KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Forty Year Friday – ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA “OUT OF THE BLUE”

Artist: ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA
Album: OUT OF THE BLUE

[Welcome to Forty Year Friday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1977]

Beginning with Bob Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde in 1966 and continuing through the following decade, many artists used the double-album as an opportunity to present their “grand statement.” Ranging from 60 to 90 minutes, these records were usually sprawling collections that showcased the breadth of an artist’s musical influences, sometimes containing a conceptual theme. A handful of them were top-to-bottom classics while many others would best be described as flawed masterpieces, with fans often arguing about whether they would have worked better in edited form on a single slab of vinyl. Titles like The Beatles (aka The White Album), Electric Ladyland, Tommy, Chicago Transit Authority, Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs, Exile On Main Street, Quadrophenia, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Tales From Topographic Oceans, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, Physical Graffiti, Songs In The Key Of Life, The Wall, Tusk, The River and London Calling are often lauded by critics & fans as the pinnacle of each artist’s discography. In many cases that praise is warranted but I don’t always agree with the accolades some of these albums receive…although it’s comforting to know that the hype often introduces these artists’ catalogs to new generations of fans. The gatefold sleeves and ornate packaging that often accompanied these releases certainly helped their reputations as well. One double album that tends to get overlooked is Out Of The Blue by Electric Light Orchestra. The group spearheaded by songwriter/singer/multi-instrumentalist Jeff Lynne had already released six studio albums, with the previous three going Gold or Platinum, and scored several hit singles since 1974. With Lynne in peak songwriting form, the timing was perfect for a 70-minute magnum opus, and the space-themed artwork didn’t hurt during the year of Star Wars.

The album is anchored by three Top 40 U.S. singles. “Turn To Stone” sets the tone with its faded-in driving shuffle groove, Lynne’s distinctive voice, those Queen-worthy backing vocals, sweeping strings and immensely catchy melodies (with a great hook at “my blue world”). “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” begins with a string section & electric guitar, then shifts into a stomping glam-rock tune with catchy verses & choruses, most notably at “it’s so sad if that’s the way it’s over.” “Mr. Blue Sky” was the lowest charting of the three singles but has become one of their defining songs, showing up numerous times in advertisements, movies & TV shows. Its blend of The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life” with an insistent beat and various vocal inflections makes it an upbeat power pop classic. This song was the final piece of a 4-part suite that took up all of Side 3 called “Concerto For A Rainy Day,” which also included “Standin’ In The Rain” (a dramatic steady rocker that functions as an overture), “Big Wheels” (a slow, sparse & lush tune that owes a debt to late-‘60s Beach Boys) and “Summer And Lightning” (the classic Jeff Lynne sound of acoustic guitar strumming on a steady midtempo groove). “It’s Over” could have easily been a big hit with its unforgettable chorus and Bee Gees-esque harmonies. “Across The Border” adds splashes of mariachi music to the orchestral rock arrangement, and the melody bears some resemblance to The Beach Boys’ “Heroes & Villains.”

Side 2 of the original LP features three excellent tracks. After an intro with off-kilter synth, strings & street sounds, “Night In The City” is a slightly bombastic song with a loping groove and a chorus of smooth Bee Gees-worthy vocals. The sweet synth sounds & slow, steady rhythm of “Starlight” remind me of George Harrison. It’s low-key, catchy & subtly stunning. “Steppin’ Out” is a pretty, languid ballad that wouldn’t be out of place on a Moody Blues album. Other than “The Whale,” an only-on-a-double-album track of sound effects followed by a pretty, sweeping disco-era ballad, Side 4 closes out the record in strong fashion. “Sweet Is The  Night” has a gorgeous chorus that (once again) owes a debt to Bee Gees, and Lynne’s voice is less Beatle-y and more a combo of Bob Dylan and Ian Hunter. Bouncy midtempo rocker “Birmingham Blues” has a tight arrangement, strong harmonies and a nice blending of strings, but it might have benefited from a slightly shorter running time. Album closer “Wild West Hero” was a Top 10 hit in the UK. This intricately arranged track shifts from a piano ballad with George Harrison-esque vocals to a cool honky-tonk piano breakdown and a lovely a capella section, with some rockin’ guitar thrown in for good measure. Out Of The Blue has everything that you could want in a double album: hit singles, under-appreciated deep tracks that could/should have been hits, various genre exercises, a conceptual suite, etc. It also features memorable performances from people not named Jeff Lynne: the super-tight rhythm section of drummer Bev Bevan & bassist Kelly Groucutt, the ridiculously talented Richard Tandy (who played just about every type of keyboard imaginable) and the orchestra conducted by longtime collaborator Louis Clark. There are a few other ELO albums I would rank higher but Out Of The Blue is still an ideal gateway into their world for newcomers, which sounds as fresh & ambitious as it did 40 years ago.

 

36 comments on “Forty Year Friday – ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA “OUT OF THE BLUE”

  1. Jeff Kempin
    September 1, 2017

    Two thumbs up for ELO. I have this on vinyl and it is a really great record. Jeff Lynne practically invented the term “Beatlesque” duriung his time in ELO and it’s easy to see how George Harrison chose to have Lynne produce an album of his and also become Traveling Wilburys together.
    ELO was going from strength to strength on their albums in the 70’s and OotB was no exception. Tight harmonies, excellent playing and songcraft.

    Another great post. Btw, I picked up a copy of Seconds Out, from last weeks entry, and I’ll be spinning it soon. Take care and have a great week.

    Jeff

    Like

    • Hi Jeff. I had a feeling you would also be an ELO fan. You made a great point about them basically inventing “Beatlesque.” Sure, there were others who were influenced by The Beatles but ELO were often thought to sound like The Beatles might have sounded if they continued into the ’70s. I don’t always agree with that assessment, and I think they blended other artists into their unique sound, but the Beatles influence is always easy to spot.

      Looking forward to hearing your appraisal of Seconds Out. I have high hopes but hopefully I didn’t oversell it.

      Enjoy the weekend.

      Like

  2. kevin
    September 1, 2017

    The Beach Boys/Beatles/Bee Gees in a blender. I really need to revisit this album as I am only aware of the hits, which I love. “Mr. Blue Sky” is a little pop masterpiece. Audio Prozac. Which albums would you suggest over this one? I only have their first and third, plus a Greatest Hits.

    Like

    • Excellent assessment, Kevin, although I would add a bit of Dylan to the mix, at least in Lynne’s vocal inflections. But musically he/they were indebted to the killer B’s. “Audio Prozac.” I love it.

      I would rate Eldorado, Face The Music, A New World Record and Discovery either on the same level or slightly higher than Out Of The Blue…but they’re all great and form quite a run of classics during the ’70s. You can’t go wrong with any of them.

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      • David
        September 2, 2017

        Discovery gets a lot of hate from ‘critics’ but I love every single song on it. I had the half-speed mastered vinyl and it sounded incredible. I’ve since picked it up twice on CD. I rate FTM, ANWR, OOTB and Discovery about even. Eldorado is just under those.

        Like

      • Hi David. I didn’t realize until recently that Discovery has a bad reputation among some fans. I’ve always loved it and think it’s on the same level as the albums you mentioned. Thanks for stopping by.

        Like

  3. stephen1001
    September 1, 2017

    It’s on the 1001 – and as I’m new to ELO, it’s encouraging to read this is a good entry point!

    Like

    • Are any other ELO albums on the 1001? I love this record but I think a few others might be even stronger and more deserving. Perhaps the fact that it’s a double album made it seem more “important” to he 1001 writers. Looking forward to your review, whenever it comes.

      Liked by 1 person

      • stephen1001
        September 3, 2017

        I think this is the only one – I was fortunate to find a used LP!

        Like

      • I question the decision making at 1001 if this is the only ELO album on the list. I’m eager to hear your thoughts on it, and whether or not it pushes you to get some of their other albums.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Alyson
    September 1, 2017

    Yes, yes, yes – I may have been a teenage girl in 1977 blah, blah, blah …. but ELO were most definitely on my radar. Great post for me this one as I loved your analysis of this very special album but also I could watch the clips here in Scotland.

    As often seems to be the case in this series, although this was obviously an album from ’77, the year I experienced it properly was the following year ’78. We had just finished school (sorry but you know me, there’s always an anecdote) and my best friend and I had gone to work in a country house hotel in the middle of nowhere. We got a cottage on the grounds to live in and only had my mum and dad’s old mono record player for entertainment – My friend had this album and blu-tacked the gatefold cover onto her side of the wall in our attic bedroom. These are some of the songs I remember best from that summer and aren’t they just fantastic. As you say they still pop up all the time and it was great to have Mr Blue Sky as the accompaniment to the opening sequence in Guardians of the Galaxy earlier on this year.

    As a total aside, Jeff Lynne (having a bit of a second wind of late) was always the easiest person to doodle on school folders. A lot of curly hair, a pair of shades and a beard – Job done!

    Like

    • Hi Alyson. I was confident that we would be back on track this week, so I’m glad to find out that’s the case. Thanks…as always…for your anecdote. Another enjoyable musical link to your past. Was “Mr. Blue Sky” in the Guardians sequel or the original? I haven’t seen the sequel yet and don’t remember if it appeared in the first one. I seem to hear the song all over the place, yet it never loses its impact.

      I really love your story about doodling Jeff Lynne. Did you do the same with Ian Hunter?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alyson
        September 1, 2017

        Ha ha – actually yes, Ian Hunter was just as easy.

        Mr Blue Sky was in the opening scene of GOTG2 and as you say, somehow it doesn’t matter how often you’ve heard it, it still makes you smile.

        Like

      • I’m guessing those doodles might have resembled the famous sketch of the Unabomber. Not sure if he’s known outside the US but Google the image and let me know if I’m on the right track.

        Looking forward to seeing GOTG2 but will probably have to get the DVD or Blu-ray from the library after our renovations are done.

        Like

      • Alyson
        September 2, 2017

        See what you mean about that cartoon – No not well known over here but yes the right track.

        Do watch GOTG2 – I’m not a fan of action adventure space type films at all but with these the soundtrack is one of the stars and Awesome Mix 2 is almost as good as AM1.

        Like

      • I’m glad I wasn’t off base with my Unabomber comparison. I’m sure the authorities would have questioned Mr. Lynne and Mr. Hunter had you been their sketch artist. 😛

        Will let you know my thoughts whenever I see Guardians 2. My movie-going time has been limited for the last couple of years but I will make up for lost time when the renovations are over.

        Hope you had a nice weekend.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. No worries on the spelling error, although I do appreciate your need to point out & correct the mistake. If you’d like, I could easily go back & edit your comment and delete this one so nobody will ever know it happened.

    Happy weekend. It’s a holiday weekend here so that’s three days off. Unfortunately for us we’re having subcontractors coming in tomorrow & Monday to do work so the renovations will stay on schedule. That means we’ll only be uninterrupted on Sunday. At least the finish line is now in sight…in just over two months.

    Like

    • Alyson
      September 1, 2017

      Actually if you could edit it that would be great (and then delete) – WordPress doesn’t let you do that yourself which is a pain. Mainly because I often post a wordy comment then regret it, like now….

      This house of yours must be really something special as the renovations have been going on for ages – Good luck with it all!

      Like

      • One comment edited and another deleted. I wonder if the conversation flow will be affected. Yep, I agree that this is a WordPress limitation but I can live with it considering it’s free and we get to connect with all these wonderful people from around the world.

        The house should be exactly what we’ve been hoping for once the work is done. We just started our 5th month of living through it so we’re much closer to the end than the beginning. The process has gone on a lot longer than that, though. We packed a bunch of items back in June 2015 so we could put our house on the market. Those items have never been unpacked. My music collection was boxed up in September 2015 so I haven’t seen my CDs or LPs for two years. We haven’t seen more than half of our clothes in that time. We’re going to have a lot of unpacking to do…and I’ll be locking myself in my new “media room” for about a year. 😀

        Like

      • Alyson
        September 2, 2017

        Sorry sleep got in the way of this conversation but morning here now – You bet your bottom dollar the flow has been affected by my need to have my spelling corrected (it’s all over the shop) but no biggie. Problem is comments are more off the cuff and not well edited and thought out – A flow of consciousness so errors can creep in. Feel free to correct.

        As for your house project, it’ll be like Christmas when you unpack the boxes – 2 years in storage and you’ll have forgotten what things look like. As for the new music room, I see it has now become a “media” room – Sign of the times. In ’60s sitcoms, the guy always had a “den” – Modern day equivalent I suppose.

        Like

      • Sorry for the delayed response. It’s been a busy but mostly enjoyable weekend, and blogging & social media have been very low on my priority list. It would be nice if WordPress made it possible to edit comments you leave on other WordPress blogs but I can live with the occasional typed flub. I’ll take that over a typo in one of my posts any day.

        The “media room” has always had that name, at least between me, my wife & our architect, but I occasionally refer to it as a music room so it doesn’t sounds as pretentious. I’ll have my LPS & CDs lining the walls with some framed music-related art hanging between the shelves, a nice big TV with surround sound and (finally) my stereo back in action, and my drums. Hence “media.”

        Liked by 1 person

      • Alyson
        September 5, 2017

        We’ll expect to see pictures of this amazing media room on your About page soon!

        Like

      • Not sure how much of my real world I’ll share in my virtual one, but I will likely include some information about the media room once it’s up & running. As you can imagine, it seems like a hazy concept as I’ve been without a dedicated music space (and my entire collection) for 2 years. It’s hard for me to believe that I’ll actually have that space again in less than 3 months, but time certainly does fly and I’m fine with it flying through November…and then it can slow down.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Peter Gugger
    September 1, 2017

    Enjoyable post as usual Rich. It’s prompted me to stick Eldorado on as I lay back enjoying a 58th birthday breakfast in bed provided by my loving wife – bliss! I saw ELO at the Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne in Feb. 1978 and it’s still the best concert I’ve been to. Jeff and co. were the orchestra and the we were the choir. Never been with so many people (20-30 thousand) who knew every word. Feel Lynne has been unfairly underrated over the years purely because of his ability to write killer hooks and his mastery of melody. Loved reading your back and forth with Alyson about your renovations. That’s also inspired me to get ours happening after talking about it for so long.
    Cheers, Pete

    Like

    • Hi Peter…and a happy belated birthday. Sounds like it was a memorable one thanks to your wife and the timeless music of ELO. I love your description of that concert. Many of my most memorable concert experiences are when the audience felt like we were part of the show.

      Good luck if/when you decide to tackle your renovation. It’s been an exhausting experience for us, even though we’ve gone through this experience before (in smaller doses), but as we get closer to the finish line I’m starting to “feel” how great it will be to have things back to normal for the first time in more than 2 years.

      Like

  7. Bill Van Orden
    September 1, 2017

    EVERYtime I see the ELO logo, I think of the Whurlizer jukebox that inspired it… you are absolutely RIGHT, Rich… this is a great jumping on point for anyone wanting to say ‘L O to ELO…. This wasn’t my first Elo album..I started from their first to their last, and as of yet, haven’t picked up ELO II, because I’m afraid of what I’ll hear. I also will end this odd post with this…… How can a band not be successful when you have a guy in it named BEV BEVAN? —pair him up with FEE WAYBILL !!!

    Like

    • David
      September 2, 2017

      I’ve had the new remastered ELO II CD sitting around now for months. I’ve read that it’s not a strong album and I’ve keep putting off actually playing it.

      Like

      • I didn’t have any of the early ELO albums until about 12-13 years ago when I copied a 3- or 4-CD collection that included the first three albums and various bonus material from a co-worker. I found a lot to like on those records but they were a very different band at that time. Certainly not the melodic hitmakers they would become. I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts on ELO II if/when you finally decide to give it a spin.

        Like

    • Hi Bill. As always, your way with words is second to none. Glad to know your also an ELO fan. As for Mr. Waybill, he doesn’t need to team up with Bev Bevan when he’s spent the bulk of his career playing with a wonderful drummer named Prairie Prince.

      Like

  8. 80smetalman
    September 2, 2017

    Great write up Rich! “Out of the Blue” was the first album I listened to in 1978. Loved it then, love it now. While I like the hits, especially “Turn to Stone,” I have always thought “Birmingham Blues” to be the hidden gem on the album. I don’t dislike “The Whale” as I found that it was good for background music while doing other things.

    Like

    • Glad we have another one in common. I also don’t dislike “The Whale” but to me it’s less of a song and more of a mood piece. It’s perfect for a sprawling double album. I agree that “Birmingham Blues” is a hidden gem. I just think it goes on a little too long.

      Liked by 1 person

      • 80smetalman
        September 5, 2017

        Mood piece is the best way to describe “The Whale.” Great to listen to as background support and like you say, perfect for a double album.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Phillip Helbig
    September 12, 2017

    I saw the current incarnation of “Jeff Lynn’s ELO” or whatever a year or two ago. Of course I know who they are and know the hits, but don’t own anything and am not a fan. I must say, however, that it was a perfect concert.

    Like

    • I’m happy to hear that you enjoyed that Jeff Lynne’s ELO concert, Phillip, in spite of not being much of a fan. You have pretty wide-ranging tastes so I would be surprised if you didn’t find a lot to like in their discography. Perhaps a well-selected ELO compilation is in your future.

      Like

  10. Maria Alfonso
    November 10, 2017

    I like album “Wild West Hero” very much!!! 🙂

    Like

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