ELVIS COSTELLO, MY AIM IS TRUE, 1977
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.