can we talk about me for a minute? We'll get on to you later. I grew up in a dead-end town, but annoyingly a town that wasn't dead-end enough to leave any noticeable scars. I didn't see a dead body until I was 20. My father never beat me, my mother wasn't an alcoholic. I had absolutely no formative influences in my life, nothing that shaped me for better or worse in any way except for one thing: golden oldies radio. It was always on in the car as a kid, and we used to go driving a lot, probably because by driving you can pretend you're leaving your hometown.

And oldies radio is the same across the world. Here's "Hotel California," here's ABBA, here's some Motown. The only difference I can see between US and UK oldies radio is whether or not they play Credence Clearwater Revival or the Spencer Davis Group (in Italy they play Pooh). But ELO... that's a classic radio staple. ELO were always around in my life growing up, more so than any uncle, and like my uncles I never made an actual conscious effort to listen to them. But the breakfast DJ span "Diary of Horace Wimp" before I went to school, and there was "Evil Woman" on drive-time when I went home. There was "10538 Overture" on the weekend, and "Don't Walk Away" on Bank Holiday Mondays until, eventually, the band worked themselves into my mind. Slowly but surely, they became like transition metals: I wasn't quite sure exactly who they were, or what they did, but I was coming to the realisation that my world wouldn't have worked without them

This pattern must have been repeated worldwide, no? Because slowly but surely, people buy that cheap "Greatest Hits" CD on sale at HMV, begin to realise who it was that performed all of those songs that are lodged away at various points of our mind (No, "Don't Bring Me Down" wasn't by Roxy Music, no, "The Diary of Horace Wimp" wasn't by Supertramp), and, eventually, you start realising that whoever won the battle of '77, be it punk or disco, they still weren't ever going to overtake the kings of 1972 through 1986.

But who actually are ELO? Why do why care about them? Are we really going to see a critical renaissance for them based merely upon the fact that you quite like that one song of theirs off that commercial? Well, if Stylus has owt to do with it, yes.

But first, the history lesson. ELO formed out of the carcass of late 60s Harold Wilson-baiting brummie soulboys The Move, and immediately started doing... nothing of any real interest, to be honest. Original mainman Roy Wood was possibly more concerned with how he could make a living in later years by performing the sixth most irritating Christmas single ever on light entertainment shoes, and so their eponymous debut just spluttered along in a retarded blaze of "classical/rock fusion." You know, like Vanessa Mae, only beardier.

Then Wood fucked off, and the hero of the hour Jeff Lynne took over.

Comfort eaters must understand Jeff Lynne's approach to music better than anybody else. It's those occasions when you've already bought a pint tub of Ben and Jerry's, and then just squirt half a bottle of strawberry syrup and throw some toasted almonds on top, just because you can. It's about taking what you enjoy, and just ramming as much extra on top of it until you're bloatedly content, but stopping before you become sick. Lynne turned over-production into such an art form if he'd have produced "Drop It Like It's Hot," it probably would have resulted in Snoop flowing over 27 different varieties of timpani and the entire Vienna State Orchestra.

So ELO now moved into the realms of the listenable, and the singles "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Can't Get It Out Of My Head" suddenly emerged. Still not quite there yet though. The ELO that sits at the love of this article is when they finally took the plunge fully into AM radio pop, circa 1975 with the introduction of new bassist Kelly Groucutt and the release of Face the Music. "Evil Woman" and "Strange Magic" came from that, and finally settled in, the next few years saw the band release the best music of their era. "Livin' Thing," syrup-thick prog-pop that most music production courses could educate its students for a year off. "Sweet Talkin' Woman," where classical meets futuristic, like 10CC soundtracking Kate and Leopold, only not. And, of course, "Mr. Blue Sky," twee-pop ten years early, only more overblown, and as a result less ridiculous.

Don't front on the albums though: ELO made long players like great action movies. Of course the singles work as set pieces which can be enjoyed on their own and used in trailers and when the actors go on talk shows to promote the project, but you're probably gonna need that context to enjoy them fully. A New World Record went mutli-platinum and even found them time to prove how far they'd come since those Move days by including a rejig of "Do Ya", whilst Out of the Blue was as excessive an album you could ever want to hear. They toured for it in a flying saucer. You know, just because.

What next? Why, disco of course! Discovery (do you see?) saw them ditch the strings for the aforementioned "Don't Bring Me Down," and helpfully gave the Lovefreekz sample material for a 2005 hit with "Shine A Little Love." They were the first to connect the dots between prog and disco, but did it in such a way as to make the disco obscure: candy-floss prog for roller discos, rather than Studio 54 fuck-a-thons.

It went off the boil then: synthesiser overload, science-fiction concept albums, science-fiction concept albums, and record company beef all effectively neutered the band to any greatness: anything in the 80s isn't at the root of this album either.

No, it's about those halcyon days of the 70s, and about how... there's a theory about sexual attractiveness and the wearing of spectacles. The first thing that sexually attracts one person to another is the eyes, so attractive people wear glasses, it makes their eyes more noticeable, and thus they become more attractive. And it's the same with radio saturation: good music that gets played to death becomes great music. There's nothing more effective than carpet-bombing, and ELO have been dropping bombs on us from beyond the grave and on medium wave frequencies for since before you were a glimmer in your daddy's eye. Why shouldn't I have Christmas every day, it means I'm going to get 365 sets of presents.

So, this article serves as the opening curtain for a week of ELO-shenanigans on Stylus. Why? We're not trying to create a new canon: what's the point of destroying the original one just to build the new one in its place? No, just think of it as the start of our very own, stop-start, confused hall of fame. We think you’ll love it just as much as you hate it.


By: Dom Passantino
Published on: 2005-10-24
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