Twenty Years On: January 2002

Welcome to another series of Twenty Years On, in which I go through a year’s worth of favorite songs, singles and albums that were favorites then and are still favorites now. So where was I at this point back in 2002?

I was most likely down in my parent’s basement — yes, even in the dead of winter, unless it was too cold — working hard on writing A Division of Souls, which I would finish later in the year. By this time I had my daily schedule down to an artform: I’d leave my job at Yankee Candle sometime around 2pm (my shift started at 6am); on Wednesdays I’d drive over to the Amherst/Hadley area and do my comic book and CD runs, and get home in time to watch Tenchi Muyo! on Cartoon Network before dinnertime. After dinner I’d head down to the Belfry (though I don’t think it earned that name until much later in the year) and spend a couple of hours writing and listening to my new cd purchases.

This was an important time in my life in terms of writing, as I’d finally reached a level of quality I was happy with, and that I was hitting at least a thousand words a night. I was also writing consistently, nearly every single day without fail, even weekends. I loved the project I was working on — one that I would plan out during slow times at work to make the actual prose writing flow much faster — and I considered it some of my best work to date.

As for music, I really had no idea what the year would bring me. The previous year did have its share of great records, but it didn’t completely spellbind me. My year-end mixtape felt a bit forced and meandering. But I kept an open mind, armed with my copies of ICE Newsletter and CMJ magazines. January ended up being a pretty good release month considering it was usually a wasteland of small indie releases and leftovers.

bis, Fact 2002 EP, released January 2002. A four-track EP of cover songs original from Factory Records, it’s more of a curio than a collector’s item, but it takes the label’s early dance tracks and makes them even dancier and bloopier. (This is now available on the 2014 deluxe reissue of their Return to Central album.)

Osymyso, “Intro-Inspection”, released January 2002. Mash-ups had been around for a good couple of years by this point, but while most of them had been relegated to white label limited releases and played in the clubs, by the early 2000s they were being uploaded and shared online for everyone to hear and add to their own mp3 collection. This particular track subverts the usual mash-up by mixing the first few bars of a staggering 103 songs in a brisk and mind-blowing twelve minutes. It’s supremely clever and all kinds of fun.

Various Artists, I Am Sam soundtrack, released 8 January 2002. While the Sean Penn film was not a success, the soundtrack, which features all covers of Beatles songs (Penn’s character is a fan) is an intriguing collection featuring bands and musicians such as Rufus Wainwright, Michael Penn, The Vines, Ben Folds, Sarah McLachlan and more.

Concrete Blonde, Group Therapy, released 15 January 2002. After a seven-year breakup, the original Napolitano-Mankey-Rushakoff trio reunited to release a laid back and boozy album recorded in just ten days. It’s not as punk-infused as their earlier records, but it’s just as strong.

Nine Inch Nails, And All That Could Have Been/Still, released 22 January 2002. A half live, half studio album produced during the tour for 1999’s The Fragile album. Like most of his 90s records, it’s a bit of a tough listen given how raw and chilling most of his songs were at the time, but it’s also a really interesting collection, especially with the Still portion of ‘reconstructed’ versions of many of his best-known songs.

Sneaker Pimps, Bloodsport, released 22 January 2002. The third SP record kind of came and went before anyone noticed (and for the most part was ignored by the US, considering their second record, 1999’s Splinter, didn’t even get released there), but it’s actually a really solid record. They’ve already moved on from their echoey trip-hop sound of 1996’s Becoming X (and dropped former singer Kelli Ali) and become more trippy alternative. They would break up in the next year with lead singer Chris Corner starting IAMX, but in late 2021 they surprised everyone (including me!) by releasing a new album entitled Squaring the Circle.

Violet Indiana, Casino, released 22 January 2002. This was a short-lived but lovely-sounding duo featuring Robin Guthrie (ex-Cocteau Twins) and Siobhan de Maré (ex-Mono, the UK one that did “Life in Mono”), and their brief output of only a few albums and singles provided a lovely backdrop of chanteuse-like balladry and dreamlike pop.

Cornelius, Point, released in the US on 22 January 2002. I know I’ve posted this video many times in the past, and mentioned this record as well, and it’s one of my favorites of this era. This was the Japanese musician’s fourth record but his second readily available in the US, and it’s a wonderful record brimming over with wonderful creativity. It’s an album you should listen to with headphones to get the full stereo experience. This was the first 2002 CD that I had on constant rotation during my Belfry writing sessions.

The Anniversary, Your Majesty, released 22 January 2002. Another example of getting into a band just as they release their last record? Perhaps so, but this was a great indie rock record that reminds me of The New Pornographers. A bit odd but extremely melodic and fun.

Various Artists, The Mothman Prophecies soundtrack, released 25 January 2002. Say what you will, I really enjoyed the spooky Richard Gere monster-conspiracy flick, and unsettling tomandandy score is quite an interesting listen. Low provides the end-credits track “Half Light” that fits the movie’s creepiness perfectly. [tomandandy even borrowed their track “Not That Kind of Girl” from 2001’s Things We Lost in the Fire for a recurring theme.]

Chemical Brothers, Come With Us, released 28 January 2002. I don’t think this band has ever quite topped the success of 1997’s Dig Your Own Hole, but that doesn’t really matter when your output is so consistent and consistently creative and clever. This record felt more like a kicking-back, groove-in-your-own-head sort of album and it’s enjoyable from start to finish.

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Next up on TYO: February 2002!

Best of 2021

Nation of Language, A Way Forward

Every now and again we have a year with a lot of great albums, some immediate personal favorites…but for some reason, little of it resonates to the extent that they’re going to be all-time favorites I’d be listening for years to come. That’s not to say that they’re bad albums, or even forgetful ones! It could be due to Just How Life Has Been As Of Late (after all, this pandemic thing is still putting the kibosh on a lot of uplifting celebration), or it could be a personal thing (my mind has been focusing on numerous things other than my ever-expanding musical tastes).

I spent more time this year listening to KEXP streaming online than actually listening to any of the music I might have acquired during the past year. In a way it felt like those high school days of yore when I went through a spell of listening to WAMH on a daily basis and only listening to albums at night (except that my nights these days are watching TV with A in the living room). And just like that era, I’m (hopefully) making some personal changes to my life in the new year that might necessitate me not listening to John In the Morning every weekday. [Unlike those high school days of yore, KEXP archives their shows for a few days so I should be able to listen in at a later time.]

Next year is a ‘2’ year, which means that I’m expecting some mind-bogglingly stellar albums that will become all-time favorites. I know, I know…it’s only a pet theory of mine, but it hasn’t steered me wrong yet. There have been hints of it in the preview singles being dropped over the last couple of months, and the few new release news bites that have slipped out. Whatever comes, I’m looking forward to it!

That said, here is my list of favorite albums, songs, and other releases in 2021. These are in no particular order this time, other than that my top favorites are in boldface. I highly suggest checking them all out, as they’re all great and worth a listen or five!

TOP ALBUMS
Roosevelt, Polydans
Nation of Language, A Way Forward
Grandbrothers, All the Unknown
Flock of Dimes, Head of Roses
Dry Cleaning, New Long Leg
Hooverphonic, Hidden Stories
Wolf Alice, Blue Weekend
Japanese Breakfast, Jubilee
Quivers, Golden Doubt
CHVRCHES, Screen Violence
Sleigh Bells, Texis
Low, HEY WHAT
Film School, We Weren’t Here
Coldplay, Music of the Spheres
Elbow, Flying Dream 1
Failure, Wild Type Droid
Miss Gritt, Impostor EP
The Beatles, Let It Be [Super Deluxe]
Snoh Aalegra, Temporary Highs in the Violet Skies
Foo Fighters, Medicine at Midnight

TOP SINGLES
Imagine Dragons feat. JID, “Enemy”
The Clockworks, “Throw It All Away”
Miss Grit, “Blonde”
Sleigh Bells, “Locust Laced”
Nation of Language, “Across That Fine Line”
Roosevelt, “Echoes”
Teenage Sequence, “All This Art”
Ambar Lucid, “Space Cowgirl”
CHVRCHES, “Cry Little Sister”
Girlfriends and Boyfriends, “Your Touch”
Dry Cleaning, “Scratchcard Lanyard”
Seatbelts, “TANK! [Flix Mix]”
Wet Leg, “Chaise Longue”
Jose Gonzalez, “El Invento”
Flock of Dimes, “Price of Blue”
Yola, “Stand for Myself”
Parquet Courts, “Walking at a Downtown Pace”
Jack White, “Taking Me Back”
Yard Act, “Dark Days”
Breeze, “Come Around”

…and more Best-Ofs…

Box Sets, Compilations, Reissues and Remasters
The Beatles, Let It Be [Super Deluxe]
George Harrison, All Things Must Pass 50th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition
John Lennon, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (Ultimate Collection)
Various Artists, Bills & Aches & Blues (40 Years of 4AD)
Various Artists, Caught Beneath the Landslide: The Other Side of Britpop and the 90s
Supergrass, In It for the Money [Deluxe Expanded Edition]
POD, Satellite [Expanded Edition]
Death Cab for Cutie, The Photo Album [Deluxe Edition]
Radiohead, KID A MNESIA
Seatbelts, Cowboy Bebop (Soundtrack from the Netflix Series)
David Bowie, Brilliant Adventure (1992-2001)
U2, Achtung Baby [30th Anniversary Edition]

EPs and Singles
Ambar Lucid, Get Lost in the Music EP
Miss Grit, Impostor EP
Thom Yorke, “Creep [Very 2021 RMX]”
Wet Leg, “Chaise Longue”
Working Men’s Club, “X”
Bowling for Soup, “Growing Old Sucks (But Everybody’s Doing It)”
Teenage Sequence, “All This Art”
Imagine Dragons feat. JID, “Enemy””
Big Wreck, Big Wreck 7.1 EP
The Clockworks, “Throw It All Away”

Keepin’ It Local (Bands from My Hood)
The Reds, Pinks & Purples, Uncommon Weather
Chime School, Chime School
The Umbrellas, The Umbrellas
Cindy, 1:2

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…and that’s it for Walk in Silence for 2021! I’ll be taking the first week of January off just to enjoy the remainder of the holiday season and prep myself for the plans I have for the new year. Here’s to hoping everyone’s 2022 is stellar!

The Singles 2021

Here we are, as promised — my end of year mixtape! As with the last few years, my listening habits have pretty much been listening to KEXP online or whatever tunage I happened to download. And this time out I’ve created a Spotify playlist out of it for your listening enjoyment!

This past year has been kind of a strange one musically — a lot of records made during lockdown, incomplete sessions rejiggered as EPs and standalone singles, and songs that have been kicking around in the vaults for a bit — so while there may not be as much coherence or intensity behind some of it, the gems that are out there were pretty flippin’ phenomenal. Stay tuned for my best-of-year lists on Thursday!

SIDE A
1. Imagine Dragons feat. JID, “Enemy [from the League of Legends series ‘Arcane’]”
2. Roosevelt, “Echoes”
3. The Clockworks, “Throw It All Away”
4. Girlfriends and Boyfriends, “Your Touch”
5. Miss Grit, “Blonde”
6. Grandbrothers, “What We See”
7. Celeste, “Stop This Flame”
8. Arlo Parks, “Hurt”
9. Flock of Dimes, “Price of Blue”
10. Yola, “Stand for Myself”

SIDE B
1. Yard Act, “Dark Days”
2. Parquet Courts, “Walking at a Downtown Pace”
3. Siamese Youth, “So Far from Home”
4. Flyying Colours, “White Knuckles”
5. Sleigh Bells, “Locust Laced”
6. Dry Cleaning, “Scratchcard Lanyard”
7. K/DA, “Villain”
8. Jungle, “Keep Moving”
9. Wolf Alice, “The Last Man On Earth”
10. Teenage Sequence, “All This Art”
11. Nation of Language, “A Word & a Wave”

SIDE C
1. Seatbelts, “TANK! [Flix Mix]
2. The Beatles, “I’ve Got a Feeling [2021 Mix]”
3. Nation of Language, “Across That Fine Line”
4. Bachelor, “Stay in the Car”
5. Breeze, “Come Around”
6. Coldplay, “Higher Power”
7. CHVRCHES, “Cry Little Sister”
8. Snoh Aalegra, “In Your Eyes”
9. New Candys, “Twin Mime”
10. They Might Be Giants, “Super Cool”
11. Geese, “Low Era”
12. Duran Duran, “Invisible”

SIDE D
1. Goat Girl, “Sad Cowboy”
2. Hooverphonic, “The Wrong Place”
3. Sleaford Mods, “Nudge It”
4. Jack White, “Taking Me Back”
5. Fotoform, “Running”
6. Hatchie, “This Enchanted”
7. Amyl and the Sniffers, “Guided By Angels”
8. Film School, “Superperfection”
9. Public Service Broadcasting, “People, Let’s Dance”
10. ABBA, “I Still Have Faith in You”
11. Ambar Lucid, “Space Cowgirl”

SIDE E
1. Foo Fighters, “Waiting On a War”
2. Bill Janovitz, “Coming Up Close”*
3. Ora the Molecule, “Die to Be a Butterfly”
4. IDLES, “The Beachland Ballroom”
5. Thom Yorke, “Creep [Very 2021 RMX]”
6. Sleaford Mods, “Mork ‘n Mindy”
7. Wet Leg, “Chaise Longue”
8. tUnE-yArDs, “nowhere, man”
9. Grandbrothers, “Silver”
10. Roosevelt, “See You Again”

SIDE F
1. Field Music, “Orion from the Street”
2. Danny Elfman, “True”
3. Ambar Lucid, “Get Lost in the Music”
4. Low, “Days Like These”
5. The Goon Sax, “In the Stone”
6. Makthaverskan, “Maktologen”
7. Anna Schulze, “A New Way”
8. Ghost of Vroom, “Rona Pollona”
9. Shame, “Human, for a Minute”
10. Jane Weaver, “The Revolution of Super Visions”
11. The Verve Pipe, “Forever Reaching”

SIDE G
1. RUFUS DU SOL, “Alive”
2. Big Wreck, “Beano”
3. Goat Girl, “Badibaba”
4. Jose Gonzalez, “El Invento”
5. Delvon Lamarr, Organ Trio, “Call Your Mom”
6. Lucy Dacus, “Hot & Heavy”
7. Dropkick Murphys, “Mick Jones Nicked My Pudding”
8. Lost Horizons, “Every Beat That Passed”
9. Pond, “America’s Cup”
10. Porcupine Tree, “Harridan”

SIDE H
1. Garbage, “No Gods No Monsters”
2. Django Django, “Glowing in the Dark”
3. Billy Bragg, “Mid-Century Modern”
4. Nation of Language, “This Fractured Mind”
5. Sneaker Pimps, “Alibis”
6. Matt Nathanson, “Even Better Than the Real Thing”
7. Japanese Breakfast, “Be Sweet”
8. Mr Twin Sister, “Fantasy”
9. Elbow, “Flying Dream 1”
10. CHVRCHES, “How Not to Drown”
11. The Beatles, “Get Back [2021 Mix]”

Spare Oom Playlist, November 2021 Edition, Part II

Finishing up with last month’s great tunage, where it goes in all sorts of interesting directions!

Matt Nathanson, Achtung Matty, released 18 November. Pop singer and local goofball (you should really follow his Instagram, it’s quite fun) covers his number one favorite album ever to celebrate its thirty-year anniversary, and it’s a surprisingly enjoyable ride.

Adele, 30, released 19 November. Adele returns with what is essentially a post-breakup/post-divorce record that’s not so much full of sorrow as it is full of I am so sick of this bullsh*t rage, and you can’t help but cheer her on for coming out on top.

Big Wreck, Big Wreck 7.1 EP, released 19 November. I’ve loved this band ever since their 1997 debut, and their latest is just as loud and powerful and bluesy as ever. They’ve never put out a bad record, and this one is just as great as the rest of them.

Seatbelts, Cowboy Bebop soundtrack, 19 November. Whatever you feel about the Netflix remake, you can’t glide past the fact that its soundtrack is ABSOLUTELY FLIPPING AMAZING because it’s Yoko Kanno and Seatbelts, just like the original. There’s a whole lot of new score here and you really need to give it a listen.

Elbow, Flying Dream 1, released 19 November. One of my longtime favorite bands returns with a lovely and somber record that mirrors the delicate movements we’ve all had to make during this multi-year pandemic.

Radwimps, FOREVER DAZE, released 23 November. You may remember these guys from the last two Makoto Shinkai movies, Your Name and Weathering with You. Their new record is a lot of good fun, full of cheerful powerpop and lovely balladry.

David Bowie, Brilliant Adventure (1992-2001), released 26 November. The latest in the major Bowie reissue box set project, this one covers his most intriguing and mature albums that led him to classy (Black Tie White Noise) to weirdo conceptual (Outside) to techno (Earthling, one of my top favorites of his) to adult alternative (‘hours…’), with multiple discs of b-sides, remixes, soundtrack songs, and the unreleased 2001 project Toy, in which he updates some of his earliest songs.

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Coming soon: a December overview, and of course my mixtape/best-of lists!

Spare Oom Playlist, November 2021 Edition, Part I

November was usually the last month in which we get an exciting array of new releases that finally quiet down come Thanksgiving, leaving December to provide us with greatest hits mixes, box sets, and untried bands provided a chance to break through. At least that’s how it’s usually been pre-COVID, anyway. Still, last month’s drops were strong and exciting, so let’s take a peek, shall we?

Porcupine Tree, “Harridan” single, released 1 November. New Porcupine Tree single??? NEW PORCUPINE TREE SINGLE!!!! AND A NEW ALBUM in 2022!! *eight-minute squee*

Nation of Language, A Way Forward, released 5 November. I mentioned this one in a previous entry and yeah, it’s still one of my favorites of the year. It’s an amazing record.

They Might Be Giants, BOOK, released 5 November. This band has been working for years and there’s no sign of the Two Johns stopping anytime soon. Their full-band sound fits them well this time out!

Chime School, Chime School, released 5 November. Bandcamp recently posted a great article about San Francisco’s lo-fi music scene, and Chime School is one of the fun bands featured, with their sweet jangly pop that really does owe a lot to the C86 sound.

The Verve Pipe, Threads, released 5 November. TVP are still going strong, and Brian Vander Ark’s songwriting is still stellar. (Go follow his Patreon, his posts are a lot of fun and he’s a really nice guy.)

Snail Mail, Valentine, released 5 November. Super melodic alternative tunage that goes in some really interesting directions.

Silk Sonic, An Evening with Silk Sonic, released 12 November. Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak bring the smoove with this 70s soul groove pastiche.

IDLES, Crawler, released 12 November. Surprisingly not as confrontational this time out, but just as twitchy, even during their quieter moments. It’s definitely a bit stranger than their previous records, but that’s not a bad thing at all.

Aesop Rock x Blockhead, Garbology, released 12 November. Rock’s signature creative-weirdo delivery is such that you just want to sit there and listen just to see where the hell he goes next with his lyrics.

Dave Gahan & Soulsavers, Imposter, released 12 November. The Depeche Mode singer’s latest solo release, his third with Soulsavers, is a fascinating cover album this time out, full of unexpected songs from Cat Power, Neil Young, Mark Lanegan, PJ Harvey and more.

Robin Guthrie, Pearldiving, released 12 November. The ex-Cocteau Twin continues his solo career with some absolutely lovely guitar instrumentalism.

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Coming soon: more November releases!

Favorite Bands: Electric Light Orchestra (Part IV)

The official reformation of ELO came in 2000 when Jeff Lynne worked on creating the box set Flashback, a three-disc retrospective covering the entirety of their career and including a number of unreleased rarities. It also included a new version of the song “Xanadu”, formerly a 1980 single with Olivia Newton-John on vocals. This is the one you want if you’re looking for a great selection with the addition of excellent deep cuts as well.

Lynne would follow this up in 2001 with the first new ELO album proper since 1986 entitled Zoom. This was essentially an all-new lineup (although original keyboardist Richard Tandy does show up on a track) and included many guest musicians, including Ringo Starr and George Harrison. Though it was not a chart hit, their fans did indeed welcome them back, especially as they did tour for this record. Also in 2001, Lynne worked again with Harrison on his final album recorded shortly before his death, Brainwashed. He would honor his friend’s passing in November 2002 at the Concert for George.

Lynne however went quiet for the rest of the decade, focusing instead on a major remaster/rerelease project of all of ELO’s studio albums via the Harvest and Epic Legacy labels. Many of these contained extra tracks, including outtakes, b-sides, and unreleased songs. Several best-of compilations were also released over the years, many of them unfortunately so similar in tracking to the point of redundancy that they’re interchangeable.

But in 2012, Lynne okayed a new collection called Mr Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra, in which his best songs have been rerecorded mostly on his own. While this could have been a throwaway, or done as a song ownership/copyright measure, this was purely done out of Lynne listening to some of his own classics and realizing he improve on them, now that he had better technology. The end result is a twelve-track curio that might not be essential, but it’s definitely worth checking out.

This led to several live shows and a new interest in ELO’s music, and a few years later in 2015, Lynne reformed the band once more, this time under the moniker Jeff Lynne’s ELO, and set about recording completely new music. The result was the absolutely stellar Alone in the Universe, a record that perfectly captures their late 70s heyday with dreamy melodies, smart songwriting and even the occasional ‘Beatlesque’ hook. The preview single “When I Was a Boy”, a song (and video) that essentially tells his life’s musical story, and would fit perfectly on Out of the Blue. The album was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic and paved the way for a major tour.

The tour itself would include a stay at the Wembley Arena in London, and its June 2017 show would be filmed and recorded for the film and live album Wembley Or Bust. While live albums and films can be hit or miss, this one’s very entertaining and well worth checking out. [NOTE: This live album was another on heavy rotation during my writing sessions for In My Blue World, and its version of “Xanadu” was the impetus for the story itself.]

Two years later in late 2019, he would follow up with a second album, From Out of Nowhere. This was to be followed up by another world tour, but was cancelled due to the COVID pandemic. The record may not have had as much of the lasting strength as the previous studio record had because of that, but it did gain favorable reviews and did hit the top of the charts in the UK.

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ELO has received many honors over the years including their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017; and in 2020, Jeff Lynne himself was honored an OBE for his contribution to music. And now in 2021, many online streaming services are celebrating the band’s fiftieth anniversary with several new unique playlists to enjoy (including one playful set featuring songs that use the vocoder!) and rereleases to buy.

This band may sometimes be dismissed as cheesy and dated, too much of a late-era Beatles clone, or worse, but they have a long and extremely broad legacy to back them up. Their songs have been covered, sampled, riffed, used in soundtracks, and their classical-meets-pop style has inspired many other bands past and present. And the Birmingham boy with the guitar, the shades, the falsetto, and the unruly poof of dark and curly hair is instantly recognizable to everyone. They’ve inspired so many musicians that critics will describe some songs as having an “ELO style”. They’ve been around for a lifetime, but their songs are ageless and amazing.

Favorite Bands: Electric Light Orchestra (Part III)

ELO effectively broke up in July of 1986 once Jeff Lynne’s contractual obligations were over, and he spent the next several years working closely with many of his musical friends as a producer. His biggest project was with ex-Beatle George Harrison on his 1987 comeback album Cloud Nine. George himself hadn’t released a record in five years (the last being 1982’s meandering Gone Troppo) and what better than to introduce his new sound with someone who knew exactly how his former band sounded? It definitely has Lynne’s signature sound all over it, but it only complements Harrison’s new fresh sound. It was a huge hit and remains a favorite — and its first single “Got My Mind Set On You” still gets occasional airplay. Its second single, a nod to Harrison’s younger years in the Beatles, is a perfect mix of Harrison psychedelia and Lynne dreaminess.

Harrison enjoyed the success of his album and had been planning to record a b-side with a few of his musician friends, including Lynne, but the end result was so fun and radio-friendly that they made a full album together under the name The Traveling Wilburys alongside Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison. Lynne and Petty were the youngest in the group and it must have blown their minds to be working so closely with their musical heroes. They would record two records together.

But Lynne was only getting started. He’d also worked with Orbison solo on his Mystery Girl album, Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever, and wrote several songs for others. And in 1990 he released his first solo album, Armchair Theatre, and in 1991 he worked with Petty again with the Heartbreakers album Into the Great Wide Open, which became one of the band’s biggest sellers.

And then he got to work with the Beatles, his favorite band ever.

In 1994, when Harrison, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr reconvened to work on the Anthology project, they’d had in mind that they’d record some new music under the hallowed name — the first new music by the band in twenty-five years — and Lynne was a perfect choice. He knew and understood their sound and could co-produce it without stepping on anyone’s shoes, history or egos. The plan was to take three songs that John Lennon had written and recorded in rough demo form in the late 70s, with Yoko Ono’s blessings. Two songs were recorded, “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love”, and both were huge hits and added to the official discography.

Lynne would keep busy through the rest of the decade continuing his production and songwriting work, with the likes of Tom Jones, Roger McGuinn, Joe Cocker, and Paul McCartney on his Flaming Pie record.

Meanwhile…the rest of the band did not disappear from view. Drummer Bev Bevan, bassist Kelly Groucutt and violintist Mik Kaminski created their own version of the ELO brand with Electric Light Orchestra Part II, with vocals provided by Eric Troyer. While not exactly a chart success, they did retain the classic pop-with-strings ELO sound, and the albums are worth checking out. Bevan would leave the line-up after the second album, but Troyer and Kaminski have continued the project under its new name, The Orchestra, which is still alive and thriving as a touring band.

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Coming soon: Part IV, in which Lynne revives the ELO name once again, with several compilations and new recordings!

Favorite Bands: Electric Light Orchestra (Part II)

…not to be confused with the Lynne-less ELO Part II, led by longtime drummer Bev Bevan, of course…more on that in a few. ANYWAY!

After the middling success of Discovery — while a strong and solid album, many critics felt it was a bit too poppy and dance-friendly — Jeff Lynne and the band were asked to write several songs for what was initially a lower-budget roller-disco movie somewhat inspired by an old classic called Down to Earth, about an otherworldly muse that comes down from the heavens to inspire a down-on-his-luck artist. After several rewrites, the addition of Olivia Newton-John in the muse role and Gene Kelly as the artist’s mentor and friend, Xanadu dropped in late June 1980 as a fun cheeseball summer flick. The movie bombed severely for many reasons (an extremely wobbly script for one, and supremely cheesy effects for another), but its soundtrack, featuring ONJ songs on one side and ELO songs on the other, remains a classic. And yes, it is considered a so-bad-it’s-great cult classic. You’ve got to love the terrible 80s-ness of it all:

…although there is the saving grace of a wonderful Don Bluth-animated sequence!

Regardless of its utter cheesiness, nine-year-old me was utterly obsessed with the movie and the soundtrack. Its magical-girl-from-another-world story fascinated me and even then inspired me to want to write a story like that. It would take me multiple decades to do so, of course, but that was one of the many movies that jumpstarted my interest in writing fiction.

So. What do you do to follow up something like that? Well, you return to your classic prog tendencies and write another concept album, of course! Time was Lynne’s foray into pure science fiction, about a man wakes up to find himself over a hundred years into the future with no way of returning, and trying to make sense of the world he’s been sent to. It’s not a weird album compared to other ELO records, but it definitely stuck out from most other records of the era. It’s not the most popular, but it’s universally loved by many fans. And if anything, it’s got a hell of a great rockin’ first single, “Hold On Tight”.

Its second single, “Twilight”, stalled in the mid-30s on the UK and US charts, but two years later it would reach cult status as the unauthorised soundtrack for the opening animation for DAICON IV, a science fiction convention in Osaka, Japan. [The fledgling animators themselves, including Hideaki Anno of Evangelion fame, would soon create the well-known anime studio Gainax.] This film has become so iconic and popular that in 2005 for the TV version of the popular Densha Otoko (Train Man), the animated opening credits is a nod to the original.

[As I’ve mentioned before, both Xanadu and Time were a major influence and inspiration for my novel In My Blue World. Part of the idea for it came from my melding the two album’s themes together — the magical girl changing fate and the mental strain of time travel — and both albums got significant play while I wrote it. If you are interested, the e-book is available at Smashwords.]

In 1983, Lynne wished to release a double album, but the US label (CBS) nixed the idea and released the one-disc Secret Messages instead. This is a very underrated album in that it doesn’t get nearly as much love as most of ELO’s earlier albums, but it is extremely enjoyable and contains quite a few strong tunes such as “Rock ‘n’ Roll Is King” and the title song. I highly suggest checking out the 2018 reissue that returns the album to its double-disc original idea and gives it an even stronger flow.

Lynne would then spend the next couple of years working as a producer for other musicians and bands, including Dave Edmunds (including his surprise hit “Slipping Away”), the Everly Brothers and ABBA’s Agnetha Fältskog, as well as providing music for another quirky film called Electric Dreams, before reconvening with ELO on 1986’s Balance of Power. Essentially a contractual obligation album for his label, it’s not one of their strongest records and is often overlooked due to its slick sound and lack of popular singles, but it does contain the catchy single “Calling America”, which did get considerable airplay regardless.

ELO, for all intents and purposes, disbanded at the end of 1986 after a minor tour. Lynne jumped full-time into music production…and unexpected major success working with one of his childhood heroes on not one but three projects!

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Coming next Tuesday: post-ELO solo and production work, revisiting old classics, and rebuilding the band – twice!

Favorite Bands: Electric Light Orchestra (Part I)

I’ve spoken about this band many times before and I’m sure I’ll do it again, but ELO remains one of my favorite bands from my childhood that Wasn’t The Beatles (well, almost not the Beatles, anyway…heh). And while its singer Jeff Lynne celebrates the band’s 50th anniversary with multiple Apple and Spotify playlists, it’s interesting to see how this band evolved over its long career. And since it is a long career, it’s gonna take a few posts to check it all out!

The idea of ELO was actually not Lynne’s but of singer Roy Wood, who at the time was the leader of The Move. He’d been the one to come up with the idea of mixing strings and classical elements with the rock format, and Lynne was more than delighted to join in on this project. As it happened, Wood only remained for the band’s self-titled 1971 debut (renamed ‘No Answer’ in the US due to a communication misunderstanding) and the mood seems very proggy here, but you can already hear the seeds of Lynne’s ‘Beatlesque’ pop style of songwriting.

Their second album, simply entitled Electric Light Orchestra II and released in 1973 after a significant lineup change, suffered from similar prog meanderings, though it did score a surprise hit with a rocking cover of “Roll Over Beethoven”, featuring a clever insertion of the opening to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

Album three, On the Third Day (also from 1973), showed they were almost there. The extended prog ideas were slowly phased out to focus more on tighter and shorter melodies (but not without a few fun forays into classical, including an interesting take on Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King”). The single “Showdown”, added to the US editions of the album, ended up breaking them towards a wider mainstream audience.

Now album four, 1974’s Eldorado, was where they really hit their stride. An odd yet extremely entertaining concept album about a daydreamer with an eye-catching cover still from The Wizard of Oz, it features their next big single, “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” which became a rock and pop radio staple. I distinctly remember hearing this on the local AM pop station as a kid. [Also worth checking out is one of my favorite ELO deep cuts, “Mister Kingdom”, which ended up being the song I used as Krozarr’s theme in In My Blue World.]

They followed it up one year later with Face the Music in 1975, and by this time Lynne and the band had perfected their odd hybrid and started having numerous hit singles and radio hits through the rest of the decade.

In 1976 they dropped A New World Record, which sounded even more Beatlesque than anything else they’d done previously. Gorgeous ballads like “Telephone Line” hinted at McCartney’s best on Abbey Road, “Livin’ Thing” hinted at the complex experimentation of Sgt Pepper, and the silly yet fun “Rockaria!” harkened back to the hard-rocking covers of Beatles for Sale.

And then, in 1977, they dropped their double album opus, Out of the Blue, which many still consider to be their crowning achievement. It featured several hit singles, it was a multi-platinum seller, and it even features a weather-themed four-song concerto! There are so many famous and well-loved songs on this one that if you had to buy only one ELO record, this would definitely be the one. [This was one of two of their albums that influenced and inspired my novel In My Blue World. The title of the novel itself comes from the single and opening track “Turn to Stone”.]

And of course, the massive hit single and fan favorite “Mr. Blue Sky” was used to absolutely hilarious effect as the opening credits for 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2.

They’d bring the seventies to a close with a bright and shimmery album called Discovery in 1979. It was by far their most commercial sounding record, with the strings mostly sliding into the background and the danceable rock melodies coming to the fore, including radio favorites “Don’t Bring Me Down” and “Shine a Little Love”. Interestingly, the band created promotional videos for every single track on the album, which are available on YouTube.

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So what would the 80s bring this band…? More hits, a killer half-soundtrack to a lemon of a movie, a cult-classic concept album about time travel, and eventually dissolution. But Lynne didn’t necessarily stop there, nor did he drop off the face of the earth! Stay tuned!

Favorite Albums: Nation of Language, ‘A Way Forward’

Yeah, I know…it’s not often I label a brand spankin’ new album a favorite, but I’m willing to make exceptions. Interpol’s Turn On the Bright Lights, Failure’s Fantastic Planet, Beck’s Morning Phase, and so on…they’re the records where every single song captures my attention in that whoa what am I hearing?? sort of way.

Nation of Language is a Brooklyn trio that has been getting some serious airplay on KEXP and I’m sure is capturing the attention of Spotify listeners as well. Their influence is obvious: early Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (we’re talking way before “If You Leave” here). They capture OMD’s fragile synth melodies and moods perfectly while bring their own spirit into the mix. Their debut album Introduction, Presence came out in May of last year, and they’ve just dropped their new one, A Way Forward, earlier this month.

Every track on this album is well worth checking out, as are their low-budget yet enjoyable videos!