Tripping the Light Electric - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Tripping the Light Electric

Tripping the Light Electric

By Eugene S. Robinson



Because if nothing succeeds like success and nothing exceeds like excess, the prog rock band ELO managed both remarkably well. So: an overachiever’s primer for the ages.

By Eugene S. Robinson

Even if the recent flick American Hustle didn’t succeed in earworming the tune back into your consciousness, take it from us: The Electric Light Orchestra’s ”10538 Overture” was and is a monster. In the best of all possible ways.

Big, giant, expansive and sprawling, the 5 minute 32 second tribute to a prisoner escapee was birthed and then released in the U.K. on June 23, 1972, and a little over a month later in the U.S. The song by the Brit band known as ELO kicked off the era of progressive rock, or prog rock , which saw increasing numbers of musicians going big and bringing in cellos, violas and a whole host of typically classical instrumentation on top of the standard tools of rock trade – electric guitar, drum set, bass – for a composite sound that could be called uber-symphonic.

Prog rockers brought in cellos, violas and a whole host of typically classical instrumentation on top of the standard tools of rock trade.

It was a marked departure from sparse folkie approaches to rock at a time that saw everyone from Crosby, Stills, Nash and sometimes Young to James Taylor going for quiet and contemplative. So it was that prog set the scene for the next musical revolt by being the over-the-top, bloated sound that punk rock would reject – but for a while it was absolutely the best. And it’s not just us saying that. ELO were standard bearers who saw their music validated to the tune of 27 Top 40 hit singles and more than 78 awards and50 million records sold .

Jeff Lynne, co-founder along with soon-to-be-departed over “creative differences” Roy Wood, started it all out of a desire to meet and mate the enduring elements of classical music with the immediate vibrancy of rock. The impulse itself was not unusual at that time by any stretch – The Beatles used a raft of classical instruments in their songs (think ”For No One” from Revolver ) – but heretofore no one had attempted ELO’s full-blown, unapologetic embrace of the most arch elements of both formats. Or rocked it as hard.

Hard enough that it’s all over the flick American Hustle and now all over the inside of our brain pans. Like on endless repeat.

Did you see that man running through the streets today? 
Did you catch his face, was it 10538?

If we say “yes,” can we play it again?

We thought so.

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