Replay: Electric Light Orchestra’s ‘A New World Record’ is a ‘Livin’ Thing’

Writer Bri Guntz reminisces on high school days bookended by Electric Light Orchestra’s “A New World Record.”

Throughout my high school years, I garnered an appreciation for the songs of the ‘70s. Ritualizing my morning routine with the tracks of the decade, my friend Olivia’s car became a transformative vessel for an enhanced musical pallet, complete with the echoing groove of Electric Light Orchestra’s “A New World Record.”

As a faint dialing noise played through the car speakers, my friend cranked the volume — insisting I was going to love the next song.

The ringing gave way to muted vocals, as if being transmitted through a walkie-talkie, signaling the beginning of “Telephone Line” — the second track on “A New World Record” and my personal gateway to Electric Light Orchestra’s 1976 album.

The record begins with airplane-like sounds and cymbal crashes on “Tightrope,” the lead track. Ominous strings follow, mixing with lyrics that sing of returning to reality introducing the general theme of existential crises.

“Telephone Line” follows, with its wistful lyricism reflecting my relationship with Olivia. Despite the distance of attending different colleges getting the best of us, I still fondly reminisce on the time spent in the parking lot together, talking as if the late bell wouldn’t ring.

“Hey, how ya feeling? / Are you still the same? / Don’t you realize the things we did, we did were all for real? / Not a dream / I just can’t believe they’ve all faded out of view,” leader of ELO Jeff Lynne sings.

Although my days ended in stark opposition to the laid-back morning — waitressing at a local Mexican restaurant — the evenings mirrored sitting in my car, listening to “A New World Record.”

Sweeping floors and wiping down sticky counters were soundtracked by the third track on the album “Rockeria!” 

A blend of operatic German singing with traditional rock ‘n’ roll distracted me from the countless Friday nights I spent wishing I was doing anything besides working.

“Mission (A World Record)” makes the interstellar themes of the album overly transparent, as Lynne sings of a space mission looking down on Earth with experimental sounds such as sirens and distant astronaut calls accompanying his voice.

In high school, I never listened to “Mission (A World Record)” on its own. Now, the track mimics my feelings of looking back on my hometown after moving away to Chicago.

“Watching all the days roll by / Who are you and who am I? / How’s life on Earth?” Lynne sings.

A feel-good song for late nights, “So Fine” became my personal anthem as the spring days started to taste like summer. 

Lynne pairs upbeat drums with jazzy guitar strumming, reminding me of the antsy, almost-freedom feeling the end of the school year brings, making this a song I never skip. While he sings of summer’s endless possibilities, I thought of the opportunities my upcoming graduation would bring.

“And when you look, you’ll see for miles around / You’ll see the world is in your hand,” Lynne sings.

When I wasn’t serving tables, I would often be traversing the restaurant with an AirPod in. I’d complete shift tasks as if conducting the dramatic orchestra that launches the start of “Livin’ Thing.” 

With lively drums and a repetitive-yet-catchy chorus, “Livin’ Thing” was ingrained in my mind. Even when I would inevitably return to serving tables — leaving my Airpods behind — the track followed me. 

“Above the Clouds” is 2 minutes and 15 seconds long — the shortest track on the record. Its brevity is the primary reason I don’t skip it when listening to the album. While the layered harmonies smoothly blend together, this track lacks the addictive sound the rest of the album has.

The penultimate song, “Do Ya,” is the most traditional rock song on the album. Electric guitar and drums are at the forefront as Lynne questions if the woman he is interested in reciprocates his romance. 

Admittedly, Lynne’s message wasn’t one I related to. At 18 years old, I was unable to fathom the obsessive love he sings of.

“I never seen nothing like you / Do ya, do ya want my love?” Lynne sings.

“Shangri-La” closes out the album, bringing a laid-back feel as Lynne vocalizes ideas of moving on from love, providing listeners with a sense of closure if they listen in track order. 

Despite its slower tempo contrasting with the album as a whole, the song synthesizes with the rest of the record with its blend of violins and guitar.

For me, “A New World Record” remains a nostalgic listen encapsulating my high school career. I no longer start my days in Olivia’s car, work at that restaurant or even live in the same city — yet this album reminds me of it all. 

I can’t say I wish to return to that time, but it’s special to look back.

“A New World Record” is available to stream on all major platforms.

Featured image courtesy of Sony Music

Brianna Guntz

Brianna Guntz