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Friday, 6 January 2017

Revisiting Armed Forces - Elvis Costello & The Attractions (1979)

 Armed Forces - Elvis Costello and The Attractions
Radar (UK)
Columbia (USA)
Produced by Nick Lowe
Released 5th January 1979
UK Chart #2
US Chart #10

A1 Accidents Will Happen    
A2 Senior Service    
A3 Oliver's Army    
A4 Big Boys    
A5 Green Shirt    
A6 Party Girl    
B1 Goon Squad    
B2 Busy Bodies    
B3 Sunday's Best*    
B4 Moods For Moderns    
B5 Chemistry Class    
B6 Two Little Hitlers 

* The Columbia Edition in the US removed this track and replaced it with (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding? which became the last track on the album.

A Limited Edition Live EP was also included with the album.

Live At Hollywood High EP
A1 Accidents Will Happen    
A2 Alison    
B Watching The Detectives

1993 Rykodisc CD Reissue Tracklisting
1 Accidents Will Happen    
2 Senior Service    
3 Oliver's Army    
4 Big Boys    
5 Green Shirt    
6 Party Girl    
7 Goon Squad    
8 Busy Bodies    
9 Sunday's Best    
10 Moods For Moderns    
11 Chemistry Class    
12 Two Little Hitlers    
13 (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding?    
    Extended Play
14 My Funny Valentine    
15 Tiny Steps    
16 Clean Money    
17 Talking In The Dark    
18 Wednesday Week
19 Accidents Will Happen (Live)    
20 Alison (Live)    
21 Watching The Detectives (Live)

2002 Rhino Records CD Reissue

(US CD Cover)

Bonus Track CD1
13 - (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding?
 Bonus Disc Tracklisting
     2-1 Tiny Steps
2-2 Busy Bodies (Alternate Version)    
2-3 Talking In The Dark    
2-4 Big Boys (Alternate Version)    
2-5 Clean Money    
2-6 Wednesday Week
2-7 My Funny Valentine (Solo)
2-8 Accidents Will Happen (Live)    
2-9 Mystery Dance (Live)    
2-10 Goon Squad (Live)    
2-11 Party Girl (Live)    
2-12 Stranger In The House (Live)    
2-13 Alison (Live)    
2-14 Lipstick Vogue (Live)    
2-15 Watching The Detectives (Live)    
2-16 You Belong To Me (Live)    
2-17 Chemistry Class (Live Solo)

2-8 to 2-16 Recorded live at Hollywood High School, Hollywood, CA (4 June 1978).
2-17 Recorded live at The Warner Theatre, Washington, DC (28 February 1978)

2007 Hip-O Records CD Reissue
Bonus Track
13 - (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding?

UMe Back To Black Series
12" Vinyl and 7" EP
Returned to the Original Tracklisting but included
(Whats So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love And Understanding? and The Hollywood High EP

A1 Accidents Will Happen    
A2 Senior Service    
A3 Oliver's Army    
A4 Big Boys    
A5 Green Shirt    
A6 Party Girl    
B1 Goon Squad    
B2 Busy Bodies    
B3 Sunday's Best    
B4 Moods For Moderns    
B5 Chemistry Class    
B6 Two Little Hitlers
B7 Whats So Funny Bout Peace Love And Understanding? 
    Live At Hollywood High EP
C1 Accidents Will Happen    
C2 Alison    
D Watching The Detectives

    Elvis Costello – guitar, vocals
    Steve Nieve – piano, organ, synthesizer
    Bruce Thomas – bass
    Pete Thomas – drums

Singles Released From Armed Forces

Released 2nd February 1979
UK Charts #2

Released 4th May 1979
UK Chart #28

Other Notes regarding Armed Forces
The inclusion of (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding? was an interesting move because it was not a song that was originally released under the name of Elvis Costello and The Attractions.

 Rather it first raised its head in November 1978 as the B-Side to Nick Lowe's American Squirm single and was credited to Nick Lowe and His Sound


Armed Forces is the third album from Elvis Costello and the first to credit his backing band The Attractions (who had already played on the This Year's Model album). The album became his best selling at the time with it reaching #2 on the UK Album Chart and also unleashing one of the great singles of 1979 in Oliver's Army (also one of his most successful singles peaking at #2 in the UK). I was somewhat surprised that Accidents Will Happen (which was the second single taken from the album) did not do better chartwise.

With a working title of Emotional Fascism it's quite easy to see that theme unfurled throughout the album (some have called it a concept album because of that). Dave Quantick, writing for The Ultimate Music Guide: Elvis Costello said, "almost every song on Armed Forces seems to fit the main theme of human relationships as tiny wars, militarism as a similie for love, and the whole linking up of love, war and's also an album that's of its time and stands outside of its time. And it contains one of the greatest singles ever made. And it's a concept album". Elvis Costello seemed to be a master of this particular style of song as he managed to combine a whole raft of bitter and twisted emotion into a song.

In the US Elvis Costello had seen his first two albums hover around the thirties in the Album Chart but Armed Forces catapulted him and The Attractions to the Top Ten. Singles wise he hadn't done so well with Watching The Detectives just outside the charts and Accidents Will Happen would also find itself one place short of making it to the Hot 100. A radio hit of (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding? surely carried the album up the charts (it was not included on the UK version of the album until the 1993 CD Reissue) and they even made a video for MTV, which again would have given a further surge in the Billboard Album Charts.

As I mentioned above (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding? had not even been originally released under the Elvis Costello and The Attractions name before and it was a song penned by Nick Lowe for his band Brinsley Schwarz in 1974! It's funny that today many people seem totally unaware that it's not actually an Elvis Costello song but it is one that he does continue to perform in concert. He often introduces it as "A song that Nick Lowe wrote, but I stole!" Check out the performance with Elvis and Nick singing together.

Most of the songs for the album were written on tour buses and hotels (Oliver's Army was pretty much sketched out, according to Costello, on the flight back to London from Belfast) so come studio time it was just the point of getting them down onto tape (many of songs being done in a single take!). Nick Lowe once again is at the helm producing and showed once again how vital he is to bringing the sound of the band to its best.

In 2000 Q magazine placed Armed Forces at number 45 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever.

The accompanying music video for Accidents Will Happen, by Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton, was one of the 35 videos selected for the Museum of Modern Art's "Golden Oldies of Music Video" exhibition in 2003.

Whilst Elvis Costello and The Attractions are often associated with the New Wave Scene, Armed Forces would be the last of his albums that really could be classed as such as in the years following Costello would branch out and dip his toes in the waters of Country, 60s Soul, Classical etc.
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