David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 363: Electric Light Orchestra (Mr. Blue Sky)

June 26, 2024

As I wind this series down, I reserve one last spot for my ultimate guilty pleasure, "Mr. Blue Sky." I always knew it would come near the end, sort of like the great cut, stuck on Side 6 of a triple album, a late surprise. I was convinced it would resonate because I wouldn't be alone in making that admission. Countless summations and reviews of "Mr. Blue Sky" have focused on how this relatively minor hit for ELO (#35), a kind-of popular, but not particularly hip, band existing during the upheavals of punk, disco, new wave, and hip hop, somehow emerged from the proverbial clouds to being almost everyone's "feel good" song.

Many of us may have heard that there was a Dutch neuroscientist who actually came up with a formula that calculated "Mr. Blue Sky" as the happiest song, beating out Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" and The Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" for that top spot. Back in 2021, when I first penciled "Mr. Blue Sky" and ELO for this late entry in the series, this research was easily found. Such scientific research should be preserved for all time, but come May and June 2024 I cannot find the specific research. The scientist, Jacob Jolij, appears to have a website, albeit incomplete; the site, after a picture of some cosmic universe (maybe he and Francis Dunnery talk), has basically the message "Work In Progress! Deze website is work in progress. Binnenkort meer!" (I really wish I was joking with the "Deze website.") In the "Contact" link, we get "I receive a lot of email about my books. Therefore it may take awhile before you receive an answer" (or at least this is what my Dutch to English translator tells me).

I can't believe this guy isn't trying to milk the fame of creating a formula. I am having to rely on a May 2020 MediaWorks: Magic post to provide the formula: Rating = 60 + (0.00165 * BPM – 120)^2 + (4.376 * Major) + 0.78 * nChords – (Major * nChords).1 I'm tempted to call in my math friends (I have more than the average person might guess given my literature background), but this doesn't seem like enough. No one is going to feel that happy with all of those numbers plugged in perfectly if the lyrics are depressing. We know pop music can brilliantly couch sadness in major chords and a high number of beats per minutes, but eventually the lyrics have to count.

After all, is "Mr. Blue Sky" even close to as catchy and feel-good if the lyrics are "Mr. Grey Sky?" "Mr. Grey Sky, please tell us why, you have to cover us every day, every day. Hey there, Mr. Grey, we're so pissed to be under you, look around, see what you do, everybody growls at you." The MediaWorks: Magic post suggests that Dr. Jolij "determined that the best feel-good songs focused on positive themes and lyrics or were nonsensical in nature".2 I'm not seeing it being accounted for here. MediaWorks: Magic links supposedly to the original research (with us getting the dreaded "error 404" message) and to a talk by Jolij about his research (an even more dramatic "404" message, this time from Jolij's website).

While anything I write through this series can often seem like mockery, in this case, I am seriously disappointed that this research is still not more readily available. Important arguments about "happiest song ever" need to be addressed (for the record, I am very happy to see that according to the list on MediaWorks: Magic, "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" is waaaaay down the list). Knowing nothing about Dr. Jolij, I believe him to be a respected cognitive neuroscientist. If the significant advancement he makes to the world can be this transient, what the hell will that mean for some hack writer who has spent 3+years putting together 365 blogs about 365 artists and performers? Did Dr. Jolij not pay his $40 monthly fee to WordPress (we share the same website provider) and now all of his content is offline? Guess I better get in there and update my credit card information.

Are our lives (and our professional contributions) so fleeting that they can disappear as quickly as the blue sky as a bank of clouds come in? Even ELO's Jeff Lynne has always admitted that "Mr. Blue Sky" came (god, I hate to say this) "out of the blue." As I get to the end of this series, and now end in my retirement years, is everything we do so fragile, so inconsequential, so ethereal?

All my philosophical pish-posh here, though, is avoiding the initial question. Something more than a formula had to occur for ELO, Jeff Lynne, and "Mr. Blue Sky" to be elevated in coolness. Maybe it was Lynne's hanging around George Harrison and then getting in with Harrison, Dylan, Orbison and Petty to form The Traveling Wilburys. His expertise as a music producer can't be understated. Hell, "Handle With Care" and "End Of The Line" could be among some of the happiest of tunes (someone plug the numbers into Jolij's formula). Let's fact it, I loooove Bob Dylan, but to get him to be on one of the happiest songs of all time, well that requires some strange magic.

1 "Electric Light Orchestra declared to have 'the happiest song in the world'." MediaWorks: Magic May 26, 2020. https://www.magic.co.nz/home/music/2020/05/electric-light-orchestra-declared-to-have-the-happiest-song-in-the-world.html. Retrieved May 27, 2024.

2 Ibid.

A P.S. As with many of these blogs this one was first drafted several weeks ago. Since that time, as I have waited for it to come up in the queue, my FB feed has shown me a post (long since lost) highlighting Dr. Jolij's research in proving that Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" is proven as the happiest song. This dude's list didn't even show our friend "Mr. Blue Sky." I have to suspect it was an AI-generated post created just for me. I don't even want to quibble between Queen and ELO in this scenario; I just want research to mean something. I know, what a silly concept in a post-truth society.

Electric Light Orchestra. "Mr. Blue Sky." Out Of The Blue. CBS, 1977. Link here.

Day 362: The Moody Blues "Nights In White Satin"

Day 364: Rubber Rodeo "Before I Go Away"

See complete list here.