The Best of Elvis Costello: The First Ten Years
Rock And Roll Music

Elvis Costello And The Attractions

Let me tell you about 1977. If you were there, you may already know. If you weren't, then you may want to read this. It was a year of major changes for me. I was leaving behind nearly eight years at an alternative paper, The Bugle American in Milwaukee and hopping aboard a daily in Madison, Wisconsin. Going from what the Milwaukee urina- liked to call the "unreal press" to legit aboveboard journalism remained to be seen. But there was one constant other than my family, and that was a spindly guy with Buddy Holly glasses and the chutzpah to call himself Elvis. He added Costello to give it a biting edge or set him apart, and he wrote songs that no one was going to be able to forget.

At the end of 1977, Elvis and his band, the Attractions, hit America for the first time. They were accompanied by a PR powerhouse named Marilyn Laverty, whose job was to get "influential" critics from their homes to the shows and back again. Simple proposition. She picked you up at your house and took you to the show. Then, she brought you back again, while babbling for weeks on end about this skinny kid with a guitar and a killer band and songs to match them both.

“(The Angels Wanna Wear) My Red Shoes,” “(I Don't Want To Go) To Chelsea,” “Almost Blue,” “Radio, Radio,” and on and on — there are 22 songs each on the recently released The Best of Elvis Costello: The First Ten Years and Rock And Roll Music, with “(I Don't Want To Go) To Chelsea” reprised on both. Elvis really did not want to go to Chelsea and we American blokes didn't know a thing about that, but his blistering, unforgettable guitar solo here or the one on the demo version of “Welcome To The Working Week” told us all about it.

His demos had made the rounds and some of us had them all. Elvis, his guitar, his songs, his anger were all rolled into one aural statement that eventually got him arrested for standing in front of Columbia Records. This guy was out to make an impression and he had the Attractions — Bruce Thomas on bass, Pete Thomas on drums, and Steve Nieve on keyboards — to make it with. There was one other guy too — manager Jake Riviera. Jake was the Dinsdale of British Rock (see Monty Python). He'd nail your head to a table, legend had it. Later on, he would beat the living crap out of one of the female photographers I worked with and put her in the hospital. Naughty boy! The place was called the Electric Ballroom, a Dickensian dive out of, yes, Dickens. It was already famous, at least in America's Jerryland, as the site of Bruce Springsteen's 1975 "bomb scare" concert. The entire old theater/dive had been emptied out methodically by the police and the Boss after the bomb threat was phoned in and Bruce was the absolute last man out. He played a solo version of "Thunder Road" at the piano and 99 percent of the audience returned with ticket stubs at midnight to rock, literally, until a quarter to three. After that night, you never needed to see Springsteen again, though I did many times. Likewise, you never needed to see Costello again, but ditto; I did.

The songs for bothe collections were chosen by Costello himself from a vast catalog that boggles the imagination. Best of Elvis Costello: The First Ten Years opens with "(The Angels Want To Wear) My Red Shoes," and somehow when that segues into the stunning showstopper, “Alison,” EC and company are well on their way. After a side trip to a place they did not want to go, “Radio, Radio” hits, probably the single most electric song Costello has ever performed. Maybe more so after producer Lorne Michael's declaration that the singer would never work again when Costello and the Attractions switched gears and went live into the forbidden song they weren't supposed to play on Saturday Night Live. Who could diss the guy’s rebellious spirit in the face of network television? Certainly not me.

You also get “What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” and “Almost Blue,” a song written for Chet Baker and more recently covered by Diana Krall, Costello’s wife and mother of their twins. Maybe the intelligent will inherit the earth, after all.

I just came back from a blessedly brief visit to the mini store in the complex where I live and the lady at the counter was hungrily devouring the latest Tim LeHaye crap about the end of days. These people believe this garbage, so I need “Everyday I Write The Book,” “This Year's Girl,” and “Wednesday Week” more than ever. So I hustle back to 1977 and the Electric Ballroom where the man who was going to write "Shipbuilding" was stealing the audience for himself and his band, and taking them along for one of the best rides of their lives. Maybe you had to be there.

~ Gary Peterson

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