Thursday, December 12, 2013

#248: Elvis Costello-Alison (Top 500 Modern Rock Songs Of All Time)

(Top Modern Rock Songs Of All Time)
Song: "Alison"
Artist: Elvis Costello
Release Date: May, 1977
From the Album: My Aim Is True (1977)

Quick Take: In 1977, when Elvis Costello first began to make waves as new wave's Angry Young Man (with a knack for pop hooks), "Alison" was the song many writers seemed to seize upon as evidence that Costello was a real songwriter, and not just another mangy punk cut from the same cloth as Johnny Rotten. While Costello certainly wasn't a punk and "Alison" was just the sort of mid-tempo ballad people weren't expecting from rock's new enfant terrible, a quick scan of the lyrics reveals a tale as bitter as "I'm Not Angry" or "Miracle Man." "Alison" is the story of man betrayed by the woman he loves; he finds himself still hopelessly in love with her as he watches her throw away her affection on a man he knows will let her down, unable to convince her that she's making a mistake. The song is a heady and compelling mixture of love, ache, and barely suppressed fury, and if the chorus' declaration that "Alison/My aim is true" makes clear this is a song about love, the bitter undertow of the verses leaves no doubt that there's no happy ending in store for anyone in this story. The keen dramatics and melodic subtlety of the song's first recording on Costello's debut album, My Aim Is True, was a rare early betrayal of his early days as an also-ran on the British pub rock scene, where country-rock was the order of the day. Linda Ronstadt's 1978 recording of the song (on her album Living in the USA) took the tack of recasting the song from a man's message to a former lover to a woman talking to her best friend; while Ronstadt's performance was typically expert and her seal of approval on Costello's work doubtless opened his work up to a new audience, it's hard not to get the impression she simply didn't get the song's subtleties and subtexts.

1 comment:

  1. I dig Ronstadt's version. I always, to the dismay of many, preferred her version. Today listening to both I feel vindicated. Linda hits it just right - as good as Different Drum.