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Electric Light Orchestra 

+ {Electric Light Orchestra Part Two} + {The Orchestra} + {Jeff Lynne’s ELO}

ELO were a pivotal branch between the outmoded psychedelic scene and the emerging symphonic-infused prog-rock scene at the turn of the 70s. A creative BEATLES-influenced pomp-rock outfit, who relied heavily on string-laden themes and a romanticised lyrical future, singer-songwriting Jeff Lynne was left holding the baby, when his former MOVE cohort, Roy Wood, bailed out after only one album. Hit after hit ensued, while kaleidoscopic-pop albums (including 1977’s chart-topping double-set, “Out Of The Blue”) propelled the ensemble into arena-rock superstars.
Formed in Birmingham, England, multi-instrumentalist/singer Roy Wood of The MOVE and two recent additions to the combo, close friends Jeff Lynne (vocals, guitar, etc.) and Bev Bevan (drums), experimented with post-“Sgt. Peppers”-type sounds; The MOVE, meanwhile, had duly drifting into cabaret circuit decline.
Gathering in an array of outlandish but highly talented musicians (namely French horn player Bill Hunt and violinist Steve Woolam), the two outfits co-existed at this period; the eponymous THE ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA (1971) {*8} debut (re-titled in the States as NO ANSWER), surpassed even the trio’s wider expectations. Surely contenders for singles at the time, `Look At Me Now’, `Mr. Radio’ and the creepy `Queen Of The Hours’, were hauntingly brill, while the other bleak and retro-gothic tracks (`Manhattan Rumble (49th Street Massacre)’ for one) diverted the listener into a Baroque’n’roll landscape. Much lauded by the critics, the record didn’t hit the UK Top 40 until the single, `10538 Overture’, cracked the Top 10 in August 1972. By this time, Woolam had made way for ELO’s extended family of sorts in Wilf Gibson (violin), Richard Tandy (bass), Hugh McDowell and Andy Craig (cellos).
Pity then that the squabbles between Jeff and the solo-bound ROY WOOD led to the sudden departure of the latter, who was at this stage contemplating folding The MOVE; in the summer of ‘72 he would lead out flashy, revivalist glam-rockers, WIZZARD, taking with him Hunt and McDowell.
Lynne was now left holding the proverbial baby, and with further line-up enhancement from cellist Colin Walker (who replaced Craig) and bassist Michael de Albuquerque, ELO Mk.II delivered their classical-ized re-vamp of CHUCK BERRY’s `Roll Over Beethoven’, into the Top 10. The accompanying ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA II (1973) {*5} was something of a let-down, featuring as it did, five lengthy prog-friendly suites, including an extended version of the aforementioned single and the delicate, `Momma’. ELO enjoyed further major chart successes with the infectious `Showdown’ and `Ma-Ma-Ma Belle’ singles. The tracks’ more pop-friendly, anthemic approach indicated the direction Lynne would steer the band (now with violinist Mik Kaminski) over the coming decade. Both ON THE THIRD DAY (1973) {*7} – featuring the aforementioned 45s plus a take of Grieg’s `In The Hall Of The Mountain King’ – and ELDORADO – A SYMPHONY BY THE… (1974) {*7} saw him hone his songwriting skills, something which paid off when `Can’t Get It Out Of My Head’ became a surprise US Top 10 hit, boosting Stateside sales of the latter album and taking it into the American Top 20. Arriving on the back of a US-only live-in-concert set, THE NIGHT THE LIGHTS WENT ON (IN LONG BEACH) (1974) {*6} – showcasing versions of The BEATLES’ `Day Tripper’, Rouse’s `Orange Blossom Special’ and JERRY LEE LEWIS’ `Great Balls Of Fire’ – concept set “Eldorado” was a romanticised affair embodying the spirit of “The Wizard Of Oz’, Somerset Maugham’s “The Razor’s Edge” and James Hilton’s `Lost Horizon”. Closer in musical lineage and kinship to “Sgt. Pepper”; `Boy Blue’, `Laredo Tornado’ and the title track were the set’s choice cuts.
1975’s FACE THE MUSIC {*8} established the band as a major concert attraction across the Atlantic, where they spent much of their time touring. Though that album’s `Evil Woman’ had cracked the UK Top 10 (the classy US smash, `Strange Magic’, managing only to peak at No.38), British audiences were preferring to buy the likes of 10CC. Even Lynne’s CARLY SIMON co-penned ballad, `Waterfall’, couldn’t draw in the punters, while the emphatic `Nightrider’ single failed to register at all.
ELO finally re-established themselves in their home country with the transatlantic Top 10 set, A NEW WORLD RECORD (1976) {*8}. Echoing elements of The BEATLES in their prime, the concerto-driven `Livin’ Thing’, the opera-rockin’ `Rockaria!’ and the ring-tone-friendly `Telephone Line’ were all Top 10 hits, marking out Lynne as a pop genius. Throw in the man’s one-time, hard-rockin’ contribution to The MOVE, `Do Ya’, and the gloriously gooey `Shangri-la’, and one can safely file this album under classic.
ELO reached a commercial peak towards the end of the decade when their finely crafted, harmony-laden songs represented everything the thriving punk scene set out to destroy; both double-set OUT OF THE BLUE (1977) {*8} and DISCOVERY (1979) {*7} were massive global successes, while the band scored a formidable run of chart hits, including `Turn To Stone’, `Mr. Blue Sky’, `Wild West Hero’ (`It’s Over’ was chosen for US buyers) and `Sweet Talkin’ Woman’. The latter set too, had its fare share of top pop-rock smashes by way of `Shine A Little Love’, `The Diary Of Horace Wimp’ (complete with twee voice-box), `Don’t Bring Me Down’ and the double-A-side of `Confusion’ and the “Saturday Night Fever”-ish `Last Train To London’.
The summer of 1980 saw ELO (Kaminski had formed Violinski; McDowell and Gale also departed) take on a collaboration soundtrack with sexy pop princess OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN, the dreamy title track from the fantasy film, XANADU {*5}, providing the band with their only No.1 hit. Apart from nearly a side’s worth of mush from ONJ and her Australian pensmith/producer John Farrar, Lynne and his ELO team are restricted to five songs (most of which wipe the floor with Farrar’s efforts). The bordering-on-mercenary single release schedule told its own story: Lynne won the battle hands down. “Xanadu” itself takes more than a few cues from ABBA, but the combination of ONJ and ELO is an abbreviation made in fluffy pink heaven. It hovered ethereally around the top of the British charts for oh… ages, making up for the unmitigated disaster that was the movie, a film with such a fearfully bad, beyond-kitsch reputation that the rest of Lynne’s efforts have rarely been afforded a second glance since. The truth is they’re none too shabby, and if anyone can resist such shamelessly, seamlessly processed vocoder-friendly, Spector-esque disco-pop as `All Over The World’, they’re a better man/woman than moi. `I’m Alive’ was a respectable prologue to `Livin’ Thing’, `The Fall’ a moody, multi-layered epic to match Jeff’s best late-70s ballads. Their path to the top following the same pattern as QUEEN, whose sonic soundtrack for “Flash” (the movie) was also premiered in 1980.
The hits continued to roll in with the inimitable cheesiness of `Hold On Tight’, `Twilight’ plus the double-header, `Ticket To The Moon’ and `Here Is The News’, all taken from the chart-topping TIME (1981) {*5}.
1983’s `Rock’n’Roll Is King’ – from SECRET MESSAGES {*4} – was the group’s final Top 20 entry, only `Calling America’ – from BALANCE OF POWER (1986) {*4} –
coming close to emulating its success. As their chart returns duly dried up, Lynne helped form The TRAVELING WILBURYS alongside Messrs BOB DYLAN, GEORGE HARRISON, ROY ORBISON and TOM PETTY.
While the bearded one had produced DAVE EDMUNDS (1981-84), BRIAN WILSON (1988) and TOM PETTY (1989), to name just a few and released a Top 30 solo album, `Armchair Theater’ (1990), Bevan and cohorts eventually emerged with an eponymous Top 40 set, ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA PART II (1991) {*4}, although their material inevitably lacked Lynne’s songwriting spark. With more than a nod to The BEATLES, ELO’s own un-“Magical Mystery Tour” (complete with new recruits Pete Haycock from The CLIMAX BLUES BAND, Eric Troyer, Neil Lockwood, etc.) had at least one minor hit, `Honest Men’. The dull MOMENT OF TRUTH (1994) {*3} and other non-descript sets rolled the dice again for the Lynne-less ELO 2.
More than a decade later, Lynne chose to resurrect the ELO moniker for ZOOM (2001) {*6}, a solo set in all but name but as close to the band’s classic 70s sound as anything since, well, the 70s. Featuring Jeff’s girlfriend (and former solo artiste), ROSIE VELA, the album touched all the bases that made ELO great way back when: a pristine pop sensibility, larger than life BEATLES-esque harmonies, retro-bubblegum tendencies, lavish arrangements and flawless but sympathetic production. Unsurprisingly it failed to make much of a mark commercially (Top 40), despite the fact that Lynne knew more about so called “pop” music than most of the two-bit acts pimping their vacuous wares in the day’s charts. LYNNE was back with a comeback solo set, “Long Wave”, in 2012.
Out of the blue, after tempting fans back to the fold with Jeff (& Co’s) re-recordings set of 2012, MR. BLUE SKY: THE VERY BEST OF ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA {*6}, finally fresh tracks (or treks) were unveiled a la ALONE IN THE UNIVERSE (2015) {*6}. Billed under the combined weight of JEFF LYNNE’S ELO, the single-set rocketed into the Top 5 (US Top 30) and was, for many pundits, the belated sequel to “Out Of The Blue” – pomp and ceremonious as it was projected. Down to just Jeff and his engineer Steve Jay (plus daughter Laura Lynne on some harmony) – retainer Richard Tandy had went awol in 2014 – the “solo ELO” paralleled the classic-rock/anti-‘77 sound that also cross-pollenated “Across The Universe” elements of Let It Be, or “Something”-esque traits of Abbey Road. `Evil Woman’ episode 2: `Love And Rain’ (albeit with a gospel motif), separated two of the album’s strongest pieces, `When I Was A Boy’ and `Dirty To The Bone’, but black-holed nostalgia played a huge part in this close encounter of the umpteenth kind.
Two years from an all-encompassing stop-gap concert set, WEMBLEY OR BUST (2017) {*7}, JEFF LYNNE’S ELO were again honing in a hybrid sound of their halcyon days on the chart-topping (US Top 50) set, FROM OUT OF NOWHERE (2019) {*6}. Right down to their un-enterprising “Out Of The Blue” sci-fi spaceship sleeve-shot and their old-time rock’n’roll-meets-BEATLES ghosting, the half-hour-plus set would be pleasing to fans lost in some time warp; to others not so enamoured with retro trips, only the opening title track, `Down Came The Rain’, `All My Love’ and the lush `Losing You’, came close to floating their orbit.
© MC Strong 1994-2008/GRD-LCS // rev-up MCS Oct2012-Nov2019

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