Thursday, July 5, 2018

Burn/Fire: Fire On High

Electric Light Orchestra: Fire On High

Regular readers of my work here and elsewhere know that I’m a fan of prog rock, and I think that it is pretty clear that the Beatles were a profound influence on prog bands, many of whom have acknowledged this directly, or have covered Beatles songs. Electric Light Orchestra,which was founded when Roy Wood, of The Move, wanted to explicitly pick up where the Beatles left off, and use orchestral arrangements and instruments to fuse classical music with pop shows how it is possible to mix the two.

Initially, Wood recruited Jeff Lynne to join The Move, which also included drummer Bev Bevan, and they gradually morphed the older band into a new unit, Electric Light Orchestra. Wood left the band during the recording of their second album, leaving Lynne as the leader. And, there is no question that Lynne loved the Beatles (and the Beatles loved him—as you can see in the article that I linked to above, not only did they like his songs, Ringo and George guested on their albums, Lynne produced solo albums for Ringo, Paul, and George, replaced George Martin as producer for the Beatles’ last singles, and, of course Lynne was a Traveling’ Wilbury).

I was a fan of ELO during their mid-late 1970s heyday. I enjoyed the mix of pomp and pop. “Fire on High” is one of their stranger songs, suitable only as a B-side—an instrumental (mostly), with backwards vocals ("The music is reversible, but time... is not. Turn back! Turn back! Turn back! Turn back!"), choral segments and all sorts of odd stuff going on, making it still a fascinating listen.

Interestingly, despite its weirdness, a portion of the song was used by CBS for its sports coverage in the 70s. I have a strong memory that it was used for the network’s NBA coverage, but the Internet disagrees, telling me that it was actually, used for a sports anthology show, sort of like the better-known Wide World of Sports called the CBS Sports Spectacular. As we know, memory is a strange thing.

Back in the late 1980s, my friend Bill and I shared an apartment in New York, in the days when having an answering machine was still something that everyone had, and creating a theoretically clever outgoing message was popular. I remember that we used a few seconds of “Fire on High” and pretended that we were announcing a game while imparting the standard “we aren’t home, leave a message at the beep” message.

As I am writing this, I’m having second thoughts about whether it is a good idea to share this story or not. But we're all friends, here, right, and you won't think less of me. Right?

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