Song of the Day #1,412: ‘(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes’ – Elvis Costello

Best Albums of the 70s – #17
My Aim is True – Elvis Costello (1977)

Elvis Costello landed three albums on my 80s list, two in the top six. That was definitely his defining decade. But He made a pretty strong impression in the last few years of the 70s as well.

While his second and third albums, This Year’s Model and Armed Forces, won’t appear on this list, they contain some excellent work. But I’m most drawn to Costello’s debut album, My Aim is True, which announced his singular talent through a megaphone.

Costello spent most of the 70s playing clubs, recording demos and working a day job as a computer operator. In ’76, he was paired up with a rock band called Clover to record an album’s worth of material that was to be shopped around to other performers. The label recognized his songwriting talent but didn’t buy him as a front man.

The resulting album, recorded over six four-hour sessions, became My Aim is True. Clover became Huey Lewis & the News (though Lewis himself was not in on Costello’s sessions). And everybody who heard the record became an instant fan of Elvis Costello.

I’ve seen this described as a punk record (probably due to Costello’s pigeon-toed stance on the cover as much as anything) but it’s certainly the first punk record to feature a ballad that could make Burt Bacharach jealous. The gorgeous ballad ‘Alison,’ one of the album’s first singles, signaled the depth and breadth of Costello’s influences and talent.

He also toyed with rockabilly and Phil Spector-style bombast, as well as the avant-garde ‘Watching the Detectives’ (released on only the U.S. version, one of the few times I’m OK with the repackaging of an album across the pond).

‘(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes’ is one of my favorite early Costello tracks. With its playful call-and-answer second verse and two immortal lines that sum up Costello’s early romantic worldview (“I said ‘I’m so happy, I could die.’ She said ‘Drop dead,’ then left with another guy”), this is ear candy of the finest sort.

Oh I used to be disgusted
and now I try to be amused.
But since their wings have got rusted,
you know, the angels wanna wear my red shoes.
But when they told me ’bout their side of the bargain,
that’s when I knew that I could not refuse.
And I won’t get any older, now the angels wanna wear my red shoes.

I was watching while you’re dancing away.
Our love got fractured in the echo and sway.
How come everybody wants to be your friend?
You know that it still hurts me just to say it.

Oh, I know that she’s disgusted (oh why’s that)
Cause she’s feeling so abused. (oh that’s too bad)
She gets tired of the lust, (oh I’m so sad)
but it’s so hard to refuse.
How can you say that I’m too old,
when the angels have stolen my red shoes.

Oh, I said “I’m so happy, I could die.”
She said “Drop dead,” then left with another guy.
That’s what you get if you go chasing after vengeance.
Ever since you got me punctured this has been my sentence.
Oh I used to be disgusted
and now I try to be amused.
But since their wings have got rusted,
you know, the angels wanna wear my red shoes.
Red shoes, the angels wanna wear my red shoes.

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3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,412: ‘(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes’ – Elvis Costello

  1. Dana says:

    You certainly won’t hear any complaint from me on this pick, although I’m not sure if this or any other Costello album would necessarily make my 70′s top 20 list. That’s not a criticism of Costello’s early work, but rather gives testament to the fact that his 80′s work was more impactful on me personally.

    I’m also not sure if I would favor this album over Armed Forces, as I find both to be really strong. Certainly the addition of “Watching the Detectives” on the US version gives this one a bit of an edge though.

    I’m actually a bit surprised you picked the debut over This Year’s Model as I always thought that you considered that to be one of your favorites.

  2. Clay says:

    My Aim is True has more highlights (‘Alison,’ Red Shoes,’ ‘Detectives,’ ‘Miracle Man’) than This Year’s Model, though Model is more consistent in tone and sound. It’s a close match, but I felt I had to go with the debut.

  3. Amy says:

    I’m going through your list backwards, so let me now wholeheartedly endorse this pick for your top 20 list – I agree that the album that introduces both Costello and “Alison” to the world belongs on a “best of” list :)

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