I always like finding out who was someone’s first favorite band. It doesn’t tell me anything about them, really, and I don’t use it as some sort of indie yardstick or whatever. I just like hearing how people have awakened to being a music fan, as opposed to someone who just hears music.
I have memories of a lot of different bands before my first favorite band. I recall hearing songs like “Wig-Wam Bam” and “Little Willy” by Sweet on FM radio in the Los Angeles area as a kid, but I never knew who sang the songs, just that they were catchy. Same with “Roxanne” by The Police (who I discovered with zeal as the 80’s waxed).
1977 was kind of a watershed year for me, developmentally. I mean, I only turned 7 that year, but that’s the year that Star Wars (Ep. IV) came out. At some point that year, I received the soundtrack, and also Tchaikovsky‘s 1812 Overture, the climax of which was featured in the movie The Bad News Bears In Breaking Training. So I had a bit of an ear for classical, which is probably why the song “Livin’ Thing” by Electric Light Orchestra resonated with me. Orchestral strings in a pop song? That just wasn’t done! Well, it wasn’t something my 7-year-old ears knew of, anyway. That sound was different and special. There were lots of strings being used in disco, I suppose, but this wasn’t a dance beat, it was decidedly rock. So when ELO released Out of the Blue in October of ’77, I was sold. This was my favorite band. They had spaceships on their album cover!
I mostly only listened to Side 1 (“Turn to Stone“, “It’s Over“, “Sweet Talkin’ Woman“, “Across the Border“), “Jungle” off side 2, and “Mr. Blue Sky” at the end of side 3. (Little trivia – the vocoder voice at the end of “Mr. Blue Sky” is actually saying “Please Turn Me Over”, signaling the end of that side of the record)
It was around that age anyway that you start laying claim to things being favorite. You had a best friend, a favorite glass to use for milk & cookies, a favorite shirt, probably favorite shoes. I had a favorite band, and so my passion for music deepened.
A couple of years later, ELO released a Greatest Hits record which, as I recall, I received for my 10th birthday. This record had a few songs from Out of the Blue, but most of the eleven tracks were from earlier albums. Funny, though, to this day, I still hear them as songs from 1980 even though most were from before 1977.
The memories I have of the songs on that record are varied, but I like them all. “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” has somehow stayed with me as a love song, but I don’t know that there’s anything in the lyrics to support that. Maybe the “ocean’s daughter” line and the “old world is gone for dead”. I do know that in pining away for some girl I listened to this song and “Telephone Line” over and over and over again. The sadness conveyed in both songs – along with the vague lyrics – allowed me to mold them to my situation. I was fucking sad, man! Girls! Sadness! These guys understand me!
I was excited when the next couple of ELO song was released – “Don’t Bring Me Down“. I remember my then next-door-neighbor taunting his dog – whose name was Snoose – when singing the “grrroooosss” part of the chorus. Big laughs, that. But it’s big rock intros like this one & “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle” and later on “Hold On Tight” that draw you in to the songs.
I suppose that I liked some of the Xanadu soundtrack as well, but didn’t latch onto them like I did the earlier songs. I don’t think it was any sort of “sellout” thing – I was 10, for crying out loud – but I did recognize that Xanadu was a very commercial effort for them.
“Hold On Tight” was their next big single, but it had a definite Jerry Lee Lewis boogie-piano throwback that didn’t sound quite as fresh as some of their earlier songs did. I do also sort of remember “Rock and Roll Is King“, which was pretty retro-sounding as well. “Calling America“, their last US hit, is somewhat familiar as well and has the production value I would come to recognize as Jeff Lynne‘s stamp that’s evident on a couple of Tom Petty albums from the late 80’s, as well as the Traveling Wilburys first record.
I guess I had stopped paying attention to Electric Light Orchestra by the time “Rock and Roll Is King” hit radio, but I was intrigued by “Video!“, Jeff Lynne‘s song from the movie Electric Dreams. The Police were my favorite band by that time, and I was also listening to Rush. Big Country‘s The Crossing came out the month after ELO’s Secret Messages and I was captivated by the fresh sound of Stuart Adamson‘s guitar. There were other, more exotic sounds that were catching my ear.
ELO broke up in the mid-late 80’s. I guess Jeff Lynne had moved on to other projects, too.
But you don’t forget your first, do you? There’s still a bit of a nostalgic rush when you hear the songs. You remember how you felt back then, how you felt every word in earnest. Your first favorite will always be special.
So, good reader – who was your first favorite band? Please leave a comment and tell me the story. I’d love to hear it.