Electric Light Orchestra – Face The Music (remaster)

ELO - Face The MusicOne of the three most recently remastered ELO albums, Face The Music is long overdue for a fresh listen, being – arguably – the first album of the band’s golden years. It’s also the album with “Evil Woman” and “Face The Music” on it, which certainly doesn’t hurt. (Sadly, during the remastering process, nobody remembered to kick “Down Home Town” out of the original track listing.)

As with the other remastered titles from ELO’s back catalog, the sound has been sharpened up quite a bit, softening a few rough edges that had become noticeable with repeat listens. The obligatory bonus tracks are included as well, though they’re not much to write home about. In the liner notes booklet, Jeff Lynne says he prefers the slightly longer, stripped-down and orchestra-free new mix of “Evil Woman,” but even with that extra verse and chorus that we hadn’t heard before, something is just missing without that big string section adding to the song. Similarly, a series of demos for the menacing “Fire On High” intro will interest serious students of Lynne’s work, but maybe not anyone else, and the U.S. single edit of “Strange Magic” isn’t so staggeringly different as to be a real revelation.

That said, it’s surprising that a song that we have heard before turns out to be the real gem of the bonus tracks. Closing out this new edition of Face The Music is a completely instrumental mix of Waterfall, with the full-up instrumentation both from ELO’s rhythm section and from the studio orchestra – all that’s missing is the vocals. (Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but I’m wondering if Lynne’s ever thought of re-re-releasing some of ELO’s material in this form, both for the karaoke fans out there and those of us who just love the intricate arrangements.) Heard in all of its vocal-less glory, “Waterfall” is an excellent candidate for this treatment, standing out as a fantastic performance even as an instrumental.

Rating: 4 out of 4Whether or not one really great instrumental of a song you’ve already heard is worth buying the album over again is up to you, but that alone is just about worth the price of admission for die-hard ELO fans – and in the end, “Down Home Town” aside, Face The Music is still a fine album and a prime specimen of early ’70s rock.

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  1. Fire On High (5:31)
  2. Waterfall (4:11)
  3. Evil Woman (4:29)
  4. Nightrider (4:26)
  5. Poker (3:32)
  6. Strange Magic (4:29)
  7. Down Home Town (3:54)
  8. One Summer Dream (5:51)
  9. Fire On High Intro (alternate mix) (3:23)
  10. Evil Woman (stripped-down mix) (5:00)
  11. Strange Magic (U.S. single edit) (3:27)
  12. Waterfall (instrumental mix) (4:15)

Released by: Epic / Legacy
Release date: 2006 (originally released in 1975)
Total running time: 52:28

Roy Wood – Mustard

Roy Wood - MustardFollowing up on the not-quite-success of his amazing 1973 solo debut Boulders and some equally underground releases (commercial-success-wise, that is) with his band Wizzard, ELO co-founder Roy Wood regrouped and decided to do another truly solo album. Woody can play a few dozen instruments, you see, so locking this guy into a recording studio by himself for a few weeks with a fresh batch of songs is not a problem. What he emerged with, while not quite up to the innovation level of Boulders, is still stunning.

I have to admit a certain level of amazement with those gifted individuals who can play it all for themselves, and Roy Wood is among the most amazing of those musical hermit crabs. Who else could get away with using bagpipes in an intro to an all-out 70s style rocker? And actually play the bloody things himself?

That’s not the only stylistic innovation on Mustard; on two tracks – the title track intro and “You Sure Got It Now” – Wood does an uncanny vocal impersonation of the Andrews Sisters, complete with scratchy-record effects on the former. The latter overlays that all-female trio sound on a somewhat bluesier, rockier rhythm track, and it works in a weird, cultural-collision sort of way. And keep in mind, it’s all Roy Wood’s vocals. (The only guest vocals are Phil Everly – yes, as in the Everly Brothers, who coincidentally later had a song produced by Wood’s former ELO cohort Jeff Lynne – on “Get On Down Home” and Annie Haslam singing higher backing vocals on the excellent ballad “The Rain Came Down”.)

The highlight for me is easily “The Song”, which slowly unfolds into a lovely instrumental in its second half, and it’s easy to tell that the starting point for the song’s sound – if not the music itself – was The Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home”.

This being a 1999 CD reissue, fully half of the tracks are added bonuses from non-album singles and B-sides (the original Mustard ended with “Get On Down Home”), including the sitar-heavy “Bengal Jig”, and some more of the 50s-style rockers which Wood has made part of his unique style – “Oh What A Shame” 4 out of 4and “The Rattlesnake Roll”. An ELO-worthy instrumental with equal helpings of sax and Moog synthesizer, “Strider”, is also included, as are some very interesting liner notes placing Wood’s work into the context of British rock history and what other acts were doing at roughly the same time. A highly recommended package for fans of Woody’s work – or even for those unfamiliar with it.

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  1. Mustard (1:27)
  2. Any Old Time Will Do (4:12)
  3. The Rain Came Down On Everything (6:34)
  4. You Sure Got It Now (5:29)
  5. Why Does A Pretty Girl Sing Those Sad Songs (4:32)
  6. The Song (6:35)
  7. Look Thru The Eyes Of A Fool (2:55)
  8. Interlude (1:24)
  9. Get On Down Home (7:29)
  10. Oh What A Shame (3:50)
  11. Bengal Jig (2:13)
  12. Rattlesnake Roll (4:01)
  13. Can’t Help My Feelings (5:11)
  14. Strider (2:49)
  15. Indiana Rainbow (3:53)
  16. The Thing Is This (This Is The Thing) (5:43)

Released by: Edsel Records
Release date: 1975 (reissued in 1999)
Total running time: 68:39

Electric Light Orchestra – Face The Music

Electric Light Orchestra - Face The MusicRelax. The backward voice that booms through the intro of “Fire On High” is simply saying the famous phrase, “The music is reversible, but time is not,” and just between you and me, the voice treatment and the phrase itself sound like a Vorlon from Babylon 5 (not to mention that later ELO albums credited art and photography to someone simply named Kosh). In the meantime, this album marked the beginning of ELO’s more consciously commercial sound, which had 3 out of 4 starsmixed results. The all-time classic “Evil Woman” gets old after a while, but I could listen to “Strange Magic” for a long time. The best song on the album has to be the ballad “Waterfall”, and as for songs I could have done without…well, it could just be the fact that I’m all too familiar with the south, but “Down Home Town” just grates on my nerves…

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  1. Fire On High (5:30)
  2. Waterfall (4:27)
  3. Evil Woman (4:20)
  4. Nightrider (4:23)
  5. Poker (3:32)
  6. Strange Magic (4:30)
  7. Down Home Town (3:54)
  8. One Summer Dream (5:48)

Released by: Jet
Release date: 1975
Total running time: 36:24

Split Enz – Mental Notes

Split Enz - Mental NotesOfficially the first Split Enz album (though the music on 1979’s Beginning of the Enz predates it by as much as three years), this is a promising collection from a group that would not hit its stride for a few years. It’s almost impossible to describe Split Enz in a way that the average American listener can understand, because there has never been anything like the Enz in the States. They’re definitely capable of rocking and even reaching into the heavy end of the spectrum, but most of all, their music is imbued with a whimsical wit quite unlike anything else and in their early work, they seemed to prefer a lighter approach with mild percussion, an electric or acoustic piano, an acoustic guitar and maybe an electric thrown into the mix. These guys had fun when they played, and it comes across in the music itself. The closest I can think of would be 10cc – and they’re from Britain! For an introduction to the Enz, I’d recommend the following year’s Second Thoughts much more than Mental Notes, which finds charm in its 3 out of 4roughness, but suffers from a vocal style that sounds like a hundred-year-old man telling a story he’s told once too often. Still, this album is the home of one of my all-time favorite Enz tunes, Maybe, which never made it as a single according to what I’ve read (though I find that hard to believe). It’s hard to describe Split Enz, but easy to like them.

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  1. Walking Down a Road (5:26)
  2. Under the Wheel (7:49)
  3. Amy (Darling) (5:18)
  4. So Long For Now (3:19)
  5. Stranger Than Fiction (6:58)
  6. Time for a Change (3:46)
  7. Maybe (2:59)
  8. Titus (3:13)
  9. Spellbound (5:00)
  10. Mental Notes (0:33)

Released by: Msuhroom
Release date: 1975
Total running time: 44:71

Chicago – Chicago’s Greatest Hits

Chicago's Greatest HitsThis is another one of those cases where anything I might have to say about an album is superfluous, because surely by now you either like Chicago or you don’t. My favorite thing about this Chicago album? It’s “old” Chicago, before the advent of a lot of synths and sequencers that later reduced the once-great band to merely being Peter Cetera’s soft-rock backing band. I know there are quite a few folks who loved the later Chicago years, and sure they turned out good material then. But you’ll hear something on this album, something that those of us who fell in love with Chicago before the 80s dearly miss about the band’s later years – do you hear all that brass? That, my friends, was Chicago. That is what made them great. Quite a few Rating: 4 out of 4late 60s ensembles included a little brass, but few made that part of the band so integral as Chicago did. For you youngsters and children of the 80s out there, I strongly advise you to pick this up, and listen to the real Chicago. “Does anybody really know what time it is?” they asked so many years ago…and my answer is, “Far too long since anyone made music like this.”

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  1. 25 or 6 to 4 (4:50)
  2. Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? (3:19)
  3. Colour My World (2:59)
  4. Just You ‘n’ Me (3:42)
  5. Saturday in the Park (3:53)
  6. Feelin’ Stronger Every Day (4:13)
  7. Make Me Smile (2:59)
  8. Wishing You Were Here (4:34)
  9. Call On Me (4:01)
  10. (I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long (4:27)
  11. Beginnings (7:51)

Released by: Columbia
Release date: 1975
Total running time: 46:48

Mike Oldfield – Ommadawn

Mike Oldfield - OmmadawnThis is another album I was introduced to in my radio days, and I still like it; it’s quite unusual sounding, to say the least. Some have described Oldfield as new age, but I don’t think that pigeonhole is one into which this album can be stuffed. The material is too experimental and avant-garde for new age, and is really in a class by itself. The intricate multilayered guitar and synth work is wonderful in itself, but that it can be stretched into a thirty-minute concerto with few boring interludes is a marvel. The silly little “Horse 3 out of 4Song” which occupies its own track at the end of the album is a nice diversion from the epic “Ommadawn”, but it’s that long stretch of the music that is the most attention-catching for me.

  1. One (19:19)
  2. Two (13:55)
  3. The Horse Song (3:26)

Order this CDReleased by: Caroline
Release date: 1975
Total running time: 36:40