Armed Forces (album)

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Armed Forces
Elvis costello armed forces 1.jpg
Studio album by
Released5 January 1979 (1979-01-05)
RecordedAugust 1978 - September 1978
StudioEden Studios, London
GenreNew wave, post-punk
ProducerNick Lowe
Elvis Costello and the Attractions chronology
This Year's Model
Armed Forces
Get Happy!!
Singles from Armed Forces
  1. "Oliver's Army"
    Released: 2 February 1979[1]
  2. "Accidents Will Happen"
    Released: 4 May 1979[1]

Armed Forces is the third studio album by British musician Elvis Costello, released in the UK by Radar Records and in the US by Columbia in 1979. It was his second album with the Attractions, and the first to officially credit the Attractions on the cover. The album had the working title Emotional Fascism.

The North American version omitted the track "Sunday's Best" and replaced it with Costello's version of Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding," which had been released the previous November as the B-side of Lowe's "American Squirm" single. Initial pressings of the album in the UK and US also included a promotional three-song EP, Live at Hollywood High.

Armed Forces has appeared on various "greatest albums" lists in both Q magazine and Rolling Stone magazine.


After 1978's punk-inspired This Year's Model, Costello moved in a direction more influenced by new wave music. Costello described this change, "At the time, it seemed as if we were making an impossibly sophisticated leap from the sound of This Year's Model, but listening now there are very few production devices that sit between the listener and the songs. The confidence and cohesion of The Attractions' playing is the product of 12 months of intense touring. The sessions were not without dissent and tension, but we probably never had quite this level of consistent musical agreement again".[2]

Armed Forces was originally intended to be named Emotional Fascism; Costello explained, "Two or three half-formed notions collided uneasily in that title, although I never would have admitted to having anything as self-conscious as a ‘theme’ running through the songs. Any patterns that have emerged did so as the record was completed or with the benefit of hindsight. Personal and global matters are spoken about with the same vocabulary; maybe this was a mistake. Betrayal and murder are not the same thing. The first of them only deadens the soul. Some of the highly charged language may now seem a little naive; it is full of gimmicks and almost overpowers some songs with paradoxes and subverted clichés piling up into private and secret meanings. I was not quite 24 and thought I knew it all".[2]


Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic5/5 stars[3]
Blender5/5 stars[4]
Chicago Tribune4/4 stars[5]
Entertainment WeeklyA+[6]
Mojo4/5 stars[7]
Rolling Stone4/5 stars[9]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide4/5 stars[10]
Uncut3/5 stars[11]
The Village VoiceA−[12]

Janet Maslin, in a 1979 review in Rolling Stone, felt the album was a "killer in several senses of the word," remarking on the brief, energetic songs with dense and sometimes overly-clever but snappy lyrics. Maslin felt that Costello "wants to be daring, but he also wants to dance."[13] Robert Christgau, in a 1979 review in The Village Voice, felt Costello was using words to "add color and detail to his music" rather than as "a thinking, feeling person," though he approved of the "intricate pop constructions" and found the album overall to be "good" but not "great."[12] Both reviewers felt the album was more densely or richly produced than its two predecessors.[12][13]


In a retrospective commentary for AllMusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine felt that Armed Forces was a more "detailed and textured pop production" than Costello's first two albums, making the music more accessible, though the lyrics were "more insular and paranoid."[3] Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune, in his 1991 review, called the album "Costello's 'political' record, and also one of his most irresistibly melodic."[5] Matt LeMay, in a 2003 review for Pitchfork Media, also commented on the production, which he felt was "extravagantly layered with dense instrumentation and rich, effusive textures" which "often serves to conceal, rather than reveal the nuances of Costello's songwriting." LeMay concluded that "the greatest strength of Armed Forces may be the same thing that makes it less viscerally powerful than Costello's two prior records – its songs absolutely demand to be appreciated for their craftsmanship."[8] LeMay argued that the album marks the point at which Costello found his voice as a songwriter.[8]

In 2000, Q magazine placed Armed Forces at number 45 in its list of the "100 Greatest British Albums Ever." In 2003, the album was ranked at number 482 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time,"[14] and then was moved to number 475 on an updated list in 2012.[15] The album was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[16]


While the album's artwork was largely designed by Barney Bubbles and Bazooka, the original UK LP cover, featuring a herd of stampeding elephants, was designed by Tom Pogson. Initial pressings of the LP featured a die-cut fold-out sleeve, which also included four postcards of the band. The American version opted for a standard LP jacket and featured a piece of paint splattered artwork by Bubbles and Bazooka for the cover, which had also been featured inside the fold-out UK version.[17][18]

Initial pressings also included the bonus EP Live at Hollywood High, recorded on 4 June 1978 (1978-06-04), and initial UK copies came with a red and yellow sticker on the front with the words "Free EP inside."[19]

The album was released in a variety of different configurations in different territories, alternating between the two different cover designs and inclusion or exclusion of the bonus EP.[20]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Elvis Costello.

Side one
  1. "Accidents Will Happen" – 3:00
  2. "Senior Service" – 2:17
  3. "Oliver's Army" – 2:58
  4. "Big Boys" – 2:54
  5. "Green Shirt" – 2:42
  6. "Party Girl" – 3:20
Side two
  1. "Goon Squad" – 3:14
  2. "Busy Bodies" – 3:33
  3. "Sunday's Best" – 3:22
  4. "Moods for Moderns" – 2:48
  5. "Chemistry Class" – 2:55
  6. "Two Little Hitlers" – 3:18

The American and Canadian releases omitted "Sunday's Best" and added "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding" to close side two.[21]

Live at Hollywood High promo EP[edit]

  1. "Accidents Will Happen" (Live) – 3:18
  2. "Alison" (Live) – 3:08
  3. "Watching the Detectives" (Live) – 5:51


US 1979 and 2002 reissue cover, also known as "paint splatter cover"

Armed Forces was reissued on CD by Rykodisc in 1993, which featured the original album and bonus tracks on one CD. Rhino Records reissued the album again in 2002 as a two disc set; disc one contained the original UK album plus "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?" and disc two contained the bonus tracks.

1993 Rykodisc reissue bonus tracks[edit]

  1. "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding" (Nick Lowe) – 3:31
  2. "My Funny Valentine" (Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart) – 1:28
  3. "Tiny Steps" – 2:42
  4. "Clean Money" – 1:57
  5. "Talking in the Dark" – 1:56
  6. "Wednesday Week" – 2:01
  7. "Accidents Will Happen" (Live at Hollywood High) – 3:18
  8. "Alison" (Live at Hollywood High) – 3:08
  9. "Watching the Detectives" (Live at Hollywood High) – 5:51
  • Note: the Rykodisc reissue placed "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?" after a 15 second silence following "Two Little Hitlers."

2002 Rhino reissue bonus disc[edit]

  1. "Tiny Steps" – 2:42
  2. "Busy Bodies" (Alternative version) – 3:48
  3. "Talking in the Dark" – 1:56
  4. "Big Boys" (Alternative version) – 2:56
  5. "Clean Money" – 1:57
  6. "Wednesday Week" – 2:01
  7. "My Funny Valentine" (Rodgers, Hart) – 1:33
  8. "Accidents Will Happen" (Live at Hollywood High, 4 June 1978) – 3:18
  9. "Mystery Dance" (Live at Hollywood High, 4 June 1978) – 2:01
  10. "Goon Squad" (Live at Hollywood High, 4 June 1978) – 3:42
  11. "Party Girl" (Live at Hollywood High, 4 June 1978) – 3:19
  12. "Stranger in the House" (Live at Hollywood High, 4 June 1978) – 3:52
  13. "Alison" (Live at Hollywood High, 4 June 1978) – 3:08
  14. "Lipstick Vogue" (Live at Hollywood High, 4 June 1978) – 4:26
  15. "Watching the Detectives" (Live at Hollywood High, 4 June 1978) – 5:51
  16. "You Belong to Me" (Live at Hollywood High, 4 June 1978) – 2:39
  17. "Chemistry Class" (Live solo at the Warner Theatre, Washington DC, 28 February 1978) – 2:34

2007 Hip-O Records reissue bonus track[edit]


The Attractions



  1. ^ a b "Main Single Release Discography". The Elvis Costello Home Page. Retrieved 25 August 2008.
  2. ^ a b Melis, Matt. "10 Times Elvis Costello's Aim Was True". Consequence of Sound. Consequence Holdings, LLC. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  3. ^ a b Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Armed Forces – Elvis Costello / Elvis Costello & the Attractions". AllMusic. Retrieved 7 December 2015.
  4. ^ Wolk, Douglas (March 2005). "Elvis Costello: Armed Forces". Blender. Archived from the original on 4 February 2005. Retrieved 9 January 2016.
  5. ^ a b Kot, Greg (2 June 1991). "The Sounds Of Elvis, From San Francisco And Beyond". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 6 November 2015.
  6. ^ White, Armond (10 May 1991). "Elvis Costello's albums". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 20 September 2015.
  7. ^ Doyle, Tom (November 2018). "Band Substance". Mojo (300): 59.
  8. ^ a b c LeMay, Matt (2 March 2003). "Elvis Costello & The Attractions: Armed Forces". Pitchfork. Retrieved 20 June 2005.
  9. ^ Edwards, Gavin (12 December 2002). "Elvis Costello: Armed Forces". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 14 November 2007. Retrieved 16 June 2016.
  10. ^ Sheffield, Rob (2004). "Elvis Costello". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). London: Fireside Books. pp. 193–95. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8. Retrieved 30 November 2011.
  11. ^ Hasted, Nick (January 2003). "Snide effects". Uncut (68): 138.
  12. ^ a b c Christgau, Robert (26 February 1979). "Christgau's Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. Retrieved 30 November 2011.
  13. ^ a b Maslin, Janet (22 March 1979). "Armed Forces". Rolling Stone (287). Archived from the original on 14 November 2007. Retrieved 24 April 2005.
  14. ^ Levy, Joe; Steven Van Zandt (2006) [2005]. "482 | Armed Forces – Elvis Costello and the Attractions". Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (3rd ed.). London: Turnaround. ISBN 1-932958-61-4. OCLC 70672814. Archived from the original on 11 May 2012. Retrieved 18 February 2006.
  15. ^ Wenner, Jann S., ed. (2012). Rolling Stone – Special Collectors Issue – The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. USA: Wenner Media Specials. ISBN 978-7-09-893419-6
  16. ^ Robert Dimery; Michael Lydon (7 February 2006). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die: Revised and Updated Edition. Universe. ISBN 0-7893-1371-5.
  17. ^ a b c d "Barney Bubbles, Elvis Costello & Armed Forces". Joe Blogs. Retrieved 22 February 2018.
  18. ^ a b c d "Moods for postmoderns: Barney Bubbles at the V&A". Reasons to be Cheerful. Archived from the original on 22 February 2018. Retrieved 22 February 2018.
  19. ^ "Elvis Costello And The Attractions – Armed Forces". Discogs. 22 February 2018.
  20. ^ "Elvis Costello And The Attractions* - Armed Forces". Discogs.
  21. ^ "Elvis Costello And The Attractions* – Armed Forces". Discogs. Retrieved 8 August 2017.
  22. ^ a b Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  23. ^ Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 24 October 2011
  24. ^ " Elvis Costello – This Year's Model". (in Dutch). MegaCharts. Archived from the original (ASP) on 16 July 2012. Retrieved 23 October 2011.
  25. ^ " – Elvis Costello and the Attractions – Armed Forces". Recording Industry Association of New Zealand. Archived from the original (ASP) on 11 January 2014. Retrieved 23 October 2011.
  26. ^ " Elvis Costello and the Attractions – Armed Forces". VG-lista. Archived from the original (ASP) on 16 January 2014. Retrieved 18 September 2011.
  27. ^ " Elvis Costello and the Attractions – Armed Forces" (ASP) (in Swedish). Sverigetopplistan. Retrieved 18 September 2011.
  28. ^ "Elvis Costello and the Attractions – Armed Forces". UK Albums Chart. Retrieved 23 October 2011.
  29. ^ Elvis Costello > Charts & Awards > Billboard Albums at AllMusic. Retrieved 23 October 2011.
  30. ^ "RPM Top 100 Albums of 1979". RPM. Retrieved 3 October 2011.
  31. ^ "Complete UK Year-End Album Charts". Archived from the original on 19 May 2012. Retrieved 3 October 2011.
  32. ^ "Canadian album certifications – Elvis Costello – Armed Forces". Music Canada.
  33. ^ "British album certifications – Elvis Costello – Armed Forces". British Phonographic Industry. Select albums in the Format field. Select Platinum in the Certification field. Type Armed Forces in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.
  34. ^ "American album certifications – Elvis Costello – Armed Forces". Recording Industry Association of America. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH. 

External links[edit]