Telephone Line (song)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Telephone Line"
Single by Electric Light Orchestra
from the album A New World Record
ReleasedMay 1977
Recorded1976 at Musicland Studios, Munich
Length4:39 (Album/UK single version)
3:56 (US single edit)
LabelJet (UK)
United Artists (US)
Songwriter(s)Jeff Lynne
Producer(s)Jeff Lynne
Electric Light Orchestra singles chronology
"Do Ya"
"Telephone Line"
"Turn to Stone"
A New World Record track listing
9 tracks
Side one
  1. "Tightrope"
  2. "Telephone Line"
  3. "Rockaria!"
  4. "Mission (A World Record)"
Side two
  1. "So Fine"
  2. "Livin' Thing"
  3. "Above the Clouds"
  4. "Do Ya"
  5. "Shangri-La"

"Telephone Line" is a song by English rock band Electric Light Orchestra (ELO).[3] It was released in May 1977 through Jet Records and United Artists Records as part of the album A New World Record. It was very successful, reaching the Top 10 in Australia, US, and UK, and number 1 in Canada. The song appears in the 1995 Adam Sandler film Billy Madison.


The ballad[4] is track two on their 1976 album, A New World Record, and was the final single to be released from the album until September 2006, when "Surrender" was released from the expanded reissue of the album. It became their biggest single success in the US and was their first UK gold award for a single.

The lyrics are about a man listening to the ringing on his telephone waiting and hoping for a girl to answer his call and imagining what he'd say if she answers.[5]

With ELO's continuing success in America it seemed obvious to frontman Jeff Lynne to use an American ring tone during the song.[6] Lynne explained:

To get the sound on the beginning, you know, the American telephone sound, we phoned from England to America to a number that we know nobody would be at, to just listen to it for a while. On the Moog, we recreated the sound exactly by tuning the oscillators to the same notes as the ringing of the phone.

The song charted in the Top Ten in both the UK and the US, peaking at number 8 in the UK[7] and number 7 in the US.[8] The tune was on the Hot 100 for 23 weeks, nearly a full month longer on that chart than any other ELO tune. Billboard ranked it as the No. 15 song of 1977. In 1977, the song reached number 1 in New Zealand and Canada. "Telephone Line" and Meri Wilson's "Telephone Man" were back-to-back on Hot 100's top 40 for two non-consecutive weeks in the summer of 1977.[9]

As was the norm, many ELO singles were issued in different colours, but the US version of this single was the only green single ELO issued. The US single also was shortened to 3:56 with an early fade. It became the band's first single to achieve Gold sales figures.

Critical reception[edit]

AllMusic's Donald Guarisco said the song's lyrics "use the scenario of a lovelorn narrator trying to talk a telephone operator into connecting him with a lover who won't answer her phone, a scenario that has been used in songs as diverse as "Memphis, Tennessee" and "Operator"," adding that the song "could have easily become an over-the-top exercise in camp but is saved by a gorgeous melody that contrasts verses full of yearning highs and aching lows with a descending-note chorus that clinches the song's heartbroken feel." He concluded that the arrangement transformed "Telephone Line" into a "miniature symphony".[10]

AllMusic's Bruce Eder said that "Telephone Line" "might be the best Lennon–McCartney collaboration that never was, lyrical and soaring in a way that manages to echo elements of Revolver and the Beatles without ever mimicking them."[11] Stereogum contributor Ryan Reed rated it as ELO's best song, calling it "a high watermark for harmony, humor, arrangement, production, engineering, and emotion."[5] Ultimate Classic Rock critic Michael Gallucci rated it ELO's 4th best song, calling it a "futuristic-sounding song with a classic melody."[12] Classic Rock History critic Brian Kachejian rated it as ELO's 3rd best song, calling "perfect pop music surrounded by incredible production and originality that had made Jeff Lynne one of rock and roll’s greatest treasures."[13] Kachejian also said that the song seems to encompass every genre of music "from doo-wop to pop to progressive."[13]

Billboard felt that production elements such as the telephone sound effects and "doo-wah chorus" gave the song a "50s feel" and credited the orchestration for the song's success.[14] Cash Box said that "Jeff Lynne's voice verges on the choking sob, and the unearthy strings and "doobie-doo-wa's" should clinch top 40 ears."[15] Record World called it a "rock ballad of lost love" that is an example of "ELO's ability to take familiar rock 'n' roll structures and transform them into space epics."[16]

Covers and other uses[edit]

"Telephone Line" is the theme song of the 1977 film Joyride starring Desi Arnaz, Jr., Robert Carradine, Melanie Griffith, and Anne Lockhart, directed by Joseph Ruben.[citation needed]



Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[30] Gold 75,000^
United States (RIAA)[31] Platinum 1,000,000

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Jeff Lynne versions[edit]

Jeff Lynne re-recorded the song in his own home studio. It was released in a compilation album with other re-recorded ELO songs, under the ELO name.[32]

In 2012, as part of the concert from his home studio, Live From Bungalow Palace, Lynne performed an acoustic version of the song with longtime ELO pianist Richard Tandy.[33]


  1. ^ Breithaupt, Don; Breithaupt, Jeff (2000), Night Moves: Pop Music in the Late '70s, St. Martin's Press, p. 67, ISBN 978-0-312-19821-3
  2. ^ "A New World Record". 1 October 1976.
  3. ^ Dave Thompson 1000 Songs That Rock Your World: From Rock Classics to One-Hit Wonders 2011- Page 212 "Telephone Line BY THE ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA Having already serenaded us with the tones of “Ma Ma Belle,” E.L.O. followed up with a reminder of just how lonely the sound of an unanswered telephone could be."
  4. ^ "5 Reasons Electric Light Orchestra Should Be in the Hall of Fame". Ultimate Classic Rock. 10 November 2016.
  5. ^ a b Reed, Ryan (7 January 2016). "The 10 Best ELO Songs". Stereogum. Retrieved 3 May 2023.
  6. ^ A New World Record, Electric Light Orchestra, 1976 & 2006. CD liner notes.
  7. ^ a b "Electric Light Orchestra". Retrieved 5 March 2013.
  8. ^ a b "Electric Light Orchestra - Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 5 March 2013.
  9. ^ Joel Whitburn (1990). The Billboard Hot 100 Charts: The Seventies (23 July 1977 and 13 August 1977). Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research, Inc. ISBN 0-89820-076-8.
  10. ^ A. Guarisco, Donald. "Telephone Line - Electric Light Orchestra | Song Info". AllMusic. Retrieved 26 January 2020.
  11. ^ Eder, Bruce. "A New World Record - Electric Light Orchestra | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 26 January 2020.
  12. ^ Gallucci, Michael (30 December 2014). "Top 10 Electric Light Orchestra Songs". Ultimate Classic Rock. Retrieved 4 June 2022.
  13. ^ a b Kachejian, Brian (26 September 2022). "Top 10 Electric Light Orchestra Songs". Classic Rock History. Retrieved 30 April 2023.
  14. ^ "Top Single Picks" (PDF). Billboard. 11 June 1977. p. 92. Retrieved 12 July 2020.
  15. ^ "CashBox Singles Reviews" (PDF). Cash Box. 4 June 1977. p. 22. Retrieved 26 December 2021.
  16. ^ "Hits of the Week" (PDF). Record World. 11 June 1977. p. 1. Retrieved 16 February 2023.
  17. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. St Ives, NSW: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  18. ^ "RPM Top 100 Singles - October 1, 1977" (PDF).
  19. ^ " - Electric Light Orchestra". Archived from the original on 12 September 2014. Retrieved 22 April 2013.
  20. ^ " – Electric Light Orchestra – Telephone Line". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved 31 August 2020.
  21. ^ "Top 100 1977-09-24". Cashbox Magazine. Retrieved 25 May 2015.
  22. ^ Hawtin, Steve. "Song artist 171 - Electric Light Orchestra". Retrieved 2 May 2013.
  23. ^ "ELO". Retrieved 13 October 2016.
  24. ^ "Charts". Retrieved 13 October 2016.
  25. ^ "Kent Music Report No 183 – 26 December 1977 > National Top 100 Singles for 1977". Kent Music Report. Retrieved 8 January 2022 – via
  26. ^ "RPM Top 200 Singles of '77 - December 31, 1977" (PDF).
  27. ^ "Top Selling Singles of 1977 | The Official New Zealand Music Chart". 31 December 1977. Retrieved 13 October 2016.
  28. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1977/Top 100 Songs of 1977". Retrieved 13 October 2016.
  29. ^ "Top 100 Year End Charts: 1977". Cashbox Magazine. Retrieved 2015-07-16.
  30. ^ "Canadian single certifications – Electric Light Orchestra – Telephone Line". Music Canada. Retrieved 4 August 2023.
  31. ^ "American single certifications – Electric Light Orchestra – Telephone Line". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved 28 April 2021.
  32. ^ "Releases : elo - Mr. Blue Sky - The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra". 5 October 2012. Retrieved 28 February 2013.
  33. ^ Telephone Line - Jeff Lynne (Acoustic), archived from the original on 19 December 2021, retrieved 14 October 2021

External links[edit]