This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… ELO November 26, 2016Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
I mentioned last weekend that I’d caught on BBC a documentary, or is it a live broadcast, of ELO from a couple of years back in London. And discovered that Jeff Lynne had more than a trace of a Birmingham accent which reminded me of my late Gran. Got to wonder what was in the water in the midlands when it came to rock in the 1970s – Sabbath, Priest, and so on. Anyhow, as to the documentary and concert, well it was good to great in that way ELO are, and also unbelievably saccharine in parts, in that way ELO are.
And speaking of the first few albums people bought back in the day, well, I’m not quite sure how I wound up with ELO’s Out of the Blue, but it was certainly amongst the first ten albums I purchased.
I like ELO – am indeed very fond of them. From the prog classical early tracks through to his chancery but usually adept ability to refashion the Beatles for the 1970s and on to the pop and disco excursions of the 70s followed by a slow settling into a sort of musical middle age there’s no question – Lynne can craft a song, adopt a style and in some ways come to redefine that style. Let’s not forget the assistance of those like Richard Tandy along the way too. Or the short tenure of Roy Wood. Or the late Kelly Groucutt whose bass and backing vocals helped fashion the sound of the group in the 1970s and very early 1980s. Or indeed Bev Bevan.
My favourite track, in a way, is the Lennonesque minor key 10538 Overture from the first album, Tomorrow Never Knows retooled as it were – or perhaps it is their bracing cover of Roll Over Beethoven from the second album. Of course one suspects that McCartney was Lynne’s muse. And why not. Popular music still is reverberating from the after-effects of the Beatles. But I Turn To Stone is a classic, Shine A Little Love kind of brilliant, Hold on Tight, Don’t Walk Away, I could go on.
So I like ELO’s songs, some an awful lot. But I also kind of dislike some of them. It’s not so much the disco stylings of the late 70s material which I have to admit to admiring for the most part, though his voice in its more high-pitched iterations can be an unlovable thing. There are the borderline novelty tracks – do I need to name them? But perhaps it is more his tendency to introduce unnecessarily (to my ears) decorative flourishes in songs. For example – the ‘Brooce’ bit in Don’t Bring Me Down ruining a perfectly good bluesy/rock workout.
Or am I getting it wrong. Is it that bit that lifts it above being just a perfectly good, but no more than that, bluesy-rock workout to something else? And for those who have seen the film Super 8 (which weirdly captures that moment in time, 1979, at least as I remember it, like no other film I can think of), no surprise that song was used to soundtrack one part of that film and in a way that I suspect resonated with a tranche of people who were teenagers when it was released). There’s the earlier albums, or that classic early mid-period and a straight run of four or five albums including A New World Record, Out of the Blue. Discovery? Disco very? Indeed. The bits from Xanadu that were okay – and Olivia Newton-John too. Time. And after that well, some of it is good. I like Calling America.
Speaking of Out of the Blue. When I was first into music it was like the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Everywhere one went it was there, in part I suspect because a lot of people who didn’t ordinarily buy ‘pop’ heard the classical stylings and said they’d like some of that. As to the content? I like Mr. Blue Sky as much as the next woman or man but too many songs teeter on the edge of histrionics. Others don’t even bother teetering, they fall right over the edge. But again is that its strength?
Because for all my complaints I never regret playing the albums. Take Time, surely one of the oddest artefacts inflected by new wave – concept album no less with time travel, space stations, a lot of winsome longing – but an album that I listen to regularly even still. Now, I certainly wouldn’t argue that ELO embraced new wave, at least not as such, but the amount of synth sounds on the album is a wonder. Check out the genuinely curious Yours Truly, 2095 which is a kindred spirit to the Buggles (though one has the suspicion that Lynne, for once, didn’t quite get it – or perhaps he did!). Or the speedy heft of Here is the News or Twilight. Indeed check out the album as a whole (and the bonus tracks, particularly When Time Stood Still and Julie Don’t Live Here are pretty fine and should have been included on the original). Mind you, it too is heavy on the saccharine. Yet Time is one of my favourite albums from that period, and if I’m being truthful one of my favourite albums full stop.
They’re that kind of a group. And from Birmingham too.
Mr. Blue Sky
Don’t Bring Me Down
Turn to Stone
Don’t Walk Away
Yours Truly, 2095
Ticket to the Moon
Here is the News
Hold on Tight
When Time Stood Still