Hoo boy. How to talk about one of the most important albums in my life?
Like I said last time, as a teen in the ’70s, I was aware of ELO, and I liked their early hits a lot but that didn’t cause me to buy any of their albums.
Then, just as I turned 16, “A New World Record” came out. The first single, “Do Ya,” a remake of a song Lynne had previously done with The Move, was released in February 1977. (The first single from the album, “Rockaria,” wasn’t even released in the US.) “Do Ya” was a strong hit and definitely got my attention, but then in May, they released “Telephone Line.” Omigod. You want to hit a romantically inclined 16-year-old boy in the heart, in the era when pretty much the only form of remote communication was the telephone? Write “Telephone Line.”
Seriously. Now, let’s make no mistake — I had no love life at 16. This was my junior year of high school. The previous summer I had had a few dates and spent an amount of time with a girl from my class whom I was infatuated with, but she had the good sense to say that was enough, and we remained friends. There were other girls I was interested in, deeply interested in, but being painfully introverted, I really had no way to express that or do anything about it, except to pine away.
Well, “Telephone Line” is the national anthem of pining away. Starting with that lonely ringing tone, it’s the pure sound of trying to connect in the lonely, lonely nights. Everything about it is the romance of summer evening loneliness, the wish to connect — and when you’re 16, the wish to connect is everything.
That was the year, though, that things started happening. There were girl friends and, amazingly, a girlfriend, and the telephone became the connection. If I wanted to talk to someone, I had to gather up the courage to dial the phone, get through a parent, and then talk. And I did, all the time, nearly every night, for a long while. It was a (literally) painfully romantic ritual, too — there was no telephone in my bedroom. Back then extra telephones cost money; we had one downstairs and one in the upstairs hall. Phone wiring wasn’t yet modular in those days, and theoretically you had to have the phone company come and move any wires around, so when faced with a problem like not really being able to move the phone into my bedroom so I could talk privately, there was pretty much no solution. The cord on the upstairs phone was just long enough for me to extend it across the hallway, barely into the doorway to my room, and then carefully close the door; I then had to sit on the floor with my back to the door. The phone wouldn’t stretch any further into my room. Once in that position and through the screening parent on the other end, whether friendship or romance, we might talk for hours. (No call waiting then, either, kids, and the next day I might get yelled at because someone else had been trying to get through on the line.)
So, yeah . . . this song is iconic. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a really, really good song, and that’s probably why, decades later, my deep association with it isn’t embarrassing. (Lots of songs I can’t say that about.)
But the rest of the album is also killer. I mean, every song, just out of this world great. The sides both start out rocking, and close out with songs that are sorta mystical/otherworldly (“Mission” and “Shangri-La”), with no filler in between.
I probably bought this when “Telephone Line” hit; I couldn’t be sure where but, as with most of my new records from that era, at the Two Guys Department Store in Schenectady. I have had it ever since and despite possibly millions of plays on some of the worst equipment imaginable, it honestly still sounds pretty good.
As I’ve said before, when I got to college, a whole lot of my high school persona, and that persona’s belongings, were cast aside. There was a lot of music I owned and had loved that I couldn’t bear to be associated with anymore, and I got rid of a lot of it, nearly starting over. But I was never embarrassed by my love for this record, and when I put it on and (after “Tightrope”) I hear those opening notes and the sound of the telephone ringing on the line, it’s 1977 again. I’m young and in love and my whole life is ahead of me, and it’s just going to be amazing. If she picks up . . . .