Saturday, November 8, 2014

ELO - The Electric Light Orchestra

With news that Jeff Lynne is working on a new ELO album. I thought maybe it was time for me to rerun this post from May 2009. Hold on Tight!
The Electric Light Orchestra is my all time favorite rock group. I can't explain why, I just knew the first time I heard an ELO record that it was what I liked. A lot. The seamless blend of rock n roll and neo-classical music just spoke to me. With their epic, cascading string sections and over-the-top vocal pyrotechnics, every song was like an aria. 30 years later, just seeing the Jet Records logo gives me goosebumps.
A product of the 1970s, the timeless songs of ELO are now being rediscovered by a new generation of music fans through covers, remixes, sampling and the seemingly endless use in on the soundtracks of films, ads and TV shows.
ELO, under the guidance of Jeff Lynne, recorded 12 studio albums and released 28 hit singles. At their peak between 1974 and 1981, ELO had 9 gold, platinum and multi-platinum albums.
The band also holds the unusual distinction of having the most Billboard Hot 100 Top 40 hits of any band in U.S. chart history without ever having a #1 single.
During the 70s and 80s, ELO was one of the biggest arena attractions, with spectacular shows that included a massive flying saucer stage set, fog machines and state of the art light and laser shows. I luckily got to see them perform twice.
ELO begin humbly in the earlier 1970 as offshoot of 60s UK band The Move. Roy Wood was behind the initial concept of a rock band augmented by a string section that included cellos, violins, horns and woodwinds . The resulting debut album The Electric Light Orchestra was released in the UK in 1971 (in the US as No Answer) - if you listen to it today, you can hear that they were struggling to find their sound.
After Wood left the group - Lynne stepped up to lead the band, with Bev Bevan on drums, joined by Richard Tandy on the Moog synthesizer. ELO released their second album, ELO 2 in 1973, and had their first U.S. chart hit, a rousing cover version of the Chuck Berry classic Roll Over Beethoven.

On the Third Day was released in late 1973, with the string-infused Showdown becoming a hit single.
With Eldorado, the band's fourth album, Lynne hired an orchestra and choir - and their sound had now fully evolved into symphonic rock. The first single off the album, Can't Get It Out of My Head became a U.S. Top 10 hit and the album became ELO's first gold album. This was the first ELO album I bought, it might have had something to do with the Judy Garland/Margaret Hamilton cover photo. The awesome burlesque-inspired Nobody's Child is my favorite track.
Kelly Groucutt (who recently passed away) joined the band as a bassist and vocalist for Face The Music and the hit singles Evil Woman and Strange Magic soon followed. The instrumental Fire On High, with it's creepy Satanic-sounding backward masking is a masterpiece.
. Other great tracks include Nightrider and Down Home Town.
1976's A New World Record gave the band 4 top 10 hits Livin’ Thing, Rockaria!, Telephone Line and a cover of The Move's metal athem Do Ya - making them international stars. Tightrope and So Fine are also outstanding songs.
1977’s Out Of The Blue, a double-album was a worldwide smash and featured global hits Turn To Stone, Wild West Hero, Sweet Talkin' Woman (which was released on clear purple vinyl) plus Lynne's greatest musical achievement, Concerto for a Rainy Day which culminates with the epic Mr. Blue Sky.
By 1978 ELO was one of the most popular acts in the world, appearing on TV shows like NBC's MIDNIGHT SPECIAL. 

Around this time future Pixar songsmith Randy Newman recorded a parody/homage to ELO titled The Story of a Rock and Roll Band.
Discovery in 1979 consolidated that worldwide success with the singles Shine A Little Love, Don’t Bring Me Down, and Last Train to London -which was re-imagined as a catchy pop hit in the 2000s by Atomic Kitten as Be With You.

In 1980 came the film soundtrack Xanadu

 Despite the film's poor box-office showing, the soundtrack went double platinum.At the time some ELO fans were mortified that the band was part of a pop music collaboration with Olivia Newton-John - but time has shown that the songs Lynne contributed to the film (and eventually the Broadway show) are as timeless and beloved as any of the tunes that came before. Don't Walk Away is possibly the best song Jeff Lynne ever wrote - and as performed by super hunky Cheyenne Jackson on Broadway - a true classic.
ELO took a turn towards rockabilly with the hit Hold On Tight from the sci-fi concept album Time.

Other standout tracks included Twilight, The Way Life's Meant to Be, Here Is the News and Ticket to the Moon.
The silly rockabilly ditty Rock ‘N’ Roll Is King was a hit from 1983's Secret Messages, though the title track is infinitely more satisfying. That same year Bev Bevan left ELO and joined Black Sabbath while Jeff Lynne and Richard Tandy contributed songs to the Electric Dreams soundtrack.
Lynne, Bevan and Tandy returned to the studio in 1985 for Balance Of Power–the final ELO album. The single Calling America was a minor hit. 
From 1987 onwards, Jeff Lynne became a highly sought-after songwriter and producer, collaborating with artists such as Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and Brian Wilson. With George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Del Shannon and Bob Dylan, he formed the Grammy-award winning supergroup Traveling Wilburies.
Meanwhile, Bev Bevan in 1989 formed ELO Part II, with Louis Clark (Hooked on Classics). Former ELO members Mik Kaminski and Kelly Groucutt joined them for a second album, Moment Of Truth, in 1994. The remaining members continue to tour and record as The Orchestra.In 2000 Jeff Lynne released an 3-disc ELO box set, Flashback, containing–among other things–a new, unplugged version Xanadu. In 2001, Lynne released a new ELO album called Zoom. Richard Tandy was back, with George Harrison and Ringo Starr as guests.
In 2004 a tribute album wincingly titled Lynne Me Your Ears, this cover anthology featured ELO standards performed by artists such as Todd Rundgren, Sixpence None the Richer, and a host of others.
Another tribute to ELO, L.E.O., features songs are written in Lynne's style and mimic ELO's orchestration and production. The Pussycat Dolls even sampled Evil Woman in their hit Beep

Most recently, Surrender, a lost song from 1976 was released as a single, followed by Latitude 88 North, another lost song. So if you are looking for a lyrical escape from the sorry state of music in 2009 - turn back the clocks to a time when The Electric Light Orchestra changed what rock music sounded like and Roll Over Beethoven.


Jeff said...

Talk about a band that deserves to be in the R&R Hall of Fame. ELO's Time tour was my first "real" concert (the first being the Osmonds, but we were with our mom, so it doesn't really count). I remember ELO taking some flak for doing Xanadu, but you're right - the songs still hold up ("I'm Alive" is still one of my fave ELO songs). I'm listening to side 2 of Discovery as I type this. :) Great post!

laura linger said...

I'm posting about this over at TOT. I agree with every single word you said. And "Discovery" is a soundtrack for my life.

My favorite cut from it:

A dude I know put this together. You might like it. It is in contention for My Favorite YouTube Clip Evah.