Wednesday, December 28, 2011

In Old England Town - a brilliant mess

I hate Jeff Lynne as a producer of other artists. Not as much as I hate Eddie Van Halen as a guitarist, but it's a close second. In my view, Lynne has the production "talent" to make artists as diverse as George Harrison and Roy Orbison sound like bad knockoff versions of the Electric Light Orchestra. And I like the Electric Light Orchestra; I just don't like bad imitations.

Electric Light Orchestra, or ELO, went through various phases in their career. Some of you probably recall the end of their career, when songs like "All Over the World" and "Xanadu" were pretty anthems for the disco era. But ELO's early pop songs were a little rougher.

And their earlier songs were rougher still.

I've never heard ELO's first album, but I used to own ELO's second album on cassette, back in the days when cassette was decidedly inferior to the then-dominant vinyl LP. ELO's second album contained five very long songs, and when CBS produced the cassette version, they didn't bother with things like proper sequencing - in fact, one of the songs began on side 1 of the cassette and ended on side 2 of the cassette. (At the time, no one realized that within a few years, with the appearance of the compact disc, albums wouldn't have sides any more.)

The second album is most famous for ELO's reworking of the old song "Roll Over Beethoven." With ELO's fairly unique lineup, they were obviously able to introduce classical elements into the song, but the final version was more than a rock-classical hybrid. It was, to use a technical musical term, a "mess" of various sounds, all merged together by Lynne's decidedly unsmooth voice singing "Roll over Beethoven!"

And that was one of the slicker songs on the album.

For a song that is the direct opposite of "Xanadu," take a listen to "In Old England Town (Boogie #2)". This live version, which is fairly close to the studio version, starts with an introduction that is nothing like what anyone else was doing in rock or even progressive music at the time. So enjoy the instrumental introduction, and brace yourself for what happens at about 1:40.

Now you may think that this is just a really off live performance, but again, this performance sounds pretty similar to what ended up on the studio recording. And what that studio recording had was Jeff Lynne, barking lyrics that sounded like they came from one of Monty Python's Flying Circus "Gumby" characters - you know, the ones that would scream "I hit me head on the table!"

So what the heck was Lynne barking about in the song? According to elyrics, the song begins like this:

Down, down, you can see them all
rising gaily to the top
keep on rising babe you know you got a long drop
you better cling cos it's the done thing

And then it gets really weird. Especially at the "ten thousand tons of waste" part. (Trust me on this one.)

For some reason, this song was not as commercially successful as "Xanadu." In fact, according to Wikipedia, the song appeared on the B side of an ELO single, but with the lyric portions omitted.
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