I. Get Happy!!

Elvis Costello and The Attractions

I have a theory that Rock and Roll came to an end in 1980. Yes, further permutations of it have come and gone in the twenty-five years since (southern rock, punk rock, hard rock, heavy metal, thrash metal, hair metal, grunge, industrial, goth, college rock...on and on...), but Rock and Roll as it was invented by Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Elvis Presley, perfected by Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Motown Records and The Who and further developed by Led Zeppelin and the supergroups of the '70's basically called it a day with the deaths of John Bonham and John Lennon, respectively, in the second half of 1980. Preposterous, you say?

I was listening to Get Happy!! by Elvis Costello and The Attractions. It is proof that Rock and Roll took it's last real shot as that new decade was dawning. Along with the twin towers of Glass Houses and The River, not to mention the monumental achievement that is Pete Townshend's Empty Glass album, this is the masterpiece of it’s time and the fourth in a row from the perverse Buddy Holly/Shakespeare-with-a-Vengeance reincarnate from Liverpool. Although it was never my taste, never let it be said that massive heaps of cocaine and bottomless gallons of cheap liquor don't help to produce relentlessly exciting Rock and Roll Music. From the reckless speed and timeless construction of the twenty superb songs here (!) to the razor sharp arrangements and performances by The Best Band Of It's Time and Maybe Ever, this is as good as hyper-smart pop music has ever gotten, reflecting both the sheen and greatness of past giants and shining chrome-like toward a future that has yet to really match it in quality, quantity and sheer quotient of verve / nerve.

Elvis sings like a man possessed by the spirit of the Rhythm and Blues records that he loved as a child, both paying homage to them and blatantly scoffing at them simultaneously. Rarely has an artist been so reverent and irreverent at the same time. The effect is, like the state he so clearly seems to have been in at the time, intoxicating. It's like a magical hangover that feels awful and cool all at once. It's shivering, hungry music. Vital and spitting, alive and somewhat afraid, all nerves and nervous energy. He's a live wire here and only The Best Band Of It's Time and Maybe Ever will do as support.

The percussive attack and effortless grasp of groove on "Black And White World" and "King Horse" is proof positive that Pete Thomas is as good a drummer as there has ever been. The careening bass on "5ive Gears In Reverse" and the showstopper of "Riot Act" offers insight into the melodic genius of section brother Bruce Thomas. And perhaps most impressively, the omnipresent brilliance of Steve Nieve sparkles and sparks throughout as he gives a crash course clinic on how to play piano and Hammond organ in the context of a rock band. Anyone who ever wants to play Rock and Roll Music should listen to this album and LEARN.

And then there's the writing, which is the most concise and consciously wired of any since the heyday of the MacLen gestalt and the Holland / Dozier / Holland hit machine. It's like a compact history of pop music and in the hands of masters such as these, there are few better textbooks. Not one song here strays over three and a half minutes, and most crash to a stunning halt at the two minute mark, leaving the listener breathless but never unsatisfied. Each tune feels fully realized. Elvis says what he needs to say in as terse and effective a way as he ever has before or since, and then moves ferociously on to the next subject. The economy of Get Happy!! is another powerful lesson for anyone interested in the inner deep mechanics of true Rock and Roll Music. Elvis is literally saying with each new tightly polished gem, Say It Don't Spray It. How I wish more people, if anyone for that matter, could say so much in two minutes flat.

It's not an easy thing to do. That he DID it eighteen out of twenty times in a row is no fluke, but more a comment on the part of the artist not to be taken lightly. It's an audacious flexing of strength and superiority, and Declan makes the gesture with great aplomb and a sense of confidence that both undermines and supports the sense of panic and fear running through his lyrics. Given the much-publicized tensions of his life at the time (Read: Drunken off-color comments made about Ray and JB in a Columbus, Ohio motel and the very serious backlash that ensued), it all makes perfect sense. He was scared witless, but never lost his wit. Throw in the poignant melodic ease of "New Amsterdam" and it seems like there's nothing he couldn't do. Everyone's fourth album should be this good. I should take back what I said. Rock and Roll isn't dead. Not as long as Elvis the Second isn't. 


Don't wear your heart out on your sleeve
When your remarks are off the cuff.