ELO: 5 Essential Tracks From Electric Light Orchestra

Mr Blue Skaaaaaaaayyyyy….yep, that’s here. And 4 other songs which I reckon define or helped along this strangest of Pop and Rock bands. ELO wouldn’t be ELO without these 5 ditties…

Livin’ Thing | Album: New World Record | 1976

This is important because it’s a great Pop song on the ELO album which was their first Pop album. This was 1976’s ‘New World Record’ and it eschewed large concepts or opera-style aspirations (they were to come in single songs later on) for more direct, sleek pleasure deliveries.

That new approach was a sales success, it hit the top 10 in the UK and went multi-platinum there and the UK. It also was the first time that the neon circular ELO logo was used.

Livin’ Thing went top 5 in the UK and just outside the top 10 in the US Billboard charts.

The song is reined in. The strings are given a real opportunity, plucked in the verse, providing the jabbing spine of the chorus and ascending, only to stop before they take flight in the chorus.

And at the back of this wonderful string work? The vocal melody and Jeff Lynne’s vocals laying back on a chaise longue whilst the doubled beat hints at a calm conveyance and the backing fills up in a Phil Spector wall of sound.

Perfectly modulated.

Mr. Blue Sky | Album: Out of the Blue | 1977

This is Livin’ Thing with assurance. It’s Prog in a way because as Saga’s Ian Crichton told me recently, Prog is a song with a selection of parts – this is a sunny feeling with lots of different parts, it could even be called a suite, but contained within the confines of a song.

Only just though. Even if this ELO song seems to be a simple Glam bang beat, that just allows the fun to be pushed in around it.

Really fun stuff like the panting breath after ‘running down the avenue’, the sudden accusation to Mr. Blue Sky as the verse stops with a squeal of brakes and the senatorial chorus begins. Not to mention the vocodered, saccharine syrup of the harmonies and the coda.

Ah, the coda. The song ends. And then comes back with a warning; storm clouds gather on swirling strings, but the thunder and lightning don’t appear, the atmosphere is becalmed, a sweet piano takes over, the strings cosset us – all is light and love.

Groovy History suggests;

‘The song itself has a relatively simple concept: a blue sky appears after a rainy day. It begins with the four chords and harmonic rhythm…One of the noteworthy sounds in the song is what seems to be a cowbell, but is actually a drumstick hitting the side of a fire extinguisher. ‘

And that’s not all. That vocoder message at the end of the song? It’s ‘Please turn me over…’, a request to continue with side 4 of this double album.

The song bounces, it’s a singalong, and it brooks no dissent, even when telling us

‘But soon comes Mr Night, creepin’ over,
Now his hand is on your shoulder’

the next line begins with ‘Never mind…’ and a remembrance of the sun. It was inspired by seeing the sun come up over the alps and we enjoyed the sunny side in the UK too, Mr. Blue Sky was a top 10 smash.

It was a traditional song, pushing against the boundaries of how much you could put in a 5-minute song. And it was a prototype for…

The Diary Of Horace Wimp | Album: Discovery | 1979

Now, this is pure musical theatre. 

Sitting at the end of side one on their mega-successful ‘Discovery’ album from 1979, The Diary Of Horace Wimp is 4 minutes and 7 seconds long. Just have a think about that; just over 4 minutes for a song that traverses a week, then jumps forward in time to comment on a relationship mistaken – almost a surprise ending.

It didn’t do that well in charts, but that isn’t the point. It’s almost the example of an exercise completed  – to tell a story with no removal of bells or whistles in a Pop song.

And so here we have a story set over a week, not Saturday as Lynne said the football was played on that day, with a narrator telling us about Horace’s travails with women and how much he wishes to tell a woman how he feels about her. The other character is ‘a voice from above’ instructing him on exactly how to do it; ‘Horace Wimp, this is your life, Go out and find yourself a wife…’

There isn’t a chorus here, it’s more of an intervention and the music isn’t particularly memorable, bouncy but just a delivery system for the story.

This is a musical theatre tune alright; story, distinctive characters, strong playing, even a neat fun reversal to end the song; the instructive voice ‘Horace Wimp, this is your wife, Go out and find yourself a life…’

A real ELO oddity and one that should be celebrated.

Shine A Little Love | Album: Discovery | 1979

ELO’s only Disco song? I think so. It opens the ‘Discovery’ album in superb style, it’s one of their most commercial tracks and did well in the charts.

So is this a craven attempt to access a musical phenomenon? Nah, this is just fun. We have handclaps, galloping strings, and descending synths in the chorus; this hides the sadness in the story of working through a relationship to make it ‘so much better, you came home without a word’ as the lyrics say.

But the real reason that this song bounces? The bass. Kelly Groucutt’s bass takes a walk, it follows the melody, it struts, it cavorts, it catches the ear. And it makes this track an absolute delight.

Twilight | Album: Time | 1981

From not as liked album ‘Time’ in 1981, a much better album than people tend to think and described by The Quietus as a;

‘…terrific, eccentric sci-fi electro/synth-pop album.’

Why is it important? Because it’s a bridge between past and future – rather ironic considering the song is about time travel – this song has drama, beginning with a sci-fi synth tarantara and big, crashing roll of drums, the descending almost crashed of thoughts in the bridge to the chorus but with that syrupy wall of sound push which, in my view, became more prevalent on ELO’s and Jeff Lynne’s work plus that disarming, a lilting chorus which makes you want to lie down and spend time with it.

And Time was what this album wanted, which Time though is not so certain.

The Great Thing About ELO

Everyone will have their views. There were lots of other ELO tracks that could have been included, these are just my influential ELO songs. I’m not sure there’s a band like them, a band who tried to touch so much music and then shove it into 5 minutes. 5 wonderful minutes.

We won’t see their like again. Except we have done recently. But we won’t see this style again. It has audacity, which doesn’t always go with sales figures….

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