70’s Pick of the Week
“Don’t Bring Me Down” by Electric Light Orchestra (1979)
When Electric Light Orchestra, aka ELO released the album “Discovery”, my friends and I called it ‘Disco –Very’. Not that we didn’t like the album, but it was that all groups around that time seemed to go through a disco phase, even the Rolling Stones, and this was ELO’s disco album. The strange thing about ELO is that they never had a number one hit in the U.K. or in the U.S., yet they have had the most top 40 songs in the U.S. than any band in history. Weird huh?
Birmingham, England’s Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne set out to make pop songs that had a bit of classical music interwoven. Wood left after the debut album and its lukewarm reviews. Lynne of course went on to write, arrange and produce every album after that – all 11 of them.
In the 60’s it was really Wood’s idea to introduce cellos, woodwinds, horns, and violins to rock music and move music to the next level by doing in a very Beatlesque way. After Lynne and Wood had a fight over management no one thought Lynne could carry the ball, but he surprised everyone. He introduced a moog synthesizer and a trio of strings. After doing a few albums producing songs like Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Showdown”, they were finally getting some much deserved recognition.
By the fourth album “Eldorado: A Symphony”, they hired a string quartet and Louis Clark became string arranger. The broody “I Can’t Get it Out of My Head” was a result and they finally had a gold album on their hands.
With new bassist Kelly Grocutt and Melvin Gayle (cellist) joining, the group enjoyed U.S. arena touring success and a string of appearances on “The Midnight Special” TV show.
In 1975 they released ‘Face the Music’ which produced the hits “Evil Woman” and one of my favourite ELO songs “Strange Magic”.
Now they were hot – except strangely in their home country of the U.K. The next album ‘A New World Record’ produced a string of great songs including: “Livin’ Thing”, “Telephone Line”,”Rockaria” and “Do Ya” (a remake of an old ‘Move’ song). The album went multi-platinum and they were on fire.
In those days you knew you had it made when the record company indulged you with letting you put out a double album. ‘Out of the Blue’ released in ’77 contained “Turned to Stone” and “Sweet Talking Woman”. The band then set out on a 92-stop full-blown tour complete with lasers, fog machines, and a spaceship. The U.K. was certainly taking notice by that point.
In 1979 at the top of their game the band hit with ‘Discovery’. It was packed with hits including “Don’t Bring Me Down”, “Shine a Little Love” (another of my favs), “Last Train to London” and “Confusion”, all sounding very disco influenced like I said.
In 1980 Lynne stooped to doing the sound track for the schlocky “Xanadu” which was trying desperately to keep the ‘Grease’ star Olivia Newton-John in the spotlight. The song “I’m Alive” from it is not bad despite the corn-fest.
By 1981 when ELO put out the concept album “Time”, trying to get back to its progressive rock roots. Personally I think the whole Xanadu thing and being tired from touring threw Lynne off his game. (Being good at pounding out singles Lynne still managed “Hold on Tight” on this one.)
When “Secret Messages” was in the works, Lynne was getting the not so secret message from his record company – they would not let him do a double album – it was too expensive, i.e.: the record company would not make money on slumping record sales. Despite this, the song I like off this album is “Rock and Roll is King”.
Tom Petty. Harrison had recorded “Cloud Nine” with Lynne where the alliance had been forged.
By the way, in the lyrics of “Don’t Bring Me Down” Jeff says “Don’t bring me down...grroosss” which is how it appears in the liner notes on the album. It is said to have been made up on the spot in the German studio and left in when it coincidentally meant “greetings” in German. Some people, especially those named Bruce or knowing a Bruce think it is ‘Bruce’ that Lynne says. Not!