ELO’s “Time”: An Underappreciated ’80s Odyssey

ELO Out of the Blue

Electric Light Orchestra had great success throughout the 1970s with their orchestral rock sound. Founded by Jeff Lynne, Roy Wood, and Bev Bevan, the band spun off from their previous group, The Move. Wood departed ELO after their first album, and Lynne took center stage, steering the band through the 1970s, notching hits with songs like “Evil Woman” and “Turn To Stone.” In 1979, the group released Discovery, an album that altered the band’s strings-rich arrangements to include an injection of disco rhythms. This trend continued the following year when ELO recorded music for the soundtrack to the Olivia Newton-John film, Xanadu. Although the band was still having chart success, the change in their signature sound alienated some of the group’s loyal fans. For ELO’s next release, Lynne took things in yet another direction and created a science-fiction tale entitled Time. The 1981 disc was the group’s first full-on concept album since 1974’s Eldorado.


The story concerns a man from the 1980s transported into the then-distant year of 2095. In songs like the pulsating “Twilight,” the main character (and the listener) are taken on a journey to a future world where mankind’s made tremendous scientific advances but has become overly dependent on technology. The hero may have been transported to a future filled with wonders, but he just wants to get home and go back to his simple life (and reunite with his true love) in the past. On the lyrics for “Ticket To The Moon,” the time traveler laments, “Remember the good old 1980’s when things were so uncomplicated?” Does Lynne’s idea sound uncannily familiar in the actual 21st century? He was going for 1980s retro before the decade was over. Lynne’s penchant for fusing futuristic sounds with classic rock styles reverberates throughout the album, on songs like the echo-driven “21st Century Man” and the shimmering “Rain Is Falling,” one of the strongest tracks on the disc.

Related: “The 10 Best ELO Songs You May Have Never Heard”

Time’s musical palette combines the genres of rock, pop, and dance music. Despite backing away from the orchestral sheen of previous records, Lynne manages to craft an impressive array of aural vistas throughout the album, often using the synth-pop sound very much in vogue at the time of the album’s release. Songs like the techno-hued “Yours Truly, 2095” and the disco-laced “From The End Of The World” could easily have been spun on a club DJ’s turntable at the time, while the slower-paced “The Lights Go Down” offers some distinctly reggae-flavored bass. The lovely “The Way Life’s Meant To Be” wouldn’t sound out of place on a Traveling Wilburys disc; you can definitely hear Lynne channeling Roy Orbison on the song. There’s also the new wave-ish, synth-infused “Here Is The News,” which sounds like it could have fit comfortably between the Vapors “Turning Japanese” and Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” on an MTV playlist.

The album’s biggest hit was the rockabilly-inspired “Hold On Tight.” It doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the record, but it’s a fun song, and certainly, the one many people remember, thanks to its use in several commercials. There were also three tunes left off the album on its original pressing, which have been added as bonus tracks on current versions of the disc. They all evoke the classic ELO sound: the sprightly “Julie Don’t Live Here Anymore,” the reflective ballad “When Time Stood Still” and the rocking “The Bouncer.” Time is an enjoyable listen thanks to Lynne’s gift for crafting ear-worm worthy melodies, and the excellent musicianship of the band’s core lineup: Lynne on lead vocals and guitar, Richard Tandy on piano, Kelly Groucutt on bass, and Bev Bevan on drums and percussion. The album may be somewhat underrated in ELO’s overall catalog, but it’s certainly not a waste of your “time.” Pun intended.


-John Visconti

Photo: Electric Light Orchestra perform in New York L-R Mik Kaminski, Jeff Lynne (Photo by Richard E. Aaron/Redferns/Getty)

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John Visconti is a lifelong music and movies aficionado with wide-ranging tastes, from The British Invasion and Motown, to the blues, a dash of jazz, on through to power pop, funk, retro soul, folk, bubblegum and metal. He digs film noir, screwball comedies, classic B movies, and Toho’s original Godzilla series. In the late 1980s, John was a writer and editor for the KISS fanzine Fire. A friend once called him “the human incarnation of an entertainment encyclopedia.” After long stints in the worlds of publishing and IT, he’s currently working in healthcare. You can check out his blog, John V's Eclectic Avenue at http://jveclectic.blogspot.com.

8 comments on “ELO’s “Time”: An Underappreciated ’80s Odyssey

  1. Matt S.

    Nice of you to mention the album. It may be “underrated” by the music buying public and some ELO fans, but to musicians such as Daft Punk, it is not. It has been rather influential.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Matt. The album certainly has its fans, and has definitely influenced groups like Daft Punk.

  2. I was at an Oakland, California concert of theirs when they opened with ‘Twilight’. It blew the place away; so cool! Thanks for the insightful article. I agree with it 100%. I had ‘Julie Don’t Live Here Anymore’ as a B-side in the early 80s. Going to see Jeff Lynne again next month; can’t wait!

  3. Jennifer Fox-Williams

    Thank you for this. I love this album more than any of their other albums, it has special significance in my life and I am so glad that you did this article. I sound so incoherent, but I’m really happy about this. 😉 It’s nice to know that someone else appreciates it as much as I do. Thank you again!

    • Jennifer,

      I’m so happy that you enjoyed the article, and that you dig the album as well! Thanks for the kind words!


  4. Mark Saunders

    Thank you for your favourable review on the ELO album “Time”, l can remember being stunned by the quality of the craftsmanship and the imaginative instrumentation and the high standard of lyrical authority. I could be deemed as a bit bias as l am a hugh fan of the band, but as I am a sci-fi fan and a appreciative of good quality rock music, whom am l to snub the magnetic resonance of “Time”. The quality of intense emotional richness in vocal expression, reinforced by a qualifying backing instrumentation, the album really delivers in all areas and deserves the recognition it so deserves.

  5. I got this album originally on cassette tape (I now have a digital copy), though I did not know about the “out takes” / “bonus tracks” until just now. I’ll have to check those out.

    Before I get into my interpretation (of the original album), I should say that I’m a sci-fi author and artist, and one of my characters is a ship’s A.I. entity who has an android avatar that was inspired, in part, from “Yours Truly, 2095” (I figured that I wouldn’t be able to say she was created by IBM, so I created a different place that makes them). However, my character is more like “Romie” from the “Andromeda” TV series. Her name is Moira (an Irish name), not to be confused with Moya from “Farscape”.

    In a way, it’s like the guy is either dreaming or is possibly a nutcase or maybe he actually was transported into the future. “Satellite 2” could be a type of prison or insane asylum or just a space station in orbit or maybe an euphemism for his dreamscape. He certainly seems to pine for a woman he cares about, though is she real or is she his imagination? The lyrics to the album tracks suggest he’s sad and wants to get back to her, that he feels he doesn’t belong where or whenever he is, or is possibly still carrying the “baggage” of his past. Perhaps the woman he wants to be with had rejected him. In “Yours Truly, 2095”, maybe it’s an android or maybe it’s a therapist that looks like (or may even be) the woman he thinks he loves, but doesn’t feel the same towards him . From “Here is the News” I get the sense that he may have escaped from “Satellite 2”, which is what leads me to think it might be a prison or a mental facility, unless it’s an euphemism for getting out of / waking up from his dream-like state. “Hold on Tight” could be where he wants to stay in his dreamscape instead of reality.

    Just my 2-1/3 cents on this. 🙂

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