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Music

The debate behind a misheard Electric Light Orchestra lyric

@TylerGolsen

Jeff Lynne wasn’t exactly one for obtuse, impenetrable songwriting. Although artfully presented and wonderfully poetic, songs like ‘Telephone Line’, ‘Can’t Get It Out of My Head’, and ‘Mr. Blue Sky’ were about as cosmic as Lynne got, and he wasn’t above a good old fashioned sex romp like ‘Do Ya’ or ‘Sweet Talkin’ Woman’. But one mystery has persisted throughout the career of the Electric Light Orchestra: what the hell is Lynne saying in ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’?

It’s a question that has baffled fans ever since the song was first released as a single in the summer of 1979. In the climactic chorus section of the track, Lynne and an army of his overdubbed backing vocals call out “Don’t bring me down”, followed by a strange quasi-foreign sounding phrase. 

To more than a few listeners, this sounded like the name Bruce. Who was this mysterious “Bruce” that Lynne was referring to? It turned out that Lynne wasn’t actually referring to anybody and wasn’t even saying the name Bruce – he had instead made up a new word, “Groose”, as a placeholder lyric while recording the track.

“When I was singing it, there was a gap in the vocals, so I just shouted out ‘groose,'” Jeff Lynne told Rolling Stone in 2016. “It was a word that came to my head.” Lynne originally intended to replace the nonsense word, but when nothing else came up, he elected to simply keep the song the way it way. It was an engineer who convinced Lynne to keep the strange made-up word.

“The engineer [Reinhold Mack] was German and he said, ‘How did you know that word?'” Lynne said during his appearance on VH1’s Storytellers. “And I said: ‘What word?’ And he said, ‘Gruss. It means “greetings” in German.’ I said, ‘That’s good. I’ll leave it in.'”

However, Mack remembers it differently. “As there was a plan for ELO to start a concert tour in Australia, the song was originally titled ‘Don’t Bring Me Down, Bruce,’” Mack told Sound on Sound in 2013. “This was meant to be a joke, referring to how many Australian guys are called Bruce.” 

“We couldn’t leave it like that, so eventually we replaced it with ‘gruss,’ based on the Bavarian greeting Grüß Gott — ‘greet God.’ Gruss, not Bruce, is what you hear in the song immediately following the title line. A bit like Freddie Mercury joking around at the end of Queen‘s ‘One Vision,’ singing ‘fried chicken. It was pretty much done in a day. That’s because it’s a very simple, straightforward track — especially compared to the complexity that Jeff usually went for, and clearly people liked it.”

Evidently, the lack of lyrical understanding didn’t hurt the song’s commercial prospects. Quite the opposite: ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ wound up being the band’s only top five hit in America, peaking at number four in late 1979. This was during the height of disco and dance music’s popularity in the US, and the four-on-the-floor chug of ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ fit right in with the current slate of pop music at the time.