Nostalgia. When it comes to “blast from the past” nothing does it quite like music. Of course, music has a few things going for it. Like scent, auditory stimuli can trigger vivid memories of persons and places from days gone by. As notably, as WDET’s Ann Delis put forth in my book, “No Static at All,” the repetitive nature of how we consume music can leave indelible marks in our psyche. We may read a book once or twice, yet, we listen to our favorite songs hundreds if not thousands of times.
As a former longtime air personality in music radio, I played a lot of songs a lot of times. Some I liked and some I loathed. With a potential burnout factor a fact of life at that time, I was forever grateful for new music to be released and added to my stations’ playlists. To this day, I still gravitate toward new music and away from old. That said, like many who look back fondly on music from the fun and emotional times of their high school and college days, I still have a soft spot for some of the bands and tunes from my youth.
One of those is a group that I feel is among the most underrated ever: The Electric Light Orchestra. Between 1972 and 1986, the band sold more than 50 million records worldwide while boasting twenty-seven Top 40 singles and fifteen Top 20 hits. Until ELO, no band had ever so successfully melded classical music with rock and roll. That said, you may well remember Walter Murphy Band’s disco-era “A Fifth of Beethoven” to a greater degree. For me, however, with the release of 1976’s “A New World Record,” featuring the monster hit “Living Thing,” I was smitten.
Looking back, it was almost as much the branding of the band as the actual music. And while co-founder Jeff Lynne’s haunting vocals and driving orchestration were unforgettable, so too was the band’s iconic kaleidoscope logo which would soon become the very heart of a massive spaceship depicted prominently on all later album cover art – a akin to the guitar from a group of the same era, Boston. I would argue that only Chicago’s Coca-Cola-esque moniker is more recognized and enduring.
It is with this foundation, then, that I was so excited to recently learn of the band’s first album in 14 years: “Alone in the Universe.” Now branded as Jeff Lynne’s ELO (a story in and of itself thanks to past turmoil not uncommon between co-founders [ever hear of ELO II]?), the look, feel and sound of the new work harkens back to a time special for me and, no doubt, others. Lynne, appears, has not missed a beat.
Ultimately, I think, that is why I love music so much – it means different things to different people based on individual tastes, emotions and personal experiences. For this one, I might even trek out to purchase a now-hip-again full-sized LP version; easier to savor the album art as well as the new tunes fresh from the record store, just like back in the good old days. It’s back to the future through a veritable jukebox time machine.