I own a record store, so the following is especially painful for me to admit: I used to think ELO and ELP were the same band. I mean, that’s easy to do, right? It’s a one letter difference, cut me some slack. (For the punx, let me explain—ELO are the amazing 1970s power pop band Electric Light Orchestra, ELP are the horrible 1970s prog band Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Big difference.) I have a tendency to confuse bands with really similar sounding names. I thought Kind Of Like Spitting and Spit For Athena were the same band for a long time too. (According to the book Incredibly Strange Music Volume One, confusing similar-sounding band names is a trait I share with rock’n’roll wildman Hasil Adkins. This frightens me more than a little.)
For years I labored under the delusion that I hated ELO, because I thought they were the authors of that wretched classic rock radio staple “LuckyMan.” For the life of me, I could never comprehend why The Traveling Wilburys would include a hack like ELO’s Jeff Lynne. I mean, the Traveling Wilburys were like the super group of ALL TIME. Tom Petty, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, all in one group? Any self-respecting record collecting nerd would be at very least semi-interested in what they were doing.
(Didn’t hurt that, at least until very recently, all of the Wilburys’ material was out of print. There’s nothing record collectors love more than something that’s out of print, trust me. That way, when you track down a copy, you can brag to your friends about how hard it is to find and how you got a copy still in the wrapper for free and be cooler than everyone you know. How cool you can actually be when you spend all your free time tracking down records no one else really cares about is up in the air…)
It also didn’t hurt that the guy I first really got into punk with was also, for some strange reason, a pretty big Wilburys fan. It was nothing for us to go from the Dead Kennedys straight into the Traveling Wilburys. As I got older and met more people, I came to realize that this was decidedly NOT everyone’s experience. Who knew?
Anyway, here was this legit supergroup, and then you have Jeff Lynne. Strangely enough, he didn’t really seem to suck in the Wilburys. I figured that it was hard to suck when you’re playing with artists of that caliber, and that the other guys in the band were pretty stand-up dudes and were just too nice to tell him he couldn’t play when he wandered into the studio. (This is before the Internet was so prevalent, so information about why the heck these guys would be paling around with Jeff Lynne wasn’t exactly easy to find. I swear, if I could have just Wikipediaed all this stuff, I wouldn’t have been so stupid.)
To make matters worse, I also thought ELO were the dudes behind the butchering of the Boss’ “Blinded by the Light,” another tune that tortured me on hot summer days spent toiling in the factory with no control over the boom box. (Shoprats do not want to hear the newest Napalm Death album, for the record.) Of course, I was wrong again. “Blinded” was actually Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, a group that does not now nor has ever had anything to do with ELO. (Or ELP, for that matter.) I have no idea why I even thought that song was by ELO. I was one misguided young man.
I’m sure you’re saying to yourself: “Ryan, that’s great. I’m glad you’re sharing what a moron you are with us. BUT WHAT THE HECK DOES THIS HAVE TO WITH PUNK ROCK/INDEPENDENT CULTURE/ANYTHING THAT RAZORCAKE HAS ANYTHING TO DO WITH????” (Other than a natural tendency for their columnists to ramble on about their own lives, of course…)
I’m getting there, really. Stay with me.
So, there I am in my painfully ELO-free universe. I was at a local record store one day, browsing around, when I happened upon a nice looking copy of the Discount/J Church split LP, you know, the one where Discount are covering Billy Bragg tunes and J Church jam some ELO. (There ya go—I told you this was going to start to make some sense. Have some trust in me, online Razorcake readers!) I enjoy Discount quite a bit, and I noticed that they covered “North Sea Bubble,” which is one of my favorite Billy Bragg songs, so I figured I’d pick it up, even though the other side had some jokers doing ELO songs. (Remember, I still thought they were ELP.) Given that I hated (or thought I hated) ELO, I NEVER FLIPPED THE RECORD OVER.
Ugh. You know those people who say they “have no regrets”? I’m not one of those people.
I just couldn’t fathom why this J Church band would want to spend their time covering ELO. Naturally, they must have sucked if this was the group they chose to devote an entire LP side to, right? I’m a busy man, and there are a lot of great tunes to jam out there. I can’t be wasting my time with some pop punk band trying to be snarky by covering awful pap.
This went on for much longer than it should have. To avoid embarrassing myself, I won’t tell you how long. Let’s just say I can be a real idiot sometimes. If it weren’t for my friend Shawn sitting me down and literally forcing me to listen to J Church, I may never have discovered how amazing ELO was.
(Side note: Or how amazing J Church were—seriously, next time I’m screwing up so bad, someone needs to take me aside and tell it to me straight. I know that, as “punks,” we pride ourselves on letting people live their lives and not being preachy and all, but man. Sometimes you just gotta let people know they’re doing wrong.)
Armed now with the knowledge that this J Church band were actually pretty damned great, I went home and finally (finally!) flipped that record over. MAN, was I sleeping on this one. ELO were awesome. They weren’t bloated, boring, pretentious prog rock at all. They were this amazing power pop band, one of the few that actually can live up to the Beatles comparisons that all power pop bands inevitably will receive. (Now, of course I’m not saying that ELO were as good as the Beatles. No one would even suggest such a thing. You’ll eventually find a reason to send me angry letters, but this isn’t one of them.) Every stinkin’ song could be a hit single. Best of all, I found a treasure trove of ELO 45s at my store in the ten cent 45 bin. You better believe those are getting some airtime now. (I also learned that High On Fire got their name from an ELO instrumental B-side! If a band is Matt Pike-sanctioned, you know they’re good….)
Now If I could just tell the difference between Red Swan and Red Teeth, I’d be set.