Fire on High
Down Home Town
One Summer Dream
The making of Electric Light Orchestra's Face The Music wasn't as straightforward as studio engineer Reinhold Mack would have liked, with band leader Jeff Lynne apparently a difficult man to do business with.
“Every morning, his attitude would be cold, as if I’d never met him before," said Mack, "walking straight past me without even saying hello."
Lynne’s inability to express himself manifested itself in the studio. His favourite question to Mack was: “Can you make it sound more weird?” without explaining what ‘weird’ was. Lynne’s approach to recording was to ‘carry’ the song around in his head and build it in the studio, while keeping everyone in the dark about details such as the melody, chorus or lyrics.
But still, Lynne finessed ELO’s usual hybrid of fiddly prog-rock and pop into something that made sense, with songs such as Strange Magic and Evil Woman suggesting that the way forward meant less of the former and more of the latter.
Released in autumn 1975, Face The Music was a US hit, but missed the British chart. But there was hope: Evil Woman, a song initially dismissed as filler by Jeff Lynne, gave ELO their first domestic top ten hit in three years, and set them up nicely for the next album, A New World Record.
Here was a song that used everything Jeff Lynne learned from dissecting other people’s records, but given the ELO spin. Evil Woman’s piano intro briefly echoed Fats Domino’s Blueberry Hill; the strings could have come off a Philly soul hit; the line ‘There’s a hole in my head where the rain comes in’ was a tribute to The Beatles’ Fixin’ A Hole; and there was even a hint of disco in the rhythm. Evil Woman was a perfect pop record.
“And the fastest song I ever wrote,” said Lynne, who composed it in just six minutes.
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Other albums released in September 1975
- Blues for Allah - Grateful Dead
- Minstrel in the Gallery - Jethro Tull
- Alive! - Kiss
- Fighting - Thin Lizzy
- Second Chapter - Danny Kirwan
- Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd
- Crisis? What Crisis? - Supertramp
- Ted Nugent - Ted Nugent
- Wind on the Water - Crosby & Nash
- In Trance - Scorpions
- Extra Texture (Read All About It) - George Harrison
- Caress of Steel - Rush
- Another Green World - Brian Eno
- Artful Dodger - Artful Dodger
- Bandolier - Budgie
- Foghat - Fool For The City
- Hotline - The J. Geils Band
- John Fogerty - John Fogerty
- Landed - Can
- Masque - Kansas
- Maximum Darkness - Man
- Procol's Ninth - Procol Harum
- X-Rated - Black Oak Arkansas
What they said...
"Face the Music is more fine work from the Electric Light Orchestra, which rather quietly has evolved into a most consistent septet. Leader Jeff Lynne remains one of a few Sixties rockers who has developed a new and more adventurous style with a minimum of chaff in the process. In this setting he has successfully integrated a recognisable string trio (an achievement in itself) with his own melodic strings, producing a stately music without being stuffy or saccharine. Nor do the cellos and violin seem a mere afterthought." (Rolling Stone)
"Electric Light Orchestra's more modest follow-up to Eldorado is a very solid album, if not as bold or unified. It was also their first recorded at Musicland in Munich, which became Jeff Lynne's preferred venue for cutting records. At the time, he was also generating songs at a breakneck pace and had perfected the majestic, quasi-Beatles-type style (sort of high-wattage Magical Mystery Tour) introduced two albums earlier. (AllMusic)
"Another beautiful set from the seven Brits who helped pioneer the merger of classical and rock on a mass basis. Divided fairly equally into smooth, flowing melodies fronted by equally relaxing singing and easy rockers, the guitar, vocals and writings of Jeff Lynne remain dominant. New to the group, however, is Kelly Groucutt, who handles bass and takes over on lead vocals from time to time. With a softer voice than Lynne's, Groucutt provides the balance that has been missed in past albums. (Billboard)
What you said...
Fred Varcoe: Where to start with ELO? The first album had Roy Wood doodling as he experimented with new sounds and Jeff Lynne writing great pop songs, so it was strange that after the pair split, Roy went back to writing great pop songs and Jeff produced a sensational prog-rock album (ELO 2), which would have been one of the all-time greats if he hadn't put Roll Over Beethoven on it.
But Jeff slowly reverted to pop and he found it impossible to write a bad song. Huge shoutout to keyboardist Richard Tandy who turned Jeff's songs into orchestral masterpieces. Tandy was brilliant on ELO 2 and then surpassed himself on Time and Secret Messages (my first and third favourite ELO albums, with ELO 2 in between). Face The Music is a step along the way from the first album to the last; there's always great songs and always great musicianship. It's insane that one guy, Lynne, can have so much talent. Or Strange Magic, if you will.
Greg Schwepe: Electric Light Orchestra are one of those bands where it took a slow build up of albums until they released “the one” (which one was “the one” could be up for debate!) and became international superstars. My guess is that the majority of the reviews for this will be “it’s good, but not as good as…” But I guess we’ll see!
For every Boston, Van Halen, Foreigner, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Led Zeppelin where their debut is either considered their highpoint or contains their most iconic songs, you have the ELOs of the world where it took a while. And that’s no slam against them. Even with the vision, songwriting, and studio expertise of Jeff Lynne at the helm, sometimes you don’t get on the map with your debut. Case in point, I venture a guess that no one reading this bought ELO’s No Answer [US title for debut album] as their very first ELO purchase. Right?
Face The Music is an example of one those “build up” albums for me. Good solid album with a couple of now classic songs; Evil Woman and Strange Magic. And Evil Woman is still a set mainstay when they tour. And in the “you learn something new every day” category, in reading the reissue CD liner notes, I now found out this was actually ELO’s first platinum album and charted well in the U.S. I did not know that!
My first ELO purchase was A New World Record. And like many others in this group, for some bands we start “in the middle”, then “go backward” with their catalogue and explore the rest of their output. Being familiar with the two aforementioned songs from the radio and compilation albums, I had not heard the entirety of Face The Music until a few years ago when I bought the entire ELO catalogue.
The cosmic opener Fire On High leads off the album nicely. I swear the acoustic guitar part was used as intro music on a TV sports program here in the U.S. And years later when I heard the entire song I was trying to figure out why that riff sounded so familiar. The rest of the album has that ELO vibe, that was honed on the previous albums.
And here’s where I fall into the “it’s good, but not as good as” narrative. Good, but not as good as A New World Record. I can listen to Face The Music all the way through and enjoy it, but ANWR seems to have a little more “sparkle” in it. As if Jeff Lynne finally found the magic formula. If you’re wanting to listen to “build up” albums by groups, Face The Music is a good step on the way to stardom.
Mike Canoe: I have long liked ELO at a "greatest hits" level so it was fun to investigate a full album. As many members have mentioned, Face The Music presents the band at a crossroads, a turning point, a transitional phase, one last deep cleansing breath before ELO became a full-time hit machine.
As such, Face The Music is split down the middle between hit potential and staunchly album tracks. Opener Fire On High wouldn't sound out of place on an early Pink Floyd album, a mini Atom Heart Mother, if you will. Then there's the languid ballad One Summer Dream that closes the album.
In between, there are the two actual big hits, Evil Woman and Strange Magic, and two with potential, Night Rider and the rocking Poker, both with lead vocal contributions from new bassist, Kelly Groucutt.
That leaves Waterfall and Down Home Town. The former is a pretty ballad but doesn't catch my attention while the latter is faux country music that has aged poorly.
What's always fascinated me about ELO is their ability to take non-rock elements like strings and choirs and classically trained musicians and weave them all into deliriously deliciously pomp pop songs. Face The Music has some of that but I'm still likely to stick with one of their compilations.
Paul Kent: The calm before the storm. It's a wonder the band didn't truly break big with this release, rather than A New World Record" as all the well-known ELO tricks are all present and correct: lush strings - check; soaring harmonies - check; pristine production - check; hooks a-plenty - double check! Two hit singles; two more tracks that should've been; three curios; and one of ELO's most gorgeous ballads - Face The Music pulls it all out of the bag.
The album kicks off in dramatic style with Fire On High, the horror theme that never was. There are three left-turns on the album, and this is the first, wrong-footing you right at the start. Every Hammer Horror you've ever seen is brought to mind as Orff-style choral arrangements, cyclical strings and chilling sound effects jump out of the speakers, taking a full minute to reach their crescendo before the band kick in and smash through the facade with a joyous acoustic stomper. ELO always gave good instrumental and this is no exception!
Evil Woman and Strange Magic are the hits you'll recognise here - the former with its R&B vibe, the latter, with its fantastic, layered coda. But there are two hidden gems here that both managed to fly under the radar of the world's record buying public.
Waterfall, which seems to take its musical cues from Dvorak's Largo, is a beautiful production. One of Lynne's own personal favourites, it was released as a single in some European territories, to be met with total disdain. A simple piano ballad, it explodes into life at the end of each verse, with the trademark strings going crazy, some fine slide work from Jeff and a vocal counterpoint so subtle that, each time you hear the chorus, it sounds different.
Similarly, Nightrider coulda bin a contender! As a single, it completely failed to chart in the UK (I'm ashamed to say). Lyrically, it's as deep as a puddle, but the arrangement is joyous - 'quiet, loud, quiet' before The Pixies had been invented - with a rollocking Bevan tattoo, an all-too-brief vocal turn by Kelly Groucutt and the return of the 'walrus cellos'.
It's not all perfect, of course. Don't forget the other two left-turns. Poker is a misguided stab at hard rock that falls flat on its arse. The fact that it's mixed in mono doesn't help, really. And Down Home Town is just misguided - period! Bluegrass by ELO, anyone? No, I didn't think so!
Things come good at the death, though, with One Summer Dream. Lynne describes this as a protest song and there's certainly a message buried in the lyrics, but buried very deep. As with most ELO tunes, though, it's not about the lyrics - just listen to the arrangement: using as it's base a simple, repeated acoustic riff, layer upon layer of keys, harmonies, strings and choirs are added in such a subtle and insidious way, that you don't realise they're there until, during the coda, they're stripped away again, leaving only Lynne's voice and guitar.
A beautiful end to a marvellous album. An album which, once again, failed to set anywhere but the US alight. Would their next release finally push them onto the world stage? Their new record? A New World Record? Well... what do you think?
Evan Sanders: ELO was one of my favourite bands while growing up, although I never listened to all of Face The Music until years later. Listening to it now, it stands out as a strong album, as they were evolving to their more pop sound that would be in the forefront on A New World Record, Out Of The Blue, and Discovery. The strings are still prominent here, and the album opener Fire On High kept them on classic rock playlists throughout the 70s and 80s. Unlike others who've posted, I even like Down Home Town as a country-classical mashup. 7 or 8 out of 10, one star lower than I would give to the followup A New World Record.
Brett Deighton: Although I had heard Evil Woman I hadn’t listened to this album in full. The opening track was a real surprise. Loved the guitar and the arrangement. Waterfall is now my favourite track. Another brilliant arrangement, particularly the strings Evil Woman is still great and probably the most well known song on here. The other track I really enjoyed was the heavier, Poker. Strange Magic was cool and One Summer Dream had a similar vibe to Waterfall although not quite as good. I could have lived without the country vibe of Down Home Town, but overall I think it’s a fine album.
Gary Torborg: ELO in the mid seventies kept getting better and better. Although all their early stuff was really good, Eldorado was clearly a better album than On The Third Day, and Face The Music was better than Eldorado. After this, A New World Record was better than Face The Music and Out Of The Blue (their peak) was better than A New World Record. Face The Music was part of that climb. Great album!
Philip Qvist: I was a huge ELO fan when I was growing up; I had Discovery, Greatest Hits, Time and Secret Messages in my collection, while I borrowed A New World Record and Out Of The Blue from friends (as we all did in those days), but I never got around to listening to Face The Music.
It was only in recent years, when I began to explore bands that I was listening to in my teens, that I finally gave this album a spin.
And the verdict? Not as good as Out Of The Blue or A New World Record, but still a very good album - and one that started ELO's rise up the charts.
Well-crafted songs; with Evil Woman, Nightrider and my favourite Strange Magic being the standout tracks. Fire On High is also a good opening instrumental, although Down Home Town is a low point on this record.
Jeff Lynne may have run the ELO show, but he was ably assisted by his supporting crew of Richard Tandy, Bev Bevan and the underrated and late Kelly Groucutt, along with the guys on strings.
Certainly an album that I would recommend to anybody who wants to explore the music of the Electric Light Orchestra.
Mark Herrington: The ELO sound I prefer began with On The Third Day in 197 , which was a major evolution over ELO 1 and 2, which were burdened with some heavy-going tracks .
Jeff Lynne was writing tracks for the Idle Race (his band before the Move) back in the late sixties , that wouldn’t be out of place on these early albums… just check out Morning Sunshine (1968) or The Birthday.
The trio of albums culminating in Face The Music (via Eldorado) were great listening for me. All having a heady mix of ethereal strangeness, bittersweet tones, the undeniable nod to the Beatles and soaring strings.
After Face The Music, they polished their sound into some of the catchiest, most memorable pop rock albums ever produced in New World Record and Out Of The Blue, with the later Time being their last album to come even close to that magnificent pair of albums.
Face The Music kicks off with the stirring choral Fire On High, followed by the slower, bittersweet tones of Waterfall. Evil Woman needs no introduction and remains a stone cold classic. Nightrider continues the more upbeat sound , followed by the rockier Poker. Strange Magic is one of my favourite ever ELO tracks, and returns to the slower, sadder tones of Waterfall.
Down Home Town is the only track I usually skip as it feels out of place here. One Summer Dream ends the album with another slower tempo, Beatle-esque song , with Lynne laying it on thick with the sadder , bittersweet tones again .
For many , ELO filled some of the void left by the end of the Beatles, as Lennon himself said in 1974 on NYC radio ELO were "the son of (the) Beatles" as he introduced Showdown.
A high score for me , but not perfect because of Down Home Town. 9/10
Alex Hayes: "I've had some pretty late night sessions myself. Yeah. In 1976, I saw ELO at the Birmingham NEC. I was there shouting with everyone else. Come back on ELO and carry on playing!" - Alan Partridge.
The Electric Light Orchestra are actually responsible for my earliest classic rock related memory. Well, ELO and my Dad between them. He was a fan back in the 70s, and had several of their albums on vinyl. Dunno why I'm using the past tense there, as I'm sure he still has them and remains a fan.
Anyway, one of those albums was Out Of The Blue, one of the coolest packaged records in rock history. It came with a cardboard cut-out of the ELO jukebox spaceship, which hung over my childhood bed like some awesome rock'n'roll/sci-fi mobile. I was three or four years old at the time, and loved it.
That memory wouldn't be worth a toss today if the adult me was indifferent about ELO. However, like Mr Partridge above, I've always been an unapologetic and unabashed lover of the group, irrespective of the fickle tides of fashion. I distinctly remember singing their praises on a night out with my mates in the 90s. How old-fashioned I must have sounded that night, waxing lyrical about the crusty old relic from the 70s, as opposed to, I dunno, some shite like Oasis. You're looking at a fan of Secret Messages and Balance Of Power here.
I also enjoy 1975's Face The Music a lot, but it's a long way from my favourite ELO album. I don't think I've ever got past my first impression of the album, that of being a bit underwhelmed by its 'muddy' production. Bev Bevan sounds like he's playing a set of drums made out of the same cardboard as my childhood mobile. Very odd, given Jeff Lynne's perfectionism and studio-boffin tendencies. Fortunately, Face The Music contains more than enough of ELO's 'strange magic' to ultimately overcome any sonic deficiencies.
Really, the only duffer on display here is Down Home Town, comfortably the weakest track on the album. So strong is the rest of the material that it's astonishing to note that Face The Music failed to chart here in the U.K. What the hell were we thinking? Not even the inclusion of hit single, and all-time ELO classic, Evil Woman managed to rescue this album. Personal favourites here include the aforementioned Strange Magic, Waterfall and Fire On High, the soundtrack to the best horror film never made.
ELO would follow up Face The Music with the even superior A New World Record in 1976. That, in turn, would be succeeded by the band's pièce de résistance, the remarkable Out Of The Blue in '77. 1979's Discovery (or Disco? Very!) couldn't keep such momentum going, although it was still a terrific listen. Such levels of artistic growth really deserved a bigger audience, something ELO would go on to achieve, even if Face The Music couldn't deliver such success at the time. So, yeah, we did cotton on eventually!
Face The Music is a slightly sonically challenged riot, and is highly recommended. I'm off now to enjoy The Diary Of Horace Wimp without a smidgen of irony. If only I still had that mobile.
Final Score: 7.46 (83 votes cast, total score 619)
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