“MISSION (A NEW WORLD RECORD)” (WRITER: JEFF LYNNE)
ARTIST: THE ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA
RELEASED 1976 ON A NEW WORLD RECORD LP
The Electric Light Orchestra emerged in the early 1970s from the wreckage of British pop-rockers The Move.
The new band, led by Roy Wood, planned to combine 1950s and 1960s rock and R&B influences with a classical sensibility, adding three string players and doing songs they’d sometimes call “overtures” or “arias” or “symphonies.”
Wood left after two albums and singer/songwriter/guitarist/producer Jeff Lynne—blessed with good pop ears—shifted toward more commercial territory, creating crisper, catchier material. He had no fear of echo, chorus, and reverb, but happily, ELO’s cavernous-sounding FM and AM hits transcended their sometimes bombastic treatments.
Following two big AM radio hits in the States (“Can’t Get it Out of My Head” and “Evil Woman”) during 1974–75, the ascending band crafted its most important album. A New World Record, issued in September 1976, provided the Electric Light Orchestra with its first LP hit in Britain and reached #5 in the U.S. LP charts.
Song for song, it was the band’s best. Framing textbook 70s British rock and Beatle-y melodies with pounding drums, funky bass guitar, swirling strings, and a seeming choir of vocalists (most just Lynne overdubbed), Lynne and his cohorts created a heady mix just right for the times.
The last track on side one of A New World Record is almost an ELO manifesto. The science-fantasy “Mission” concerns an alien on earth communicating with home base about the sad puzzle of human behavior. Through this somewhat clichéd principle—the alien as voice of reason—comes genuine gloom and disconnection perhaps more personal to Lynne than the lyrics might indicate.
As futuristic voices, notes, and effects emerge from the dark, the melody builds, calling equally on old-time rock and roll ballads and Eastern influences. Eventually the tense minor-key verse releases into a major-key refrain that sounds sadder than what came before. The song’s final chorus features a celestial three-part harmony.
The Electric Light Orchestra would continue its evolution into a stripped-down, rock-oriented ensemble, creating solid records and enjoying further commercial success. But their mix of rock, pop, space effects, and classical trappings was at perhaps its best in “Mission.”