Electric Light Orchestra took their Beatles fixation up a notch on 1977’s Out of the Blue

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John Lennon once called Electric Light Orchestra the “son of the Beatles.” It’s unclear whether he meant that as praise or put down but, either way, the Fab Four’s DNA is all over “Mr. Blue Sky.” In fact, for a band often accused of being nothing more than an obvious Beatles pastiche, “Mr. Blue Sky” was the Electric Light Orchestra’s pastich-iest of them all.

You have an invariable, thudding bassline straight out of “Hello Goodbye”; an anvil-banging rhythm from Abbey Road; verses trailing along to the same two notes, like “I Am The Walrus”; then a calling card-eccentric construction of sudden shifts, from the dizzying harmonic interplay to a sharply buoyant guitar. The background vocalists, at one point, even pant along in a direct reference to “A Day in the Life.”

To me, though, “Mr. Blue Sky” — released on October 3, 1977 as part of Out of the Blue — suffers most from its proximity. The Beatles, circa the mid-1970s, were still a looming presence in the rearview. Some, like the big-spending Lorne Michaels of SNL (and, well, me — minus the million-dollar guarantee to appear on my late-night comedy show) were holding out hopes for a reunion.

Long past the expiration date for such conceits, Jeff Lynne’s loving-care studiocraft can now rightly be called canny homage. You’ll find more than mimicry at work, as Electric Light Orchestra so perfectly incorporates the decade’s signature rock-band devices — things that have moved into the collective consciousness, but once had a pretty-cool-back-then verve: There’s the very contemporaneous spaceship cover imagery, of course, but also the song’s vocoded treatment of its title and a positively tornadic combination of chorus and strings. Longtime drummer Bev Bevan was credited in the liner notes with “fire extinguisher” on this track.

Too, in keeping with the grandiose prog-pedantry of the day, “Mr. Blue Sky” is the final song in a four-piece “Concerto for a Rainy Day” on side three of the original two-LP edition of Out of the Blue. The stormy weather effects included on the opening segment “Standin’ in the Rain” were reportedly recorded by Jeff Lynne outside the chalet where he composed the album. (Dude!)

“Mr. Blue Sky” would become the third Top 40 single (after “Turn to Stone” and “Sweet Talkin’ Woman”) to emerge from Out of the Blue, going to 35 in the U.S. and No. 6 in Britain. The truth is, it’s absolutely stuffed with details, both cribbed and otherwise -– a much braver attempt at tribute than Electric Light Orchestra is often given credit for. They took the Beatles’ own late-period tendency toward symphonic pomposity, and made it their own.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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