Xanadu: Album By Album
by Andrew Whiteside - 'Face The Music' #12, circa 1992
Following the marriage to Sandi, Jeff maintained a home on both sides of the Atlantic. Whilst in LA in late
1979, he was offered the opportunity to score a soundtrack for a film that on paper away, looked like a
sure-fire smash. It's star was to be Olivia Newton-John, at the point the silver screen's bankable actress,
still basking in the glow of GREASE, the most successful musical of all time. Many years previously, Jeff
turned down the offer to write the music for the Oscar-winning MIDNIGHT COWBOY (that's "EXPRESS",
buddy-ed.) and was desperate to prove that his judgment was better this time. Unfortunately, XANADU
was to be no CITIZEN CANE, to put it mildly.

Rock musicals have a checkered history. For every HARD DAYS NIGHT or TOMMY, there is always a
SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND or a CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC. As well as the risk of
making a expensive flop, there were other dangers inherent as well. Whilst SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER
was a phenomenal success, it so strongly attached the Bee Gees to the disco era that it left them
alienated from the charts for years. Although it's too easy to point the finger with hindsight, all indicators
were there; modish star and band, big-budget musical in a market facing recession, non-existing
plot....and roller discos! Fortunately, the one area XANADU that wasn't a complete disaster was the music.

The soundtrack was divided into two halves; Side One was given over to ONJ material, pinned by
Australian John Farrar (briefly of The Shadows offshoot, Marvin, Welch & Farrar, Trivia Fans!) and aside
from the excellent MAGIC and SUSPENDED IN TIME, featured bizarre duets with Cliff Richards, The Tubes
and err Gene Kelly (!). Side two was ELO's and without a doubt was much more stronger (but then I would
sat that, wouldn't I? Entertainingly enough, when it was finally released on CD, the Japanese in their
infinite wisdom saw fit to put the ELO tracks first, as ONJ's career went into terminal decline). It kicks off
with I'M ALIVE, which is different to the version heard in the film. I've always felt this to be an underrated
song in the ELO cannon, and judging by it's performance in our Poll last issue*, a number of you agreed
with me. Semaphored in by a chattering Tandy synth intro, the song proper literally erupts thanks to a
volcanic bass/drum combination, and once again, there were enough beats-per-minute to satisfy ELO's
newly-found disco audience. The treacly harmonies are literally spooned on, and indeed there's nothing
wrong with a little syrup every once in a while. Towards the end, the track takes on neo-MR. BLUE SKY
proportions then Richard's keyboards propel the song into unheard of heights of pomposity, capped by
the phased drum outro. Wonderful stuff.

I must confess, I've never really been able to get into THE FALL. There's nothing wrong with it was such,
it's just never gelled for me. There are a number of nice touches - the heartbeat-like bassline, the - "It's a
lie" - harmonies, and the resurrection of the neat trick first used on TELEPHONE LINE whereby the vocals
appear initially to come from a telephone, before 'fading in' to normality. Overall though it's too jerky,
rather as if the song is being pulled in different directions. Alone of all XANADU tracks, it sounds
underproduced; strange, when you consider how long Jeff spent recording them.

DON'T WALK AWAY is another oft-overlooked number that nevertheless rates as one of ELO's finest
ballads. Jeff gives one of his best ever vocals performances on a song that puts just about everything on
DISCOVERY to shame. For once, the lyrics are tasteful and extremely effective, relying as they do on
traditional metaphors of broken dreams, shadows and lonely rooms to get across it's melancholy
message, aided by truly inspirational backing vocals that propel it to it's final fade.

After the moody introspection of the two previous numbers, ALL OVER THE WORLD's fake party noises
come as a bit of an interruption. The obvious hit, it threw in all of the production tricks then known by Jeff;
sound effects, whipcrack drum intro's, gimmicky keyboards, spray on multi-layered harmonies and pun
laden lyrics (such as listing Jeff's birthplace Shard End amongst such cosmopolitan cities as New York,
London, Rome and Paris!). Whilst it's currently from a distance, on closer inspection the sheer amount of
artifice leaves the song curiously lifeless. It's a bit like scratching the paintwork of a Maserati and finding a
Mini underneath.

All of which sets up the title track, and the album's closer, rather well. For the first time since their debut
album, Jeff gives over the lead vocals on an entire song to another vocalist, inevitably Olivia Newton-John.
As with ALL OVER THE WORLD, this smacks strongly of having been assembled on a production line
rather than out of any genuine desire to do a collaboration (especially when you consider that ONJ added
her vocals in an entirely different recording studio after the backing track was completed), and it's
therefore almost impossible to listen to it without a sour taste in your mouth. Suffice to say, the backing
track sounds completely at odds with the vocals, and neither band nor singer can honestly say it's great
performance. Not that Joe Public cared; it gave ELO their first and only UK No. 1 hit (and ONJ her last)
when released as a single. It was a curiously bloodless triumph when you consider the records they put
out never made the top slot though.

XANADU (the movie) was a box office disaster. Jeff in particular took it's failure very badly, and came to
loath his involvement with the film. To this day, not one song from it has ever been performed live. Despite
being a mega-flop with both critics and punsters as a film, XANADU was extremely successful as a
soundtrack in commercial terms. However, without a doubt is finally destroyed any pitiful remaining shreds
of credibility that the band might still have possessed. By attaching themselves so publicly to the late 70's
female icon, ELO became totally identified with that era in the eyes of the public. It didn't help that the
band's sound had become completely stylized; even the best songs on the album sounded like they had
been meticulously put together out of components patented five years ago. If you forgive the pun, it was
clearly time for a change.



* That Readers Poll results in question was from FTM #11. The following were those results on the
reader's favorite XANADU track:

1) All Over The World - 156
2) I'm Alive - 134
3) Don't Walk Away - 123
4) The Fall - 106
5) Xanadu - 71
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