Back in the day, children would read stories at school during story time and would often hear the "beep” that would signify when the page should be turned. ELO’s Evil Woman and The Pussycat Dolls' “Beep” are generations apart, but both illustrate how they worked to turn the page in creativity, impact, and style.
What we geek out over in this episode: The Move, Joe Budden, Daft Punk, Will.I.AM, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Carmen Elektra, and Christina Aguilera.
Bonus Material: We focus on Jeff Lynne’s musical production and writing skills with George Harrison, Olivia Newton John, Tom Petty, and Paul McCartney.
Intro Music: Play Beep
Joe: Hello and Welcome to Riffs on Riffs, where we explore the collision of original and sampled tracks and the artists who made them. I’m your host, Joe Watson, and I’m here with my co-host, Toby Brazwell.
Toby: We are listening to a song called Beep by one of the best-selling girl groups of all time, The Pussycat Dolls. Why don’t we hop in the Delorean and see what track was sampled to make this hit?
Play Evil Woman
Joe: Please tell the good people what we are listening to.
Toby: We are listening to the song Evil Woman by the Electric Light Orchestra. Can you tell us a little more about ELO?
Joe: ELO was formed in Birmingham, England in 1970 by founding members Jeff Lynne, Roy Wood, and Bev Bevan. All three were previously part of a band called The Move that was popular in the mid 60s and early 70s.
Toby: The Move? I see we are back to generic band names again. Remember Van Morrison’s early band, Them? And Joe Cocker’s band, Stuff? It must have been a thing back in the day.
Joe: I was honestly worried you were going to demonstrate “The Move”, so I’m just glad to see you went in a different direction.
Toby: Much like my gyrations, The Move was popular in England. They had nine top 20 singles over a five year span, but oddly did not see that success translate to popularity in the US.
Joe: Let’s take a listen to their 3rd single, Flowers in the Rain, which reached the #2 spot on the charts and was also the first single ever played on BBC Radio 1 — all the way back on September 30, 1967. It was like a pre-birthday present to you my friend!
Toby: There’s also a pretty crazy story associated with that Flowers in the Rain track. The band has never made a dime off of the song, even though it is estimated to have earned over $200,000.
Joe: Turns out that when the single was released, The Move’s manager, Tony Secunda, had a promotional cartoon postcard created that for some bizarre reason showed then Prime Minister Harold Wilson naked and canoodling with his secretary, Marcia Williams.
Toby: Let’s just say the Mr. Wilson did not take kindly to that little stunt. He sued for libel, won, and had the court award all of the proceeds for the song to a charity of his choice. That’s a ruling that is still in effect, even though the band tried to get it overturned after Wilson’s death in 1995.
Joe: The worst part is, the band never even knew about the cartoon and had nothing to do with the promo. Let’s just say that Secunda was then fired as manager.
Toby: Around this time is when the members of The Move decided to form ELO. They had a vision where orchestral instruments would take the place of guitars in a rock band, and brought that vision to life with their first single, “10538 Overture”. This reached #9 on the UK charts, let’s take a listen.
Joe: ELO’s debut album was released in December of 1971 in the UK, and March of ’72 in the US. Like many debut albums, it was eponymously titled, but that took an accidental turn for the US release.
Toby: In yet another crazy story, the album was released with the title “No Answer” in the US. Why, you ask? Apparently a record exec from the US label, United Artists, called to ask about the album name, didn’t reach anyone, and wrote down “no answer” in their notes. And so that became the title of the record.
Joe: ELO also had this and many of their subsequent album covers designed by the iconic design firm Hipgnosis. If you don’t recognize the name, you certainly know their work. They created album covers for Pink Floyd, including for The Dark Side of the Moon, Peter Gabriel, Genesis, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath. Spend a minute on the interwebs and look ‘em up.
Toby: Roy Wood left ELO after their first short tour. As many in the press saw him as the primary creator of the band, they predicted ELO would fold without him.
Joe: They would all soon find out just how creative and talented Jeff Lynne is, as he became the songwriter and driving force for all things ELO. In 1973, they released their second album, ELO 2, which featured a cover of Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven that cleverly includes parts of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. It reached #6 in the UK and was the band’s first single to chart in the US. Let’s take a listen.
Play Roll Over
Toby: Their third album, On the Third Day, had a couple of charting singles and one very odd album cover that features a photo by legendary photographer Richard Avedon. It seems like a simple enough cover – a photo of all the band members. Until you realize that they are all showing their belly buttons for some unknown reason.
Joe: Not sure what that’s all about, but I do think that the two singles you mentioned really start to show the genius of Jeff Lynne. First, let’s take a listen to Showdown, which demonstrates his uncanny ability for writing a solid pop hook.
Toby: Now let’s listen to Ma Ma Ma Belle, which is as solid a rocker as any Kiss or AC/DC song.
Play Ma Ma
Joe: Their fourth album, Eldorado, was released in 1974, went Gold, and contains their first top ten US single. Let’s hear the softer side of ELO with Can’t Get It Out of My Head.
Play Can’t Get
Toby: And now we get to what many consider ELO’s breakthrough album, 1975’s Face the Music. It contains our first featured track, Evil Woman, which Jeff Lynne says is the quickest song he ever wrote. They needed a filler track for the album, so he cranked this one out in half an hour. Let’s take another listen.
Play Evil Woman 2
Joe: Sometimes the best ideas are the ones we don’t over think. Evil Woman charted in the top ten in multiple countries, and was also sampled by a duo that I could argue is a direct descendant of ELO, Daft Punk. Let’s hear how they used Evil Woman for their 2001 track Face to Face.
Play Face to Face
Toby: The other hit from Face the Music was the song Strange Magic, and the instrumental opener to the album, Fire on High, was even used as the opening theme for CBS Sports in the mid-70s. Let’s hear that.
Play Fire on High
Joe: Joe Budden sampled Fire on High for his 2007 track 5th Gear. Let’s hear that.
Play Fifth Gear
Toby: ELO’s next album, A New World Record, went platinum in 1976 and contains the hits Livin’ Thing, Telephone Line, and Do Ya. Do Ya was originally a song written by Lynne for The Move, and the band decided to re-record it for the album.
Joe: The band had been playing it live on tour, and a reporter asked the band how they felt about the “original” version by Todd Rundgren, who had been also been performing it in concert with his band, Utopia. That didn’t sit well, so the band decided to put it on record. Let’s take a listen to Do Ya.
Play Do Ya
Toby: While A New World Record went platinum, the band started to set real world records with their next release, the double album Out of the Blue. It contains the hits Turn to Stone, Sweet Talking Woman, and Mr. Blue Sky.
Joe: Sweet Talking Woman is one of my favorite pop choruses. Let’s take a listen.
Play Sweet Talking Woman
Toby: Mr. Blue Sky was sampled by an artist we talked about in a recent episode, Common. Let’s hear how he used it for his 2011 track, Blue Sky.
Play Blue Sky
Joe: Will.I.Am also sampled the song It’s Over for his 2007 song Over. Let’s hear that.
Toby: We mentioned world records… ELO went on tour to support the Out of the Blue release. They dubbed the tour “The Big Night”, and that was not an overstatement. The tour was the highest grossing tour of all time to that point in 1978, and included 62,000 attendees here in our hometown at the old Cleveland Stadium. The band also sold out 8 nights at Wembley Arena, another record.
Joe: ELO would reach the peak of their success in 1979 with the multiplatinum selling album Discovery. This album has a bit of the disco influence that was big at the time, which you can hear on their hit Shine a Little Love.
Play Shine a Little Love
Toby: ELO was enormously successful. 27 Top 40 hits in the UK. Fifteen Top 20 hits in the US. But through all of that, they still managed to set another record: ELO has the most Top 40 hits without ever having a #1.
Joe: ELO eventually disbanded by the mid-80’s, but that didn’t mean Jeff Lynne was taking any time off. He began writing and producing for other artists. And he finally got that #1 hit he was looking for, though perhaps in an unlikely location. We’ll revisit that later, but for now, let’s get into our second featured artist. Can you tell me a little bit more about the Pussycat Dolls?
Joe: Now let’s turn our attention to our 2nd featured artist and song. Toby can you tell us a little about the Pussycat Dolls?
Toby: Absolutely, The Pussycat Dolls is a girl group that was formed back in Los Angeles by choreographer Robin Antin in 1995. Originally the dolls were a burlesque troupe that would sing music standards from the 50’s and 60’s while dressed in lingerie.
Joe: If you think that sounds like a racy act, you are correct, and the perfect place for such an act would have to be the city of sin, Las Vegas. The Dolls established a residency in the Viper room and performed there from 1995-2001.
Toby: Over the years the group became pretty popular and were featured in magazines like Maxim, as well as in a scene in the Move Charlie’s Angel’s: Full Throttle. Their performances on TV specials on MTV and VH1 also worked to increase public interest in the group.
Joe: The Dolls have had several different lineups over the years, including an actress that was made famous for a sitcom that used the following as its theme song:
Play Love and Marriage
Toby: That was Love and Marriage Old Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra. This track was also used as the theme song for the hit sitcom Married, with Children. That’s right, Christina Applegate was one of the original Pussycat Dolls during the 90’s. She wasn’t the only well-known lady to be part of the group. Instead of just listing other members, I want to play a song by each one and see if you can guess.
Joe: Let’s do it!
Toby: Ok - let’s start with this. As a hint, this singer and dancer was married to an NBA star for all of 6 months before getting a divorce.
Joe: Is that Carmen Electra?
Toby: It is sir! Great guess. That was Carmen Electra and her single Werq released in 2014. OK, here’s another. No hint this time, her voice says it all.
Play Your Body
Joe: That’s an easy one. That’s TheRealXtina
Toby: Right again sir. That was Christina Aguilera ‘s single Your Body off of her 2012 album Lotus. Several other known acts like Pink, Gwen Stefani and Britney Spears performed with the Dolls at one time or another. Then someone had the idea of having these ladies take their talents to pop stages instead of Vegas stages.
Joe: That someone was Interscope producer Jimmy Iovine. Robin Antin scrapped all of the ladies in the group and decided to cast different girls moving forward. The final roster considered of Nicole Scherzinger on lead vocals, and backed by Carmit Bachar, Ashley Roberts, Jessica Sutta , Melody Thornton and Kim Wyatt.
Toby: They Dolls got their first chance to be heard by the world at large on the Shall We Dance Soundtrack back in 2004 with a remake of a song named Sway. Sway was made famous by Rat Pack member Dean Martin.
Toby: Now this is definitely one of my favorite songs from yesteryear. I love what the Dolls did with it, but there’s no way we can pass up on an opportunity to hear the King of Cool’s version. Let’s here some Dean Martin.
Play Dean Martin’s Sway
Joe: The Dolls signed a record deal in 2003 and released their debut single Don’tcha in April of 2005. This track was produced by CeeLo Green and proved to be a hit. Let’s take a listen.
Joe: Don’t cha’ reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Dance Club Song Chart. The Pussycat Dolls released their debut album entitled PCD in Sept 2005, which sold 9 million copies worldwide.
Toby: The second single that was released was a song called Stickwitu. It reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 in the UK and New Zealand. Let’s hear that.
Toby: This song brings back a lot of memories. I remember thinking that it was a nice change from the first single and showed a softer side of the group.
Joe: You were not alone my friend. This song was nominated for the Grammy award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with a Vocal. The third single, a track called BEEP, was produced by Will I Am from the Black Eye Peas. The song peaked at #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 and is our second featured track. Let’s take another listen to Beep, and see how they used the strings from Evil Woman.
Play Beep 2
Toby: The 4th single is one of my personal favorites. Let’s take a listen to Buttons.
Toby: This group seemed destined from the beginning for success with all of the well-known producers and a very established image. They went from gracing stages in Vegas to being one of the best-selling girl groups of all time.
Joe: I knew they were popular but I never knew that they were that popular.
Toby: Believe it or not, Pussycat Dolls is the in the Top 5 of best-selling girl groups of all time, and with just two albums. The list goes like this: Spice Girls at # 1. TLC at # 2, Destiny’s Child at # 3, and a Japanese Group called AKB48.
Joe: It looks like that’s not going to change anytime soon. The Dolls released a new single in February of 2020, and it immediately charted in the top ten in multiple countries. Let’s take a listen to React.
Toby: I’m looking forward to hearing more from the Pussycat Dolls in the future, but I want to get back to what you mentioned earlier about Jeff Lynne and his first #1 hit. I think between that and the Pussycat Dolls, we’ve had enough teasing in this episode. Let’s dive into our bonus material and you can give us the scoop.
Joe: Do you remember the movie Xanadu?
Toby: Is that the 1980 flick with Olivia Newton John? Never saw it.
Joe: That’s the one, nobody else saw it either. It was critically panned and was a box office failure, but somehow, the soundtrack was still a huge hit. Jeff Lynne and Olivia Newton John co-wrote the title track, which hit #1 in the UK and #8 in the US. Let’s hear Xanadu.
Toby: Jeff Lynne was also working with many other artists, writing and producing. None other than ex-Beatle George Harrison approached him to co-produce Harrison’s 1987 solo album Cloud Nine. That included a cover of the Rudy Clark song Got My Mind Set on You, which went to #1 and was the last #1 hit for any Beatle. Let’s give it a listen.
Play Got My Mind
Joe: It also marked one of the few occasions where an current inductee into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame — the Beatles were inducted in 1988 — had a #1 song on the charts. Pretty cool stuff.
Toby: Harrison was also responsible for putting together a little supergroup that included Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, and Boby Dylan. As you might imagine, these guys made some hits, including a song called End of the Line. Let’s hear that.
Play End of the Line
Joe: When Tom Petty wanted to make a solo record without his band, the Heartbreakers, he tapped Jeff Lynne to co-write and produce the album. The result, Full Moon Fever, became one of Petty’s biggest selling albums and features the hits I Won’t Back Down, Running Down a Dream, and this one:
Play Free Fallin
Toby: Apparently Paul McCartney liked the work that Lynne had done with George Harrison, because he got Lynne to produce his 1997 album Flaming Pie. You can hear some of that ELO influence on songs like Young Boy. Let’s take a listen.
Play Young Boy
Joe: Well Tob, we are no longer young boys, and I think that’s all the time we have. Can you tell the listeners all that we covered?
Toby: Our first featured track was Evil Woman by the Electric Light Orchestra, and our second featured track was Beep by the Pussycat Dolls. Our bonus material covered some of the successful songs Jeff Lynne has been a part of as a writer and producer.
Joe: And what do we have lined up for our next episode?
Toby: We are probably wanna to be starting something. Like lawsuits. Or Dancing. I’m not sure.
Joe: Whatever happens, please don’t stop the music. Until then, thanks for listening, and we’ll catch you next time for Riffs on Riffs.