Top ELO Songs of the '80s

Legendary British classic rock band Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) enjoyed a peak period as pop music hitmakers during the second half of the '70s, but the group also made a significant mark during the '80s. Band mastermind Jeff Lynne was plenty busy with other projects during the latter decade, but his songwriting helped fuel three studio albums of typically worthwhile music intent on infusing rock and roll with epic orchestral elements. Here's a chronological look at ELO's best songs from three studio albums released during the '80s.

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"Hold on Tight"

Electric Light Orchestra, ELO, perform on stage, February 1977, London, Bev Bevan, Jeff Lynne.
Michael Putland/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In typical ELO style, this bouncy rock and roll track failed to fit into active genres of the period but still managed to become a major worldwide hit. And although it remains the band's final Top 10 pop single to date, it's indicative of the central musical themes Lynne's songwriting for ELO always aimed to explore. As highly orchestrated rock and roll with high harmonies and precise production, the song shimmers and sparkles without ever losing a central, good-time throwback sound. The dreamy qualities of Lynne's singular tenor vocals remain intact here as well, propelling the song to a rather elegant height - punctuated by lyrics delivered in French.

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"Ticket to the Moon"

Lynne had certainly made his mark previously with haunting piano balladry - most notably in 1974's Top 10 American smash "Can't Get It Out of My Head" - so perhaps it's not so surprising that he explores similar territory for this lovely album track from 1981's . The song's space-age concerns fit well with Lynne's elaborate use of synthesizer and painstaking layering of backing vocals, all creating a transcendent and distinctive sound. ELO's impact as a singles band had already waned considerably by this point, but that certainly doesn't mean the music on the band's '80s records experienced a significant drop in quality.

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"Rock and Roll Is King"

Single Cover Image Courtesy of Jet

Many of ELO's best moments clearly betray Lynne's great affection for early rock and roll, and he captures a basic retro vibe in his highly singular way on this modest 1983 hit. Fans (or even merely captive observers) of professional wrestling during this era may associate this tune with the tag-team duo The Rock and Roll Express, but if one can get past such a memory, this is music worth remembering. Listen closely for Lynne's typical use of industrial sound effects, but it's hard to hear this track's familiar piano rhythms without smiling broadly.

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"Secret Messages"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Jet/MCA

Lynne returns to entrancing electronic foundations for the second but far less successful single from ELO's 1983 album of the same name. Still, its failure to become a hit may say more about the pop music market of the early '80s than it does about the quality of this nuanced, instrumentally layered track. It was always difficult to categorize Lynne and his band, but during the early video age accelerated by MTV's rise, programmers had even less of an idea of what to do with ELO's complex musical offerings. Nevertheless, this song stands out as a notably unheralded classic of '80s art rock, even if that term had come to lose much of its meaning by then.

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Arpeggiated guitars and some wonderful, gently melodic verses help make this deep track and essentially ignored single one of ELO's most pleasure-inducing songs perhaps of the band's entire career. That claim may be a lot to live up to, but Lynne's pop songwriting genius has never descended into shadow for very long - even during the '80s when ELO's superstar status had faded considerably. Furthermore, his presentation of his own songwriting has always managed to explore different musical territory each time out. This happens to be an instance of haunting guitar pop at its finest.

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"Calling America"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Jet/MCA

By 1986, more than a few music fans probably figured ELO was a thing of the past, but that didn't stop Lynne from putting out another LP of reliably solid pop/rock material. As essentially the band's final release, contains several fine tracks, including this anthem, ELO's last Top 40 single to date in a major market. It's a pleasant listen, to be sure, if nowhere near the pop brilliance of '70s classics like "Livin' Thing" or "Mr. Blue Sky." But this isn't an instance of pity or faint praise; Lynne doesn't need it. And even his lesser masterpieces stand strong next to any contemporary music to which they might be compared.