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“A Little Shoutout to ELO”

A couple weeks ago on this blog, I made the illuminating, transcendent point that rock and roll is probably not going to save the world. It can, though, save moments. Here’s a handful of songs to which I’ve been witness saving moments:

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– The Doors – “Hyacinth House”
– Van Halen – “Jump”
– Don Henley – “The End of the Innocence”
– The Hives – “Back in Black” (AC/DC Cover)
– Radiohead – “Bones”
– The Rolling Stones – “Beast of Burden”
– The Rolling Stones – “Get off of My Cloud”

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These songs were, as they say, NOT DIVISIVE.
Ok, I realize I’m insulting your intelligence here. Because everybody has their own favorite songs, their own favorite moments, restaurants, times when their parents cut ‘em some slack, all that stuff.
I have this friend who grew up in the ’70’s and early ’80’s, loves old prog rock up through punk, but somehow glosses over ELO, never seems to mention them or pay them any heed. Now, you certainly can’t chalk this up to obscurity, as like wikipedia quips, “By the mid-1970s, they had become one of the biggest-selling acts in music.” So the other possibility is jealousy. I mean, aside from the whole punk-eschewing-the-mainstream thing, there comes a point where art is just flooring, where you can’t just carry an act around holding them as anthemic, because they’re too far past your line of thinking, sort of how you see a low amount of Radiohead t shirts out there proportionate to the number of people holding them as explicitly their favorite band.
ELO, like Radiohead, changed a lot throughout their career. Contrast this sharply with most bands from the ’90’s: Soundgarden, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, even the Counting Crows and Toad the Wet Sprocket. I still remember the volatile eruption of indignation before Radiohead’s sharp stylistic shift into electronica, on Kid A. You could see it in people’s eyes: they’d been deserted, they hadn’t had enough ROCK — stylistic thinkers, through and through. They needed their bodies to vibrate and their eardrums to bleed… what was the rock compliment to Eminem? We’d just got through what I think may be the best decade in rock history (but I am a ‘90‘s teen), and they still wanted more. Third Eye Blind comes out in 2010, they’re an indie darling, I guaran-damn-tee it. It would be a couple years before the Queens of the Stone Age would come around, and even they, for all their John Henry stylistic achievements, bordered, BORDERED, on the formulaic. I mean, they definitely weren’t the god damn Pixies. The Queens were drummer-led. Dave Grohl drumming for the Pixies would just want to start bashing on the songwriters’ heads, instead of the snares, because those songs allow for NO rocking out whatsoever. [1] The closest they get to rocking is Joey Santiago’s three-note guitar solos which as one biographer I think observed “sound… like he was trained to play guitar on the planet Mars.”
The ’70’s were a time of glorious possibility in rock, spanning from the stadium shmear of ELP, to the folky catchiness of Big Star, to the burgeoning punk quilling of the Buzzcocks and The Clash. The band that conquered the world during this time needs no movie to propagate their myth, the likes of which aided CCR and BOC (The Stoned Age), to name a couple of ELO’s acronymic brethren, in addition to The Doors [2], their music moved with the visceral force of punk, and held the theorist’s depth of classical, at least at times. They’d stumble in and out of greatness, like a drunk who’s fun to be around — other times they’d appear feeble, and human. But their heart was clearly in the right place — rocking, but their minds were in outer space, which is a little intimidating, and why people seem to rarely talk about them, let alone make a movie about them.
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[1] One Pavement song, which is about R.E.M., goes, “And the drummer he knew restraint” (which means he definitely wasn’t Janet Weiss, and I mean that in a laudatory way of Janet Weiss), and Neil Young would purportedly seek out drummers who “didn’t know how to play,” so that they wouldn’t play annoying fills, thereby stealing the show.
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[2] Though that movie only further proves that truly ground-shifting rock acts need no introduction.

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