February 09, 2007

I awoke this morning from uneasy dreams to find my website transformed into an MP3 blog

Kid Beyond's comment reminding me of Elvis Costello's 1979 Grammy defeat at the hands of A Taste of Honey for Best New Artist got me thinking about Elvis, of whom I've been a rabid fan since I was, what, 16?, thanks to one of my theatre teachers, Miss McCarthy (who lent me her cassettes of "My Aim Is True" and "Next Year's Model"), and other bad influences like Vardibidian (who also helped get me an early start on XTC and the English Beat). The thing is, I've actually gone a bit off Elvis this past year, I think mostly because of irritation with the way he releases too many albums.

Of course, this is slightly false, because I'd love it if he did nothing but release albums I really liked. And of the past three albums he's released, I have liked two -- particularly The Delivery Man, which was a solid combination of Elvis's love of both country music and heavy distortion (King of America + Blood and Chocolate, if you want the high-concept version). But then it got rereleased in a "special edition" with extra tracks and a bonus CD, and I felt like, goddamnit, why am I being punished for buying the album promptly? Why not release the bonus material on a separate CD, like he did with When I Was Cruel? It left me so annoyed that I honestly haven't really listened much to that CD since.

After that, the art-jazz live album My Flame Burns Blue left me kind of cold, although the rearrangements of songs like "Clubland" and "Watching the Detectives" were interesting. I did enjoy his collaboration with Allen Toussaint, but on some of the songs Elvis contributed to the album, I felt like I wanted to ask him nicely if he might consider conserving syllables so that future generations might still have them someday. Here's some perspective from a fellow blogger that reflects a similar state of mind.

Anyway, I think I may have worked through my conflicted feelings and be ready to like Elvis Costello again. Which got me rooting around in my folders of rare Elvis MP3s to see if there were any goodies there worth sharing. First off, here's a demo track from an album of songs that Elvis wrote for Wendy James, ex-lead singer of Transvision Vamp (no, I hadn't heard of them either). She wrote Elvis asking for his advice about what to do with her suddenly-not-in-a-band-and-I'm-not-really-a-songwriter solo career, and he responded by writing an album's worth of songs for her in a weekend (some cowritten with his ex, Cait O'Riordan). Unfortunately, James's recordings of the songs are a little flat, but the songs themselves are good stuff -- Elvis puts out so much heavily-thought-out material that it's a nice change to hear what he comes up with when he decides to just bash something out real quick-like. Here's one of the demos from that album:

"Fill in the Blanks" (click through for download link)

This next song was the subject of much confusion for me for a long time. You see, I taught myself to play guitar mostly by learning songs from Elvis Costello's Singing Dictionary, which included all the songs from his first five albums...and one other song I'd never heard of, "That's What Friends Are For" (emphatically not the Dionne Warwick song). I had to wait until the Internet came around to find out that Elvis never actually recorded this song; he wrote it for Georgie Fame (or perhaps he had already written the song but decided he wasn't crazy about it so he gave it away? I'm not sure). So, no Elvis demo of this one, since none exists that I know of, but here's the Georgie Fame recording:

"That's What Friends Are For" (click through for download link)

Posted by Francis at 01:54 AM

Yay! Thanks for making my morning! I agree wholeheartedly with you about Elvis's weird practice of releasing expanded versions of his own albums...and all the more so because it's so conflicting when there are enough good songs on them to make the expansions worth buying. (I'm particularly fond of "The People's Limousine" from King of America and the a capella version of "Mystery Dance" with its extra verse. Yes, it's been awhile.)

So now I've got two new never-heard-of songs, pre-vetted by a friend with certifiably groovy taste! I'm in music-geek heaven.

Posted by: Dave at February 9, 2007 06:36 AM

It took me years to realize that Elvis Costello was an asshole, and then to adjust to that, while still enjoying his recordings.

And I loved the Toussaint album.

English Beat, huh? I was pretty hip, for an Arizona boy. Once upon a time.


Posted by: Vardibidian at February 9, 2007 11:08 AM

That reminds me, I just saw Paul Weller in concert, and I came away from the show feeling like, "That guy is probably an asshole." But it was an excellent concert, even though he reneged on the promotional promise that he would play nothing but Style Council songs. ("Speak Like a Child" and "Shout to the Top" were fucking incredible with his new band! I wanted more of his old songs rocked up! Ah well.)

The Toussaint album is definitely way better than I made it sound in this post. I recently picked up Elvis's concert DVD with Toussaint, but I haven't had time to watch it yet. I'm super excited to hear the horn arrangements Toussaint wrote for old Elvis tunes like "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea".

Posted by: Francis at February 9, 2007 11:20 AM

That may be the first Kafka reference I've seen in any of the blogs I frequent. Well done.

Posted by: Matt M at February 9, 2007 11:26 PM

Transvision Vamp was a really amusing band. They were influenced by the cyberpunk movement/fad but were more of a pop band. We eventually decided they were cyberposeurs.

Posted by: Marc Moskowitz at February 11, 2007 11:50 AM
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