Electric Light Orchestra: “Do Ya”
Trust me: I don’t post a song by Electric Light Orchestra here lightly. I have some very negative feelings for ELO leader Jeff Lynne, which are primarily — no, almost exclusively — connected with his efforts as a producer/destroyer of other people’s music. He manages to take artists as great as Tom Petty, George Harrison, Dave Edmunds, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison — even the Beatles, for cryin’ out loud (the “Free As a Bird” single from the Beatles Anthology series) — and make them sound identical, with all rough edges or sense of excitement or danger removed. The Traveling Wilburys albums are all you need to listen to to know what anything else he produces sounds like. More than any other notable producer that I can think of, he neuters the music (if not the performer) and puts his own imprint on it, barely allowing the performer’s own personality to come through. His are easily the most egotistical productions in rock, notwithstanding Phil Spector, whose style was part of the reason the songs were so great. The only reason Petty’s Full Moon Fever is worth listening to is that it contains some of Petty’s best compositions. And you can’t blame Petty for trying Lynne once, but I still hold Tom responsible for inviting Lynne back to mess up Into the Great Wide Open.
The only group Lynne should ever have produced was his own group, ELO. The sound and effect he likes to use seems appropriate for his own music, probably because it goes hand in hand with his idea of what the song should sound like while he’s composing it, so that the song and production are somewhat inseparable. As a result, I can really enjoy some of ELO’s songs — there are at least a dozen or so songs by them that I think are excellent. Of those, the best of the best is “Do Ya,” their straight-ahead rocker from 1976’s A New World Record, widely considered their best album — for good reason, as it contains many of their best songs. I seem to prefer ELO’s less-belabored songs the most, and “Do Ya” is certainly among their most no-frills concoctions, relatively devoid of busy symphonic accompaniments save for some pretty noninvasive strings in the bridge section. (Don’t get me wrong, I think there are quite a few great rock songs featuring strings; it’s just that Lynne — not surprisingly — has a tendency to overdo it. “Orchestra” is part of the band name, after all.)
“Do Ya” gets right down to business from its opening chords, powers along without losing focus, and wraps things up in less than 4 minutes — always a good sign, because ELO was usually most effective under 4:30, admittedly an arbitrary length but one that they frequently had trouble staying under. In any case, “Do Ya” is one of their best works of power pop: catchy, rocking, even — dare I say — exciting. If only Lynne could have carried that feeling over into his production work outside his own band.