Costello released the album National Ransom in autumn of 2010.
On 26 February 2012, Costello paid tribute to music legends Chuck Berry and Leonard Cohen, who were the recipients of the first annual PEN Awards for songwriting excellence, at the JFK Presidential Library, in Boston, Massachusetts, on 26 February 2012. In September 2013 Costello released Wise Up Ghost, a collaboration with the Roots. On 25 October 2013, Costello was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from the New England Conservatory.
In 2012, he played ukulele, mandolin, guitar and added backing vocals on Diana Krall's 11th studio album, Glad Rag Doll (as "Howard Coward"). On 10 September 2013, he played during the Apple September 2013 Event after the introduction of iTunes Radio, iPhone 5C and 5S at Town Hall, at the Apple campus.
On Gov't Mule's album Shout!, released in September 2013, he sang on the track "Funny Little Tragedy". In March 2014, Costello recorded Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes with Rhiannon Giddens, Taylor Goldsmith, Jim James and Marcus Mumford. During the 2016 Detour, he performs with Larkin Poe.
On 12 October 2018, Costello released his first studio album in five years, Look Now, recorded with The Imposters. The album features three songs co-written with Burt Bacharach, and one song co-written with Carole King. Costello wrote and produced a large majority of the album himself, with help from producer Sebastian Krys. On 26 January 2020, Look Now won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album at the 62nd Grammy Awards.
Costello was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2019 Birthday Honours for services to music.
In 2021, Costello released Spanish Model, a remix of 1978's This Year's Model with Spanish lyrics. Singers from Spanish-speaking parts of the world, with help from Spanish-speaking songwriters, translated all 16 songs of the album into Spanish, with the new vocals set to the original recording and instrumentation by the Attractions. The singers included Juanes, Jorge Drexler, Luis Fonsi, Francisca Valenzuela, Fuego, Draco Rosa, and Fito Páez.
In 2021, Costello appeared at the Royal Variety Performance playing two songs with the Imposters. He was introduced by the MC Alan Carr as a man who has achieved everything except appearing at the Royal Variety Performance. Between songs Costello informed the audience that he was the second McManus to appear. His father Ross appeared in the 1960s singing "If I Had a Hammer".
In January 2022, he performed on The Graham Norton Show. That same month he released the LP The Boy Named If, recorded with the Imposters. The Resurrection of Rust by a reformed Rusty followed later that year.
In April 2023, Costello collaborated with Slovenian band Joker Out on their single, "New Wave". The compilation The Songs of Bacharach & Costello was also released at this time. In August 2023, he made a three-dates mini-tour together with Italian singer-songwriter Carmen Consoli, a project the two had originally planned in 2012 but that at the time had been shelved due to Consoli's pregnancy.
Since the early 1980s, Costello has written about music for publications including Hot Press, Details, Mojo,[l] Musician, NME, Rolling Stone, and Vanity Fair. He has also written several articles about football (soccer), as an avid and knowledgeable fan, for the Times of London. A Vanity Fair editor who worked with Costello said, "His copy was clean, elegant, and ready to run."
Costello has written liner notes for releases by artists including Gram Parsons, the Fairfield Four, Dusty Springfield, Booker T. & the M.G.'s, Burt Bacharach, and Bill Frisell. He has written forewords to books by Geoff Emerick, Loretta Lynn, and Wanda Jackson.
In 1993, Costello began reissuing his catalog of albums from 1977 through 1986, on Rykodisc, and wrote detailed liner notes for each reissued album. Reviewers praised these liner notes as frank and charming. In 2001, he began a second round of reissues, this time of his catalog from 1977 through 1996, on Rhino Entertainment, and wrote even more detailed liner notes. Goldmine said the Rhino liner notes brought "a wealth of insight into the songs and the creative process itself" and that "liner notes simply don't get any better than this." Pitchfork called them "truly fascinating." Several journalists noted that, at a total of 60,000 words, the Rhino liner notes amounted to a serialized memoir. In 2012, Slate magazine published a book review of the Rhino liner notes in which it called them "one of the best rock-star memoirs of the last decade."
In 2015, Costello published Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, a memoir that had little overlap with his reissue liner notes. In this book, Costello recounted his life in music and traced parallels between his own experiences and those of his father and grandfather, both of whom were musicians. The book received enthusiastic positive reviews from prominent publications. The New York Times said it contained "some of the best writing – funny, strange, spiteful, anguished – we've ever had from an important musician." The Washington Post praised it as having more in common with Frank McCourt's memoir Angela's Ashes than Mötley Crüe's The Dirt and said it was more enjoyable than Keith Richards' Life and Bob Dylan's Chronicles: Volume One. However, some positive reviews noted that the quality of the writing in the book was uneven and that the book might have been improved by being shorter, more focused thematically, or both. The few negative reviews the book received criticized its nonlinear structure, its relative lack of emphasis on Costello's pop-star period, and its lack of details about his romantic relationships. The book reached number 7 on the New York Times Best Seller list. It was shortlisted for the Penderyn Music Book Prize, a British award for excellence in writing about music. The audiobook, narrated by Costello, was nominated for a Grammy Award.
Costello has played himself or fictional characters very similar to himself in movies and television shows including Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999), The Simpsons (2002), Frasier (2003), Two and a Half Men (2004), 30 Rock (2009), Treme (2010), and Sesame Street (2011). He has also played more character-based roles, such as the title character's eccentric brother in screenwriter Alan Bleasdale's television series Scully (1984), an inept magician in Bleasdale's movie No Surrender (1985), a teacher at an impoverished school in the movie Prison Song (2001), and the title character's father in the children's animated series The Adventures of Pete the Cat (2017). In 1995, he appeared as a guest pundit on the British football commentary television show Football Italia.
In 2003, Costello substituted for an ailing David Letterman as the host of Late Show with David Letterman'', making him the only musical guest of the show to have served as guest host. Costello's performance on that show led to interest in developing a music-oriented talk show with him as the host, which came to fruition a few years later.
In 2008, Costello began production on Spectacle: Elvis Costello with..., a show on which he interviewed and performed songs with other musicians. Guests included Tony Bennett, Bruce Springsteen, Smokey Robinson, Bono and the Edge of U2, opera singer Renée Fleming, and former president (and accomplished saxophonist) Bill Clinton. The series ran for 20 episodes over two seasons from 2008 through 2010. It aired on Sundance Channel in the US, CTV in Canada, and Channel 4 in the UK. The show received favorable reviews in the US, with reviewers praising Costello's ability to get his guests to reveal insights into their creative processes and calling him a "deeply knowledgeable, erudite and witty host." In Canada, the show won a Gemini Award for Best Talk Series. In Britain, however, it was aired in an overnight time slot and largely ignored.
Costello revealed little about his background and gave few interviews in the first five years of his career, so the few widely published interviews he gave played a large role in forming his early public image. In a widely quoted August 1977 interview with Nick Kent, Costello said the only things that mattered to him were "revenge and guilt". This phrase would be associated with him throughout his career.
On December 17, 1977, Costello and the Attractions appeared on Saturday Night Live as last-minute replacements for the Sex Pistols. One of the songs Costello was scheduled to perform, at the request of his record company, was "Less Than Zero", a song Costello wrote in reaction to seeing British fascist Oswald Mosley being treated with what Costello felt was undeserved deference during an interview on British television. Costello did not want to play the song because he thought the subject was too obscure for American audiences and the song was too low-key to make a strong impression. Instead, he wanted to play the then-unrecorded song, "Radio Radio". During the live broadcast, Costello played a few bars of "Less Than Zero" and then told the Attractions to play "Radio Radio", which they played in its entirety. This angered the show's producer, Lorne Michaels, because Michaels was not prepared for the change and because "Radio Radio" had not been cleared by NBC's censors.[m] When asked about the incident on NBC's Tomorrow Show three years later, Costello said he was told he would never appear on American television again. He appeared as musical guest on Saturday Night Live again in 1989 and 1991. Although the incident provoked little comment at the time, by 1999 it had become so well-known that Saturday Night Live invited Costello to perform a parody of it with the Beastie Boys on the show 25th-anniversary special.
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 at a Holiday Inn bar in Columbus, Ohio, the singer referred to James Brown as a "jive-ass nigger," then upped the ante by pronouncing Ray Charles a "blind, ignorant nigger." Costello addressed the controversy at a New York City press conference a few days later, stating that he had been drunk and had been attempting to be obnoxious 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, although Charles himself had forgiven Costello, saying "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. In an interview with Questlove (drummer for the Roots, with whom Costello collaborated in 2013), he stated: "It's upsetting because I can't explain how I even got to think you could be funny about something like that," and further elaborating with, "I'm sorry. You know? It's about time I said it out loud."
In early 2010, Costello was invited to play his first concert in Israel, on June 30 of that year, at the Caesarea Amphitheater north of Tel Aviv. Due to high demand for tickets, a second concert was added for July 1. At first, Costello seemed resolved to resist political pressure on artists to refrain from performing in Israel due to the country's controversial treatment of Palestinians. In early May, Costello told Israel's largest daily newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, ''As soon as you play you are going to get criticized." Costello told the newspaper he did not agree with organizations that "think that they need to boycott Israel to pressure it," saying he thought "culture is the only way in which humanity shares experiences, and that is why I need to come and perform here." Two weeks later, he announced on his website that he had canceled the concerts because of what he called the "grave and complex" sensitivities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, calling his decision a "matter and instinct and conscience." He told The Jerusalem Post his decision was part of a "30-year conundrum" that he had been dealing with regarding playing in Israel. He also told the Post that he and not been threatened or coerced, but that he "woke up one day and realized [he] couldn't go on with the shows." The promoters of the concerts expressed shock. Israeli Culture Minister Limor Livnat, a member of right-wing Likud Party, denounced the decision. The organization Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel praised it.
Costello has no full siblings. He has four half-brothers from his father's second marriage, all of whom are musicians.
In November 1974, Costello married Mary Burgoyne. Costello has said he had hoped to marry Burgoyne since he was 14 years old and they were at school together in London, although they did not begin dating until four years later, when Costello moved back to London after living with his mother in Liverpool for two and a half years. They have one child, Matthew MacManus, born in early 1975. Costello's rapid rise to fame put a strain on their marriage almost immediately. The couple separated in early 1978 but reconciled the following year. They separated permanently in mid-1984 and finalized their divorce in 1988. Costello has said that his inability to remain faithful in his first marriage, and the emotional turmoil it caused him, has been a major inspiration for his songs.
In early 1985, Costello began a romantic relationship with Cait O'Riordan, then bass player for the Pogues, whom he met in October 1984 while their respective bands were on tour together. In May 1986, they exchanged wedding rings and thereafter presented themselves, and were regarded, as husband and wife. They were never legally married. In September 2002, they ended their relationship. They have no children. Since their split, both Costello and O'Riordan have described their union as an unhappy one.
In early 2003, Costello became engaged to marry singer and pianist Diana Krall, whom he met at the Grammy Awards ceremony the year before. They married in December 2003. The couple has twin sons, born in December 2006.
In July 2018, Costello announced that he had been successfully treated for a cancerous growth six weeks earlier, but needed to cancel the remaining six dates of his European tour to continue recovering from the surgery. Costello said he had underestimated how much time he would need to recover. He resumed performing in September 2018.
In 2017, Costello helped establish the Musician Treatment Foundation as a member of its board of directors. The foundation, which is based in Austin, Texas, helps under- and uninsured professional musicians receive free orthopedic care for upper limb injuries. He performed concerts for the foundation's benefit in October 2017 and December 2022.
Costello sits on the Advisory Board of the board of directors of the Jazz Foundation of America, which provides emergency financial support and other services to working and retired musicians.
A pescatarian since the early 1980s, Costello says he was moved to reject meat after seeing the documentary The Animals Film (1982), which also helped inspire his song "Pills and Soap" from 1983's Punch the Clock. In January 2013, Costello teamed up with Paul McCartney to create an advertisement campaign backing vegetarian foods produced by the Linda McCartney Foods brand.
Costello is considered by experts in pop and rock music to be one of the best songwriters of his generation. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic summarized Costello as, "The most evocative, innovative, and gifted songwriter since Bob Dylan, with songs that offer highly personal takes on love and politics." In 2015, Rolling Stone ranked him 24th their list of the greatest songwriters of all time, calling him a songwriter of "almost unparalleled versatility." When he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2016, the induction announcement said the impact of Costello's songs "far out-distanced their commercial performance."
Costello's debut album, My Aim Is True, is widely considered one of the best debut albums in the history of rock music. On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the album's release, Billboard called it "one of the most influential albums in the history of rock and punk" and "one of the strongest debut albums in history". Although Costello never applied the term "new wave" to his music, Costello's early records helped defined the new wave music genre. AllMusic said, "Costello's early albums changed the face of pop music by harnessing punk's energy to a leaner, more incisive aesthetic that included pop hooks, virtually inventing new wave in the process." In their 2013 list of greatest albums of all time, the NME described This Year's Model as "defining the British new wave." In their 2009 list of greatest albums of all time, Rolling Stone said "the keyboard-driven sound of [Costello's 1979 song] 'Accidents Will Happen' helped define New Wave."
Musical artists with little connection to new wave have also claimed influence by Costello. Bruce Springsteen has said that comments Costello made in the press criticizing Springsteen's early songs as overly romantic led Springsteen to write darker songs for his 1978 album Darkness on the Edge of Town. Thom Yorke called Blood & Chocolate "the album that made me change the way I thought about recording and writing music [and] lyrics" and named it as an important influence on his band Radiohead's album OK Computer. Liz Phair, in her appreciation of Costello for Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, wrote: "I'd pay a great amount of money to audit a course taught by him." Suzanne Vega has called Costello one of the "melodic geniuses" whose music she listens to in order to "stretch my sense of melody."
Prominent artists in other fields have claimed influence or inspiration from Costello. Filmmaker and comedian Judd Apatow has called Costello "a gigantic inspiration to me" and has suggested that he and other comedians are "fanatical" about Costello's music because of the "spirit of standing up for what you believe in and the humor" in it. Satirist and television host Stephen Colbert has described Costello as "probably my favorite rock artist" and said he sees parallels between his own humor and Costello's "wry, sardonic" songs. Novelist Bret Easton Ellis titled his 1985 novel Less Than Zero after a Costello song and its 2010 sequel Imperial Bedrooms after a Costello album. Ellis has said Costello was once his "idol". Visual artist Peter Blake featured Costello prominently in his 2012 reworking of the artwork he created for the cover of the Beatles' 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Blake said he included people he admired and who had contributed to British culture since he created the original work.
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Main article: Elvis Costello discography