One of these days you’re gonna get it right: the best of Electric Light Orchestra

I knew I’d joined a special place when the first act Stylus Magazine inducted its Hall of Fame wasn’t Joy Division, Talking Heads, or Brian Eno but…ELO. Tireless enthusiasts of British pop but with progressive-rock roots, Electric Light Orchestra at their best recorded pop as otherworldly as the (in)famous spaceships yet as familiar as Jules Verne. Jukebox heroes whose material absorbed the other jukebox competition.

I hesitated, it’s true, before including “Evil Woman.” “Evil Hook” is more like it — damn! The chorus sung in falsetto answered by Richard Bevan’s clavinet. Misogynist, there’s no denying it, except like most dorks closeted with their addled dreams synchronized on synthesizers they get their idea of women from other songs or their own suppressed lust. In essence, the speed and detail and delight of the music mitigates, to my ears, the dumb, received tropes; women couldn’t be evil if they inspired a love-as-lust ode as addled as “Don’t Bring Me Down.”

Expert magpies (“Shine a Little Love” is Lynne doing ABBA doing disco, or perhaps ABBA heard ELO’s use of strings and thought, “Hm…”) and precise trend reflectors (“Hold Me Tight” became a hit in 1981 just as American pop music was drenched in homages to the fifties), ELO could get exhausting, especially when in a rotten mood their songs remind me of bumpers or Saturday morning cartoons from the dawn of the Reagan era. So much of Lynne’s work presaged the dork futurism of Gary Numan and Trevor Horn’s use of call and response harmonies singing at the top of their range while pianos tinkle and a singer tries keeping his equilibrium in a world intent on banishing his awful hair to obsolescence. Perhaps this explains Lynne’s alignment later in the eighties with Tom Petty and George Harrison. It had to be more than “It’s Over.” Otherwise they would have dialed the number of the dude from Supertramp.

1. Don’t Bring Me Down
2. Telephone Line
3. Can’t Get It Out of My Head
4. Turn to Stone
5. Twilight
6. Mr. Blue Sky
7. Shine a Little Love
8. 10538 Overture
9. Calling America
10. Don’t Walk Away
11. Xanadu
12. Hold On Tight
13. Strange Magic
14. Yours Truly, 2095
15. Lift Me Up (Jeff Lynne)

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