The Move – “California Man” (1972)

“Not too bad at all!”

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A quick one while I’m away… The Move were primarily a singles band—apart from Looking On (1970) their LPs can be a wee bit spotty—and this was their last original 45. Jeff Lynne had joined for the aforementioned penultimate album, with the idea that he and Roy Wood would co-lead The Move and the newly founded Electric Light Orchestra concurrently. Wood left after ELO’s debut and Lynne became a megastar. Though their output could be uneven, I vastly prefer The Move to anything else either of them did. And though it’s rare that I keep multiple copies of a particular record, I’ve got two of this 45 (England and Germany—wotta nerd) so I’m gonna play it twice.

Though I ought to know a thing or two about being a California man by now, what is imagined by these Birmingham blokes matches little of my experience (“dance right on ’til the floors are breaking”) but the posture is so convincing they make me feel like I’m doing it wrong. Both Wood and Lynne would take their fetishism for 50s rock and roll to absurd lengths—with Wizzard and “Roll Over Beethoven” respectively (Lynne still tries to bring the house down with the Chuck Berry standard, though I’m sure everyone in the crowd would prefer an ELO original)—but with these honkin’ saxes and boogie woogie piano roughly played, I’ll happily take the side trip to this era that inspired them.

“Do Ya” has a couple chords, cowbell and catchy chorus. It was too good to be suppressed as a B-side, so Harvest released it as a single of its own after ELO started to break in a big way a couple years later (backed with another Move song by Lynne) and Lynne himself would transform it into a top 40 hit for ELO in 1976, adding the expected symphonic polish without really improving it much. Lynne’s delivery is a bit tougher on this version, apart from the lovely bridge section, and for some reason Wood shouts “Look out baby there’s a plane a-comin’!”on the fade out. Lynne has probably never realized how much the oddball impulses of his good mate would be missed, and when Wood went all Wizzo they would go unchecked.

“Ella James” is—no exaggeration—one of the very greatest rock songs in my book. I’m not the strutting type, but the solid groove and driving bass makes me want to try like a California man should. Wood sings about a working man chasing a woman out of his class, which is about as aspirational as rock should get. Lynne gets a very brief but tasty guitar solo, followed by Wood playing a weird medieval wind instrument called a crumhorn—miraculously without undermining the badass attitude. It ends with pretty chiming guitars and some tasteful pounding of the toms, and I just want to play it again. Here’s to the 3-song 7″—in this case showcasing all the band could do just before they called it quits.

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