Friday, August 22, 2008


I have been on a huge ELO kick lately.

For years I've always wanted to own an ELO album. My first real exposure to them was in Richardson when I was in High School. My hometown has an annual music festival and for some inexplicable reason (I'm assuming they were outright lied to) ELO played there. I didn't know much about them at the time, so I wasn't expecting much. But when I heard them play, I instantly fell in love with them.

The rich melodies, the layered harmonics, the string - oh the strings! - I just wanted to implant their albums in my head.

In college, when I was a radio DJ for the university's radio station, I played ELO every other show. Despite being focused on indie music, the station had a lot of classic records, including a double album of ELO's greatest hits. Telephone Line and Turn to Stone were my favorites. So in between the usual esoteric albums like Chainsaw Kittens and Brian Eno, I'd play ELO.

For six years I wanted to buy an ELO album. For some reason I never let myself do it. Until the other day when I was realized it would cost me about $10 to buy their greatest hits off of iTunes. And in a moment of self-indulgence, I bought it. And I've been listening to it non-stop ever since.

Below is my song-by-song write-up of some of ELO's best music.

1. Shine a Little Love - The galloping drums move this song right along. The rockin' bass gives it a disco tinge. The chorus is BeeGee's-esq, the intermittent strings color the song with that ELO feel and the hand clap is just plain silly and cute. I could definitely see myself doing coke at a roller rink to this song.

2. Don't Bring Me Down - The whole song is basically sung with a big echo filter, giving the vocals a much more powerful feel. Combined with the crunchy guitars, this song is actually reminicent of Roxy Music. However, it's also the kind of song you only listen to in your car with the windows rolled up for fear of embarassment.

3. Evil Woman - Although I can't relate to this song, (Evil Ma-an) doesn't have the same ring. But the piano riff and the bluesy melody gives the song a dark and bitter feel. But it never verges on sad thanks to the chorus which swells into falsetto. It's not my favorite song because of its overly simplistic instrumentation, but if I had a girlfriend that broke my heart, I'd listen to this while burning all my photos of her.

4. Can't Get It Out Of My Head - So sad, so lovely, so ga ga ga ga gorgeous. The swelling strings, the French Horn, the choral background. It's a masterpiece. I want to fall in love listening to this song. Or if that's not going to happen, I want to personify this song and make sweet, tender love to it. Sweet, sweet audio love.

5. Mr. Blue Sky - This song makes me have orgasms in my ears (are headphones my condoms?). The punchy melody, the cowbell, the strangely sung vocals, the chorus (which progresses from deep, to mid, to falsetto vocals) is so aesthetically amazing. I could do without the robot voice, but it was the 1970s so they were just showing off that they had a robot (Styx had one too). I listen to this song when I'm sad, it's raining, my bike is broken or because I still have a pulse and no carbon-based creature could resist this.

6. Strange Magic - I wish I could go into a time machine and go to a prom in the 1970s just so I could slow dance to this song. There's not much to it. And it's kind of reptitive, but that makes it the perfect prom song. You don't have to think about what dance move you're going to do next. You just hold on and waddle back and forth together, maybe the occasional twirl. Perfect!

7. Turn To Stone - One of the best songs ever made. You get gallopping drums and a running bass; solo vocals with call-and-response lush harmonies. If I was the Flash from DC Comic book fame, this is the song I would play on my iPod as I ran around saving the world.

8. Sweet Talkin' Woman - This song isn't one of my favorites. I do like the renaissance-sounding intro, the head bouncing tempo, the call-and-response vocals (which ELO loves). I listen to this when I burn out on my favorites.

9. Telephone Line - We've all been there. Calling someone we love who used to love us only to get no answer. "Pick up! Pick up!" You say. But what good does it do. You're just yelling at a telephone. This song is the perfect song to play in the background while making a drunk dial. Because then the next morning you can just say, "Oh that! I was joking. It was a joke. Obviously. Ha. A joke...Why won't you love me!"

10. Livin' Thing - Bouncy and happy as usual, this song is ELO's "I Will Survive," at least that's how I like to think of it. Happiness and saddness, they're livin' things. Such wisdom ELO. Such wisdom.

11. Do Ya - Not one of my favorites. A little to stadium rock for me. And the chorus is gayer than all get out, which says a lot coming from me. But it's got its time and place.

12. Showdown - Funky intro with some great strings. It's got a "Heard It Through the Grapevine" vibe to it. Still not one of my favorites, but it is a nice break from the usual string-laced melodies that can get a little reptitive after a while.

13. and 14. Rock and Roll is King & Hold on Tight - Everyone makes a clunker or two. These are two.


emilyaldenfoster said...

You shouldn't mess with that greatest hits nonsense when ELO has like a million (ok, a few) really excellent albums. You should get Eldorado for sure.

I have Mr. Blue Sky and Turn to Stone on my carousel mix. The people love it, as do the horses.

Jacko said...

Even their best albums don't necessarily play convincingly through as cohesive stories or concepts. But with ELO, it's not about that. It's about killer catchy songs. So the way to measure the quality of an ELO album is by it's quotient of great or good songs.

And even their weakest '74-81 albums have at least a few other very good songs in addition to the hits. Even Xanadu, haha.

For every Strange Magic, Livin Thing or Turn To Stone, there's a Starlight, Tightrope, Nobody's Child, Nightrider, Last Train To London, Twilight, etc etc etc of similar quality just waiting for someone to dig beyond greatest hits to re-discover. Even the box sets don't really touch upon a lot of those. You have to buy the albums to have a substantial portion of their best songs.

A New World Record '76 and Out Of The Blue '77 probably have the highest quotient of good songs on them. The songs are at their catchiest, and the strings at their frothiest. Even Jeff Lynne himself describes this as the group's peak.