Life imitates art


Founder member of the Electric Light Orchestra killed by giant bale of hay

I know you shouldn’t laugh but “bizarre farming accident” is a very Spinal Tap way to go.

Even though I was a huge ELO fan I must admit I wouldn’t recognize Mike Edwards if he, um, dropped a bale of hay on my head (I think that’s him on the left above) but you can hear him sawing away at his cello on their debut single.

Download: 10538 Overture – The Electric Light Orchestra

Junior Choice


My daughter loves rockets and spaceships and when she saw the sleeve of ELO’s “Out of The Blue” album she went “oooooooooooh!” like a 12-year-old boy who had just seen the mothership in Close Encounters for the first time. Now she refers to it as “the rocket record” which, as a huge ELO fan back in the olden days, makes me very happy indeed.

“The Whale” probably isn’t her cup of apple juice as it’s a very trippy instrumental and she prefers to bop around to the uptempo numbers, but I thought I’d play it anyway as it’s quite an unusual track for ELO. These days they’d call this Chill Out music but back in 1977 I just thought it was a bit odd. Sure is pretty though, I wonder if The Orb ever heard this.

Download: The Whale – Electric Light Orchestra (mp3)

The sun has got his hat on


Ahhh, the first day of summer. I lived in Florida for several years and a hot, sunny day means nothing there, it’s hot and sunny every day which gets a bit boring after a while – ho hum, another day in paradise. But now I’m again living in a place that has actual seasons I get that same wonderful feeling I did in London when the sun finally comes out after a long, cold, miserable winter and the whole city comes alive at once, suddenly free from the shackles of heavy coats and wooly jumpers. The parks are full of workers enjoying their lunch sitting on the grass, the pavements around pubs are crowded with relaxed souls having an al fresco pint, happy to be outside feeling the warm sun on their faces, all the girls suddenly seem a hundred times prettier and you just feel glad to be alive. Unless of course you have hay fever then it can be a bloody miserable time, not to mention the pollution-choked air and the sweltering hot Tube trains that smell of BO.

And luverly records like this sound so much better too.

Download: One Summer Dream – Electric Light Orchestra (mp3)
Buy: “Face The Music”

Sleeve Talk


The concept album is one of those rock ideas that got thoroughly shat upon by punk as an example of the previous generation’s ridiculous pomposity and became the butt of a million Spinal Tap-ish jokes regarding epic songs about wizards and elves. Even though I grew up reading Marvel comics and science fiction novels I was thankfully too young to also fall under the spell of Genesis, Yes, Barclay James Harvest and all their Proggy brethren whose every album seemed to be a grandiosly conceived Sci-Fi or fantasy concept of some kind or other. ELO’s more poppy form of pretension got me early though and I fell in love with their 1974 album “Eldorado” which was a concept album (sorry, it’s actually called a symphony) about the magical goings on in a fairy tale dream world. I never paid much attention to Jeff Lynne’s lyrics so it wasn’t the subject matter (full of all sorts of silly stuff about knights, rainbows, and Robin Hood), I just liked the way it sounded. I also loved the sleeve which I still think is gorgeous.

In case you don’t recognize it, that’s a still from “The Wizard of Oz” which is also about a dream world. I thought it was very clever of the designer to go with an image like that rather than other, more obvious routes – like hiring Roger Dean – and was all set to write about how a lot of design is about making intelligent choices and how a designer’s brain is his most important tool, but in my research I found out that the idea to use that picture actually came from band manager Don Arden’s daughter Sharon. Digging further I discovered that “Sharon” is none other than Sharon Osbourne – yes, that one, Mrs. Ozzy Osbourne. Still, it is a great idea no matter where it came from; the image of the glittery, iconic red shoes is beautifully striking and doesn’t look at all dated unlike a lot of other concept albums from the era. The small, elegant typography looks like the engraving on an expensive invitation to a grand ball, a feel reinforced by the gold border around the edges. It’s certainly a huge improvement on the “here are our belly buttons” sleeve of their previous album.

This was the first ELO album to use a full orchestra and the first two tracks segue together to produce about the grandest, dreamiest opening you can imagine. “Eldorado Overture” starts with an incredibly pretentious spoken-word intro by some bloke called Peter Ford-Robertson who has the warm and plummy tones of an old BBC radio presenter announcing the death of the King. Then the orchestra comes in, swooping and crashing in madly baroque fashion, and the moment where it suddenly dies and fades into the shimmering “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head” is sublime – probably the single most heavenly moment ELO ever produced.

Download: Eldorado Overture/Can’t Get It Out Of My Head – Electric Light Orchestra (mp3)
Buy: “Eldorado” (album)

My all-time favourite record, age 14


If Nick Hornby is right and the defining characteristic of the music geek – apart from sneering contempt for other people’s musical tastes – is the obsessive making of lists, then I became one at the tender age of 14. For it was then that I first put pen to paper and breathlessly compiled a list of my 10 All Time Favourite Records. I actually don’t remember what nine of the songs on that list were but the coveted Number 1 slot was given to “Tightrope” by the Electric Light Orchestra.

ELO were the first band I was really nuts about. I bought all their albums and singles, read everything I could about them, memorized all the lyrics, wore the underpants, and they were the first band I saw live. For a long time that was the sort of thing you were supposed to be mildly ashamed of, but they seemed to have attained a little hipster cachet recently what with “Mr. Blue Sky” (I’d kill to still have my blue vinyl 45 of that) being used in trendy movies, and bands like The Flaming Lips and The Delgados clearly owing them a sonic debt. So I was 30 years ahead of the curve there.

But I digress. “Tightrope” is the opening track of their 1976 album “A New World Record” which is probably their shining hour, and at the time this seemed to me to be as perfect as music could get. It’s a pretty simple tune but Jeff Lynne’s production treats it like it was the Sistine Chapel and achieves the rare feat of merging Pomp Rock with Blue Eyed Soul. It starts off with a huge symphonic fanfare of strings and choir so over the top it would make Cecil B. DeMille blush, then segues into a jaunty and insanely catchy pop tune with some female backing singers that give it a touch of soulful sass. I always wondered who those girls were, ELO never credited them on the album.

A year or so after this came out I had my head completely turned by punk (I was a little late to the party) and it suddenly seemed a bit naff – it just couldn’t compete with “All Mod Cons” — so I filed ELO away with my Marvel comics and flares as artifacts of a previous life. But like a lot of things from the past it’s gone through the window marked “naff” and come back in again sounding not all that bad, quite good in fact. Probably wouldn’t make my Top 50 today (no, I don’t have a Top 50 written down) but that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Download: Tightrope – Electric Light Orchestra (mp3)

What’s it all about?

The sentimental musings of an ageing expat in words, music, and pictures. Mp3 files are up for a limited time so drink them while they're hot. Contact me: lee at londonlee dot com

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