I really had to want to like this music. But I did, and it finally broke through, and it’s been very rewarding.
The Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) had finally secured success on both sides of the Atlantic with 1976’s A New World Record, a tight little album packed with more appealing melodies and greater focus than the band’s previous releases. They had been no strangers to chart success, but it was songs like “Do Ya?” and “Telephone Line” that propelled them to the upper heights and set a pattern that would last another 10 years, bringing ELO a career total of over two dozen UK Top 40 hits. While never quite ditching his ambitious prog-rock-ish tendencies, ELO frontman Jeff Lynne could finally wield his imagination and musical mastery to greater popular effect.
So though many consider A New World Record ELO’s crowning achievement, the greatest fusion of Lynne’s vision and popular reception, some, including myself, still think very highly of its successor, 1977’s Out Of The Blue. Skirting along the edges of just-too-much, the rambling anything-goes double album is thoroughly masterful, a true tour de force by a band that had finally hit its stride. There are a few bum notes that don’t quite measure up (notably the truncated “Believe Me Now” and the instrumental “The Whale”), but any attentive listener will find an album full of high-reaching pop content that entertains and leaves them asking if anyone is doing this today.
The third side of Out Of The Blue is a quartet of loosely thematic songs known collectively as Concerto for a Rainy Day. Inspired primarily by an extended period of dreary downpour and thunder while holed up in his Swiss chalet, Lynne loosely crafted the songs in response to his own attitude toward the weather and the writer’s block it brought about.
The concept is very loose indeed, but a pliable imagination can find a thread along which to string them all. I tend to think of them from the point of view of someone recently cast out of a turbulent relationship. From the dark of a midnight rainfall to the sunlight of afternoon, the weather mirrors the recovery and movement toward renewed optimism that comes from crumbling relationships.
The first song, “Standin’ in the Rain,” is frantic. The narrator has been cast out onto the street alone, freezing and soaking wet. “Big Wheels,” with its imagery of mechanisms large and beyond control, evoke both weather patterns and a feeling of hopelessness; the narrator powerless to take a stand or even make himself happy.
Optimism returns, though, or at least the narrator regains his legs, as warmer weather returns in “Summer and Lightning,” bringing with it a tinge of excitement in knowing that, no matter how frightening, the risks that come with falling in love are never greater than the thrill of being washed clean in the torrent. And of course everyone knows “Mister Blue Sky,” the final song of the set. An unabashed celebration of a sunny day and the feeling of freedom that comes from diving into whatever the winds brings, the song is as wildly popular now as it was in 1977. Makes for great TV commercial music, too, apparently.