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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Electric Light Orchestra

The next Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee I'll be taking a look at is one of my favorites, a key part of my adolescence, Electric Light Orchestra (ELO for short). For a few years in the '70s their combination of rock and classical music produced a number of hits and at least three great albums.

ELO, throughout their history, has basically been Jeff Lynne. He and drummer Bev Bevan had been together in a band called The Move, but then created ELO. Befitting the time period, Lynne's expertise was in the studio--ELO toured, but that wasn't their raison d'etre, and in fact they created a ruckus when it was revealed that during their concerts they used pre-recorded material, which is pretty common today.

My introduction to ELO was in 1976 when A New World Record was released. I kind of paired them with Queen as the bands I liked the most, who most sounded like the late lamented Beatles. That album was full of great songs, like "Livin' Thing," "Telephone Line," and "Do Ya," which has one of my favorite least-subtle lines in rock--"Do ya, do ya want my face, woman?"

The followed it with a double-album, Out of the Blue, which is still one of my favorites. It's full of Lynne's poppy, string-filled songs, many of them about the weather--in fact, one side is called "Concerto for a Rainy Day." It ends with one of the most cheerful songs in all of rock, "Mr. Blue Sky," which is the kind of song to play when you're in a bad mood because you will certainly feel better upon hearing it. It also has "Wild West Hero," a plaintive regret at not living in the Old West (though Lynne probably got his impressions from Roy Rogers films, certainly not from the real thing) and "Sweet is the Night," "Turn to Stone," and the trippy "Jungle."

My interest piqued, I went back and bought Face the Music, their album before A New World Record, and it has a couple of m favorites on it--"Poker," a furious song about cards, and "Fire on High," an instrumental that has many different movements to it, one of which was used as the theme song for Howard Cosell's TV show.

After Out of the Blue they went on, but their popularity waned a great deal. They did songs for the lousy Xanadu movie,and Lynne produced for other people and was one-fifth of The Traveling Wilburys. But they have a great catalog. Since my ELO records were on vinyl, I didn't own any CDs of them and picked up a greatest hits CD. Some of the songs on there are very early, such as the terrific "Showdown," and "Strange Magic," but inexplicably it's missing "Can't Get It Out of My Head,"a haunting love song.

Though ELO is known for being orchestral rock, with lots of instruments and studio tricks, I think one thing that is under-rated is Lynne's voice. He's just about 70, so grew up along with rock and roll, and many of his songs are throwbacks to Chuck Berry and other roots pioneers, and his voice is perfect for those songs. But he also obviously knows his classical music, and mixed the two together in a wonderful way. Consider this lyric from "Rockaria!"

"She's sweet on Wagner
I think she'd die for Beethoven
She loves the way Puccini lays down a tune
And Verdi's always creeping from her room."

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