The Meaning Behind “Don’t Bring Me Down” by Electric Light Orchestra and the Mystery Lyric that Began as a Joke

When groups like The Flaming Lips and Daft Punk borrow sounds from the past to create futuristic music, Electric Light Orchestra is often the reference—Daft Punk even shares an album title with ELO’s Discovery.

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Band co-founder and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Lynne was so far ahead that ELO’s 1979 album Discovery sounds equally fresh alongside Daft Punk’s 2013 album Random Access Memories.

Following the success and excess of the band’s 1977 album Out of the Blue, Lynne simplified things, moving away from a Beatles influence and toward the disco sound of the time.

“Down Bring Me Down” is a sophisticated disco banger that still sounds like the future. Lynne manages the impressive feat of mixing Little Richard’s walloping rock ‘n’ roll piano with arcade synths and Barry Gibb’s falsetto.

Bad Romance

A girl Lynne used to know has changed, and the relationship sours when she ditches him for her high-class friends. “Don’t Bring Me Down” is an old rock ‘n’ roll she-done-me-wrong lyric that echoes the heartbreak theme Lynne’s future bandmate Tom Petty often explored.

You got me runnin’, goin’ out of my mind
You got me thinkin’ that I’m wastin’ my time

He’s trying to gather himself from the floor, but like many going through a failing relationship, it’s all-consuming. Though Lynne’s in the dumps, the song marches on like the kind of arena-rock bad romance Lady Gaga might appreciate if she traded goth rave for the Bee Gees’ “Tragedy.”

Don’t bring me down
No, no, no, no, no
I’ll tell you once more before I get off the floor
Don’t bring me down

What Did He Say?

Lynne repeats the song’s title using a stacked Gibb-inspired falsetto but follows with a visceral and unintelligible word. The mystery word began as a joke but worked equally as a placeholder lyric.

German engineer Reinhold Mack explained to Sound on Sound that ELO planned a concert tour of Australia and initially called the song “Don’t Bring Me Down, Bruce.” Mack said the joke referred to the number of Bruces in Australia.

They replaced the joke with “Gruss,” based on a Bavarian greeting. Lynne and Mack referenced how Queen’s Freddie Mercury sarcastically finished “One Vision” by singing fried chicken.

However, Lynne’s recollection is slightly different. He told Rolling Stone he made up the word “groose” as a placeholder but learned of its German meaning from Mack. He left it after hearing the translation.

The Drummer Doesn’t Want to Play

Lynne wrote “Don’t Bring Me Down” toward the session’s end. He wasn’t sure how to proceed, so Mack suggested they try a new approach. They chose to write without strings and asked drummer Bev Bevan to play a beat so they could improvise, hoping to build something from a jam.

Bevan said he didn’t want to “jam around for no reason,” so Mack created a tape loop from two bars of drumming. He borrowed the drum take from another album track, “On the Run.”

The song began taking shape as Lynne recorded multiple instruments and finally added the vocals. Lynne explained in the liner notes to the 2001 reissue of Discovery: “I wrote it at the last minute [because] I felt there weren’t enough loud ones on the album. This was just what I was after.”

Charts and Cover Versions

ELO’s rock/disco fusion reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became the group’s highest-charting single in the U.S. Discovery topped the UK charts and reached No. 5 on the U.S. Billboard 200.

Meanwhile, the song endures across generations and genres. Swedish garage revivalists The Hives borrowed and sped up Lynne’s guitar riff on their single “Go Right Ahead.” It appeared on their fifth studio album, Lex Hives.

“Don’t Bring Me Down” received the metal treatment from Kentucky’s Black Stone Cherry on their 2020 album The Human Condition.

Things reach crypt-level heaviness with the sludge metal band Buzzoven. Though Buzzoven tunes down the guitars, they dial up the rage, and you can’t blame the girl for wanting to look for love elsewhere.

Simple Disco

Lynne trimmed the band to himself and Bevan, keyboardist Richard Tandy, and bassist Kelly Groucutt. Gone were the extraneous layers of orchestra and choir, and Bevan, in particular, felt freer.

ELO embraced disco, and Lynne replaced his familiar Beatles influence with the Bee Gees. Lynne told Billboard, “I went to Studio 54 once. It was all right, I suppose. It was full of film stars and all that. I just liked the four-to-the-bar, basically. The bass drum going bang, bang, bang, bang.”

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Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images

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