Elvis Costello (born Declan Patrick MacManus 25 August 1954) is an English musician and singer-songwriter, with Irish ancestry. Costello 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, before establishing his own unique voice in the 1980s. Steeped in wordplay, the vocabulary of Costello's lyrics is broader than that of most popular songs, and his music has drawn on dozens of genres. Music critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote, "Costello, the pop encyclopedia, can reinvent the past in his own image".
Costello and Canadian jazz singer and pianist Diana Krall were married on 6 December 2003 at Elton John's estate outside London. Their first children together, twin sons Dexter Henry Lorcan and Frank Harlan James, were born 6 December 2006 in New York City.
Costello moved with his Liverpool-born mother to Birkenhead in 1971. It was there that he formed his first band, a folk duo called Rusty. After completing secondary school at St. Francis Xavier's College Liverpool, 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.
To support himself, he worked a number of office jobs, most famously at the Elizabeth Arden cosmetics firm – 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, Liverpool. 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 noted independent label Stiff Records. His manager at Stiff, Jake Riviera, suggested a name change, using Elvis Presley's first name despite Costello having a small antipathy towards Presley, and Costello comes from his great grandmother's name to form Elvis Costello.
The same year, Costello recruited via auditions his own permanent 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 & The Rumour (whom he had used to audition for The Attractions).
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 of a London convention of CBS (Columbia 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 in the US a few months later.
In December 1977, Costello and The Attractions appeared on Saturday Night Live as a last minute fill-in for the Sex Pistols, but Costello ended up causing some controversy himself, and was banned from the program for over a decade. 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 the frenetic, raucous This Year's Model (1978). Some of the more popular tracks include the British hit "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea" and the subversively anthemic "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 US and Canada also saw the release of the much bootlegged promo-only "Live at the El Mocambo", which finally saw an official release as part of the "2½ Years" box set in 1993. It was during the ensuing United States tour that Elvis 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 some of Costello's most lovelorn songs. 1979 would arguably see the peak of Costello's commercial success with the release of 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.
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). The brevity of the songs (20 tracks in under 50 minutes) suited the band's new style (the Thomas' typically melodic rhythm section and Nieve's reasonable impersonation of Booker T. Jones) as well as the frantic and alcohol-fuelled conditions under which it was written and recorded. Lyrically, the songs are full of Costello's signature wordplay, to the point that he later felt he'd 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." The only 1980 appearance in North America was at the Heatwave festival in August near Toronto.
1981's Trust, despite its eclecticism ("Different Finger" had a distinct country feel) had a more pop sound than Get Happy!! Still, overall the album was clearly affected by the growing tensions within the band, particularly between Bruce and Pete Thomas. In the US, 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 4 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. Some avid fans dismissed the album because it was inconsistent with earlier recordings. It was not a country-rock album (a la The Byrds or Eagles), which might have been more palatable to his established audience and to reviewers, but rather an undiluted country album. It received mixed reviews, some of which accused Costello of growing soft. Perhaps in anticipation of the inevitable accusations of apostasy, 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's "Good Year For The Roses" (written by Jerry Chesnut), which reached #6.
Imperial Bedroom (1982) marked a much darker, almost baroque sound for Costello, 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, weak ads consisting only of the phrase "Masterpiece?". 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.
1983 saw another sidetrack with the pop-soul of 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", an oblique look at the political contradictions of the Falklands War: the controversial military build-up provided jobs for Britain's struggling shipyards. The song 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 and political activist Robert Wyatt.
Equally political was "Pills And Soap"—a UK hit for Costello himself under the pseudonym of "The Imposter"—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. (The electorate was seemingly unswayed.) Punch the Clock also generated an international hit in the single "Everyday I Write the Book", aided by a prophetic 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 forty hit single in the US. Also in the same year, Elvis 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 disbandment 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, and even many ardent Costello fans see Goodbye as his weakest album (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 Very 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, which they did.
In the same year Costello teamed up with good 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 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 US 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. The Attractions felt understandably insecure about the ease with which they could be dropped considering their boss had cut a new album largely without them, and was planning to undertake a major tour showcasing the King of America material with his new musical partners. To allay their fears, 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 problem of 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". It is on this album that Costello adopted the alias "Napoleon Dynamite", the name he later attributed to the character of the obnoxious 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, which does not have anything to do with Costello.) 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 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, this time 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 legendary Clash frontman Joe Strummer, who had died in December of the previous year. 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. September saw the release of North, an album of piano-based ballads concerning the breakdown of his former marriage, and his falling in love with singer 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 wife Diana 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, while being scorned by the popular music press.
While composing it, Costello deliberately avoided listening to the previous interpretations by Mendelssohn and Britten in order to ensure his own originality. A range of musical moods and styles are used to represent the different elements of the cast—satirical pomp for the courtiers, jazz for the faeries, and for Bottom a deliberately intrusive "brass band" motif. Performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, the recording was released on CD in September by Deutsche Grammophon. Costello released another album that same month: The Delivery Man, recorded in Oxford, Mississippi, and released on Lost Highway Records. Mainly blues, country, and folk, The Delivery Man received early acclaim as one of Costello's best albums, and continues Costello's personal quest to release an album on each of Universal's record labels.
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 Marian 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 29 May 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.
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 6 May 2008, Fender Musical Instruments releases the Elvis Costello Jazzmaster, an exact representation of his late-1960's heavily modified Fender Jazzmaster guitar he had used to record his first 1977 album, "My Aim Is True", honoring one of the most recognized Jazzmaster players in music history. Uniquely Costello-inspired features include a post-'68 neck design, a walnut stain finish and a tremolo with easier and greater travel, essential for that "Watching the Detectives" tone, or what Costello calls that "spy movie" sound. This signature release comes during the 50th anniversary of Fender's introduction of the Jazzmaster guitar, which first appeared in 1958.
On 22 April, a new Elvis Costello and the Imposters album, "Momofuku", will be released on Lost Highway Records, the same imprint that released his last major studio album, "The Delivery Man". The new album will, at least initially, be released exclusively on vinyl (with a code to download a digital copy of the album). This summer, in support of the album, Costello will tour with The Police on the final leg of their 2007/2008 Reunion Tour.
On 5 February 2008 it was announced Elvis would play a homecoming gig at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall on 25 June.
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 will interpret the role of Chief of Police in "Welcome to the Voice" on the stage of the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, with Sting, Joe Sumner of Fiction Plane, and Sylvia Schwartz.
Costello will be the host for a Sundance Channel series entitled Spectacle in which Costello will talk and perform with stars in various fields. It will air on Wednesdays, beginning 3 December 2008.
A contrite 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"). In a Rolling Stone interview with Greil Marcus, he recounts an incident when Bruce Thomas was introduced to Michael Jackson as Costello's bass player and Jackson said, "I don't dig that guy...".
Costello worked extensively in Britain's Rock Against Racism campaign both before and after this and also produced the debut album of The Specials whose multi-racial line-up was a very public statement about integration. This incident inspired his Get Happy!! song "Riot Act".
In 1987, Costello began a long-running songwriting collaboration with Paul McCartney. They wrote a number of songs together, including:
Costello talked about their collaboration:
When we sat down together he wouldn't have any sloppy bits in there (meaning the songs). 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.
Costello is also a big 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 and Wanda Jackson. He has also interviewed one of his own influences, Joni Mitchell.
The project featured the direct participation and guidance of Elvis Costello himself, who wrote new liner notes for each album consisting of his thoughts on the music as well as anecdotes and reminiscences from the time. They were released in batches of three, with the exception of King of America, The Juliet Letters, and The Very Best of Elvis Costello, the last being an unaltered re-release of the Polygram compilation of 1999, which arrived in the stores singularly. The reissue dates are as follows:
The Almost Blue and Kojak Variety bonus discs were particularly notable as each contained, essentially, an entire new album's worth of material also performed but either not issued, or released as B-sides on singles originally. The Kojak bonus disc also included ten songs of the 'George Jones' tape, cover songs Costello intended to induce the famed country singer to perform on a subsequent album. The Get Happy bonus disc was also of note, with 30 additional tracks, bringing the total for the two disc set to 50 songs.
Costello's early single on Stiff can be found on the Ultimate Stiff Records Discography site: http://www.buythehour.se/stiff/