Elvis Costello began writing songs at the age of 13 and has since enjoyed a decades long career as one of the best songwriters of his generation. 2017 marked the 40th anniversary of the release his first studio album, My Aim Is True (1977).
He is perhaps best known for the songs, “Alison,” “Pump It Up,” “Everyday I Write The Book,” and his rendition of the Nick Lowe song, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.”
His record catalogue of more than 30 albums includes the contrasting pop and rock ’n’ roll albums, This Year’s Model (1978), Armed Forces (1979), Imperial Bedroom (1982), Blood & Chocolate (1986), and King of America (1986),along with an album of country covers, Almost Blue (1981), and two collections of orchestrally accompanied piano ballads, Painted From Memory (1998), with Burt Bacharach and North (2003).
He has performed worldwide with his bands, The Attractions, His Confederates (which featured two members of Elvis Presley’s T.C.B. band) and his current group, The Imposters—Steve Nieve, Pete Thomas, and Davey Faragher—as well as solo concerts, most recently his acclaimed solo show, Detour.
Costello has entered into songwriting collaborations with Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach, the Brodsky Quartet, and with Allen Toussaint for the album The River In Reverse (2006), the first major label recording project to visit New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and completed there while the city was still under curfew.
In 2003, Costello acted as lyrical editor of six songs written with his wife—the jazz pianist and singer Diana Krall—for her album The Girl in the Other Room (2004). He has written lyrics for compositions by Charles Mingus, Billy Strayhorn, and Oscar Peterson and musical settings for words by W.B. Yeats and Bob Dylan.
Costello’s songs have been recorded by a great number of artists, including George Jones, Linda Ronstadt, Georgie Fame, Chet Baker, Johnny Cash, June Tabor, Roy Orbison, Dusty Springfield, Robert Wyatt, Anne Sofie von Otter, Solomon Burke, and Darlene Love.
During his career, Costello has received numerous prestigious honors, including two Ivor Novello Awards for songwriting, a Dutch Edison Award with The Brodsky Quartet for The Juliet Letters (1993), the Nordoff-Robbins Silver Clef Award, a BAFTA for the music written with Richard Harvey for Alan Bleasdale’s television drama series G.B.H., and a Grammy for “I Still Have That Other Girl” from his 1998 collaboration with Burt Bacharach, Painted From Memory.
Costello and The Attractions were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, and in the same year, Costello was awarded ASCAP’s prestigious Founder’s Award.
In 2004, Costello was nominated for an Oscar for Best Song—“The Scarlet Tide,” co-written with T Bone Burnett and sung by Alison Krauss in the motion picture Cold Mountain. In 2016, Costello was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in the company of Chip Taylor and Tom Petty.
Costello’s first full-length orchestral work Il Sogno was commissioned in 2000 by the Italian dance company Aterballetto for their adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The score was subsequently recorded by The London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Tilson-Thomas, and released by Deutsche Grammophon, staying at the top of Billboard’s Contemporary Classical Charts for 14 weeks in 2004. This release led to a series of orchestral concert performances with a number of the world’s great symphonic orchestras, opening with a suite from Il Sogno conducted by Alan Broadbent and closing with a selection of Costello songs arranged for voice, the piano of Steve Nieve, and orchestra.
Nevertheless, Costello closed out 2007 by appearing solo as the middle act on The Bob Dylan Show for 28 dates.
In December 2008, Sundance Channel and CTV launched Costello’s internationally renowned music television series Spectacle which ran for 20 episodes over two seasons, offering intimate conversations and unique musical performances with guests, including Sir Elton John, President Bill Clinton, Tony Bennett, Lou Reed, Smokey Robinson, The Police, Herbie Hancock, Bono & The Edge, Levon Helm, John Prine, James Taylor, Jesse Winchester, and Bruce Springsteen.
Through 2009 and 2010, Costello toured with the largely acoustic ensemble The Sugarcanes, featuring Jerry Douglas, Jim Lauderdale, Stuart Duncan, Mike Compton, Jeff Taylor, and Dennis Crouch, all of whom had appeared on Secret, Profane & Sugarcane (2009), recorded by T Bone Burnett during a three-day session at Nashville’s Sound Emporium Studio. The Sugarcanes also appeared on the 2010 album, National Ransom alongside the Imposters, Marc Ribot, and guest stars Vince Gill and Leon Russell. The album featured the enduring spiritual narratives “Jimmie Standing In The Rain,” “Church Underground,” and “A Voice In The Dark.”
In September 2013, Blue Note Records released the album Wise Up Ghost, written by Costello with Questlove and producer Steven Mandel and recorded with The Roots and the orchestral arranger Brent Fischer.
From 2011-2014 having recorded the albums When I Was Cruel (2002), The Delivery Man (2004), and Momofuku (2008) together since 2002, Elvis Costello and The Imposters—Steve Nieve, Pete Thomas, and Davey Faragher—toured for four years with “The Spectacular Spinning Songbook,” employing a 20- foot game-show wheel with which audience members selected the next song to be performed.
In 2014, Elvis was also part of the New Basement Tapes ensemble with Marcus Mumford, Jim James, Rhiannon Giddens, and Taylor Goldsmith for the T Bone Burnett produced album Lost on the River (2014), offering the participant’s newly composed musical settings of previously undiscovered Bob Dylan lyrics from 1967.
In 2015, the Penguin/Blue Rider imprint published Costello’s nuanced and evocative memoir, Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink while he was appearing in Detour, a largely solo performance—although frequently augmented by Rebecca and Megan Lovell of Larkin Poe—in which anecdotes were connected to songs on the cue of archival photographs, cartoons, and other visual oddities projected onto a giant vintage-style television set. This presentation recently concluded after 106 shows in 20 countries.
March 2017 marked the release of a special edition of Paul McCartney’s Flowers in the Dirt, the 1989 album which included four from the 15 songs written by the McCartney/MacManus partnership, including the hit single “My Brave Face” and Costello’s contemporaneous chart success, “Veronica” from his album Spike (1989). The re-issue also includes a dozen demo recordings on which McCartney and Costello accompany themselves on guitar and piano, often performing in the two-part vocal harmony in which the songs were originally composed. Both writers have noted in recent interviews that the original demos may have contained some magic that later renditions failed to match.
Also in 2017, Costello wrote “You Shouldn’t Look At Me That Way,” the end title track for the major motion picture, Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool. The film was produced by EON Production’s Barbara Broccoli and stars Annette Bening and Jamie Bell. The video for “You Shouldn’t Look At Me That Way” was produced and directed by Mary McCartney. The song appeared on the deluxe edition of Costello’s 2018 album, Look Now.
Look Now, released in October 2018 by Concord Records, was Costello’s first collection of new material in five years and his first with The Imposters in a decade. Costello worked with co-producer Sebastian Krys at studios in Hollywood, New York City, and Vancouver, British Columbia, to create an “uptown pop record.” In addition to the songs Costello wrote, the album included a collaboration with Carole King and three with Burt Bacharach, who plays piano on two, “Don’t Look Now” and “Photographs Can Lie.”
In 2019, Costello released the Purse EP, consisting of four songs containing songwriting collaborations with Burt Bacharach and Paul McCartney, as well as musical settings of lyrics by Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan. In the same year, Costello was: presented a Lifetime Achievement Award for songwriting in Nashville by the Americana Music Association; awarded an O.B.E. (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) for his services to music on the Queen’s Birthday Honours List; and announced as a recipient of a Hollywood Walk of Fame star for the class of 2020.
Biography provided by artist management.