13.8.11

ELVIS COSTELLO & THE ATTRACTIONS : John Peel Sessions 1977-80

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I don't remember Peel playing many Elvis Costello songs while I was listening to him as a kid, in fact I don't remember him playing any, but he was evidently a staunch supporter of The Attractions' from the off, commissioning 4 sessions between mid-'77 & early '80. A mere strip of a lad, I didn't start tuning until the following year, so I missed them all first time 'round.

Documenting what was arguably E.C.'s most ferociously fertile period, these early BBC appearances cover my favourite Attractions' era - from My Aim Is True to Get Happy - & include a couple of curious anomalies alongside the inevitable singles & album tracks. Without a doubt, the finest of these is the Nashville-influenced "Stranger In The House", originally recorded in late 1976 for My Aim Is True (& given away as a limited edition 7" with initial copies of This Year's Model) but pre-empting 1981's polarising country "experiment", Almost Blue. Elvis would subsequently record another version (for single release) with country giant George Jones in 1980, though the BBC take is superior to either. Additionally, there's a valiant attempt at Bacharach & David's "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself" (a concert favourite from the Live Stiffs tour) &, surprisingly, "Really Mystified", a song which wouldn't appear on an official Costello release until Imperial Bedroom was remastered/rebooted for CD in 1994 . Also worth noting: as far as I'm aware, the debut '77 session remains the only extant instance of The Attractions recorded in a studio performing My Aim Is True-era songs (it's Clover - Huey Lewis' backing band! - on the LP) - citation required, etc. Already established as a fearsome live act, there's an unhinged "end of the tether"/"tired & emotional" intensity to the better known songs here that is actually a bit disturbing - E.C. & co sound like they're clinging on by their fingernails, on the cusp of an ugly crash & burn. In retrospect, Almost Blue's reserved country stylings could perhaps be seen as Elvis' lowkey equivalent to Dylan's alleged motorcycle accident - providing, at the height of his fame, an opportunity to step back, stall a disorientating, dangerous momentum, & take stock.

Taped off the radio &, thereby, unavoidably mastered from cassette, sound quality is occasionally less than pristine, but you're unlikely to hear better copies of these recordings until the BBC issue them formally. Quite why these excellent Peel sessions, plus Elvis' later Kid Jensen appearances, remain unreleased baffles me, frankly...

n.b. The pink & ink illustration of Elvis reproduced above was, reputedly, comic strip impresario Alan Moore's first ever professional sale (to the New Musical Express). And if you have any idea who the guy with the glasses & 'tash is, posing between Elvis, Nick Lowe & Suicide (circa 23 Minutes Over Brussels), could you let me know?

9 comments:

  1. Still no comments on the great Costello. Thought I'd better step in and rectify...

    So true about Almost Blue. I think hearing 'A good year for the roses' finished me and many others off for a long while but the earlier (and some later) stuff is faultless.

    Not sure about the guy with the moustache - too slim for Lester Bangs...

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  2. Defo not Lester, looks more like Weird Al Yankovic!!

    I eventually came 'round to Almost Blue, YEARS after I first heard it, a sign of getting old & "slowing down", no doubt. It's no masterpiece though. And I'm definitely still emotional scarred by TOTP's repeat showings of the "Good Year For The Roses" video. Go directly to Youtube & watch it Andy, it still makes me feel sick & anxious... (!)

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  3. Anonymous30.9.11

    ain't that Alan Vega (and his suicidal keyboardbuddy) on the middle pic?

    great posting!

    btw: still habe some old tape lying around monoradio-recorded around 84/85 from john peel's music on bfbs with 'misery dance' on it. ätschy bätschy, so peely apparently did play some of little elvis in his radio shows...

    the anonymus commenter no. 2

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  4. Yep, that's Alan, & Martin Rev too (between Nick Lowe & Elvis), but who's the shift looking feller with the moustache? Looks a bit like Weird Al Yankovic, but that'd be TOO weird...

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  5. Thanks for sharing; much obliged :)

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  6. So after you commented on my Iggy post I figured I'd check out your blog. Very cool. Downloading this now. You wouldn't happen to have Get Emotional (the Costello boot from the Live Stiffs tour with the Richard Hell and Wreckless Eric covers), would you? I have a rip that I got from elsewhere, but it's a couple songs short and only ripped at 128.

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  7. Sadly I haven't... but it sounds excellent, so I'll have a dig 'round a few dusty internet nooks & get back to you, OK sir?

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  8. Sound good. It IS excellent. If you find a high quality rip let me know.

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