There are, to date, seven songs by the British rock group Electric Light Orchestra that contain the word “blue” in the title. A few of these are among ELO’s finest songs. I have put a lot of thought into this matter (by which I mean maybe five minutes), and decided that these are the correct rankings of ELO’s “blue” songs, from the not-best to the very-best:
#7. “Midnight Blue,” from Discovery (1979)
“Midnight Blue” isn’t a bad song, but it feels like a rehash of ELO’s better down-tempo ballad, “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” (from Eldorado, a much better album than Discovery). Lynne’s synthesized background vocals near the beginning point to a weirder, more-interesting tune than the standard pop song that emerges.
#6. “Birmingham Blues,” from Out of the Blue (1977)
“Birmingham Blues” is the first of two tracks from the album Out of the Blue on this list of songs with the word “blue” in the title. Out of the Blue is the only ELO album to date with the word “blue” in the title. Again, “Birmingham Blues” isn’t a bad song, but it feels like filler on an album that features songs like “Turn to Stone,” “Sweet Talkin’ Woman,” and “Mr. Blue Sky.”
#5. “Blue,” from Alone in the Universe (2015)
Technically, “Blue” is by Jeff Lynne’s ELO, but c’mon. It’s basically Jeff Lynne’s show after 1974 anyway. Alone in the Universe is a surprisingly good album—most of the songs clock in around three minutes, showing a restraint and focus not always present in the seventies stuff. “Blue” is actually a bonus track. It’s a sweet little ditty, beholden to the Beatles in the best possible way. (Lynne’s best Beatlesesque numbers synthesize the signature traits of McCartney, Lennon, Harrison—and hell, even Ringo—into something new and different).
#4. “Bluebird Is Dead,” from On the Third Day (1973)
On the Third Day is kind of the album where ELO starts to become, like ELO. “Bluebird Is Dead” is probably the loosest and rawest song on this list, and I think it’s Lynne’s vocal that puts it so high up here for me.
#3. “Mr. Blue Sky,” from Out of the Blue (1977)
“Mr. Blue Sky” is basically a perfect song. It closes out the “Concerto for a Rainy Day” side of Out of the Blue perfectly, bouncing along in a Beatles-beholden bop that unloads in not one but two—and arguably three endings.
#2. “Bluebird,” from Secret Messages (1983)
Secret Messages is a bit underrated—Jeff Lynne has some great ideas on the record (a lot of them showcased in “Bluebird”), but the ideas often fail to cohere. (For example, “Loser Gone Wild” offers a pastiche of the best and worst aspects of this era of ELO—a big contrast to the pastiche of “Mr. Blue Sky,” where everything works). “Bluebird” is a gorgeous song that has to grow on any listener. It’s corny as hell—hell, most of ELO is extremely corny, which is something I love about the band. They are Not Cool, a topic for another post. Anyway, “Bluebird” is a sweet, sad, wonderfully-overproduced song about loss. At about a minute into the jam, Lynne includes an infectious sample of himself simply repeating “work work work” — and one senses that “Bluebird” isn’t just about a human relationship, but Lynne’s own relationship to his songwriting and production.
#1. “Boy Blue,” from Eldorado (1974)
Eldorado is my favorite ELO album and “Boy Blue” is my favorite song on Eldorado. The song is another pastiche, Beatlesesque pop mixed up with orchestral flourishes, but edged around with an almost-menacing motortik drive. (In another life, ELO could have been the Great English Krautrock band). Lyrically, the song is one ELO’s most focused. Boy Blue is our hometown hero, lately at war with some heathen or another, returns: “Hey, Boy Blue is back,” the town/chorus exclaims. They make a lot of noise for their boy, and ask where he’s been for so many years in the first verse. The second verse is Boy Blue’s reply, wherein he describes the hell of war, where he saw “bold knights, dropping down like flies, “kings, rolling in the mire,” and even God pointing “the finger of doom to our foes.” Lynne’s greatest couplet is surely in this song: “I have fought in the holiest wars/ I have smashed, some of the holiest jaws.” The violence Boy Blue has experienced (he’s been jailed and impaled, among other ordeals) has made him reflect that “no man should be stricken with fear.” He ends his verse by declaring, “no man, shall cause me to take up arms again.” Lynne’s delivery of these lyrics is what really makes the song soar though—his Boy Blue persona becomes more intense even as he builds to his promise of peace.
And here is a Spotify playlist of the songs; the sequencing has nothing to do with the rankings above: