Alison (Elvis Costello song)

For the song by Pixies, see Allison (Pixies song).
Single by Elvis Costello
from the album My Aim is True
B-side "Welcome to the Working Week"
Released 21 May 1977
Format 7" vinyl
Recorded 1977
Genre Pub rock, new wave
Length 2:51
Label Stiff Records
Writer(s) Elvis Costello (credited as Declan Patrick MacManus)
Producer(s) Nick Lowe
Elvis Costello singles chronology
"Less Than Zero"
"(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes"

"Alison" is a song written by and first recorded by Elvis Costello in 1977 for his debut album on Stiff Records. Costello's single never charted. Linda Ronstadt, who covered the song and released her version in 1979, had a moderate hit with it. There have also been several other cover versions of this song.

Elvis Costello version


The song "Alison" was included on Elvis Costello's debut studio album My Aim Is True as the fifth track, and was released in 1977. As "Alison" was recorded before Elvis Costello and the Attractions formed, his backing band on the track was Clover. Costello has divulged little on the meaning of the song other than to say that it is about "disappointing somebody"[1] and to deny suggestions that the lines "somebody better put out the big light" and "my aim is true" refer to murder. He has also declined to reveal who the song is about, writing in the liner notes for Girls Girls Girls, "Much could be undone by saying more."[2][3] The line "my aim is true" gives the album its title. Costello has also said that the song was musically based on "Ghetto Child" by The Spinners.

However, in his 2015 autobiography Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, Costello wrote: "I've always told people that I wrote the song "Alison" after seeing a beautiful checkout girl at the local supermarket. She had a face for which a ship might have once been named. Scoundrels might once have fought mist-swathed duels to defend her honour. Now she was punching in the prices on cans of beans at a cash register and looking as if all the hopes and dreams of her youth were draining away. All that were left would soon be squandered to a ruffian who told her convenient lies and trapped her still further".[4]

Costello and Billie Joe Armstrong, of Green Day, played the song live together on VH1 Classic's "Decades Rock Live". The performance originally aired on 19 May 2006.


"Alison" was released as a single in the United Kingdom with a B-side of "Welcome to the Working Week" and as two singles in the United States; one with a mono version of the same song on the B-side, the other with "Miracle Man". The US (and Canadian) single versions of "Alison" are unique in that someone at CBS in the US decided to add synth-strings, background singers and echo to the song. The single did not chart. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked it No. 318 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and Entertainment Weekly voted it as one of Costello's top 10 greatest tunes.[5] Costello's version of the song is featured in the 2002 film Adaptation.. The Telegraph named it Costello's second greatest song only after "Oliver's Army", calling it "a wonderful song about unrequited love."[6]

Linda Ronstadt version

Single by Linda Ronstadt
from the album Living In The USA
B-side "Mohammed's Radio"
Released April 1979
Format 7" vinyl
Recorded 1978
Genre Country rock, new wave
Length 3:20
Label Asylum Records
Writer(s) Elvis Costello
Producer(s) Peter Asher
Linda Ronstadt singles chronology
"Just One Look"
"How Do I Make You"


Linda Ronstadt recorded a cover version of "Alison" for her studio album Living in the USA, in 1978, which sold over 2 million copies. Released as the disc's fourth single in the spring of 1979 on Asylum Records, it was produced by her longtime producer Peter Asher. Ronstadt's B-side to "Alison" was "Mohammed's Radio", also produced by Asher.


Ronstadt's version of "Alison" was a moderate hit, reaching number 30 in the U.S. on the Billboard adult contemporary chart. Her single also reached number 66 in the UK Singles chart. Years later, Costello joked that he might have been publicly derisive of Ronstadt's version, "but I didn't mind spending the money that she earned me".[7] Costello donated royalties from Ronstadt's version to the African National Congress after she played at Sun City in South Africa.[8]

Other versions


  1. "Alison". 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Rolling Stone. 9 December 2004.
  2. Girls Girls Girls (Inset). Elvis Costello. USA: Columbia Records. 1988. C2K-46897.
  3. My Aim Is True (Inset). Elvis Costello. USA: Rhino Entertainment. 2001. R2 74285.
  4. Elvis Costello (13 October 2015). Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink. Viking. p. 179. ISBN 978-0241003466.
  5. "Alison". Pump It Up: Elvis Costello's 10 Greatest Tunes. Entertainment Weekly. 9 October 2004.
  7. Griggs, Simon (26 November 1998). "Elvis Costello Interview". Archived from the original on 29 June 2008. Retrieved 25 July 2008.
  8. Pilgrim, David; Ormrod, Richard (2014). Elvis Costello and Thatcherism: A Psycho-Social Exploration. Farnham, U.K.: Ashgate Publishing. p. 50. ISBN 9781317145004.
  9. Anthony, David (23 September 2014). "American Football covers Elvis Costello". The A.V. Club. Onion, Inc. Retrieved 23 September 2014.

External links

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