In October of 1977, I remember purchasing two albums that ended up meaning the world to me. The two were Cheap Trick’s In Color and the Electric Light Orchestra’s double album odyssey Out of the Blue. Those two albums, for some reason, helped me momentarily forget the troubles I had at the time, whether it was dealing with the finalization of my parents’ divorce or the pressures of being a teacher’s kid in school or the fact that I was discovering that I had a darkness in me that I would be battling the rest of my life. But, as they say, we all have our problems, its how we deal with them. For me, in October 1977, it was those two albums and my sports.
As the winter moved on, I really got into the Electric Light Orchestra album. I have found that when listening to ELO, you hear new things every time you put it on the stereo. They are not like Poison where you hear everything they intend you to hear within the first 30 seconds of their latest hit. The Electric Light Orchestra, whose name itself implies a certain pretentiousness, and their music is initially built upon simple yet sweet melodies, but with each listen you discover the complexities of the different instrumentation leader Jeff Lynne added to his songs.
Let’s take the first hit song on the album, “Turn to Stone”. Initially, you are drawn into the song by the driving rhythm played on the keyboards along with the slick harmonizing vocals. Yet, upon further listens, you hear those sweet strings providing a counter to the driving force of the song that raises the song above the fodder that was passed off for Top 40 music back in the day. Eventually, the band and the orchestra work together for the ending of the song that makes for a subtle yet powerful crescendo. No longer were they were they working against each other for some tension, they are working together to raise the song to a different emotional level.
The same technique works once again for the next single taken from the album, “Sweet Talkin’ Woman”. The orchestration this time is working together with the rock band core to make the song jump from the speakers from the onset. The lyrics are not your typical lovelorn lyrics. They are set within some futuristic, science fiction setting that only humanizes the whole feel of a seemingly inhuman future based upon science. Once again, this is not your typical teenage love lament. Something deeper is going on, and the teenage version of me is still trying to decipher everything Jeff Lynne put into it.
At the end of Side One of this double album classic, we hear for the first time Jeff Lynne’s love of Fifties rockabilly on “Across the Border”. But, this is not your typical Seventies take on the Fifties. First, Lynne adds the orchestration along with something of a mariachi middle four, which makes for a total mind screw. Nowhere before had I heard of such a feat. But, all of the great artists of the Seventies were pushing the limits of rock music. That’s what made the Seventies so very exciting. Fortunately, Lynne will revisit this well a couple of more times with the hits “Hold on Tight” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Is King”. But those songs are still several years away.
Side Two is ELO’s entry into their soulful side. This is the side of ELO that should have been explored further in the future. Unfortunately, Jeff Lynne never really went down this road much more, much to my personal chagrin. In retrospect, Side Two of Out of the Blue was Lynne channeling his inner Motown via Todd Rundgren, a side that could have prolonged the band’s success longer into the Eighties had he had followed this muse.
Side Three is more typical of ELO, an orchestrated suite based upon how weather affects humans’ moods. As a whole, Side Three is titled Concerto for a Rainy Day. “Standing in the Rain” depicts human emotional lows occurring on those dreary days during which the rain never seems to end. As that rainy day continues into the second song, “Big Wheels”, the rain now leads to insecurity in a relationship, showing how the dreariness of the weather leads to a dreariness within our psyches. “Big Wheels” segues into “Summer and Lightning”, which now sees the electricity in a romantic relationship leading to a longing to be with that person. Finally, everything corrects its in this relationship as the last song, the very happy “Mr. Blue Sky” begins. It’s as if the presence of the sun wipes away all the darkness you one can see everything clearly, leading to optimism in all aspects of your life, including that relationship that was almost ruined by the pessimism during the dreariest of days. Did you know that “Mr. Blue Sky”, a song deemed perfect enough to be used in the opening scene of the great Guardians of the Galaxy Part 2 only reached number 28 on the Billboard Hot 100 list? It’s true! For some reason that song never became a hit in the USA. I have always loved the song and am happy it makes many different radio playlists now, but I never understood why it never was a big hit song back when it was released in 1978. Oh, that’s another question I have for God when I get to Heaven.
Finally, Side Four of this classic album is nothing but classic ELO pop/rock/orchestra songs. It’s as if Jeff Lynne packed the last side of this album with potential hits, except for, of course, the weird, but not out of place within the context of this album, “The Whale”. The album ends with two songs that would have both sounded at home on a John Lennon album. The raucous “Birmingham Blues” is a perfect addition to any classic rock radio station playlist, while the epic “Wild West Hero” is the perfect coda to this tight-sounding, no filler – all killer double album.
For reasons I will NEVER understand, the Baby Boomers who were writing albums reviews at the time panned this album. Sure, the whole idea of ELO was to pick up where the Beatles left off at “I Am the Walrus”. But, those critics held that ideal against the band, instead of glorifying the band for what they accomplished, which is what all of us younger music lovers have done in the aftermath. The Electric Light Orchestra deserves its place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and if Out of the Blue were the only album you had listened to, this is the perfect album in which to get to know everything about the band. And while this album is hands down a classic album, please know this is NOT the only classic album by the Electric Light Orchestra. The previous two albums in their discography are worthy classic albums as well. Don’t stop with this one. Check out 1975’s Face the Music and 1976’s A New World Record in order to hear the band’s other two great moments in album history.
Here’s to Out of the Blue!