Under the covers... Elvis Costello Armed Forces Costello's Covers

Costello's Covers

The collaboration of a design maverick, a singular musical talent and ambitious label and management proved a fruitful union for Elvis Costello. That much was obvious as soon as 1977's My Aim Is True established Costello's Buddy Holly-esque image with an iconic cover image that saw our hero adopting a curiously knock-kneed, rock-star-meets-uber-geek pose, enclosed in a badly cropped photo surrounded by the repeated message 'Elvis Is King' on headache-inducing chequered squares.


This Year's Model broke from the norm again, the central shot of Elvis with a camera and tripod was bordered with a printers' colour bar, a favourite 'brilliant mistake' of the talented Mr Bubbles. After Armed Forces, Bubbles channelled a deliberately retro style for 1980's Get Happy!!, complete with fake ringwear marks as if it were an oft-played old soul LP.

The designer's fingerprints are less obviously in evidence on the more conventional cover of Trust, released in 1981. Nevertheless, it did contain a mock-up movie poster for the album and a shot of our Elvis swathed in smoke in a trenchcoat and shades as if in a detective film noir, and also fronting a big band. This, at least, was typical of Bubbles' approach to toying with his subjects' image.

Another new approach adorned Almost Blue, with Elvis's C&W LP styled as a homage to Kenny Burrell's 1963 Blue Note album Midnight Blue, but with a post-punk tear down the front placing one foot firmly in the '80s . Another left-turn followed, as 1982's Imperial Bedroom was graced with a Picasso pastiche, Snakecharmer & Reclining Octopus, by one 'Sal Forlenza'. Another Bubbles pseudonym, it turned out.

Sadly, his radical proposed sleeve for Punch The Clock (1983), imposing a skeletal face on a lightbulb, was rejected as 'too quirky' by the label, and that would prove the last work the great man would do for Costello before his untimely death later that year. Subsequent Costello sleeves would still catch the eye – not least in the case of Elvis's own illustration for 1986's Blood & Chocolate.

The ghosts of his past still loomed large though – he admits it was an attempt to ape Bubbles' style on the Imperial Bedroom sleeve. Inevitably, that early great cover would, like Barney, be an impossible act to follow.