NWT: Electric Light Orchestra’s “Time”

2 10 2007

ELO Time

Fans of Midnight Juggernauts and Cut Copy’s disco-rock beats, sweeping synths, Beatle-esque harmonies, vocoders and laser beams: we need to talk about Electric Light Orchestra. And not the ELO who brought you “Evil Woman” or even “Don’t Bring Me Down”, but specifically their hugely influential and yet under-the-radar 1981 synth-heavy experimental space-disco/rock concept album, “Time.” So I asked Ken Robin, a S.F.-based attorney, to talk about it, because he is my dad. He wrote this:

“When I first heard of Electronic Light Orchestra in the ‘70s, I immediately pictured polka playing Lawrence Welk and his Champagne Music Makers. What else was one to think of in the early to mid 70’s when one’s idea of rock was anything but an “orchestra”? The whole idea of what became known as “symphonic rock” was not just a little bit off-putting to those who thought of the Beatles and Stones as something quite different from their parents’ music. But there was simply no denying the infectious nature of ELO and the genius that was Jeff Lynne.

ELO Live

So what was one to make of “Time” when it came out in ’81? Certainly this was a ”concept album” that had some “central theme” — but what was it? Space travel? The world changing so fast it was becoming unrecognizable? The dark side of technological advances? And was it more silly than academically stimulating in its presentation? I saw ELO perform the album live in the Oakland Arena when it first came out and it started with a midget sized robot doing the Prologue on stage as the band itself arose from under the stage in a huge plastic bubble. But we in the audience did not laugh or jeer. We were astounded. We cheered and yelled out in joy. Does this mean we were naïve? Unhip? I don’t think so. Nonetheless the passage of a quarter century forces one to pause and ask: Was it silly?

This video for Electric Light Orchestra’s “Twilight” conveys a bit of what it must have been like to see that laser-riffic 1981 show – shades of Daft Punk at Coachella, anyone?

Most people would likely include very few “Time” songs on their “ELO’s Greatest Hits” list, other than “Hold on Tight”. So what makes the album stay with me? Maybe it’s just a recognition that the ‘80s were here and we were not who we had been in the 50’s and 60’s and 70’s and that this new 80’s decade, which would bring us PCs and glam rock and the rest of its “look at me” cultural icons, had changed us forever. In a wistful look at the situation, Jeff Lynne invited us to see a future of IBM computer robot lovers (“Yours Truly, 2095”) and other technological tools for escapists (“Twilight” and “Ticket to the Moon”) and to try to envision that world with both its possible benefits (“21st Century Man”, “Here is the News”, “The Light Goes Down”) and detriments (“Rain Is Falling” and the probing question of “The Way Life’s Meant to Be”).

“Time” didn’t prevent war or ensure justice but it was a decent and memorable effort, all the same.

Thanks Dad!

Fans of Midnight Juggernauts’ “Into The Galaxy” should definitely check out “Here is The News”:
MP3: “Here is the News” – Electric Light Orchestra

My favorite song from “Time” is the opening track “Twilight”, with its huge, simple synth line, massive, bombastic drums and crazy falsetto harmonies:
MP3: “Twilight” – Electric Light Orchestra

This next one is for all you vocoder lovers – the story of a man in love with his new IBM PC:
MP3: “Yours Truly, 2095” – Electric Light Orchestra

The album’s biggest hit was essentially a 50’s blues/rock song with updated production (but then again, that pretty much describes The Ramones entire catalog). This song was also used in a bizarre series of jittery commercials in the 80’s, the theme of which was “Be a Coffee Achiever!”
MP3: “Hold on Tight” – Electric Light Orchestra

You can buy ELO’s “Time” on iTunes or Amazon.

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