There he is, the image now iconic. The gangly Costello, pigeon-toed, Fender Jazzmaster in his hands, rolled up jeans with a suit coat and tie, horn-rimmed glasses both before and after they were chic. A checkerboard pattern behind his photo already declaring “Elvis Is King” nearly thirty years before he would declare that “every Elvis has his army.” It took some guts to change one’s name from Declan MacManus to Elvis Costello, but the debut album from the former busker proved to all that he deserved the name, the title, and the crown. Testament to that is Costello’s ensuing career, still going strong and enough albums to make everyone but Bob Dylan and the Stones jealous.
My Aim is True was famously recorded on days off, weekends and holidays throughout 1976 and 1977. All told, however, the total studio time only equaled about twenty-four hours. It would be another year until he would meet his near permanent backing band, the Attractions, and in the meantime he would record the album with the band Clover, who would later make up most of the News (that being the band with aging hipster Huey Lewis). The sessions would produce some of Costello’s best songs, proving him to be a lyricist with few, if any, equals. In fact, there are more examples of lyricists who use music as a crutch and fine musicians with no writing ability than there are true songwriters like Elvis Costello, those who can do both and well.
From the blisteringly quick and short “Welcome to the Working Week” to the classic rock and roll boogie of “Waiting for the End of the World,” My Aim is True disproved the rules and stigmas of debut albums, already showing a confidence and ability not often seen in newcomers. Equally influenced by the punk music of the time and the country tinged artists of the late sixties and early seventies, Costello presented a combination of the two, aggressive barroom blues with a twist, and that twist is what some what consider to be the birth of New Wave. The country element is more present in songs that became “extended play” tracks on the Rhino release and second disc tracks on the more recent double disc reissue, such as the Byrds title-wordplay “Radio Sweetheart” and the twangy “Stranger in the House,” but album tracks “Blame It On Cain” and “Mystery Dance” still show their roots.
Costello varies speeds and moods in his debut, going from the slow narration of the point of view of awkward love in “Alison” to the ironically titled aggression of “I’m Not Angry,” and everything in between. “Less Than Zero” became the first Costello song title to be stolen for a book’s title, followed later by “High Fidelity” from the Get Happy album. My Aim is True opened up many listeners’ eyes and ears to a singular writing talent, one with wit and style, as is evidence in the following lyrics from “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes” :
Oh, I said “I’m so happy, I could die.”
She said “Drop dead,” then left with another guy.
That’s what you get if you go chasing after vengeance.
Ever since you got me punctured this has been my sentence.
The original U.K. version on Stiff Records did not contain the closing song now on most versions, the reggae inspired “Watching the Detectives,” another track with particularly inspired lyrics. This particular song, along with “I’m Not Angry” and some of his harder edged songs may have been the result of what he happened to be listening to all through the recording of the album. “I spent a lot of time with just a big jar of instant coffee and the first Clash album, listening to it over and over,” said Costello. My Aim is True would be the start of our long romance with Elvis, and even now as he croons sometimes with jazz or classical accompaniment, depending on his moods, we still picture the young boy with the rolled up jeans, skinny tie, pigeon-toes and a vintage Fender Jazzmaster and feel all warm and gooey inside.