Monday, January 14, 2008

Electric Light Orchestra - "Can't Get It Out Of My Head" (1974)

I thought I had pretty good taste in music until I went away to college and found out that I only knew the tip of the iceberg. Down the dormitory hall from me was a junior pre-med student who was on the fencing team and an incredible cartoonist. He sometimes thought it was his mission to turn me on to new music and one of the bands he urged me to check out was the Electric Light Orchestra. So without having heard it, I splurged on their then current album, Eldorado.

Little did I know what a heavy album this was going to be. A concept album about a typical English working sod who escapes the real world by fantasizing about being in Eldorado, a land full of mythical creatures and characters out of fairy tales and storybooks. It's sort of like a trip through his madness until it seems at the end he has no choice but to stay in that make believe world entirely. The album had an overture, finale, and even a song called "Illusions In G Major." Well!

I studied the inside album sleeve with all the lyrics and credits -- it was truly a Total Music Geek album. This was my introduction to ELO's mastermind, songwriter and singer, Jeff Lynne, who very rarely ventured out from behind his sunglasses propped around his very large and curly hair.

The three string players of ELO were accompanied by a full blown orchestra, choir, and the band itself, playing traditional amplified rock band instruments. It was as perfect a combination of orchestral music combined with flat out rock and roll as you'd ever likely heard.

"Can't Get It Out Of My Head" was the big hit single from the album since it was clearly the most commercial song on it, as much as a song about losing one's mind can be. It had that famous opening C major chord with the 2nd added, used to great effect on many ballads, notably Chicago's "I've Been Searching So Long." Drummer Bev Bevan's thundering toms drop in before the pre-chorus, while the strings are arranged almost classically, atypical for a pop song.

Pretentious? A bit, but not enough to sound the alarms. I must have listened to Eldorado a zillion times on my turntable. At a record store, I found out that this was ELO's fourth album but the first to really break through on the charts, something unheard of with record company patience nowadays. Needless to say, I bought every single ELO album that came out from that point on and played them regularly.

Worth noting that power popsters Fountains of Wayne covered this song in concert and it could probably be found on Bit Torrent sites.

Below are a couple of really special videos of ELO performing this song when it was a hit. The first was definitely performed live in studio on an Australian TV show ("they're going to slaughter you!"), as it includes both the "Eldorado Overture" segueing into "Can't It Out Of My Head." The second one is the band lipsynching to a shortened version of the song in somebody's boarded up wooden shack! Both videos are notable for the fact that Jeff Lynne is not wearing his trademark sunglasses, rarities indeed.

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