Today is the 44th birthday of Declan McManus, the talented, bespectacled singer/songwriter/guitarist who first won international acclaim as Elvis Costello near the end of the '70s with his sharp, witty and personal brand of pop/rock.
Costello was born in London to bandleader Ross McManus and his wife. After his parents' separation, Costello moved to Liverpool, where he began writing songs and playing the guitar while living with his mother. After marrying his high-school girlfriend, Costello and his wife relocated to London; they soon had a son. To make ends meet, Costello worked as a computer programmer and performed under the name D.P. Costello (his mother's maiden name) in folk clubs.
Costello was inspired to make it in music after seeing bassist Nick Lowe perform. In 1976, Costello shopped demos of his band, Flip City, around to record labels but was signed by Stiff Records as a solo act under the name Elvis Costello. Costello's first single, "Less Than Zero," was about fascist Oswald Mosley. His debut album, My Aim Is True, soon followed, with the subsequent singles "Alison" and "Red Shoes."
Costello's music was quirky new-wave highlighted by his cynical, biting words. The album was produced by Lowe and featured Costello's new backup band, the Attractions. At the end of 1977, "Watching The Detectives" became his first singles-chart entry in the U.K.
In 1978, My Aim Is True made a big splash in the U.S., where Costello was signed to Columbia. Also that year, This Year's Model sold well and spawned the radio favorites "Pump It Up" and "Radio Radio." Armed Forces (1979) was a top-10 smash in both the U.S. and Britain and featured the catchy "Oliver's Army" and "Accidents Will Happen."
Just as he was enjoying great success, Costello had to deal with negative publicity stemming from a bar incident in which he allegedly made racist remarks about Ray Charles and James Brown to rockers Stephen Stills and Bonnie Bramlett. Get Happy!! (1980) was novel in that it contained 21 tracks in the pre-CD era. By this time, Costello's reputation as a brilliant songwriter was cemented by superstars such as Linda Ronstadt, who frequently covered his songs.
In 1981, Costello produced Squeeze's acclaimed East Side Story and released his country album, Almost Blue. The next year's Imperial Bedroom remains one of his most critically acclaimed works. "Everyday I Write The Book," from 1983's Punch The Clock, was a Top-40 hit in America. As the '80s wore on, Costello's commercial success lessened, but 1986's King of America was a critical knockout. It was also in 1986 that Costello married Pogues bassist Caitlin O'Riordan, having divorced his first wife in 1985.
In 1989, Costello collaborated with Paul McCartney to produce the hit "Veronica," from Costello's album Spike. Mighty Like a Rose (1991) contained more McCartney collaborations. In the '90s, Costello continued to write songs with other noted composers, such as Burt Bacharach. Costello's most recent album was 1996's All This Useless Beauty.
On Sept. 29, Costello will release an album entirely composed of collaborations with Bacharach, including their song from the Grace Of My Heart soundtrack, "God Give Me Strength" (RealAudio excerpt).
Other birthdays: Walter Williams (O'Jays), 56; Gene Simmons (Kiss), 49; Rob Halford (Judas Priest), 47; and Jeff Tweedy (Uncle Tupelo/Wilco), 31.