A suburban family man with an office job, Declan Patrick McManus was somewhat removed from the revolution being staged in late-night clubs in 1977 London by punk-rock pioneers like The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned. “All these bands were playing in the middle of the night,” he later recounted “so I couldn’t go. I was married with a son.” Unlike most of the other wage-earners he rode the tube with, however, Declan McManus was about to become a star himself, though not under his given name. After three years living in London and trying to balance his day job with his musical ambitions, the man now known as Elvis Costello finally made his breakthrough with the release of his debut album, My Aim Is True, on this day in 1977.
Both musically and personally, Costello wasn’t really part of the punk scene he came out of, but the anger and attitude that defined Costello’s far more sophisticated songwriting definitely reflected his sympathy with the punk movement. “We lived in a block of flats and we couldn’t really play music at night,” he later recalled, “but I really used to enjoy playing ‘God Save The Queen’—loud—because all the little old ladies would be outraged.” Costello wrote nearly all of the songs that would make up My Aim Is True during the first half of 1977, while playing live gigs and squeezing in recording sessions with producer Nick Lowe around his day job. From its appropriately titled first track, “Welcome To The Working Week,” to the now-classic “Alison,” “Less Than Zero” and “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes,” My Aim Is True announced the arrival of a truly unique new talent.
Concerned that his music might not reach a wide enough audience, Costello staged the now-famous stunt of performing live on the street outside a meeting of CBS executives in late July 1977 to “protest” the fact that his album, released in the UK on the independent Stiff label, had no distribution in the United States. Within months, he was signed to CBS, and the American release of My Aim Is True followed in the spring of 1978. Less than 12 months later, Elvis Costello had two more full-length albums in release—This Year’s Model (1978) and Armed Forces (1979)—and was well on his way toward becoming a superstar.