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25 years after its original release as a single, Mr. Blue Sky is once again delighting audiences and recruiting a new generation of ELO fans around the world. Could it be the song's still-potent blend of hazy, golden sunshine, feel-good lyrics and infectious melody? Something has certainly been going on over the last six months or so for songwriter Jeff Lynne's most famous Electric Light Orchestra composition (a 1978 single from the equally definitive ELO album, Out Of The Blue).

For long-term ELO fans, surprises have been pleasant and plentiful. All of a sudden, journalists on both sides of the Atlantic are demanding overdue re-appraisals of ELO's career and telling us in no uncertain terms Mr. Blue Sky is "a single YOU MUST OWN!". VH-1 even have the original promotional video on rotation.

Could we put this down to the so-called "nostalgia-factor"? Perhaps, but what is noticeable are the new younger fans, drawn to the warm, analogue glow of Jeff Lynne's Electric Light Orchestra music for the very first time. Caught up in this discovery are ELO's vast and quietly loyal fanbase, old enough to have bought the original single and now reminded of youthful, care-free summer days, full of sun "shining in the sky" without "a cloud in sight".

UK Blue vinyl edition with picture sleeve (Jet Records UP36342).

A handful of those grown-up fans (reminiscing over whether they owned Mr. Blue Sky as either a limited-edition laser-beam blue or regular black vinyl 7-inch single) are now working in the music and entertainment industry. Is it just coincidence, therefore, that the last six months have seen an explosion in Mr. Blue Sky's popularity? Always a DJ-favourite worldwide, there are now ever-increasing appearances on radio, TV, award shows, movie trailers and as a brand-new version re-recorded by Jeff Lynne for Volkswagen's "Bubble" ad campaign.

"Waking at 7:30 a.m., Bill Briggs begins another monotonous day. He dresses, goes to work, drinks coffee and shuffles papers. Split-screen views of his rituals scream boredom. Until, that is, he looks out a window and sees the holy grail: The new Beetle convertible ... Coming soon."

Today's forecast is definitely for blue skies, with Volkswagen announcing in the press: "We thought it would be cool to introduce ELO to a new generation and at the same time reconnect the band with their fans from the first time around".

If VW gets it - why doesn't Sony Music? Despite this high-profile boost and with summer fast approaching, the record company that owns the original Mr. Blue Sky appears dangerously close to missing the opportunities a re-release would bring. Maybe it's because the song achieved only moderate success in America's Top 40 in 1978 that New York-based record execs aren't as daring as their Volkswagen counter-parts? What they have done is forget that outside of the USA, 2003 celebrates Mr. Blue Sky's 25th Anniversary as a major smash-hit single. Surely it's not too late for Mr. Blue Sky, backed up with the pick of any number of Jeff Lynne classics and his new ELO music as "b-sides"? Would such a CD single rejuvenate ELO's long-delayed remaster series and latest album Zoom? Too obvious? Too little? Too late? What do the fans say?

RIGHT: Australian 7" (UA/JET: K-7039) and German picture sleeve (UA/JET: 36 342 AT) BELOW: Picture sleeves from Japan (JET: 06SP 249) Holland (UA: 5C 006 60450) and Chille (UA: UP 36342).

Even if the "Mr. Night's" of Sony manage to miss Mr. Blue Sky's resurgence, the world's press certainly hasn't. The song's on-going appeal is best summed up by Entertainment Weekly's Rob Brunner in the USA:

"Things are looking up for "Mr Blue Sky". The 1977 (sic) ELO hit had faded from view over the years, overshadowed by more enduring Jeff Lynne standards like "Don't Bring Me Down". But that all changed when the song showed up in recent TV commercials for the new Volkswagen Beetle convertible (for which Lynne completely rerecorded the tune) and for the film Adaptation. And now Scottish indie band the Delgados have cooked up a killer cover of the track as a B side on their latest single. Perhaps the once-reviled ELO are headed for a critical re-evaluation. "We like to find songs that people really loved when they were younger, before they got too focused on what's cool or not cool" says Arnold Advertising's Alan Pafenbach, who oversaw the VW spot. "I think this is one of those great songs. It really is a great piece of music. Sometimes it's better not to be so cool". But why is "sky" suddenly everywhere all at once? Mere coincidence, apparently. Asked about the VW ad, Delgados singer Emma Pollock pleads ignorance: "Oh are they doing that over there? That's great. I hope they (air the "Mr. Blue Sky" commercial) in Britain. Maybe we can get them to use our version."

And there's more…

In the UK - where the VW ad is not playing - Mojo magazine's special "Ultimate Jukebox - the 100 singles you must own", placed Mr. Blue Sky at number 21, beating records by The Clash, Stevie Wonder and The Who. In the same issue, comedian Harry Hill - a huge ELO fan - declared he always wanted to be Jeff Lynne.

The coverage continued into other British newspapers, including The Guardian, where Johnny Dee (eventually) gave an approving thumbs-up:

"There were many reasons to love ELO. They had two names - ELO and Electric Light Orchestra. Their singer, Jeff Lynne, had the kind of face that looked the same upside down as the right way up, plus in the pre-computer age you could express your love on the latest cutting-edge technology - the pocket calculator - by typing in 0.73 and turning it upside down, often to gasps of approval from your fellow classmates. ELO were cool for approximately three weeks in 1977, around the release of their classic album Out Of The Blue, when their legendary live light show hypnotised a nation of denim-jacketed older brothers. But to connoisseurs of great pop, ELO remain among the finest songwriters of the 1970s. They were the first to combine electronic pop with classical symphonies (the Beatles meets Bach if you like) and they wrote great tunes - Mr Blue Sky could tickle a smile out of anyone; Sweet Talkin' Woman is where space-age vocoder meets acoustic guitar meets barber-shop harmonics and sounds fantastic. Their influence is heard today in bands like Flaming Lips and Air. Surely the legions of ELO lovers can soon emerge to proclaim their genius."

The Birmingham Evening Mail, traditionally ELO's local newspaper (band leader Lynne was originally from the Shard End suburb) interviewed The Delgados prior to their live concert at the Birmingham Academy, purely on the strength of their "…One EL Of a cover version":

With their new single, All You Need Is Hate, Scottish band The Delgados reveal a love of Birmingham's chartbusting orchestral rockers ELO with a highly unlikely cover version of Mr Blue Sky. 'It's not your typical Delgados track,' says vocalist Emma Pollock, of the song which was chosen for a special covers-only John Peel session last year along with versions of tunes by US punk outfit The Dead Kennedys, singer/ songwriter Cat Stevens and obscure doo-wop group, The Symbols. 'You often find that the music people listen to at home isn't necessarily the music people create. 'I grew up with them as my mum was a massive fan, and I've continued to pick up their records when I see them in second hand shops. The thing I like about ELO is that they were so over the top, with these fantastic melodies and production, almost a bit tongue in cheek. 'One of the great things about recording Mr Blue Sky was that I got to use a vocoder, which was particularly attractive,' she says of the voice altering device which features on the song. Their uncharacteristic rendition appears as the third track on their forthcoming single, All You Need Is Hate (released 17 February), and has proved to be a surprise hit with fans. 'It even made John Peel's Festive Fifty last year,' Emma grins, referring to the list of favourite tracks from the show as voted by listeners. 'We haven't played it live yet, but by the time we get to Birmingham... who knows?'

The Delgados join fine cover versions by Nerf Herder, Neil Hannon's Divine Comedy (performing the song with full orchestra at London's Royal Festival Hall) and many others.

Free with the newspaper, Ireland on Sunday, Mr. Blue Sky appeared as part of a special Sony promotional CD, celebrating Irish No.1 hit singles. Now why Sony thought Mr. Blue Sky ever got to no.1 is beyond us - but it should have done! (n.b. it reached no.6)

As reported in the Glasgow Sunday Mail, Mr. Blue Sky has crossed over into the literary world. In a feature about his latest novel, author Phil Differ quotes his final paragraph:

"The day ended back at Base Station. As I thawed out with a cup of tea the jukebox started playing Mr Blue Sky by the Electric Light Orchestra. On cue - and this is the truth - the mist lifted, the clouds broke, blue skies appeared and the sun shone down on the valley below. A simply stunning finish."

ELO live at Wembley 1978
ELO live at Wembley 1978
Photo copyright Gary Merrin, not for reproduction

Equally as good as an introduction as opposed to an ending, the song has appeared in trailers for the new Nicholas Cage movie Adaptation. Nice to see that at the SAG Awards, someone had been paying attention - an instrumental Mr. Blue Sky introduced their coverage of the same film.

In American newspapers (the ones Sony aren't reading) Q&A columns are asking:

Q: What's that retro-sounding song in the Beetle convertible ads?
A: It's "Mr. Blue Sky," a 1977 Electric Light Orchestra song that the band's founder, Jeff Lynne, rerecorded for the commercial.

Whitney Matheson, in USA Today no less, asks - and answers - her own question:

"Is ELO still a livin' thing? Of course!"

It's a fairly in-depth article with just the right amount of good-natured humour (click here for the full story) plus Whitney has heard for herself the revival of Mr. Blue Sky:

"The song has also become a staple on my local radio station. "It's one of those tunes that keeps you sitting in your car after you've reached your destination," sighed one DJ after it ended. I now own the CD."

Convinced an ELO revival is around the corner, Whitney concludes:

"In ELO's heyday, their infectious, large-scale sounds delivered high drama without dire consequence. I'd say now most of us are ready to appreciate that concept again, don't you think?"

US television certainly appreciates ELO. The cast of NBC's Good Morning, Miami managed to work ELO into an episode entitled "Take a Penny, Leave a Penny". The killer line follows Penny (Stephanie Zimmer) explanation to Jake (Mark Feuerstein) that they can be "friends that have sex", telling him "I will rock your world the way ELO never could."

And then there's the legendary and iconic Simpsons. In "The Dad Who Knew Too Little", Homer is yet again trying to get to know his daughter Lisa:

Homer: "I'm still trying to get to know you, Lisa. Who's your favorite Traveling Wilbury? Is it Jefffffff Lynnnnne?"

There can be no finer mention!

The most recent useage of Mr. Blue Sky include the following...

  • Volkswagon commercial in the USA (re-recorded by Jeff Lynne at the special request of VW).

  • A&E (Arts & Entertainment Channel in America) - used as soundtrack to TV series promotion.

  • LAX (NBC series starring Heather Locklear and Blair Underwood) - opening theme music.

  • Worldwide movie trailer promos for Adaptation & Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind.

  • Used as soundtrack for King of Fridges ITV1 drama.

  • "I'm a Celebrity....Get me out of here!" (ITV1) - opening theme.

Record company aside, it seems as far as ELO's Mr. Blue Sky is concerned, everybody is "so pleased to be with you".

Maybe that's it. Maybe Jeff Lynne's classic has become so synonymous with being the ultimate feel-good summer anthem for more than 25 years that we just can't help smiling every time we hear it. Long may it continue!

Rob Caiger - editor, Face The Music

Jeff Lynne - "You did it right" Photo copyright Annamaria DiSanta, not for reproduction.

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