Ranking Electric Light Orchestra’s 5 Best Slow Songs

Electric Light Orchestra managed to walk the fine line of satisfying rock audiences while incorporating plentiful classical music elements into the proceedings. Not only did they achieve that balancing act, they also steadily crossed over to the pop charts like few other bands of that era. With Jeff Lynne steering the ship, ELO proved particularly adept at heartfelt ballads.

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With that in mind, we thought we’d give our ranking of the finest five ELO slow songs. Considering all the possibilities, it wasn’t an easy task. But it sure was a fun one.

5. “Getting to the Point” (from Secret Messages, 1986)

Secret Messages is a somewhat forgotten album in ELO lore. It was their last before Lynne essentially disbanded them, segueing into a lucrative producing career (when not recording with Traveling Wilburys.) The band had also largely eschewed the classical trappings by then, going for a more era-appropriate pop/rock sound. Lynne delivered a great set of songs, however, even if the singles didn’t turn into big hits like in days of yore. And in “Getting to the Point,” he offered up a yearning ballad that effortlessly rises to operatic emotional heights.

4. “Wild West Hero” (from Out of the Blue, 1977)

Out of the Blue contains several slow ones that received consideration for this list. It’s a double-album, after all, leaving ample room for winning weepers like “Stepping Out,” “It’s Over,” and “Big Wheels.” But “Wild West Hero” hits another level. It recapitulates a common Lynne theme, that of an everyday guy wishing for a more romantic, exciting existence. The hooks are plentiful throughout the track, and Lynne manages to include subtle Western touches in the music to drive home his point. Try not getting carried away in the song’s final moments as Lynne bellows the stirring refrain again and again. It’s over the top in the best possible way.

3. “21st Century Man” (from Time, 1981)

Lynne swung for the fences with Time, going with an all-out concept album for the second time in the band’s career. (Eldorado in 1974 was the first). While the story can get a bit muddled, he does a great job on the album of capturing the feelings of a man who suddenly gets rocketed into the future against his will. On the gorgeous “21st Century Man,” the narrator’s loneliness comes to the fore. In perhaps the song’s standout moment, the celestial trappings of the music drop out to allow for an a cappella couplet that gives this poor sap some hope when he goes back home: You stepped out of a dream believing everything was gone / Return with what you’ve learned, they’ll kiss the ground you walk upon.

2. “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” (from Eldorado, 1974)

The story goes that Lynne’s father had dismissed the early ELO records as being somehow lesser than the music he loved. Lynne responded by writing an album that would fly in the face of that criticism. Eldorado certainly managed to accomplish those goals, especially when it comes to this stirring ballad. “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” sets the theme of the album: how an ordinary man tries to escape his mundane existence into a vivid dream world. It also captures the sorrow of what this guy feels when he unwillingly but inevitably returns to reality from his reveries. The strings are deployed for ultimate emotion, as are the gorgeous harmonies in the chorus.

1. “Telephone Line” (from A New World Record, 1976)

ELO were absolutely hitting on all cylinders on A New World Record, with each song on the record a sure shot. The peak was undoubtedly “Telephone Line,” which isn’t just ELO’s finest slow one, but also one of the best rock ballads of all time. The construction is ingenious. Note how the typical verse-chorus structure is toyed with, thanks to two distinct pre-choruses leading into the unforgettable refrain. Lynne also does an amazing job with the lyrics. If you’re not paying attention, you might miss the fact the narrator never does speak to his girl on the phone. The entirety of the narrative comes from his perspective, as he seems to rifle through all the stages of grief at once.

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Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

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