Alison (song)

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Single by Elvis Costello
from the album My Aim is True
B-side"Welcome to the Working Week"
Released21 May 1977
LabelStiff (UK)
Columbia (US)
Songwriter(s)Elvis Costello
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 claimed the song was written as an ode to a woman he saw working at a supermarket, though he has remained vague on the meaning. Though Costello's single never charted, it has become one of his most famous tracks.

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.


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"[2] 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."[3][4] The line "my aim is true" gives the album its title. Costello has also said that the musical idea for the chorus, breaking up the line "I know this world is killing you", in a staccato fashion, derives from the manner that the line "Life ain't so easy when you're a ...", precedes the title refrain, on "Ghetto Child", by The Detroit Spinners.[5]

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".[6]

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 it is remixed to add a string section.[7] The single did not chart; as the album on which it was included did reach the top 40 on the album charts, the song did get airplay in the U.S. on album-oriented rock radio. 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.[8] The Telegraph named it Costello's second greatest song only after "Oliver's Army", calling it "a wonderful song about unrequited love."[9]

Linda Ronstadt version[edit]

Single by Linda Ronstadt
from the album Living In The USA
B-side"Mohammed's Radio"
ReleasedApril 1979
GenreCountry rock, new wave
LabelAsylum Records
Songwriter(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.[10] Her single also reached number 66 in the UK Singles chart.[11] 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".[12] Costello donated royalties from Ronstadt's version to the African National Congress after she played at Sun City in South Africa.[13]


  1. ^ a b c Herbert, Geoff (18 June 2018). "Elvis Costello tour dates include Turning Stone, Buffalo concerts". Syracuse. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  2. ^ "Alison". 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Rolling Stone. 9 December 2004.
  3. ^ Girls Girls Girls (Inset). Elvis Costello. USA: Columbia Records. 1988. C2K-46897.CS1 maint: others (link)
  4. ^ My Aim Is True (Inset). Elvis Costello. USA: Rhino Entertainment. 2001. R2 74285.CS1 maint: others (link)
  5. ^ Elvis Costello, Unfaithful Music, p.187
  6. ^ Elvis Costello (13 October 2015). Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink. Viking. p. 179. ISBN 978-0241003466.
  7. ^ Doggett, Peter (September 1983). "Elvis Costello: A complete guide to his British and American releases, promos, and rarities". Record Collector. 49. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  8. ^ "Alison". Pump It Up: Elvis Costello's 10 Greatest Tunes. Entertainment Weekly. 9 October 2004.
  9. ^ "Elvis Costello's 40 best songs". The Telegraph. 11 May 2016. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  10. ^ "Adult Contemporary: Linda Ronstadt". Billboard. 2019. Retrieved 9 May 2019.
  11. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 469. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  12. ^ Griggs, Simon (26 November 1998). "Elvis Costello Interview". Archived from the original on 29 June 2008. Retrieved 25 July 2008.
  13. ^ Pilgrim, David; Ormrod, Richard (2014). Elvis Costello and Thatcherism: A Psycho-Social Exploration. Farnham, U.K.: Ashgate Publishing. p. 50. ISBN 9781317145004.

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