Famously, while touring Armed Forces in 1979, a drunk Costello became embroiled in an argument with Stephen Stills and Bonnie Bramlett, where he bad-mouthed black American musicians James Brown and Ray Charles. These remarks were reported to the press by Bramlett, forcing Costello to publicly apologise. Costello has since stated that it was a coincidence that his next album mined an R&B sound, and that it was a simply a result of his musical curiosity. Get Happy!! packs 20 songs into its 48 minutes, keeping up a furious pace with ten songs on each side of the original LP release. The Attractions sound great in this context; the R&B sound is a chance for Bruce Thomas’ bass lines to shine, and he’s the driving force behind a lot of these tunes.
With twenty, often short, songs, it’s inevitable that some of them don’t stick, but there are plenty of great songs tucked away on Get Happy!! ‘Love For Tender’ is a great opener with its Motown feel and Nieve’s organ stabs. The acoustic ‘New Amsterdam’ doesn’t fit in with the rest of Get Happy!! musically, but it’s perhaps the pinnacle of Costello’s ornate wordplay:
New Amsterdam it’s become much too much
Till I have the possession of everything she touches
Till I step on the brakes to get out of her clutches
Till I speak double dutch to a real double duchess
‘Possession’ has plenty of hooks in Nieve’s piano and organ lines, while he also punctuates ‘King Horse’ with his piano lines. ‘Riot Act’ is a climatic album closer.
Get Happy!! isn’t all remarkable, but it showcases a young and confident Costello having conquered new wave and flexing his musical muscles in other directions.