Welcome to What’s the Concept?! Every week, we take a look at a famous and influential rock concept album. This time up: Electric Light Orchestra’s 1974 classic, Eldorado.
What’s the Concept?!
The entire album is basically about a guy who escapes into the fantasy realm of dreams so he can get away from his boring reality. Whether the dreams are of himself an anti-hero, a war hero who comes back a pacifist amidst a parade, or an orphan who finds comfort with a prostitute, “the dreamer, the unwoken fool” in question wants to stay in his mythical Eldorado because it’s easier than dealing with the doldrums of life. It’s a bit of a Don Quixote meets Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz meets The Secret Life of Walter Mitty meets prog and Beatles-inspired rock. Jeff Lynne said he imagined a guy who has all of these wonderful dreams, and then wakes up and he’s a boring old bank clerk, and everything he found comfort in is ripped away from him.
Can’t Get It Out Of My Head was ELO’s first top ten hit, and it’s the second track on the album. The Eldorado Overture bleeds beautifully into this track, and it’s all about the dream world we’re in. Antiheroes are abound in this song, and it’s got its heavy Beatles influence in it.
Boy Blue was also released as a single, but unfortunately failed to reach the charts or make an impression. Which stinks, really, because even apart from the dream stuff, it has some of the most powerful lyrics ELO ever performed, when singing about the Middle Ages war hero who is now disillusioned with fighting and has become a pacifist:
One thing I have learned through these years
Is that no man should be stricken with fears
It should be that he walks with no care in the world
So my friends who have gathered today
Hear this clear, for I’ll not further say
That no man shall force me to take up arms again
I will be up front with you: this is not only my favorite ELO album, this is one of my favorite albums of all time. Like, in the top five. It’s one I will listen to over and over again and never get tired of. Keeping that in mind, nearly all of the tracks are notable.
Laredo Tornado has this brilliant bass and drum line that just rocks. There’s not a single second in this song that is unnecessary. The dreamer in this song is now a Native American after the invasion of the Europeans, singing about how “it looks like summer days ain’t coming back.” In the second verse, the dreamer is horrified by the way that, centuries after the invasion, the beauties of the world have essentially been paved over, singing about “towers of concrete/Hellish go-round/Were there when I awoke.” The tornado of the song has metaphorically destroyed everything in its path. Definitely one of the most depressing gut punch songs to come out in 1974.
Mister Kingdom is musically similar to Across the Universe by The Beatles, yet superior in my eye. It’s, again, about the dreamer, and of all dreamers who escape to dreams to get away from their daily lives.
Nobody’s Child brings us to a new dreamscape, now a young man who was an orphan that was lured in by prostitutes who, at first, he wants to stay away from him. Then he becomes infatuated with one after them after sleeping with her, singing about how the “light of her smile” had “set him free”.
Eldorado is where the dreamer is truly brought back to reality upon waking, and realizes he likes the dream world better. He sings that he “will stay and not be back”, with a bit of desperation in his voice that he’ll be “free from the world”. This is the most heartbreaking song on the album, and the one that gives the album the most depth and sadness. We can all relate to the bummer of being torn away from a good dream, but dreams are all this poor schlub has in his life.
This is the album that got Electric Light Orchestra to chart in the Top Ten, and has received overwhelmingly positive reviews. As I mentioned earlier, this album is one of my very favorites. An obsession, really. ELO made damn good albums before and after this, but Eldorado is, without a doubt, their true masterpiece. And one thing I love is how simple, yet deep, the concept is. There aren’t any deaf/blind/mute pinball geniuses; no insane rock stars who start their own neo-Nazi following; no impending apocalypse with messages from a bisexual alien; no banishment of rock music that, after joining a robot sex cult, sends a rocker to prison. It’s just the simple dreams of a simple man, and the tragedy of him waking up from them.
Jeff Lynne wrote this album to impress his dad. His father was a classical music aficionado, and said that his prior albums lacked cohesion, so he wrote a concept album to make his pops proud.
In their next album Face the Music, Jeff Lynne poked fun at a mini-controversy made by this album. Christian fundamentalists said that if you played the track Eldorado backwards, it contained Satanic messages. Lynne backmasked on the song Fire on High, so the only lyrics (if played forwards) are “The music is reversible/But time is not/Turn back/Turn back/Turn back/Turn back”.
This album marks the first time that Electric Light Orchestra is actually an orchestra. Instead of overdubbing strings, Jeff Lynne hired an orchestra for entire recording. It works out brilliantly.
Filmmaker Kenneth Anger re-released his 1954 film Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome using Eldorado as the soundtrack in 1978.