Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
Before there was Elvis Costello, there was Day Costello. Well, actually, Day Costello was the name Ross MacManus (Declan Patrick MacManus’s father) used for a recording of a cover of Paul McCartney’s “The Long and Winding Road” in 1970. The song was a number one hit in Australia, and the name Costello actually belonged to Elvis’ great-grandmother. Six years later, young Declan signed to Stiff Records. He was going by D.P. Costello until his manager Jake Riviera rechristened him Elvis.
Elvis Costello unleashed an instant power pop classic when he tossed 1978’s This Year’s Model into the mix. It earned best album of the year in Robert Christgau’s Pazz & Jop poll in The Village Voice, and has topped many a best album list since. It was Costello’s second album, but his first with The Attractions. His sharp wit and punk rock ethos manifest themselves in each song, shedding some light on why this nerdy Buddy Holly-esque looking guy runs around calling himself Elvis and gets away with it. His new band is a little more rocking than the backing band on his debut album, My Aim Is True (a country band called Clover), and Steve Nieve’s organ is a driving force that cements a lifelong partnership between the two men.
Elvis Costello has gone on to release over 30 albums (eight with The Attractions), win a few Grammys, get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and pen a few songs for films (including partnering with Burt Bacharach and T-Bone Burnett on two of them). He’s collaborated with the likes of Paul McCartney, Daryl Hall, Annie Lennox, Billie Joe Armstrong, Fiona Apple, Bruce Springsteen, and many more, and he’s had a very successful career. But his 1978 masterpiece tends to resonate most with people. It stands the test of time, and its punk rock/power-pop mix of attitude and hooks with clever wordplay, and the occasional laidback number, lend it a wide scope influencing artists across genres.
The Muffs – No Action (Elvis Costello cover)
The first song on This Year’s Model kicks off with Costello’s soft voice full of venom, “I don’t wanna kiss you, I don’t wanna touch.” The music kicks in behind him, and the tone of the album is set. Unlike many of Costello’s contemporaries, his brand of punk rock is masked in power-pop with great melodies and harmonies, and he doesn’t need to scream to hurt your feelings. The Muffs released their version in 2000, and while Kim Shattuck’s (RIP) take on the vocals is filled with a little more angst than Costello’s, she maintains a soft approach. The music is energetic, and the drum rolls and loud guitar make up for the missing keyboards.
Emma & Hillary of honeychain – This Year’s Girl (Elvis Costello cover)
“This Year’s Girl” wasn’t released as a single, but it’s a damn near perfect song. The drums have a strange ‘60s intro feel that permeate almost the entire track, while the bass crawls all over the place, and harmonies are spun as if from thin air in a perfect blend of’ 50s and ‘70s pop. In the hands of Emma and Hillary of honeychain, it’s given a kind of ‘90’s makeover somewhere between the alt rock sounds of Veruca Salt and the garage-pop of The Donnas. It’s a great rendering of Costello’s answer to The Rollng Stones’ “Stupid Girl,” critiquing fashion and the ideals women were supposedly supposed to live up to according to norms. The outro’s been adjusted with different harmonies, some “Ahhhhhhhs,” and punchy chords that take the song out on one note rather than the fade-out of the original.
Erich Sellheim – (Im Revier) The Beat (Elvis Costello cover)
Not sure how “I don’t wanna be a lover/I just wanna be your victim,” translates into German, but it’s gotta be in here somewhere. Erich Sellheim takes Costello’s new wave classic and records it note for note with German lyrics. The video is primarily him singing into the camera at different angles (which provides a lot of fun) and some shots of his hands playing the guitar and keyboards (though he’s no Martin Scorsese). It’s a fun recreation and sounds dead-on. If you follow it down the Elvis Costello rabbit hole on YouTube, you’ll find this great live version of Costello, in 1978, playing a revved up version.
Mudhoney – Pump It Up (Elvis Costello cover)
The brilliance in the lyrics “I’ve been on tenterhooks, ending in dirty looks, list’ning to the Muzak, thinking ’bout this ‘n’ that,” coming from Costello is fantastic enough, and when “Touch Me I’m Sick” masterminds Mudhoney take yet another new wave gem off This Year’s Model, and run it through their Seattle grunge/sleazy garage rock mixer-upper, the results are killer. Mark Arm’s doubled vocals lend a drunken whiskey-tinged feel to the song that emphasizes the already very sarcastic sound of the original.
Japan Chapter of Record Club – Little Triggers (Elvis Costello cover)
“Little Triggers” kind of sneaks up on you, reigning in the speed of the album so far, and taking it back a few steps. It kicks off with a piano and has an almost ‘50s style ballad thing going on. The Japan Chapter of Record Club gives it a spaced out feel with a heavy echo effect on the vocals and a lo-fi recording with buzzing for maximum 4-track appeal (whether intentional or not).
The Like – You Belong to Me (Elvis Costello cover)
Kicking off with a straight Rolling Stones guitar riff, “You Belong to Me” goes from what sounds like is going to be another garage rock Keith Richards steal, to a perfect piece of power pop that incorporates the ideal blend of ? and the Mysterians style organ with some John Entwistle-influenced bass, and a loud tambourine. The Like pick up the pace a bit and turn the guitars up in the mix. They incorporate some harmonies and leave out the organ, but manage to still recreate the song without what seems an essential element of The Attractions’ repertoire.
Scared of Chaka – Hand in Hand (Elvis Costello cover)
Scared of Chaka take “Hand in Hand” and blend it into their brand of raw pop-punk with loud guitars and nasaly vocals. They pluck the song straight out of West London in 1978 and drop it smack dab into the middle of Giman Street in the ‘90s (via Albuquerque, of course!).
Tim Kasher (Cursive) – (I Don’t Want to go to) Chelsea (Elvis Costello cover)
Released as the first single from the album, “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” hit number 16 on the UK charts and was (and still is) revered by critics (though the song was left off the US release of the album, which was a bad decision by whoever made that call!). There are hooks all over this song, with it’s heavily ska-influenced bassline and guitar interplay, and semi-out of tune organ, it’s one of Costello’s best songs without question. Tim Kasher of Cursive does a straightforward cover toward the end of his set, with a backing band nailing the song almost note for note. Kasher’s vocals lack the inherent scorn of Costello’s, but still manage a somewhat faithful rendition.
Big Hello – Lip Service (Elvis Costello cover)
Another power pop gem complete with handclaps and harmonies, “Lip Service” is two minutes of pure catchiness, clever wordplay, and perfect snark – “When did you become so choosy? Don’t act like you’re above me; Just look at your shoes.” Big Hello plays up the song’s pop elements with big power chords and plenty of palm muting, while turning up the angst with ‘90s cigarette-singed vocals on their Girl Versus Boy Verses EP. Perfect for repeated listens!
Gaza Strippers – Lipstick Vogue (Elvis Costello cover)
Gaza Strippers take the nervousness and anticipation of “Lipstick Vouge” and layer it in lots of guitar and late ‘90s/early 2000 pop-punk/skate punk vocals for a turned-up glam-infused run through the Costello classic. They make it loud, very loud.
Britt Daniel – Night Rally (Elvis Costello cover)
Britt Daniel (Spoon) plays a straight forward rendition of “Night Rally,” including the Phil Spectorish elements and key changes that make the song dynamic. The lyrics are spookily as significant today as when Costello penned them back in the ‘70s. This song was also left off the American release of This Year’s Model – which is a little more forgivable than the omission of “Chelsea.”
Weird Al Yankovic – Radio Radio (Elvis Costello cover)
“Radio Radio” was released as a stand-alone single in 1978 but included on the US release of This Year’s Model in place of “Chelsea” and “Night Rally.” The song was a critique of commercial radio and got Costello banned from Saturday Night Live for over a decade, after he famously performed the song in place of the single his record label wanted him to play while, allegedly, Lorne Michaels stood at the side of the stage flipping Costello the bird the whole time). In an odd twist, Weird Al Yankovic does a straight cover of the song without any parody, polka, or accordion. During live shows Weird Al has been known to break out into the song when there’s a technical glitch or any reason to pause his show.
I feel compelled to note part of the reason that The Like’s cover is so good is hereditary – the band’s drummer is Tennessee Thomas, daughter of Pete Thomas.
(Also, Erich Sellheim might be worth an article on his own sometime – for a time, it seemed like he was one-man-banding his way through the entire discography of both Elvis Costello and XTC in German. His production might be a little thin, but his dedication’s SPOT-ON.)
My pick: Fleetwood Mac’s self titled 1975 album, Fleetwood Mac.
No “Living In Paradise”? Or was that only on the US version?
I want to issue a challenge – A full album collection of The Clash – Cut The Crap!
Got a signed Album from Elvis from 1978
Every track on this album could have been a 7″-er. It would be great to put it out again in a box of seven or fourteen 7″ singles (with fourteen b-sides of course)