He's a little cantankerous, but he has unparalleled word-twisting skills and knows his way around a well-built pop song. Armed with giant glasses and a giant vocabulary, Elvis Costello brought a sophisticated edge to punk and a seething intelligence to the 1970s new-wave scene.

Costello was born Declan Patrick Aloysius MacManus in London in 1954. He picked up the guitar at the age of 15, first playing in a folk duo called Rusty and then a pub-rock band called Flip City. He started going by D.P. Costello (his father performed as Day Costello), and in 1976, came across an ad that the record label Stiff Records had put in Melody Maker, seeking new acts to sign (what kind of alternate universe was that?). Stiff was a brand-new label about to drop its first release, Nick Lowe's "So It Goes" 7-inch. Costello submitted a tape and was signed the following year, adding "Elvis" as a first name, supposedly to poke fun at success (the real Elvis died a few months later). His first single, "Less Than Zero," was released in March, with his debut album, My Aim Is True, following two months later. Costello formed a backing band called the Attractions, comprising Steve Nieve on keyboards, Bruce Thomas on bass, and Pete Thomas on drums.

The albums This Year's Model (1978) and Armed Forces (1979) saw Costello reaching mega-fame, though his live shows were often short and unfriendly, and he was often rude during interviews when he did them at all (because he was such an "angry young man" still, you know?). The rest of his career has included piano, country-music influence, much mellowing out, ballads, soulful pop songs, three marriages, songs written with Paul McCartney, songs with Burt Bacharach, dropping the Attractions, adding the Imposters, and a bunch of super-famous-guy stuff like honorary doctorate degrees and a song with Fall Out Boy. recommended