Elvis Costello

Declan Patrick MacManus (born 25 August 1954), known professionally as Elvis Costello, is an English singer, songwriter, record producer, author and television presenter. Per Rolling Stone, Costello “reinvigorated the literate, lyrical traditions of Bob Dylan and Van Morrison with the raw energy and sass that were principal ethics of punk”, noting the “construction of his songs, which set densely layered wordplay in an ever-expanding repertoire of styles.” His first album, My Aim Is True (1977), is widely regarded as one of the best debut albums in popular music history. The album spawned no hit singles, but contains some of Costello’s best-known songs, including the ballad “Alison”. Costello’s next two albums, This Year’s Model (1978) and Armed Forces (1979), recorded with his backing band the Attractions, helped define the new wave music genre. From late 1977 through early 1980, each of the eight singles he released reached the UK Top 30. His biggest hit single, “Oliver’s Army” (1979) sold more than 400,000 copies in Britain. He has had more modest commercial success in the US but has earned much praise among music critics. From 1977 through the early 2000s, Costello’s albums regularly ranked high on the Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics’ poll, with This Year’s Model and Imperial Bedroom (1982) voted the best album of their respective years. His biggest US hit single, “Veronica” (1989), reached number 19 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Born into a musical family, Costello was raised with knowledge and appreciation of a wide range of musical styles as well as an insider’s view of the music business. His opportunity to begin a professional career as a musician coincided with the rise of punk rock in England. The primitivism brought into fashion by punk led Costello to disguise his musical savvy at the beginning of his career, but his prolific musical output encompasses R&B, country, jazz, baroque pop, Tin Pan Alley and classical music. From the 1980s onward, Costello has frequently made music in genres other than rock, often collaborating with established artists in those genres. He has released album-length collaborations with the classical ensemble The Brodsky Quartet, the New Orleans R&B songwriter and producer Allen Toussaint and the hip-hop group The Roots. Costello has written more than a dozen songs with Paul McCartney and had a long-running songwriting partnership with Burt Bacharach.

Costello has had hits with songs written by others, including an uptempo version of the Sam & Dave ballad “I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down”, Jerry Chesnut’s “Good Year for the Roses”, and Charles Aznavour’s “She”. One of the songs he is best known for, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding”, was written by Nick Lowe and recorded by Lowe’s group Brinsley Schwarz in 1974, but remained obscure until Costello released his version in 1979. Costello’s own songs have been recorded by artists including Linda Ronstadt, George Jones, Dave Edmunds, Chet Baker and Alison Krauss.

Costello has won two Grammy awards, two Ivor Novello awards, four Dutch Edison awards, an MTV Video Music Award, a BAFTA award, an ASCAP Founders award, and a Gemini award. In 2003, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2016, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. From 2008 to 2010, Costello hosted a television show called Spectacle: Elvis Costello with…, on which he interviewed other noted musicians. In 2015, he published a well-received memoir, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink.

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