This unlikely reincarnation of Elvis supports his lyrics with such diverse music that Elvis Costello is one of the most innovative and influential songwriters since Bob Dylan.
He is the son of British bandleader Ross McManus. His given name is Declan MacManus, and our old friend pingouin has an excellent writeup in that node. Much better than this one. Go read it and then come back here if you want to know which songs I like the best.
Declan worked as a computer programmer during the early '70s, performing under the name D.P. Costello in various folk clubs. When his first record was released in 1977, his cynicism and anger got him linked in with the punk and new wave explosion. But if you really listen to My Aim Is True, you can see that the only real connection he had with the punks was passion.
He wound up taking his first name from Elvis Presley and his last name from his mother's maiden name.
I began listening to him when a couple of friends of mine in a local punk band began covering his tunes from My Aim is True.
Here is what I have found valuable in his oeuvre:
"Alison" and "Watching the Detectives" from My Aim is True, 1977. Linda Ronstadt made a hit of "Alison," but his version is far superior.
"Radio Radio," "Green Shirt" and "Big Boys" from This Year's Model, 1978.
"Accidents Will Happen," "Two Little Hitlers," and "Chemistry Class" from Armed Forces, 1979.
After three lackluster efforts, Imperial Bedroom in 1982 is the masterpiece. This was an ambitious set of lushly arranged pop produced by Geoff Emerick, who engineered several of the Beatles' most acclaimed albums. There's not a bad song on here, and if you want to learn about the art of Elvis Costello, I think this is the perfect place to start.
"Let Them All Talk," "The Greatest Thing" and the marvelous Everyday I Write the Book from Punch the Clock in 1983.
"The Only Flame in Town" (with support from Daryl Hall of Hall and Oates), and probably the best song he's ever written, "Worthless Thing," on Goodbye Cruel World in 1984.
Costello and Paul McCartney wrote the single "Veronica" in 1987 which became his biggest American hit, peaking at number 19.
Then he come up with his most unlikely collaboration, Painted from Memory, done with the legendary Burt Bacharach in 1998. I've tried to like this, but "Toledo" is the only song that I can remember with fondness here.
Costello has said some things that were on his mind, and that's not cool these days in the climate of political correctness. But he's one of the greatest lyricists around; a modern day Cole Porter, if you will. It would behoove you to listen to him.