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.

Baron von Luxxury


NWT: Hybrid Kids

25 09 2007

Hybrids Kids was a ‘compilation’ released on Cherry Red Records in 1979. It was supposedly a collection of songs made by a number of bands from Peabody, Kansas. However, In actuality all the songs on the album were created by British keyboardist Morgan Fisher, who was best known for his time spent in glam rock band Mott The Hoople.

“Recorded while Fisher was still in Mott, Hybrid Kids is an affectionate demolition job of pop classics”. And that it is! Fantastically experiment and almost whimsical covers of seminal pop songs. Fisher casts aside any formula or structure the original tracks were supposed to contain with wanton abandon, leaving only his musical musings intact.

I stumbled on these ‘Hybrid Kids’ tracks many a years ago and had no clue that these twelve songs were not made some angst filled teenage Kansans and I’m not sure which story is more incredible, the fallacy or truth.

MP3:  Hybrid Kids – British Standard Unit – D’ya Think I’m Sexy

MP3:  Hybrid Kids – R.W. Atom – You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling

From 1968 to 1970 Morgan Fisher played with pop band The Love Affair. Between 1972 and 1973 he formed the progressive rock band called Morgan. From 1973 to 1976 he joined Mott the Hoople, who were initially produced by David Bowie. In 1980 Fisher conceived and produced the unique Miniatures album (51 one-minute tracks by various popular bands of the time). In addition he played with Queen on their 1982 tour of Europe.

Fischer now resides in Japan and works as a keyboardist, producer, composer, film scorer, and photographer.

In 1997 ‘Hybrid Kids’ was re-released on CD and sometimes you can find a copy on Amazon, but right now there aren’t any available. But that’s okay, because you can find the original vinyl on gemm. One in Very Good condition goes for $136.00! Not bad for an album that was made on a 4 Track for 25 pounds.


New Wave Tuesday: Propaganda

18 09 2007


Hi, I’m Baron von Luxxury. I’m gonna be like Joan Rivers to Disaster’s Johnny Carson and do the “New Wave Tuesday” column every other week, which will be syndicated on The Workout, MissingToof and BigStereo. Try all three!

Dusseldorf’s Propaganda is probably my favorite band from the 80’s. Sounding a bit like a Nico-fronted Kraftwerk in an Autobahn collision with ABBA, they created a nearly perfect blend of synthpop, disco and sturm und drang. Their dark, robotic songs were given a larger than life sheen thanks to the lush, wittily bombastic production of dark pop master Trevor Horn.

Propaganda hit the UK top 40 with their first single “Dr. Mabuse” in early 1984, but it took another year to follow up with their debut album, 1985’s “A Secret Wish.” While at times seemingly Fairlighted within an inch of its life by Horn and his crack team of session musicians (including Japan’s David Sylvian, Heaven 17’s Glenn Gregory, and Steve Howe from Yes), the songs were terrific, the drama heavy, and oh the German-ness! So much German-ness! Singer Claudia Brucken was Teutonically hot and her vocals were hauntingly beautiful. And the videos? A classic mid-80s stew of WTF and OMFG.

“Secret Wish” was the only album Propaganda made with their original lineup, though there were a slew of remixes and a handful of followups with various replacement musicians. What happened? Depends on who you ask, of course, but it seems like the fact that Brucken was shtupping the label head didn’t go over too well with her band mates. But given the dramatic music they made, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

The first song, “Frozen Faces”, is my absolute fave Propaganda track. The synths that come in at 1:58 always gives me chills. There’s a 10 minute re-edit called “Echo of Frozen Faces” on the album Outside World (available on Amazon) which is truly sublime, it even has a killer eat-yr-heart-out-Oizo sax break!

MP3:”Frozen Faces” – Propaganda

“P-Machinery” is another gem of a song, and this megamix is nine minutes and 33 seconds of somber, pompous slow disco. There’s even a freakout guitar solo in the middle – someone needs to bring back wankin’ geetars back to the dance floor!

MP3:”P-Machinery (Beta Mix)” – Propaganda

And appropriately enough given the Nico-ness of it all, Propaganda’s Velvet Underground cover is pretty awesome too.

MP3: “Femme Fatale” – Propaganda

Propaganda ‘space (fan site)

Buy Propaganda albums at Amazon.com

Propaganda are highly recommended for fans of Depeche Mode, Heaven 17, Yaz and Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

xx + ttfn,
Baron von Luxxury