Elvis Costello emerged from the new wave movement of the late '70s as an original new talent. His sizable catalog of songs draws on musical influences as diverse as jazz, blues, classical, Broadway, and country music.
Born Declan MacManus (the name Elvis Costello was later derived from Elvis Presley and his mother's maiden name), Costello encountered a wide variety of music as a youth through his father, singer/bandleader Ross MacManus. As a teenager, Costello formed his first band, Flip City, supporting himself as a computer operator at a London cosmetics factory while "auditioning" for record executives (at one point even getting arrested for busking outside a CBS convention) in hopes of gaining a recording contract. He signed with Stiff Records in 1977 and released his first album, My Aim Is True, that same year. Produced by Nick Lowe, the album gained considerable critical attention and sold well enough to enable Costello to pursue music full-time (one of the album's songs, "Alison," later became a hit for Linda Ronstadt).
Costello's next two albums, This Year's Model (1978) and Armed Forces (1979), featured his newly formed band the Attractions and reinforced his reputation for intelligent songwriting. Some of his lyrics took on controversial social and political issues (wife beating in "Watching the Detectives," mercenaries in "Oliver's Army"), and Costello's own angry young man persona made the news through a racist comment he made about Ray Charles and a well-publicized 1979 fight with Stephen Stills.
By the early '80s, Costello was expanding his musical range and experiences. Get Happy!! (1980) drew on his early love for rhythm & blues artists like Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding. Almost Blue (1981) was a country flavored album and Imperial Bedroom (1982) a lush production employing an orchestra and evoking songwriters like Jerome Kern. He also continued to create pop/rock albums like Punch the Clock (1983), which included the hit "Everyday I Write the Book." Around the same time, Costello produced albums for the groups Squeeze and the Pogues (he married the latter's bassist, Cait O'Riordan, in 1986). The late '80s saw Costello co-writing several songs with Paul McCartney, one of which, "Veronica," was a hit in 1989.
A noteworthy change of direction was 1993's The Juliet Letters, a song cycle co-written and performed with the Brodsky Quartet. Costello continued to pursue his interest in more classical styles through collaborations with saxophonist John Harle (Terror and Magnificence, released in 1997) and singer Anne Sofie Von Otter (2001's For the Stars), while also recording rock albums like Brutal Youth (1994) and the diverse cover collection Kojak Variety (1995). Another important songwriting collaboration with Burt Bacharach led to the 1998 album Painted From Memory.