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1979: from ELO to the Sex Pistols February 6, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Life in general, Music.
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Out of the Blue

Electric Light Orchestra: Out of the Blue

Boy howdy, it’s another recycled and revised entry from an old blog of mine!

In 1979, I still loved the Electric Light Orchestra’s Out of the Blue LP, which I’d had for a year or so, and thought the new one, Discovery, was where it all went wrong. After all, Out of the Blue had a string of hits like “Turn to Stone,” “Sweet Talkin’ Woman,” and “Mr. Blue Sky.” Discovery had simplistic pop rock stomper “Don’t Bring Me Down” and disco tune “Shine a Little Love.”

But listening to Out of the Blue again for the first time in years was… interesting. I don’t think I’ve heard some of the sides of this double LP since maybe the early 1980s. The roots of Discovery (that Bee Gees disco sound) are very much present here. I’m still finding some wonderful album tracks like “Summer and Lightning,” and I still really like “Turn to Stone”, but there’s a lot of dreadful filler, too. Come to think of it, dreadful filler is much too kind a categorization for “The Jungle”, to take the most egregious example.

I realize now that the ELO LP I’ve never really stopped listening to is New World Record, the one that preceded Out of the Blue and generated the hit singles “Do Ya”, “Livin’ Thing”, and “Telephone Line.” Keeping it down to a single LP no doubt helped curbed the excess that swamps Out of the Blue. There’s also more rock guitar on a few tracks, especially “Do Ya”, that’s all but gone on the much more pop-oriented Out of the Blue. Discovery, on the other hand, I didn’t connect with at the time and haven’t reconnected with since.

The reason I didn’t connect with Discovery is that it came out in 1979. I was discovering Kate Bush, Blondie, the Police, and then actual punk music. My taste in music really changed during the last few months of the year, because by the time I got the records I’d asked for for Christmas, they weren’t what I was interested in any more. Two albums by Canadian prog rockers FM, two albums by the Alan Parsons Project, two earlier albums by ELO, Queen’s A Night at the Opera, and Kate Bush’s The Kick Inside. Actually, I played the hell out of most of those records, and never lost my affection for Kate Bush, but around Christmas I was already buying albums by the Sex Pistols, Devo, Gary Numan, and Kraftwerk. (It’s funny, I felt like I was late getting into the Sex Pistols, who’d already broken up by then, but the album was only two years old.) Prog was on the way out, punk, new wave, and electronic music were my new focus. Next Christmas I got a couple more Kate Bush albums plus two punk albums by the Clash, one by postpunk legends Magazine, and one by new wave power poppers Bram Tchaikovsky.

There’s something about the music I discovered after that change in musical consciousness: a lot of the music from before feels fossilized in time. The music from afterwards, even when it’s more than 25 years old now, like the Sex Pistols, still feels fresh and current. I think it’s because much more of the music I like from the last 25 years has been in some kind of dialogue with the ideals of the punk/new wave explosion, whether the music sounds like it or not. It’s not that that music begins in the late 1970s with punk; on the contrary, it has significant roots in the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, David Bowie, Roxy Music… but 1979 is my own moment of transition.

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