Livin' Thing

Album: A New World Record (1976)
Charted: 4 13
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  • Lyrics
  • There has been lots of speculation as to what this song is about, with a popular rumor being that it is an anti-abortion statement. Frontman Jeff Lynne has said it was simply about the loss of love. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Mike - Santa Barbara, CA
  • The song features uncredited vocals by Patti Quatro (sister of Suzi Quatro), Brie Brandt, and Addie Lee, who were all one time members of the female rock group Fanny. According to Suzi Quatro's autobiography the trio sang the "higher and higher" parts.
  • "Livin' Thing" returned to a Billboard chart for the first time in 40 years in 2017 as a result of its featuring in Volkswagen's "The New King" commercial. Fueled by its appearance in the ad, the tune entered the Rock Digital Songs Sales chart.
  • The Beautiful South covered the song for their 2004 covers album Golddiggas, Headnodders and Pholk Songs. Released as a single, their version reached #24 on the UK charts.
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Comments: 28

  • George Mcmahon from New Smyrna Beach, Fl UsaI bought this album when it was first released. I was a teenager and always, until today, thought it was a surfing song. Waves last but mere seconds, “it’s a living thing, what a terrible thing to lose” that’s a wave! The entire song, or so I thought, was about getting that awesome wave but it only lasts seconds. “What a terrible thing to lose”. To a surfer it’s an amazing ride but never lasts as long as you’d like,, it’s obvious right?! Now I read these comments and OMG it’s about suicide.... crap! My translation was as a teenaged kid and I don’t care what you all say, I’m sticking to my surfing interpretation! This song always brought me such great joy thinking about dropping into that perfect wave. Now....... not so much...
  • Anthony from New York, NyNever spent more than a few seconds wondering what this song was about. Seems quite clear it’s about suicide, c”mon as they say “It’s as clear as the nose on your face”

    Just listen to the lyrics of the song, I mean it practically spells it out for ya, why would anyone wonder?

    Let us examine: “It's a livin' thing, It's a terrible thing to lose. It's a given thing, what a terrible thing to lose” It’s talking about life obviously which is precious & never worth throwing away.

    “I’m taking a dive – don’t you do it, don’t you do it!” Taking a “dive” is his way of saying he’s going to kill himself, & the chorus is saying “Don’t you do it, don’t you do it!”

    “Making believe this is what you conceived from your worst day. Moving in line then you look back in time to the first day” Saying basically is “Hey I know you believe you don’t see a way out, Things are bad, etc., But just look back to your first day, go back to the beginning, start anew”


    “Taking a dive because you can’t halt the slide floating downstream. So let her go, don’t start spoiling the show, it’s a bad dream”

    Meaning we all can’t pick & choose or stop the bad things in life from happening. The guy is in a bad way, he can’t stop his world from crumbling it seems, he can’t halt the “slide” (having no power to stop from going bad to worse).

    So he’s saying “Listen just because you can’t stop these things from happening, it’s just a normal part of life. Yes things will go south on all of us sooner or later. So “Don’t be quitter” Don’t start “spoiling the show” (killing yourself) Since it mentions a “her” it may have something to do with a woman & a bad or hopeless romance or love affair that ended badly. “So let her go” which is self-explanatory.

    Let’s go back to the first verse of the song which could have just as easily fit as the last.

    “Sailing away on the crest of a wave it’s like magic. Rollin’ & riding & slipping & sliding, it’s magic”

    Which I believe is referring to what life actually is, a huge wave the we ride to the end. In addition “Rolling & riding, slipping & sliding, it’s magic” Talking about both the good AND bad things of life which I n his view are both equally considered magic. Life which is magic contains both & you can’t forsake the one for the other. Whether you’re “rolling” along (doing fine) or “slipping & sliding” (the many times you stumble or fall) it’s worth it all. Like Bowie wrote in “Starman” “He told us not to blow it because he knows it’s all worthwhile” We may not think so but it is.

    This is what I believe, I understand it’s only one of many possible interpretations but like I said it seems rather obvious to me what the song is about just by listening to the song. But I understand where some of you may disagree.
  • Anthony from New York, NyNever spent more than a few seconds wondering what this song was about. Seems quite clear it’s about suicide, c”mon as they say “It’s as clear as the nose on your face”

    Just listen to the lyrics of the song, I mean it practically spells it out for ya, why would anyone wonder?

    Let us examine: “It's a livin' thing, It's a terrible thing to lose. It's a given thing, what a terrible thing to lose” It’s talking about life obviously which is precious & never worth throwing away.

    “I’m taking a dive – don’t you do it, don’t you do it!” Taking a “dive” is his way of saying he’s going to kill himself, & the chorus is saying “Don’t you do it, don’t you do it!”

    “Making believe this is what you conceived from your worst day. Moving in line then you look back in time to the first day” Saying basically is “Hey I know you believe you don’t see a way out, Things are bad, etc., But just look back to your first day, go back to the beginning, start anew”


    “Taking a dive because you can’t halt the slide floating downstream. So let her go, don’t start spoiling the show, it’s a bad dream”

    Meaning we all can’t pick & choose or stop the bad things in life from happening. The guy is in a bad way, he can’t stop his world from crumbling it seems, he can’t halt the “slide” (having no power to stop from going bad to worse).

    So he’s saying “Listen just because you can’t stop these things from happening, it’s just a normal part of life. Yes things will go south on all of us sooner or later. So “Don’t be quitter” Don’t start “spoiling the show” (killing yourself) Since it mentions a “her” it may have something to do with a woman & a bad or hopeless romance or love affair that ended badly. “So let her go” which is self-explanatory.

    This is what I believe, I understand it’s only one of many possible interpretations but like I said it seems rather obvious to me what the song is about just by listening to the song. But I understand where some of you may disagree.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn February 18, 1977, the Electric Light Orchestra were guest hosts on the NBC-TV late-night musical variety program, 'The Midnight Special'...
    At the time they had two records on Billboard's Top 100 chart, "Livin' Thing" was at #53 and "Do Ya" was at #57...
    "Livin' Thing" had peaked at #13 {for 2 weeks} on January 2nd, 1977 and it spent eighteen weeks on the chart, while "Do Ya" would reached #24 {for 1 week} on April 27th, 1977 and it stayed on the chart for twelve weeks...
    Between 1973 and 1986 the Birmingham, England group had twenty-six records on the Top 100 chart, seven made the Top 10 with their highest charting record being "Don't Bring Me Down", it peaked at #4 {for 2 weeks} on September 2nd, 1979...
    One of their twenty-six charted records on the Top 100 was a duet, it was with Olivia Newton-John, "Xanadu", it peaked at #8 in 1980...
    And from the 'For What It's Worth' department, in 1979 there were two "Don't Bring Me" records on the Top 100, ELO's "Don't Bring Me Down" and Barbra Streisand & Neil Diamond's "You Don't Bring Me Flowers Anymore".
  • Dave from NiagaraI think this song is about a boxer who is considering, and eventually takes, a dive. If you listen to it in this manner the whole thing makes sense. It's a living thing means its having to do with making a living - as in they're taking cash to take a dive, in exchange for losing, which is a terrible thing.
  • William from Lubbock, TxI was a very young high school principal when this song was popular. Hadn't heard it for a long time, and when it started playing as some bumper music on a talk show, I almost wept thinking about the good times in that school. I'm certain I was pretty stressed as the headmaster, but I do remember the seeming innocence of those wonderful teenagers, who are very probably grandparents now!
  • Peaky Waldon from UkIf you love this song please know that Jeff Lynne is a Birmingham City (the Blues) 'Association Football' supporter. Birmingham UK.

    This song sums up 'the Blues' 35 years into the future (2011) when we won the league cup against all the odds and were then relegated three months later.

    We'd also had some terrible acts of spineless bombings by the Irish Republican Army that killed 21 innocents (injured 182) in the city two years before (1974).

    Jeff Lynnes ELO were an amazing band, concept and way way ahead of their time musically. This song is heart wrenching and open to all our interpretations.

    Sleep tight US - inventors of the internet and saviours of our asses through two world wars. It's a living thing (-:
  • Lance from Baltimore, MdIn a recent interview Jeff Lynne says the song is about the effects of food poisoning he received on holiday in Spain...now go listen to it again...
  • Jasen from Auckland, New ZealandA lot of people like myself when we first heard this song back in the '70s for the first time, noticed there was something weird about the song - haunting you could say.
    It didn't hit me till years later when I listened to it as a adult that this was a message. You see, I had an abortion in my young years with my girlfriend, and when I heard that song again years later I knew the message was to me. That's why it struck me as a child. Then you know what happens when I finally get blessed with a beautiful baby girl? She is taken away from me at 3 months old after major heart op. It's not till you live with the guilt of this action then pay the price that you know this song was telling you something. I wish it was more clear as a child.
  • Chris from Redding, CaIt's a living thing is one of the tenants of the religious experience. As the great Joseph Campbell once said " I think everyone is searching for the experience of being alive, truely alive!" and losing that thrilling feeling of being alive is a terrible thing to lose but it happenes in time. A spiritual being rolling out of his own center. The time leading up to a religious experience is a dive only to rise up fact that you are alive. Good artists have written songs connotitive of the religious experience and this is one of them. The Doors "break on through to the other side" is another, as well as, the Beatles " I am he as you are me and we are all together." Reference to being enlightened is what it is all about, about being alive for the very first time!. Memories of the time in my life that you really can't share but wish everyone could experience. So cool. Jimi Hendrix once said "Are you experienced?"
  • Brian from La Mesa, CaI was prepared to answer the speculation by earlier posts with my own interpretation, but mine is exactly what Steve in Torrance wrote. I echo what he said. From the beginning (high school, 1976), I thought that "livin' thing" was an abstract idea (such as a relationship) that "has life". Listening further to the rest of the lyrics just confirmed it.
  • Stephen from Melbourne, AustraliaWhat is he saying during those weird echoing shouts between the first verse and at the end of the last one?
  • Steve from Torrance, CaIs this song REALLY that difficult to understand? It's about nothing more or less than a romance that dies. The first verse ("Sailin' away...) is the initial excitement and euphoria of infatuation. The second verse ("Making believe...) is when someone realizes that all is not as it should be and they start looking back to better days. The third verse ("Takin' a dive...) is when the situation deteriorates so badly that the participants finally just give up and move on. The choruses compare the relationship to an actual living entity, and lament on how terrible it is when it dies. If one looks at Jeff Lynne's complete body of work, the subject of "love gone wrong" comes up quite often. I realize this isn't as exciting as looking for hidden meanings and secret messages, or decoding cryptic lyrics, but I'm afraid that's all there is in this song (a great one, I might add, especially the orchestral arrangement and layered acoustic guitars).
  • Bill from Lodi, CaI've always heard and believed "Livin' Thing" was about a girl losing her virginity. Doesn't that make the most sense?
  • Bratt Pid from Algiers, AlgeriaThis is clearly ecological matter as the living thing is the animals and the plants that we're destroying by pollution ,it has nothing to do with sex or abortion otherwise it would be a dumb way to sing about these matters !(the music ,atmosphere don't play with such matters !)
  • Melissa from Windsor, CanadaEven though this song could be "anti-abortion" it would make more sense that it would be about a miscarriage, as the chorus says, "it's a terrible thing to LOSE." It's occurred to me that you could interpret this song as being about sex. The "living thing" could be an erection, and that can be terrible to lose during sex. I also read on Urban Dictionary.com that "floating" can mean something sexual as well. I also just found out that "taking a dive" is a slang term used to mean "performing oral sex on females." This song also sounds like it's about a drug or being intoxicated. The "terrible thing to lose" would be the high feeling, "taking a dive" would be trying the substance, and "floating downstream" could be the drug wearing off. The "bad dream" could mean a bad trip, and this could explain the background lyrics "don't you do it" which could be a warning or a question. I don't know what I think the song is really about, but I like speculating, and that's what's great about the lyrics to this one ... it can mean so many things.
  • Howard from Wakefield, United KingdomI remember this song from my childhood. In 1976 I had just started high school when I heard it for the first time. Very haunting & chilling in parts; I can't explain why though!
  • Mike from Santa Barbara, CaIt was something I heard shortly after graduating high school. And I've others make that claim. However, Jeff Lynne (ELO's front man) says that's not the case, and if anyone would know, he would.
  • Mark from Los Angeles, CaTo Brian from Medway: you got the lyrics wrong. It's "Taking a dive 'cause you can't halt the slide."
  • Mark from Los Angeles, CaTo Mike from Santa Barbara, I'm a hugh ELO fan and I never heard that this song was an -abortion statement, where do you get that?
  • anthony from North Cape May, NjThere are many things you could state this song about. Anti-abortion works, but love also works! :) ..

    Elo has a lot of great songs that are not listed by song facts, such as strange magic and sweet talkin' woman
  • Edward from Miami Beach, FlI heard this song was about surfing.
  • Edgar from Long Beach, CaI always thought this song had to do with Christmas. Still a good song :)
  • Tony from Chicago, IlThis is my favorite ELO song!!!!! I love the lyrics and the melody and the vocals! The songwriting here is genius!!
  • Brian from Medway, Oh" Takin' a dive, haltin' the slide" is a great line, and I don't even know why!
  • Jennifer from Los Angeles, CaI was a kid when this song was popular.
    The weird echoing shout at the end of the chorus actually scared me.
  • Chris from Chicago, IlI love the song!
  • Nelson from MelbourneBrilliant track!
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