Jeff Lynne’s Other Great Songs: 10 (Plus One) that are Top of the Pops

by Alan Haber jeff-lynne-photo

It’s usually “Mr. Blue Sky” or “Showdown” or “Evil Woman” or “Telephone Line” or “Don’t Bring Me Down” or “Rock ‘n’ Roll is King” that get singled out when someone writes about the magical, musical pen of Jeff Lynne, a matter of fact that got me to thinking about some of the man’s other songs–the ones that don’t get mentioned often enough or often at all; songs that may even be more delectable than the usual suspects. We used to refer to these “other” songs as deep tracks or buried treasures, but the truth of it is they’re neither deep nor buried. They are, in fact, right on top alongside the songs you may love perhaps a bit more; they simply don’t get as much attention.

So attention I shall pay. Here is a list, in no particular order, and I’m well aware that you may either disagree or beg to differ, of 11 of Jeff Lynne’s other songs–the ones that seem to bubble under the hits until, thanks to lists like this one, they bubble over the river and through the woods until they get to grandmother’s house and then they go, go, go to the top of the charts. Why 11 and not simply 10? Eleven is louder, isn’t it?

And here they are:

elo-discovery1. “Need Her Love” Discovery; Electric Light Orchestra, 1979. An intrinsically, clearly stated, pretty song with a classically-structured melody, “Need Her Love” is all about true love–about being in love and knowing you’re the luckiest person on the face of the earth because of it. And being grateful for all that being in love entails. What’s more, this is a romantic song. We should all be in such a state in our lives. Plus, there’s this lyric, which says it all so very well: “She came in from the west, a summer breeze I couldn’t rest.” There’s also a George Harrison-esque slide guitar solo and a lovely middle-eight with a gorgeous chord progression that just makes you feel all gooey inside, like your mate has just won you the great big teddy bear at the fair. Quite affecting.

elo-xanadu2. “All Over the World” Xanadu; Electric Light Orchestra, 1980. I have great affection for this movie, which never struck me as the slightest bit cheesy, as it has many others over the years. Jeff Lynne’s soundtrack songs are right up there with his best work. (Side note: John Farrar wrote the supremely fantastic big band-cum-rock showstopper “Dancin’,” which pairs Olivia Newton-John with the Tubes to exciting effect.) Lynne’s “All Over the World,” which was the triumphant opener at his Hyde Park concert last year, is an infectious, mid-tempo pop-rocker celebrating an all-night party that’s happening all over the world. A message of good cheer, then, set to a solid 4/4 beat. A perennial favorite around these parts.

elo-secret-messages3. “Four Little Diamonds” Secret Messages; Electric Light Orchestra, 1983. A driving pop-rocker about love gone wrong, this is Jeff Lynne in succinct storyteller mode. The picaresque tale of the cheating woman who got away and can’t be found features pounding drums that keep the beat steady, great harmony vocals, a satisfying cold ending, and a bit of a musicianly countdown joke at the beginning (Lynne bangs on his microphone and asks, “Is this on?” “Okay, after four.” Pause. “Four!”). Gets the blood pumping, this one.

elo-a-new-world-record4. “Rockaria!” A New World Record; Electric Light Orchestra, 1976. Speaking of driving pop-rockers, this nifty 4/4 song adds a spot and a half of opera to the mix for a tantalizing tale about rockin’ with the classical crowd and being keen on the singer who’s “sweet on Wagner,” Beethoven, Puccini, and Verdi. The mix of old world and then-current music styles is perfectly balanced and realized. It’s worth its weight in clever, in other words. And, like “Four Little Diamonds,” it starts off with a bit of a giggle when the opera singer flubs her first note.

elo-eldorado5. “Illusions in G Major” Eldorado; Electric Light Orchestra, 1974. A somewhat leisurely rocker with strings and horns and a fat and juicy fuzz guitar solo, this yesterday’s-poets-meet-today’s-rock-and-roll-kings barn burner gets it all done in an economical two minutes and thirty-seven seconds. “It’s all good entertainment, it doesn’t cost a penny,” Lynne sings, and he’s right, you know. A kitchen sink approach strikes gold in them there hills, for sure.

elo-balance-of-power6. “Calling America” Balance of Power; Electric Light Orchestra, 1986. An Electric Light Orchestra album without strings? It was, and depending on your viewpoint, it may have been all the better for it, for it allowed Jeff Lynne, Bev Bevan and Richard Tandy to shine from a musicianly standpoint. Arguably the obvious single amongst the 10 songs on the original record, “Calling America” is a shining example of the work of someone who knows how to craft a catchy pop song that demands repeat listening. Plus, it’s crafted with care, particularly in regard to the wonderfully rich, deeply-stacked background vocal harmonies that elevate the careful song construction at every turn. The beautiful melody makes an imprint on your brain. Once heard, you simply can’t forget it. And you’ll be moved to sing along, always a good thing. A triumph in a song catalog full of them.

elo-zoom7. “Easy Money” Zoom; Electric Light Orchestra, 2001. Essentially a Jeff Lynne solo album, Zoom collected a baker’s dozen songs reflecting the many musical moods of its star attraction. “Easy Money” found Jeff Lynne in pure fun, bluesy, old-style rocker mode, with the steady backbeat provided by the one and only Ringo Starr. At its lyrical heart, the song is about kicking a selfish lover to the curb (“Funny thing about it/Don’t even make me blue/’Cause there’s no better deal around/Than saying goodbye to you”), but it’s also about the fun of bashing about, having a musical laugh on the way toward turning out a catchy, rocking number. And here’s another tune with a bit of a joke positioned just before the guitar solo: Lynne hands off the solo…to himself (“Take it Jeff!”).

elo-time8. “The Way Life’s Meant to Be” Time; Electric Light Orchestra; 1981. The castanets add a lively touch to a lively song that was a standout track featuring one of Jeff Lynne’s great melodies (and echoes of future Traveling Wilburys bandmate Roy Orbison). Happily strummed acoustic guitars carry this song effortlessly from its joyous opening verses and chorus through to its very ’60s middle-eight and guitar solo and on to its very satisfying, cold ending. A particular favorite here at Pure Pop Radio headquarters.

jeff-lynne-armchair-theatre9. “Save Me Now” Armchair Theatre; Jeff Lynne, 1990. A deceptively simple ecological message in the form of an plaintive folk song in the style of Woody Guthrie, “Save Me Now” is understated with spare instrumentation and not much more than Jeff Lynne’s acoustic guitar in the mix. The achingly beautiful melody and simply direct lyric lead the charge; the close-miked, rich lead vocal and harmonies in the chorus are quite affecting. “Sometimes I wish my guests/Would move away somewhere/Yes I’m burning up all over/I can’t even breathe the air,” the earth sings. There’s never a dry eye in this house when this song is played.

elo-face-the-music10. “Nightrider” Face the Music; Electric Light Orchestra, 1975. A grand musical statement, pairing relatively low-key verses with more aggressive, pop choruses, “Nightrider” gets the full, early ELO treatment–notably, strings aplenty, and plenty of them. This song packs a solid punch that is full of life, and remains one of my favorite Jeff Lynne songs to this day.

elo-out-of-the-blue11. “Wild West Hero” Out of the Blue; Electric Light Orchestra, 1977. Out of all of Jeff Lynne’s ballads, this is my favorite–a romantic tale of nostalgic freedom, of roaming the prairie lands “tryin’ to do what’s right,” when, all the while, this boy is just aching to “be with my western girl round the fire, oh so bright.” The a cappella section that starts at 2:47 is among the most joyous expressions of harmony to appear on a record ever. A grand statement? Yes, it is. Different from other of Jeff Lynne’s grand musical statements through the years, but grand nonetheless.

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4 thoughts on “Jeff Lynne’s Other Great Songs: 10 (Plus One) that are Top of the Pops

  1. alan – fantastic article/list. For me, reading a great piece on jeff is just as much fun as listening to him. I would have only changed a bit. Maybe Getting to the Point for it’s incredible wall of sound, and for Zoom – Stranger and Melting are just great rockers. Otherwise, great fun and trying to limit to 10+ always hard with Lynne!

  2. Here is my list of Jeff’s other great songs – no ELO though, but all written by Jeff (or co-written):
    1) That’s what it Takes (George Harrison)
    2) I Won’t Back Down (Tom Petty)
    3) Heading for the Light (Traveling Wilburys)
    4) You Got It (Roy Orbison)
    5) Walk Away (Del Shannon)
    6) Night Calls (Joe Cocker)
    7) Slipping Away (Dave Edmunds)
    8) Let It Shine (Brian Wilson)
    9) The Story of Me (The Everly Brothers)
    10) Blown Away (Jeff Lynne)

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