In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing.
I pulled a copy of Elvis Costello And The Attractions’ Get Happy!! out of the used-vinyl racks at my neighborhood record store recently. Coming across the LP among other pre-owned albums is a strange experience: At the time of its release in 1980, Get Happy!! already looked like a secondhand purchase. Costello and his bandmates were in tribute mode when they made their third (and Costello’s fourth) full-length release, and the vintage R&B, ska, and British beat sounds they were trying to capture bleed into Barney Bubbles’ packaging design. Marked as a product of the ’80s by its DayGlo color palette, the artwork nonetheless mimics that of the soul sides the band and its contemporaries eagerly stuffed into their suitcases on U.S. tours; Bubbles went so far as to stamp faux “ring wear” onto the front and back covers. My new-old copy of Get Happy!! bears some fraying along the spine, and coupled with Bubbles’ pressing-plant patina, buying it felt like picking up a “distressed” replica of a 1970s concert T-shirt at a thrift shop.
The record’s penultimate track—“I Stand Accused,” based on the Merseybeats cover of Tony Colton’s slow-burning original—begins as a similar copy-of-a-copy prospect. Yet the revved-up Get Happy!! version of “I Stand Accused” claims the song for Costello And The Attractions, splashing it in the colors of Steve Nieve’s calliope-esque organ and folding the wordplay of the original’s lyrics into Costello’s fondness for acid-tongued doublespeak. Get Happy!! is the follow-up to an album Costello originally wanted to call Emotional Fascism (Armed Forces proved less incendiary); working from the template set by Colton and Ray Smith, the singer-songwriter taps the properly manic vein of a lover speaking as if his feelings are on trial. It’s the perfectly post-modern vibe to wrap up a record that aspired to be dated before it hit the shelves: The earnest yearning of an early rock single turned inside-out to become a frantic plea of guilt. Considering the soul and gospel source material for other Get Happy!! tracks, there are further thematic riches to mine from “I Stand Accused”’s references to witnesses and testifying. Perhaps the scuffing on my vinyl copy was from a previous owner trying to peel back every layer of the record.