ELVIS COSTELLO – ” This Years Model ” Released 17th March 1978 – 43 Years Ago

Posted: June 20, 2021 in Classic Albums, MUSIC
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The songs on This Year’s Model are typically catchy and help the vicious sentiments sink into your skin, but the most remarkable thing about the album is the sound. Costello and the Attractions never rocked this hard, or this vengefully, ever again.”

Elvis Costello’s debut album, 1977’s “My Aim Is True”, arrived less than a year before its follow-up, “This Year’s Model”. But the two records boasted a sound, style and attitude that were far removed from each other — a sign of things to come from the singer-songwriter, whose restless catalogue has swung from one genre to another with little dip in quality along the way.

My Aim Is True was recorded in 1976 and 1977 in London by Costello, who was born there, and a California-based country-rock band called Clover that included members who would later join Huey Lewis and the News and the Doobie Brothers. (Lewis was actually a member of Clover at the time but did not appear on the album, which didn’t credit the band because of contractual reasons.)

For This Year’s Model, Costello enlisted his own band, the Attractions, which he formed after the release of his debut. (Even though they did receive credit, they didn’t receive an official cover co-billing until 1979’s Armed Forces.) And the upgrade, or at least the familiarity of working with musicians he had spent plenty of time on the road with at that point, pushed Costello’s second LP to new levels of intensity. Not that My Aim Is True didn’t have that; This Year’s Model just had more of it.

The critical success of My Aim Is True also gave Costello more confidence as a songwriter. At just 23, he was one of the best young writers of the era, pulling from earlier artists as much as he was riding the new wave of punk upstarts. With This Year’s Model, released on March 17th, 1978, Costello made his masterpiece — an album that bridged his brief past with his wide-open future.

The album’s sessions started in late 1977 and ended in early 1978 at London’s Eden Studios, with Nick Lowe, who worked on My Aim Is True, once again producing. More than a dozen songs were recorded, including some of his most enduring songs: “No Action,” “Pump It Up,” “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea,” “Lipstick Vogue” and “Radio, Radio,” among them. When it came time to release the LP in the U.S., a couple months after the original U.K. debut, two songs were dropped from the track listing —  “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” and “Night Rally,” reportedly because they were too British for American ears — and replaced by “Radio, Radio,” which was released in Costello’s home country seven months later as a stand-alone single.

“Radio Radio” was made more famous by the Saturday Night Live performance. By the time “Radio, Radio” made its debut on record, it was already a notorious chapter in Costello’s short history after Costello and the Attractions played it on “Saturday Night Live” in December 1977 (filling in for the missing Sex Pistols who were due to perform but were having problems securing visas). Costello was slated to play his current UK single “Less Than Zero,” in 1977. Costello launched into a few bars of “Less Than Zero,” but then turned to his band and told them to stop. He then apologized to the live audience, saying, “I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but there’s no reason to do this song here,” and broke into a full rendition of “Radio Radio,” which still wasn’t officially available in the States, Lorne Michaels…the God of Saturday Night Live was not pleased.

As a result, he was banned by the TV producer for a dozen years, before being invited back in 1989; he then repeated the stunt, this time with the Beastie Boys and with SNL’s consent, on the program’s 25th anniversary special in 1999.

Costello later claimed he was inspired by Jimi Hendrix, who in 1969 stopped a performance of “Hey Joe” on the show Happening for Lulu and launched into the Cream song “Sunshine Of Your Love,” earning him a ban from the BBC.

Elvis Costello: “Before I got into show business, I thought radio was great, So I wrote a song about celebrating it – the thrill of listening to it late at night. This was my imaginary song about radio before I found out how foul and twisted it was.” in the song, Costello is protesting the commercialization of late 1970s FM radio. Radio stations would become more and more consolidated over the years, and their playlists tightened up considerably. Eventually, deregulation led to a few companies owning the majority of American radio stations, which led to automated stations.

This song is a takedown of radio, but it started out as a loving tribute. Costello wrote the first version of the song as “Radio Soul” when he was in a band called Flip City. They recorded a demo in 1974, but the song was never released.

In “Radio Soul,” Costello sings lovingly about radio, without any trace of vitriol: I could sail away to the songs that play upon that radio soul, Radio soul It’s a sound salvation

When he reworked the song in 1977, he changed the title and completely flipped the meaning, reflecting his newfound take on the topic.

The song serves as a linchpin of This Year’s Model, even though it wasn’t part of the original release and closed the album it first appeared on. It represented a more robust sound for Costello, thanks to both the addition of the Attractions and Lowe’s punchier production, and a more biting undertone that helped build Costello’s standing as one of punk’s most promising Angry Young Men.

He also became one of the era’s most prolific genre jumpers, making R&B, country, baroque pop and Americana albums over the next decade. But “This Year’s Model” serves as Costello’s model, the record that introduced Steve Nieve’s defining keyboard riffs and fills, a sturdier musical backing and Costello’s sneering vocals — all of which would find their way in and out of various albums over the years. He’s made more cohesive records since then. And more innovative ones. But he’s never made a better one.

Released: 17th March 1978.

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