Elvis Costello has the heart of a punk rocker. Even now, some 30 years after the release of his debut record, he still manages to infuse his music with a deliberate pop/punk attitude and more than a little of that late ’70s swagger. Equal parts Buddy Holly and punk snark, Costello has been combining and testing these often-disparate sounds like some ostracized and disenfranchised musical alchemist for far longer than most people.
But that success didn’t come quickly. Costello had played all sorts of pubs and clubs across England since 1970; he had even recorded some demos, but interest was definitely lacking. That all changed when Stiff Records was founded in 1976, and Costello subsequently submitted his music to the new label. They were interested, though they initially wanted to bring him on as a songwriter for Dave Edmunds.
However, Edmunds was reluctant, and as a way of trying to convince Edmunds, the label had Costello rerecord some of his songs, with Nick Lower producing and The Clovers backing him. The songs were so good that the label decided to forgo having him sit in as a songwriter only and see if he wanted to share a debut record with Wreckless Eric. This proved unnecessary, as Costello had enough songs on his own to fill a full LP.
And so, in 1977, Stiff Records released “My Aim Is True,” Costello’s debut record. Quitting his day job (as a data entry clerk), he became a professional musician with the backing of his label. Later, he would describe the situation as being “an overnight success after seven years.”
Just as defining as the music itself was the record’s cover, which was created by Barney Bubbles, who wasn’t actually credited anywhere in the notes. Costello’s signature thick-rimmed glasses, that knock-kneed stance and the repeating phrase “Elvis Is King” all came to be synonymous with him as an artist. The first 1,000 U.K. pressings even had a form inside where you could send in a friend’s address and the label would send them a free copy. “Help Us Hype Elvis” was the name of the form.