I have gone through many music phases in my lifetime. Radio pop. Radio rock. Progressive rock. New wave. British pop. College radio. Alternative. Canadian alternative. Alternative country. '50s blues. '60s soul. Female blue-eyed soul. Late '90s pop/dance. Turn of the century garage rock. '70s songwriters. Southern-fried rock. Retro arena rock. Electronic. And, finally, Whatever The Kids Are Playing These Days.
But it all began with one music obsession. And while once I was too embarrassed to admit it, I am no longer. It was the Electric Light Orchestra. ELO.
If you grew up in the '70s, you know all about ELO. It was a grown-up rock group that kids could appreciate. It was big, bright, melodic and featured goofy songs like "Diary of Horace Wimp" and "Mr. Blue Sky" that would appeal to any child. But even though it was hugely popular in the late '70s, ELO never had any cred in the rock world. When the band was at its height, Randy Newman once wrote a parody song about the group questioning how a band like this could exist. It was orchestral and didn't seem to feature any of the traits of a rock band at that time -- in short, your parents didn't hate them.
As a young teenager, with my classmates listening to Styx and the Knack, I played ELO on the turntable in the inner sanctum of my bedroom. I distinctly remember during ELO's Discovery tour a newspaper clipping of an ELO concert date in town pinned on a bulletin board in my 9th grade classroom. The date was for late September or early October, right when "Don't Bring Me Down" was playing on the radio.
But I didn't go. I couldn't go. Who but my brother knew I liked ELO?
Over the years, I bought almost all of ELO's albums and I still have them. After they broke up and I left them behind for REM or General Public or the thousands of '80s bands I fell in love with, the albums went into storage and became relics of my childhood.
But if you watched the Grammys on Sunday, you know that ELO has reformed (with 2 of the 4 members from the '70s) and played with somebody named Ed Sheeran (I follow current pop just enough to barely know the sound of a song or two of his but not anything else). I flipped out. I was like Paul McCartney and Taylor Swift during those two songs. Totally giddy and not ashamed.
I can only imagine what all of the people who asked "Who is Beck?" thought of a group that began more than 20 years before Beck. But I didn't care. You all missed out, Beyonce fans. MISSED. OUT.
The next day I went up to the attic, found the albums of the Electric Light Orchestra and began playing "Out of the Blue", ELO's double album, issued at the height of their big, bright, nerdy, falsetto selves. Spaceships and strings and terribly outdated music. I loved it all.
So, now, without apologies for another edition of this series or for featuring 4 sides instead of 2, or to all of those '70s people who said ELO is "not rock n' roll", it's time for Match the Song title.
Here's the song list. We're blasting off:
Match the song title: "Out of the Blue, Electric Light Orchestra"
Track 1: Turn To Stone. One of three U.S. hits on the album, my mind went right to 2009 O-Pee-Chee in which about one-fifth of the photos are players posing as statues. But none more so than Nick Swisher. He's turned to stone.
Track 2: It's Over. Pretty much my exact thoughts when I pulled this card out of a pack last week. The news of a trade never hits until you pull the player's card, whether he's on his new team or not. This song will go through my head again when Kemp wears one of those ugly camo uniforms. He won't even seem like the same person anymore.
Track 3: Sweet Talkin' Woman. The other big hit off of "Out of the Blue". It's bright, catchy, cheery and corny as hell. Carrie Underwood may be a "Sweet Singin' Woman" but she talks sweet, too.
She's a sweet cutie in general, especially back in her American Idol days. Don't know what I'm gonna do. I gotta get back to you.
Track 4: Across The Border. It seems like ELO decided to take every well-told story and turn it into a song. This one screams "This song is about Mexico!!!!" and so I have a card of the first player I think of when I think of Mexican ballplayers.
Track 5: Night In The City. There are also a lot of songs about "night" on this LP, which is probably why someone who would grow up to start a blog and call himself "Night Owl" likes this album.
Track 6: Starlight. I admit I know very little about this set. Apparently Upper Deck made a set in 1994 based on the McDonald's commercials starring Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley. In this one there are lots of pretty stars.
Track 7: Jungle. This song will amuse any 5-year-old. It's a jungle cartoon turned into a song with synthesized animal sounds and voices. It's big and goofy and that's why I love it. As for the card, when I think of the jungle, I think of the Amazon. The Amazon runs through Brazil mostly, but also a lot of other countries, including Colombia, which is where Dilson Herrera is from.
Track 8: Believe Me Now. Alex Rodriguez wants you, the Yankees, and everyone to believe him now. He's sorry. Really, really sorry. Really.
By the way, this is one of many songs on the album in which ELO uses a vocoder. ELO utilized the synthesizer effect on many LPs, and it makes it sound as if a robot is singing. It amuses me when today's young music fans hear an old ELO song and think they're auto-tuning.
Track 9: Steppin' Out. I don't know who Pat Howell is, but I thank him for his batting stance. Steppin' Out is one of the few non-hits that the group played during a "Children In Need" concert in 2013 that spurred ELO to become an actual band again.
SIDE 3 (CONCERTO FOR A RAINY DAY)
Track 10: Standing In The Rain. All of the songs on this side mention rain. Here, Ryan Howard is standing in the rain. Just like the song says.
Track 11: Big Wheels. What I really need is a card of a player riding a Big Wheel. There's probably some '90s card out there of exactly that. But since I don't have it, those sure are some big train wheels on that card.
Track 12: Summer And Lightning. There needs to be more lightning on baseball cards.
Track 13: Mr. Blue Sky. If you can't find a blue sky on a baseball card, you're not trying at all.
Mr. Blue Sky was a relatively minor hit when it was first released. But over the years it's become a classic and has been reissued, featured on commercials and I think everyone now knows it. It might be the happiest song that I've ever heard.
Track 14: Sweet Is The Night. Bo Jackson sure had a sweet night during the 1989 All-Star Game.
Track 15: The Whale. Don't get excited, I don't have this card. As a Dodger fan, there are many, many "white whale" cards. But this is the one foremost in my mind. I don't know what I'm going to have to do to get my Ken McMullen rookie card.
By the way, "The Whale" sounds like what would happen if fish held a disco party underwater. And now you know what ELO is all about.
Track 16: Birmingham Blues. Jeff Lynne and the boys formed their band in Birmingham, England, not Birmingham, Alabama. I'm quite sure the song is a reference to the British city. But how often do you have a chance to feature Michael Jordan, a) as a Birmingham Baron and b) twice in the same Match the Song Title post?
Track 17: Wild West Hero. He is the "Wild Horse". He plays out West. And he's a hero to all fun-loving Dodgers fans. This song was a hit in England, but not in the U.S.
"Ride the range all the day till the first fading light. Be with my western girl round the fire oh so bright. I'd be the Indian's friend, let them live to be free. Ridin' into the sunset, I wish I could be."
And that's where the needle comes off the record.
It never occurred to me back when I was a kid how fun a band ELO was. Sure, it appealed to me for exactly that reason, but looking back, I think their songs were a lot more fun than a lot of stuff that was playing then or has since. They didn't rock heavy or write thought-provoking lyrics, but for a kid just learning what popular music was all about, they were just what I needed.
Today, all I do is listen to music and collect baseball cards.
I did something right back then.