My first real musical love was a man from Birmingham, England, clad in an eccentric, extended frizz of hair, hand-embroidered satin jackets with planets on them, and California motorcycle cop sunglasses. This man was special to me, as he wrote all the disco songs the Beatles never got to write, then soaked them in string arrangements. Yes, I speak of Jeff Lynne, the auteur behind Electric Light Orchestra. Of the five singles from ELO's 1977 amazing double album Out of the Blue, four were hits. Let's rank them in order of awesomeness, shall we?
"Mr. Blue Sky"
I was psyched when the band's music started to crop up unironically in soundtracks to movies and commercials, beginning 10 years ago with the prominent inclusion of this uplifting song in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. That certainly beat the way the band's music was used in the film Billy Madison a few years earlier, when ELO played during a scene showing a homicidal nerd — the subtle implication that it's music for homicidal nerds. General critical consensus on ELO is almost nonexistent, as there's so little writing about them that's not dismissive.
"Turn to Stone"
Even during ELO's quiet-ish moments, there is a curious sense of space to their music. As soon as the volume decreases, you know you're going to get hit over the head half a second later. "Turn to Stone" hit No. 13 in the U.S. singles charts, the highest position of a song off the album.
"Wild West Hero"
This piano-driven, campy little genre exercise is amazing. It was a hit in the U.K. (at No. 6), but not in the U.S.
This song of lost love is just ridiculous — vampy keyboard licks, vocals approaching Bee Gees register, and, of course, a swirling surfeit of strings. It's a bit like biting into a cupcake made entirely of frosting.
"Sweet Talkin' Woman"
This prog-lite tune has all the elements of classic, disco-era, chart-topping ELO. Typically, you have a ton of information crammed into very little space. The song starts with strings playing syrupy sweet lines that instantly remind one of the Beatles' use of orchestral elements, then the guitar kicks in, and it's a very clean and retro-rockabilly type line. And the vocodered backing vocals sent from outer space jump in just after that. Then the acoustic guitar, the multitracked voice of Jeff Lynne, and big booming drums all come in at once. If you think the singing is a touch Beatley too, well, then you're right! Next we're treated to Lynne's gruff growl, and he's so cute when he's pretending to be tough. It's like watching a Monchhichi smoke a cigarette.