Elvis Costello series, Part 3 of 3.
In 1981, Elvis Costello was coming off an incredible string of legendary rock albums (My Aim Is True, This Year's Model, Armed Forces, & Get Happy) when he decided to release an album of country covers called Almost Blue. Talk about a potential career killer! There are a ton of music fans whose favorite kind of music is "anything but country." So, for a lot of Costello fans and rock fans, this was one to skip.
Apparently, the reaction of the country music world was even more negative. In the book Written in My Soul (by Bill Flanagan, 1986), Elvis explained:
"I made the country record, Almost Blue, to get away from songwriting. I didn't anticipate the violent reaction some people would have to it. It became sort of a joke. We put a sticker on it saying, 'This record may bring out a violent reaction in narrow-minded people.' I'd completely underestimated the false and hypocritcal way some people in America assume ownership of this music. People who couldn't give a damn about it, actually, who couldn't name five country songs. It annoyed me because I probably cared more about the songs I was singing than the bloody hacks in Nashville. Billy Sherrill, the guy who produced it, turns out yards of music every week. He's a complete and utter hack. Hasn't got an ounce of feeling in him."I guess Elvis isn't one to mince words.
By the way, Billy Sherrill was the guy who co-wrote Stand By Your Man, so he can't really be "a complete and utter hack," right?
All controversy aside, and 26+ years later, I think Almost Blue is a good album. Check it out for yourself and let me know what you think. Here's one from the album alongside the original from George Jones:
Elvis Costello - Good Year For The Roses (buy album).
George Jones - Good Year For The Roses (buy album).
The Rhino double CD version includes lots of interesting bonus material. Can you imagine Elvis Costello and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performing a Flying Burrito Brothers song? While it may sound kind of scary, it's actually really good. The dramatic arrangement lends itself perfectly to the drama of Gram Parsons' lyrics:
Elvis Costello - I'm Your Toy (Live) (buy album).
Flying Burrito Brothers - Hot Burrito No. 1 (I'm Your Toy) (buy album).
Costello dabbled in country even before Almost Blue. One of my favorite Costello compositions is a song called Stranger In The House about a relationship gradually falling apart. It first appeared on the 1980 compilation of Costello's "odds and sods" called Taking Liberties. I'm impressed by the songwriting on this one.
The first stanza sets it up nicely:
This never was one of the great romances,The real payoff comes in the chorus:
But I thought you'd always have those young girl's eyes.
But now they look in tired and bitter glances,
At the ghost of a man who walks 'round in my disguise.
There's a stranger in the house no one will ever see,Elvis Costello - Stranger In The House (buy album).
But everybody says he looks like me.
If you buy the Rhino double CD version of Almost Blue you can hear Elvis perform this one as a duet with George Jones.
And now for a bit of personal history. The first song that I remember turning me on to country music was Elvis Costello's version of George Jones' tune Brown to Blue, which I heard sometime in the early 1980's when I was still just a kid. It features this great line: You changed your name from Brown to Jones and mine from Brown to blue.
Elvis Costello - Brown To Blue (buy album).
Well that's it for the EC series. Hope you liked it.