ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA – ” The Albums “

Posted: March 26, 2022 in MUSIC

The Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) are an English rock band formed in Birmingham in 1970 by songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood with drummer Bev Bevan. Their music is characterised by a fusion of Beatlesquepop, classical arrangements and futuristic iconography.

After Wood’s departure in 1972, Lynne became the band’s sole leader, arranging and producing every album while writing nearly all of their original material. For their initial tenure, Lynne, Bevan and keyboardist Richard Tandy were the group’s only consistent members.

If ELO bestrode the 70s like a colossus, then the 1980s and beyond would prove a far different prospect for the band. During the 1970s and 1980s, ELO released a string of top 10 albums and singles, including two LPs that reached the top of British charts: the disco-inspired Discovery (1979) and the science-fiction-themed concept album Time (1981). In 1986 Lynne lost interest in the band and disbanded the group.

In 1968, Roy Wood was the guitarist, vocalist and songwriter of the MoveWood had an idea to form a new band that would use violins, cellos, string basses, horns and woodwinds to give their music a classical sound, taking rock music in the direction to “pick up where the Beatles left off”. The orchestral instruments would be the main focus, rather than the guitars. Jeff Lynne, frontman of fellow Birmingham group The Idle Race, was excited by this concept. When Trevor Burton left the Move in February 1969, Lynne was asked by Wood to join, only to say no, as he was still focused on finding success with his own band. But in January 1970, when Carl Wayne quit the band, Lynne accepted Wood’s second invitation to join, on the condition that they focus their energy on this new project.

When Wood added multiple cellos to a Lynne-penned song intended to be a Move B-side, the new concept became a reality and “10538 Overture” became the first Electric Light Orchestra song. The original plan was to end The Move following the release of their Looking On album at the end of 1970, crossing over to the new unit in the new year, but to help finance the fledgling band, one further Move album, Message from the Country, was also recorded during the lengthy ELO recordings and released in mid-1971.

The Electric Light Orchestra

The resulting debut album “The Electric Light Orchestra” was released in December 1971. Only the trio of Wood, Lynne and Bevan played on all songs, with Bill Hunt supplying the French Horn parts and Steve Woolam playing violin. It was released in the United States in March 1972 as “No Answer“. The name was chosen after a record company secretary had tried to ring the UK company to get the name of the album. They were unavailable so she left a note reading “No Answer”. “10538 Overture” became a UK top-ten hit. With both band’s albums in the stores simultaneously, the Move and ELO both appeared on television during this period. with a line-up of Wood, Lynne, Bevan, Bill Hunt (keyboards/French horn), Andy Craig (cello), Mike Edwards (cello), Wilfred Gibson (violin), Hugh McDowell (cello), and Richard Tandy (bass). However, this line-up did not last for long. First Craig departed, and then Wood, during the recordings for the band’s second LP.

10538 Overture” soon became the new group’s mission statement, the opening fanfare on a debut album described by Melody Maker as “a gas”. Wood’s leftfield sensibilities led the nascent ELO into what Lynne later called: “some really strange places”, but “10538 Overture” was a top ten UK hit.

Lynne was still a member of The Move, alongside Roy Wood and future ELO drummer Bev Bevan, when he wrote what became the very first ELO song, “10538 Overture“. With Wood playing a cheap Chinese cello, multi- tracked by Lynne, it sounded to Wood like: “a monster heavy metal orchestra”.

Taking Hunt and McDowell with him, Wood left the band to form his own band Wizzard. Despite predictions from the music press that the band would fold without Wood, who had been the driving force behind the creation of ELO, Lynne stepped up to lead the band, with Bevan, Edwards, Gibson and Tandy (who had switched from bass to keyboards to replace Hunt) remaining from the previous line-up, and new recruits Mike de Albuquerque and Colin Walker joining the band on bass and cello, respectively

ELO 2 

The band released their second album “ELO 2” in early 1973, which produced their second UK top 10 and their first US chart single, an elaborate version of the Chuck Berry classic “Roll Over Beethoven” (which also incorporated the first movement of Beethoven’s own Fifth Symphony).

After a promising start, ELO could have fallen at the second fence when Roy Wood quit during the making of this album to form Wizzard. But Lynne carried on with an expanded line-up, and the album was moderately successful. With just five tracks on its original vinyl format, ELO II has a heavy progressive rock influence, most evident on the King Crimson-Beatles hybrid In Old England Town and the 11-minute Kuiama. But the best song was Mama, the first sign of Lynne’s pop genius.

During the recording of the third album, Gibson was let go after a dispute over money, Mik Kaminski joined as violinist, and Walker left since touring was keeping him away from his family too much. Remaining cellist Edwards finished the cello parts for the album.

On the Third Day,

The album, On the Third Day, was released in late 1973, with the American version featuring the popular single “Showdown”. After leaving Wizzard, Hugh McDowell returned as the group’s second cellist, also in late 1973, in time to appear on the “On the Third Day” cover in some regions, despite not having played on the album.

Although it bombed in the UK, ELO’s third album was a minor hit in America, where “the English guys with the big fiddles” were a major concert draw. Marc Bolan played lead guitar on this album’s big rock tune, “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle”, and to Lynne’s great delight, John Lennon raved about the album’s hit single “Showdown”, subsequently dubbing ELO “son of Beatles”.

Lynne paid his own tribute to Lennon on “Bluebird Is Dead”, and went completely overboard with a rocking take of Grieg’s “In The Hall Of The Mountain King“. But “Showdown” is Lynne’s favourite song on an album even he admits is “very obscure”.

Eldorado

For the band’s fourth album, “Eldorado“, a concept album about a daydreamer, Lynne stopped multi-tracking strings and hired Louis Clark as string arranger with an orchestra and choir. ELO’s string players still continued to perform on recordings, however. The first single off the album, “Can’t Get It Out of My Head”, became their first US top 10 hit, and “Eldorado, A Symphony” became ELO’s first gold album. Mike de Albuquerque departed the band during the recording sessions as he wished to spend more time with his family, and consequently much of the bass on the album was performed by Lynne.

The concept itself was somewhat vague. “It’s about a dream world,” said Lynne. But undoubtedly, “Eldorado” saw a big leap forward for ELO. Working with a full orchestra for the first time, Lynne was finally able to realise the sound that was in his impressively furry head.

Following the release of “Eldorado”, Kelly Groucutt was recruited as bassist and in early 1975, Melvyn Gale replaced Edwards on cello. The line-up stabilised as the band took to a decidedly more accessible sound. ELO had become successful in the US at this point and the group was a star attraction on the stadium and arena circuit, and regularly appeared on The Midnight Special more than any other band in that show’s history with four appearances (in 1973, 1975, 1976 and 1977).

The album’s centrepiece, “Mister Kingdom“, is a grand orchestral take on “Across The Universe“. But best of all is Can’t Get It Out Of My Head, one of Lynne’s most beautiful songs.

Mobile Fidelity will be releasing a sonically pristine reissue of ‘Eldorado’, written & produced by Jeff Lynne, in UltraDisc One-Step 180-gram 2LP Box Set, 180-gram single LP,

Face the Music

Face the Music” was released in 1975, producing the hit singles “Evil Woman”, their third UK top 10, and “Strange Magic”. The opening instrumental “Fire on High”, with its mix of strings and acoustic guitars, saw heavy exposure as the theme music for the American television programme CBS Sports Spectacular in the mid-1970s. 1975 was a strange year for ELO. “Face The Music”, was their fifth album, in the UK it didn’t even chart.

It did, however, produce a UK hit single, albeit belatedly. “Evil Woman“, a song initially dismissed as filler by Jeff Lynne, gave ELO their first domestic top ten hit in three years, and set them up nicely for the next album, A New World Record.

Evil Woman” remains one of ELO’s best-loved songs, a genuine 70s pop classic and the highlight of an album that includes several great songs (“Strange Magic”, “Waterfall”) and one outright turkey, the daft “Down Home Town”.

A New World Record

Their sixth album, the platinum selling “A New World Record“, became their first UK top 10 album when it was released in 1976. It contained the hit singles “Livin’ Thing”, “Telephone Line”, “Rockaria!” and “Do Ya”, the last a re-recording of a Move song recorded for that group’s final single.  

This was their big international breakthrough. Hitting the top ten in every country in which it was released, “A New World Record” sold five million units worldwide. Its title, inspired by the Montreal Olympics, which held the world’s attention while the band were recording in Munich, was fitting for an album that elevated ELO to global fame.

At home, the album produced three top ten singles, the last being a prime example of Lynne’s classical/ rock style, complete with boogie riff, sawing strings, trilling opera singer and references to Wagner.

Casey Kasem said that the Electric Light Orchestra is the “World’s first touring rock ‘n’ roll chamber group” before he played “Livin’ Thing”.

The song “Telephone Line” from the album “A New World Record“, which was released in 1976. It was the last album that they released until 2006. The song also got many good reviews from music authorities as the group created the taste of Revolver and The Beatles without mimicking them.

Out of the Blue

A New World Record was followed by a multi-platinum selling album, the double-LP Out of the Blue, in 1977. Out of the Blue featured the singles “Turn to Stone”, “Sweet Talkin’ Woman”, “Mr. Blue Sky”, and “Wild West Hero”, each becoming a hit in the United Kingdom.

Jeff Lynne’s magnum opus is one of the classic double albums, his answer to The Beatles’ White Album, and ELO’s crowning glory. Lynne wrote the whole of “Out Of The Blue“, 17 songs, in just four weeks, alone at a Swiss Alpine retreat. He later recalled: “The mountains were lit up, and I came up with “Mr Blue Sky.”

A mini-symphony in itself, Mr Blue Sky was the touchtone for an album on which Lynne gave full rein to his ambitions: a deluxe rock odyssey incorporating dazzling arrangements, state-of-the-art studio wizardry and, most importantly, great song writing. Selling eight million copies in a year, it was a global smash.

The uplifting song is creating a feeling of a rainy day that is ending. It was described as ELO’s signature song many many times. The song was also used in numerous films and TV shows.

The band then set out on a nine-month, 92-date world tour, with an enormous set and a hugely expensive space ship stage with fog machines and a huge laser display. In the United States the concerts were billed as The Big Night and were their largest to date, with 62,000 people seeing them at Cleveland Stadium. The Big Night went on to become the highest-grossing live concert tour in music history up to that point (1978). The band played at London’s Wembley Arena for eight straight sold-out nights during the tour, another record at that time.

By the end of 1979, ELO had reached the peak of their stardom, selling millions of albums and singles, During 1979, Jeff Lynne also turned down an invitation for ELO to headline the August 1979 Knebworth Festival concerts. That allowed Led Zeppelin the chance to headline instead.

Discovery

Then again, in stylistic terms, 70s prog really only had punk and new wave as antagonists to contend with – 1979’s “Discovery” was the band’s first No.1 album in the UK and their biggest selling album to date. The 80s, however, was a decade beset with constant stylistic shifts – the perpetual hunt for a new marketable angle hardly conducive to a musician of Jeff Lynne’s pedigree.

Confusion” As the title reveals, the song is about the inner conflicts of a man. They used a recent technology of the time for the song, Yamaha synthesizer.

Although the biggest hit on the album (and ELO’s biggest hit overall) was the rock song “Don’t Bring Me Down”, The inspiration for this timeless song “Last Train To London” comes from the times that the group spends on trains between Birmingham and London to attend radio and TV shows.

By 1979 ELO were one of the biggest bands in the world, but Jeff Lynne faced a tricky dilemma: how to follow an album as brilliant and successful as “Out Of The Blue?

Lynne’s response was bold, to say the least. With disco music still flourishing, ELO got funky. Amazingly, it worked. “Discovery” was ELO’s first number one and produced four UK top ten singles: “Shine A Little Love”, “The Diary Of Horace Wimp”, “Don’t Bring Me Down” and “Confusion/ Last Train To London“. Moreover, ELO’s signature sound remained largely intact. “Discovery” has its critics, but it’s the last great album of ELO’s golden era.

That said, Lynne began the decade with change afoot. “Discovery” was the first ELO album not to feature cellists Hugh McDowell and Melvyn Gale, or violinist Mik Kaminski, although all three were on the ensuing tour.

Xanadu

On ELO’s 1981 concept album “Time”, Jeff Lynne pondered mankind’s future and sang in a voice from a far-off age: ‘Remember the good old 1980s/When things were so uncomplicated…’ What Lynne the visionary didn’t foresee was ELO’s demise in the coming decade. But they began the 80s with another massive hit, albeit one that alienated many rock fans. Xanadu, the soundtrack to a silly Hollywood musical, featured five songs by the movie’s star Olivia Newton-John (including a sappy duet with Cliff Richard), four by ELO, and a camp title track performed by ELO and Newton-John together. Mercifully, ELO’s songs were strong, especially “All Over The World“, one of the last classics from the band’s golden era.

Time

When ELO released their first album of the new decade, “Time“, in 1981, the band were settled a the Lynne/Bevan/Tandy/Groucutt quartet, but many things that had set ELO up as one of the most spectacularly popular bands of the 70s were about to change.

It’s strange that an album that went to No.1 in the UK should end being largely forgotten many years down the line, but so it is with “Time“. It is revered by some diehard fans as one of ELO’s greatest albums. It is one of the most ambitious records that Jeff Lynne ever created – a concept album in the classic prog rock tradition, based on time travel, but with the influence of synth-pop prevalent throughout, and some wonderful songs including Twilight, Ticket To The Moon and Another Heart Breaks. If there is a lost classic in the ELO catalogue, then this is the one.

In 1981, ELO’s sound changed again with the science fiction concept album “Time“, a throwback to earlier, more progressive rock albums like Eldorado. With the string section now departed, synthesisers took a dominating role, as was the trend in the larger music scene of the time; although studio strings were present on some of the tracks conducted by Rainer Pietsch, the overall soundscape had a more electronic feel in keeping with the futuristic nature of the album. 

Time” topped the UK charts for two weeks and was the last ELO studio album to be certified platinum in the United Kingdom. Singles from the album included “Hold On Tight”, The high-tempo song is about being tenacious about your goals and dreams. It has quite inspiring lyrics. “Twilight”, “The Way Life’s Meant to Be”, “Here Is the News” and “Ticket to the Moon”. However, the release of the single for “Rain Is Falling” in 1982 was the band’s first single in the US to fail to reach the Top 200 since 1975, and the release of “The Way Life’s Meant to Be” similarly was their first single in the UK to fail to chart since 1976. The band embarked on their last world tour to promote the LP.

“I’d got fed up with strings by then,” says Lynne. “In those days the unions used to be so mean and strict, they would stop playing as soon as the clock got to the 12. They’d put the gear away, however far through the song you were, which I thought was a rotten trick. Because you wouldn’t do that to anybody. Bloody minded, I’d call it. So I got fed up with using strings and was really glad when the synths came in.”

The synths may have come in, but in Time, ELO released the proggiest album they had done in years: a science fiction-orientated concept album, whose bombastic opening couplet of Prologue and Twilight would later be sampled by Cher. The album topped the UK charts (the band’s only UK No.1 alongside Discovery) and boasted four popular singles, including “Hold On Tight”, “Ticket To The Moon” and “The Way Life’s Meant To Be”. ELO toured, bringing Kaminski back and bolstering their sound with Louis Clark and Dave Morgan on synthesizers. It would be their last tour for over 30 years.

“We toured America and England,” Lynne recalls. “We had the record for Wembley Stadium, until Dire Straits broke it!”

Secret Messages

Jeff Lynne wanted to follow Time with a double album, but CBS blocked his plan on the grounds that a double vinyl album would be too expensive in the oil crisis and not sell as well as a single record, so as a result, the new album was edited down from double album to a single disc and released as Secret Messages in 1983 (many of the out-takes were later released on Afterglow or as b-sides of singles with “Rock ‘n’ Roll Is King” a sizeable hit in UK.

Secret Messages followed in 1983. Originally, plans for a double album were deemed over enthusiastic by their record label, and by the time the new album was released, Groucutt had left the band and Bev Bevan was drumming for Black Sabbath, so no tour was undertaken. Despite Secret Messages (the title harked back to the backwards masking on Face The Music) reaching No.4 in the UK charts, and spawning a reasonable hit in Rock’n’Roll Is King, to many observers the wind had been knocked out of the ELO sails. Bevan toured with the new Ian Gillan-fronted Black Sabbath, while Lynne and Richard Tandy worked on tracks for the Electric Dreams soundtrack.

Lynne, discouraged by the dwindling crowds on the Time tour, CBS’s order to cut Secret Messages down to one disc, and his falling out with manager Don Arden (he would eventually leave Arden and Jet by 1985), decided to end ELO in late 1983.

 In 2018, “Secret Messages” was reissued “as originally conceived” as a double album. It included several cut tracks, such as the CD exclusive bonus track “Time After Time”, B-side exclusives “Buildings Have Eyes” and “After All”, the Afterglow exclusives “Mandalay” and “Hello My Old Friend”, and the 2001 reissue exclusives “Endless Lies” and “No Way Out”

Balance Of Power

It was something of a surprise when ELO returned with Balance Of Power in 1986. Recorded as a trio of Lynne, Tandy and Bevan, it was more of a contractual obligation, but still featured some fine examples of Lynne’s songcraft in the lead single Calling America, plus So Serious and Getting To The Point. The band even played a handful of live shows, one featuring George Harrison as a guest guitarist. By 1988, when Bevan approached Lynne about reforming the band, he found the old band leader uninterested, announcing that ELO were over.

Balance of Power, released early in 1986 after some delays. Though the single “Calling America” placed in the Top 30 in the United Kingdom and went Top 20 in the States, subsequent singles failed to chart. The album lacked actual classical strings, which were replaced once again by synthesizers, played by Tandy and Lynne. However, despite being a 3-piece, much of the album was made by Lynne alone, with Tandy and Bevan giving their additions later.

After 15 years of ELO, Jeff Lynne was seeking new challenges. He was recording as a solo artist and working as writer and producer for others. When he returned to ELO (now reduced to a core of three), the whiff of contractual obligation was in the air. He’d already abandoned the classic ELO sound on 1983’s “Secret Messages”, and “Balance Of Power” completed a sorry decline into bland soft rock. It wasn’t so much bad as plain average.

“I’m actually quite pleased with the way this one turned out,” Lynne says now. But back in 86, he wasn’t so happy. Shortly after this album’s release, a tour aborted, ELO split up.

Zoom

Lynne’s comeback with ELO began in 2000 with the release of a retrospective box set, Flashback, containing three CDs of remastered tracks and a handful of out-takes and unfinished works, most notably a new version of ELO’s only UK number one hit “Xanadu”. In 2001 Zoom, ELO’s first album since 1986, was released. Though billed and marketed as an ELO album, the only returning member other than Lynne was Tandy, who performed on one track. Guest musicians included former Beatles Ringo Starr and George Harrison. Upon completion of the album, Lynne reformed the band with completely new members, including his then-girlfriend Rosie Vela and announced that ELO would tour again.

A Jeff Lynne solo album in all but name, “Zoom” featured one other member of the definitive ELO line-up in keyboard player Richard Tandy, plus guest appearances from George Harrison and Ringo Starr. The album was not quite the return to the classic ELO sound that fans might have wished for, but in its best moments – notably on the elegant ballad “Moment In Paradise” – Lynne proved he could do ELO pretty much on his own. Or rather, as the old song goes, with a little help from his friends.

Former ELO member Tandy re-joined the band a short time afterwards for two television live performances: VH1 Storytellers and a PBS concert shot at CBS Television City, later titled Zoom Tour Live and released on DVD. Besides Lynne, Tandy and Vela, the new live ELO line-up included Gregg Bissonette (drums, backing vocals), Matt Bissonette (bass guitar, backing vocals), Marc Mann (guitars, keyboards, backing vocals), Peggy Baldwin (cello), and Sarah O’Brien (cello). However, the planned tour was cancelled, reportedly due to poor ticket sales.

Alone in the Universe

In September 2015, it was announced that a new ELO album would be released. The album was to be under the moniker of Jeff Lynne’s ELO, with the band signed to Columbia Records. “Alone in the Universe” The album was ELO’s first album of new material since 2001’s Zoom. The first track, and single, “When I Was a Boy” was made available for streaming on the same day and a music video for the song was also released. A small promotional tour followed the album’s release which saw Jeff Lynne’s ELO perform a full concert for BBC Radio 2 along with their first two shows in the United States in 30 years, both which sold out very quickly. The song “When I Was A Boy” was written by Jeff Lynne when he was young, he was dreaming about being a singer and a musician.

Apart from Lynne himself, only two other people were on it – his daughter Laura singing background vocals on two songs, and engineer Steve Jay playing percussion. If Lynne wanted to call it ELO, he had every right – it was always his band. And while “Alone In The Universe” was not the full-blown ELO of “Mr. Blue Sky” or “Evil Woman”, it was still a fine late-career comeback for Lynne, with a couple of beautiful and magical songs

Jeff Lynne’s ELO also made several US television appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel Live and CBS This Morning. A 19-date European tour was announced for 2016, with the band playing the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury Festival

From Out of Nowhere

ELO released their 14th album, From Out of Nowhere, in November 2019.

From 2001 to 2007, Harvest Records and Epic/Legacy reissued ELO’s back catalogue. Included amongst the remastered album tracks were unreleased songs and outtakes, including two new singles. The first was “Surrender”, The other single was “Latitude 88 North”.

In 2010, Eagle Rock Entertainment released Live – The Early Years in the UK as a DVD compilation that included Fusion – Live in London (1976) along with never before released live performances at Brunel University (1973) and on a German TV show Rockpalast (1974). 

Mr. Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra is an album of re-recordings of ELO’s greatest hits, performed by Lynne exclusively, along with a new song titled “Point of No Return”. Released to coincide with Lynne’s second solo album release Long Wave, these new albums contained advertisement cards, announcing the re-release of expanded and remastered versions of both the 2001 album Zoom and Lynne’s debut solo album Armchair Theatre, originally released in 1990.

Both albums were re-released in April 2013 with various bonus tracks. Also released was the live album, Electric Light Orchestra Live, showcasing songs from the Zoom tour. All three releases also featured new studio recordings as bonus tracks.

Lynne and Tandy reunited again in 2013 to perform, under the name Jeff Lynne and Friends, performing “Livin’ Thing” and “Mr. Blue Sky” for the Children in Need Rocks concert at Hammersmith Apollo, London. The backing orchestra was the BBC Concert Orchestra.

Lynne released his first solo album, “Armchair Theatre”, in 1990, and was making a name for himself as a producer of note. He worked with George Harrison on 1987’s “Cloud Nine” (he’d join Harrison alongside Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison in the Traveling Wilburys), Tom Petty’s “Full Moon Fever” (1989) and Paul McCartney’s excellent “Flaming Pie” (1997). In-between, Lynne also got to work with the remaining Beatles on the songs “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love” for 1994’s Beatles Anthology project.

  • The Electric Light Orchestra (1971)
  • ELO 2 (1973)
  • On the Third Day (1973)
  • Eldorado (1974)
  • Face the Music (1975)
  • A New World Record (1976)
  • Out of the Blue (1977)
  • Discovery (1979)
  • Xanadu (1980) (with Olivia Newton-John) (soundtrack album)
  • Time (1981) (credited as ELO)
  • Secret Messages (1983)
  • Balance of Power (1986)
  • Zoom (2001)
  • Alone in the Universe (2015) (credited as Jeff Lynne’s ELO)
  • From Out of Nowhere (2019) (credited as Jeff Lynne’s ELO)

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