Declan Patrick MacManus was born in St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington 60 years ago today. For more than four decades the Londoner we know as Elvis Costello has been strumming away at that guitar of his to untold numbers of fans around the world, a genuine global superstar grown from the humble beginnings of a small house in Twickenham and a Catholic school in Hounslow.
He may spend more of his time in America these days (and yes, we accept that we sort of share him with Liverpool), but we think he deserves a Londonist tribute all the same, and he is coming to these shores in late October to take part in BluesFest 2014 at the Royal Albert Hall.
Here are five fine moments Costello has given us since his fairly average pub rock of the mid-1970s morphed into a style that saw him inducted into the hallowed Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, and named one of Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time a year later. Only a man this cool could consistently get away with that hat.
(I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea
The only track we could have started with. Taken from the acclaimed album This Year’s Model, recorded with Costello’s band The Attractions, this bass-heavy tune from 1978 was his second hit after the previous year’s Watching the Detectives, cementing his place as a serious new star of the British music scene. And before anyone complains, the song is about scorn for the especially hip part of London as it was at that time, and sod all to do with football.
Man Out of Time
This heartfelt track is taken from the 1982 LP Imperial Bedroom, viewed at the time as a masterpiece — and critics have been no less kind to it since. The song’s intriguing lyrics about a man feeling lost within himself include the deft couplet “Love is always scarpering or cowering or fawning / You drink yourself insensitive and hate yourself in the morning”.
The late 1980s weren’t exactly jam-packed with songs about, well, anything really, and many of the chart hits from that period sound fairly vacuous now. But for his first return to the top 40 for a few years, in 1989 Costello decided to release a perfectly crafted pop tune about… getting old in a nursing home. The lyrics are quite sorrowful compared with the upbeat sounds around them, and that’s before you even get to the video. Not many would have tried it at that time, and few could have pulled it off. The track is from Costello’s 12th studio album, Spike.
London’s Brilliant Parade
For the first time in eight years, in 1994 Costello teamed up once again with The Attractions for the album Brutal Youth, which included this ode to London life. Taken at face value this could be a story of a man who loves the city of his birth, with all its references to ‘the gates of St Mary’s’ and ‘the lions and the tigers in Regent’s Park’. But this is Elvis Costello, and you’ll never be far from lines such as “Now the bankrupt souls in the city are finally tasting defeat” and a warning not to be caught staring over the edge of Hungerford Bridge at night. A classic piece of London music, however you take it.
No Hiding Place
It’s a sorry business when a long-standing band or singer runs out of ideas and tries to rehash past glories. Happily for fans of Elvis Costello his output over the last few years has continued to push at his own boundaries, as nicely summed up with this track from the album Momofuku. The LP was recorded in under a month in 2008 and as a result is brimming with vitality, with No Hiding Place its splendid opening track. And the bite’s still there: “You can say anything you want to, in your fetching cloak of anonymity / Are you feeling out of breath now, in your desperate pursuit of infamy?”
Happy birthday Elvis.