Not quite as fuck-it-all as the punks, and not quite as sensitive as the sappy pop of the time, Elvis Costello wrote lyrics in a way told people he did give a fuck-- in the smartest and most bitter of fashions. And it kind of made his contemporaries look like jack-asses.
"Now that your picture's in the paper getting rhythmically admired/and you can have anyone that you have ever desired".
-from "Welcome To the Working Week", My Aim Is True (1977)
One of my favorite opening lines of all time from my favorite debut record. Anyone could have written a masturbation reference about the borderline crude and pagan relationship we have with celebrities, but Elvis's lyrics flow like waves as the "oohs" and "aahs" pleasuringly coast each line to the next. While writing My Aim Is True, Costello was working overtime as a computer programmer in London, and he was already writing songs about the dreary and drab world he lives in.
"You either shut up or get cut up, they don't wanna hear bout it, it's only inches on the reel-to-reel/and the radio is the hands of such a lot of fools, trying to anaesthetise the way that you feel".
-from "Radio, Radio" 7" (1978)
One of the smartest stick-it-to-the-man songs ever written, and has grown to infamy since the legendary SNL appearance. When Elvis and the Attractions were asked to appear on Saturday Night Live, Columbia Records and SNL made Elvis promise to play a single from My Aim Is True, "Less Than Zero" for their performance in order to commercially boost interest in the record. About the 10 seconds into the song, Elvis turns around to his band and yells "Stop! Stop!", apologizes to the audience, remarking "there's no reason to play this song here". He then calls out for "Radio, Radio", counts off and the band rips into the song-- a song distinctly about corporate interests manipulating the artistry of music. watch the video in the comments.
and listen to how he makes such a ballsy word like anaesthetise just drip from his mouth.
"There's a smart, young woman on a bright, blue screen that comes into my house every night. And she takes all the red, yellow, orange and green and she turns it into black and white."
-from "Green Shirt", Armed Forces (1979)
A brilliant tune with complex and unbelievably sticky melodies. Elvis often portrays his disdain for encroaching authority (the entire Armed Forces theme), and "Green Shirt" along with "Oliver's Army" is the smartest portrayal of this. Government paranoia, controlled-media distortion, superficial cover ups. But that almost sounds cliche. The lyrics are so spare and funny and fluctuated that none of this is really evident until you think about it. He paints certain scenes until the whole songs just makes sense and you realize 'shit, this guy is pissed off and he's writing about some serious stuff '.
"Oh, Alison, my aim is true."
-from "Alison" My Aim Is True (1977)
"Oh, I said 'I'm so happy, I could die'/ She said 'drop dead' and then left with another guy."
-from "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes" My Aim Is True (1977)
Elvis also tackled the complicated issue of love and relationships. Of course, he put his own bitter and retrospective stance on it. In "Alison", he relents to his ex, "my aim is true". He could be trying to win her back or threatening her with a loaded gun. And the "Red Shoes" line is just brilliantly biting and heartbreaking.