Brian Gibbins – As a ten year old, I was considered mature enough to use mom and dad’s turntable.
After being introduced to the Moody Blues, Seals and Crofts, and many others by way of their 8-track tapes, it was exciting to be able to hear some of their LPs too. Wings, Seals & Crofts, Jefferson Starship (not Airplane), Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, and even more Moody Blues were found in the stack of records below the Fisher stereo.
Two albums stood out to me through their cover art.
The first was Led Zeppelin‘s Houses of the Holy. If you’ve seen the cover, then you know why I was drawn to it as a ten year old boy. The big headphones were already plugged into the stereo using the long, curly cord. I carefully pulled the record out of the album cover and the out of the inner sleeve as well. Then I placed it on top of the spindle and pushed in the lever for the record to slide down past the stacking mechanism. Next I moved the switch that started the needle and arm moving automatically to the beginning of the record.
Don’t judge, but with the exception of Dyer Maker, I didn’t like it. Dad and mom apparently didn’t like Led Zeppelin either since this was the only one in the collection. I learned to appreciate them more a few years later on my own, especially as I started reading Tolkien.
The second LP that I chose by album cover featured a gigantic and very scary looking electric chair. At the time, the title of the album, Face the Music, didn’t strike me as being related to the photo. Years later, I put the connection together and wondered why I really never thought about it before. As a young boy though, I swapped the records, put the headphones on my head, closed my eyes and sat back to experience this Electric Light Orchestra.
The first track, Fire On High, was apparently an instrumental given the lack of lyrics on the lyric sheet. Remember my headphones? These are the big ones that cover your entire ear and block out all sound. As I sat with my eyes closed, the song scared the crap out of me in the very first few minutes.
That previous year, I had seen Let’s Scare Jessica to Death and Race with the Devil. These two horror movies left a long-lasting impression on me. One that made the beginning of Fire On High one of the scariest songs I’d heard.
Imagine, then ten-year-old me, eyes closed with the giant headphones over my ears as the crackle of the needle gave way to freaky soft organ and two single piano notes alternating repeatedly. Now add additional orchestral sounds with an escalating tempo. Then, enter what sounded to me like demons speaking backward summoning… something. Followed by perhaps angels in the background with hallelujah… hallelujah… hallelujah… then, finally, the guitar and drums come in and save the day. That particular guitar and drum used in music would later become one of my favorite styles. At that time though, I was just happy to move onto the next track after the drum finale.
Waterfall is a stark contrast indeed. Starting softly with twangy guitar and violin, then bring in the percussion again. Piano with vocals proclaiming that love is like a waterfall, it pulls you in – takes you down – its a sad affair. I spent the rest of the school year learning that song and re-writing the lyrics on my textbook covers. Skipping the first song so I could hear the second was not easy. In reality, I frequently just listened to an entire side of the album multiple times in a row. If only there was a way to copy the song onto something else to make it easier to listen to over and over. Hmmm.
Strange Magic and Evil Woman are songs that most people probably recognize if not by title, they at least know it when they hear it. For me, the two songs are permanently tied to memories of Narnia. During my frequent visits to this magical land I would often have the Electric Light Orchestra playing in the background. Turn To Stone from a later album, only reinforced the association.
Nightrider sort of fit in with the magic theme and was a song I listened to frequently due to album position. I particularly liked the imagery of the lyrics:
“I remember somewhere in the rain,
The faces of the passersby,
Staring faces, broken blinds….”
Poker, on the other hand, was never my favorite song. The heavy guitar in the beginning with more of a gravely vocal tone and then what could only be described as some sort of crazy fusion guitar/keyboard thing. I had never played poker at that age, so whatever they were trying to say was lost in the noisy guitar.
Down Home Town is a departure from everything else on the album. At first I didn’t like it, but like many things it grows on you. The song starts with what could only be described as something that sounds like it might be from a square dance. Years later, the type of vocal presentation would appear again in the Traveling Wilburys.
The Electric Light Orchestra or E.L.O. will always remain a favorite of mine.
Brian Gibbins is a husband, father, grandfather, writer, thinker, and maker of things. He writes about technical things at tech.briangibbins.com and about his childhood in the Colorado Rockies at elevation9640.com.