On July 22, 1977 Elvis Costello released is debut album, My Aim Is True. It was my introduction to Costello's music and I was immediately taken by the smart wordplay, the passion and the pub rock sounds. I was thirteen years old and by the time I picked up one of those prerecorded cassettes, I was trying to survive boarding school.
It wasn't as bad as Costello's description of his rehearsal room, Headley Garage:
It was dark when I awoke. I could hear the rats scuttling across the rehearsal room floor. I t was just as I had been warned. If the light went off, the rats came out.
Feeling for my shoes, I edged to the light-switch and illuminated the drinking party passed out on another ragged sofa.
I tried to go back to sleep with the lights on, I was going to make a record the next day.
The future Huey Lewis Band, Clover, may not get as much love as the Attractions but Costello remembers feeling incredibly lucky to be "playing with such great musicians", especially after John McFee came up with the intro to "Alison"
Critics were enthralled. Only the Sex Pistols rated higher in the Village Voice critics poll for that year.
2. Elvis Costello: My Aim Is True (Columbia) 367 (33)
3. Television: Marquee Moon (Elektra) 327 (26)
4. Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (Warner Bros.) 318 (26)
5. Steely Dan: Aja (ABC) 266 (23)
From Robert Christgau's B+ review
I like the nerdy way this guy comes on, I'm fascinated by his lyrics, and I approve of his rock and roll orientation; in fact, I got quite obsessive about his two cuts on the Bunch of Stiff Records import. Yet odd as it may seem, I find that he suffers from Jackson Browne's syndrome--that is, he's a little boring. Often this malady results from overconcentration on lyrics and can be cured by a healthy relationship with a band. Since whenever I manage to attend to a Costello song all the way through I prefer it to "The Pretender." I hope he recovers soon.
About the same time the king of rock put out the big light, we first heard an impressive New Wave import by a Buddy Holly look-alike calling himself Elvis Costello. On his debut LP, My Aim Is True, Costello has captured the rare synthesis that every Sixties rock band dreamed of -- the raw bluesiness of the Stones successfully mixed with a bouncy, early Beatles sound. My Aim Is True taps riffs that span two decades of popular rock. From "Mystery Dance," which sounds a tribute to his namesake's "Jailhouse Rock," to the Bowieish "I'm Not Angry," the album, penned entirely by Costello, effects a stylistic history of rock 'n' roll. Imagine Van Morrison with The Yardbirds produced by Phil Spector and you'll have an idea. Even better: Graham Parker meets Bruce Springsteen in Motown. Confused? Listen to My Aim Is True and tell us where you've heard it all before.
From Rolling Stone's Greil Marcus:
My Aim Is True was recorded, before the recruitment of The Attractions, in six four-hour sessions in an eight-track demo studio in North London Costello now likens to a telephone booth. It says much for the standard of the songwriting that his debut stands up as a classic. With future Doobie Brother John McFee laying down Byrds-like guitar licks, "Red Shoes" was an obvious single choice. It had been preceded by "Less Than Zero," inspired by British fascist leader Oswald Mosley, and the brilliant (and untypical) ballad "Alison," from whose lyric the album title had come. But it would take "Watching The Detectives" to make the necessary singles-chart mark at the very end of 1977. (Recorded with members of The Rumour, this track was included only on later reissues of the album.) The overriding emotion of My Aim Is True was a lack of satisfaction, openly expressed by "Blame It On Cain" and "Mystery Dance," while "No Dancing" was a second song to equate dancing and sex.
Producer Nick Lowe, whom Costello had followed round the country when Lowe was frontman with Brinsley Schwarz, added just enough studio fairydust to make this a "proper" record rather than another set of demos, but there was no doubting songs like "Mystery Dance," with its Jerry Lee Lewis vibe, would add a new dimension live when attacked by The Attractions. Few of Costello's songs bar "Alison" have been covered, and this No. 14 album (in the UK), which retains its quirkiness today, suggests why. A heady combination of punk and quality songcraft, it remains unique even by Elvis' standards.