Thursday, December 3, 2009

SONG #5-- Welcome To The Working Week


Also available on Live At The El Mocambo, 1978

What a way to start an album-- "Now that your picture's in the paper being rhythmically admired...."  It sums up so much of what's great about Elvis Costello; he's skeptical and angry, sexaully frustrated, and smart as hell.  So much of his best work is the confluence of those issues: the Romeo who's more hapless than hero and has a few things to say about it.

I can't think of very many opening tracks this short and this apt.

I think I was 14 when I heard My Aim Is True for the first time.  The first Elvis record that floored me was 1979's Armed Forces, which I got when I was in 7th grade from the Columbia Record and Tape Club.  It was one of my eleven albums for a penny that started your membership.  (Again, those clubs are a whole other entry.  I worked every angle I could find on those clubs.)  The first thing I fell in love with was the sound of the Attractions-- the echo on the snare drum, the claustrophobic mix that makes it sound like one giant instrument behind the vocal, and that nasal, fearless singing.  I got This Year's Model next, and just stuck with those two records for two years before moving on.  At first, My Aim Is True disappointed me.  It's not the Attractions backing him up, and it doesn't have that paranoid vibe that the other early Costello records have.  I thought it lacked toughness.

Now that I'm older and have been listening to Costello for 25 years, My Aim Is True is one of my favorites.  It's so full of terrifically written songs, and I've come to love the playing on it (by Clover, sans Huey Lewis, years before they broke as the News).  It's more pub rock than punk rock, but it's also a rock history lesson in and of itself.  Costello is as impressive as listener as he is a writer and performer, and this first track shows what a sponge he is and how capable he is of putting disparate elements together.  "Welcome To The Working Week" has chimey, Byrds-like guitars and Beach Boys harmonies, the vocal attack and brevity of punk rock, the hand claps of old soul music, the tossed-off, one take quality of indie music (check out when the drummer thinks the song is over at 62 seconds and sheepishly comes back in-- I love that they didn't fix that) and the lyrical wordplay and societal irritation of early Dylan.  Not bad for 83 seconds.

"Welcome To The Working Week" belongs on two other lists that someone should compile (and I throw it open to suggestions):  greatest songs under 90 seconds, and greatest songs about masturbation.  A few nominations to get things started:

Great 90 second songs (actually, all under 30 seconds!):

Descendents-- "I Like Food" 0:17
The Beatles-- "Her Majesty" 0:26
Wire-- "Field Day For The Sundays" 0:28

Great masturbation songs:

The Who-- "Pictures Of Lily"
Skunk-- "Knobb Off"  (Thank you, Ben Barton...)

The live version is all spit and vinegar, and if you like Elvis with his middle finger fully extended, that version's for you.



  1. I Will (beatles) just misses out at 1:44. But, for my money, best song under 90 seconds is penned by the author of this blog. Jeff, can you post that song somewhere?! It also has the best one note guitar solo. That's another good category?

    Also, interesting that it's 'The News' backing Elvis on this record. Again, another good category? Best annonymous backing band performance for a major artist? The poor (ripped off, underpaid) Los Lobos on Graceland. Yes, I'll acknowledge Paul Simon may well be an asshole, as long as you acknowledge that record is great!

  2. 90 seconds? Ok, in no particular order:

    Glory, Liz Phair, 1:30
    Busted, Johnny Cash (At Folsom) 1:25
    Reno, Dakota, Magnetic Fields, 1:05
    Broken Face, Pixies, 1:30
    Lover's Town Revisited, Billy Bragg, 1:18

    And they may not have fixed the drums because they didn't have time. Didn't EC record this album while he called in sick to his data entry job? A whole album of vocals in one 24-hour stretch. Unbelievable.

  3. Coachwhips - Thee Alarm (1:28)
    Women - Group Transport Hall (1:11)
    Cake - Racecar Ya-Ya's (1:21)

    Gomez - Love is Better than a Warm Trombone
    The Decemberists - Billy Liar

  4. I have 545 songs in my itunes under 1:30. going by playcount, our top songs are a huge bunch of Guided By Voices songs like A Good Flying Bird, A Salty Salute, Kicker of Elves - still thoroughly enjoy GBV but the high playcount is most likely from when we digitized our collection many moons ago...

    and then more recently enjoyed are College by The Animal Collective (and others on the awesome Sung Tong), One Heavy February by Architecture in Helsinki

    Andrew, I see your Reno, Dakota and raise you one Punk Love by Magnetic Fields...

    Also how about Robot Parade by They Might Be Giants kid's album No!

    OH, and the King Of Carrot Flowers Pt. 2 version Live at Jittery Jones - under :90 and also on my playlist of ironic Jesus songs...

    and can i just say there's a SHITLOAD of minutemen and minor threat songs under 1:30? but I blame my husband for those in our itunes...

    and to throw a little high school in there (after all, this is a blog by my former teacher!), how about the Red Hot Chili Peppers cover of Robert Johnson's They're Red Hot - pretty much on speed.

  5. So pleased to see Knobb Off make the blog already. How could you have missed "I touch myself" on the masturbation list. Shows how unfortunately phallocentric you are my friend. :)

  6. Kicker of Elves-- maybe the best song title ever. I think we have to disqualify the Minutemen, or they'll take up the top 10 spots by themselves. Some great choices above-- in fact, almost all of the songs mentioned are in my 20K. There are about 450 tracks under 90 seconds on my list, but that includes "Alastair Cooke Gets Attacked By A Duck" by Monty Python. Ben-- to defend myself, I see your "I Touch Myself" and raise you a "She Bop" by Cyndi Lauper.

  7. Divinyls a little too on the money, maybe, Ben?

    I nominate "Turning Japanese" by the Vapors. The true meaning of the song escaped me entirely in the 1980s, just like "She Bop."