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Costello has never revealed who this is about. In the liner notes to his Girls Girls Girls compilation album, he wrote, "Much could be undone by saying more."
As is usually the case in Elvis Costello lyrics, the protagonist is sexually frustrated (see "Watching the Detectives") and mad at the guy who always gets the girl. In this tale of unrequited love, "My aim is true" does not imply pure intentions; it means he wants to kill her.
The chorus is based on a song by The Detroit Spinners called "Ghetto Child."
The line in this song, "My Aim Is True," provided the title for the album.
My Aim Is True
was Costello's first album. He did not have a backing band at the time, so Nick Lowe, who produced the album, brought in a group called Clover. Huey Lewis was in the band, but didn't participate in the sessions because they didn't need a harmonica player. Alex Call was the lead singer of Clover, and he wasn't needed on "Alison" either. Call told us, "Elvis Costello was at that time Dec McManus, he was using his real name. He was just this mild-mannered, meek little songwriter who would hang out around Stiff Records, which was our management office. Elvis once said, 'Man, I wish I could sing like you.' They went and cut at this little place called Pathways - a little 8-track studio so small that all you had just enough space to play your instrument. They went in that first session, and in one session they cut 'Alison' and 'Red Shoes' and 'Less Than Zero,' these classic songs. I remember hearing them at this Rock 'n' Roll house we lived in outside of Headley, South of London called the Headley Grange House. John McFee (Clover bass player) brought back a reel-to-reel tape on one of those old Wollensak tape recorders. He played this stuff, and I mean, I was ready to quit after hearing that - it was so astounding. They did like three 8-12 hour sessions, and that was My Aim Is True
. That is a classic record, just unbelievable. We were managed by the same guys and we hung out a lot with Nick. Nick produced a lot of our early sessions there. We made 2 albums with Mutt Lange, and nothing happened with the band. We came close in England to breaking a single, but it didn't work and we ended up breaking up." (Check out our interview with Alex Call
Linda Ronstadt recorded this on her 1978 Living in the USA album and released the song as a single. The single didn't chart on the Hot 100 - a rare miss for Ronstadt, who was very popular at the time. The album, however, sold over two million copies, providing Costello with substantial royalties as the writer of one of its 10 tracks. He credits these earnings with keeping him afloat in the early years before he caught on.
There were two singles released in the US. The B-side of one has a mono version of "Alison," the other has a live version of "Miracle Man" that was recorded on August 7, 1977 at the Nashville Rooms in London.
Costello explained in Esquire: "We put these cheap synth strings on the track before there were really even synths. They said, 'The strings will make it a hit!' It was never a hit."
The B-side of the UK single is "Welcome to the Working Week." A few copies were released with the A-side pressed on white vinyl while the B-side is the usual black.
This song was used in an episode of That 70's Show when Hyde contemplates moving to New York to follow a girl who wants to start a Punk Rock band. (thanks, Jim - Melbourne, FL)
Petula talks about her hits "Downtown" and "Don't Sleep In The Subway," and explains her Michael Jackson connection.
Bass Player Scott Edwards
Scott was Stevie Wonder's bass player before becoming a top session player. Hits he played on include "I Will Survive," "Being With You" and "Sara Smile."