Wherein I grab a band and pick six. Not saying they’re the best six. Just saying.
“I love their ‘Mr. Blue Skies’
Almost my favorite is ‘Turn to Stone’
And how ’bout ‘Telephone Line?’
I love that E.L.O.
—“The Story of a Rock and Roll Band,” Randy Newman’s tribute (?) to Electric Light Orchestra
Everybody, I think, knows Jeff Lynne, proud son of Birmingham, England. Maybe you know him as a member of the Traveling Wilburys. Or as a producer of Tom Petty, George Harrison, Roy Orbison. And yes even – wait for it – Randy Newman. (co-producer Land of Dreams.) He credits a Bang & Olufson reel-to-reel tape recorder with teaching him how to produce.
But if you know him before all that, as likely as not you know him as a member of The Move and then founding member of Electric Light Orchestra. The Birmingham-based Move had been founded in 1965 and had quite a bit more success in the UK than in the States. Lynne joined the band in 1970 just in time to record the band’s final two albums.
By the time the Move’s final album Message from the Country was released in 1971, there were only three members left – Roy Wood on vocals and every instrument you can think of; Lynne on guitars, keys, and percussion and Bev Bevan on drums. These guys morphed into Electric Light Orchestra and were even laying down tracks for that band while working on Message.
The first song I personally recall ever hearing by the Move was a great Jeff Lynne number called “Do Ya?” This was actually the B-side of a single that later made its way to that final Move album. ELO later re-recorded it for their 1976 album A New World Record. Since this is an ELO post, let’s give that one a spin, shall we?
So what exactly is this “orchestra?” Well, firstly contrary to what you might believe, the idea to have a band with string instruments and such was not Lynne’s but Wood’s. This is what got Lynne to join The Move in the first place. They wanted to “pick up where the Beatles left off.”
The band’s eponymous debut album actually only had five pieces but that was because they were overdubbing in the studio. By the time they first played a live gig in 1972 they had of necessity grown to nine members (including cellos and violin.) Wood wound up leaving this behemoth and Lynne took over the band’s leadership.
Since this isn’t intended to be a chronological history but a celebration of some ELO tunes, I’ll jump around here a little bit. One of my favorite albums by ELO is 1973’s On The Third Day. This is a terrific Lynne tune called “Showdown.” I’ve always found this song to have a mysterious feel to it:
She came to me like a friend
She blew in on a southern wind
Now my heart is turned to stone again
There’s gonna be a showdown
Save me, oh, save me
It’s unreal, the suffering
There’s gonna be a showdown
Let’s travel back to A New World Record. How can you not love “Telephone Line?” a ballad with a doo-wop feel? Since ELO were becoming popular in the US (I saw them in Philly somewhere in here), they decided to use an American ring tone.
“To get the sound on the beginning, you know, the American telephone sound,” Lynne explains, “we phoned from England to America to a number that we know nobody would be at, to just listen to it for a while. On the Moog, we recreated the sound exactly by tuning the oscillators to the same notes as the ringing of the phone.”*
You’re by now probably saying to yourself the following – if they’re an orchestra then how about an instrumental with a Hallelujah chorus and backward voices? (Lynne was accused of using backward Satanic voices on his records anyway so he probably figured fuck it, you want it, you got it.)
From 1975’s Face the Music, this is “Fire On High.”
There’s always a mini-discovery whenever I post on just about any band. Call this a re-discovery. It’s a song called “Momma” (or “Mama” in US) and it’s got a great Lynnesian (is that even a word?) melody. From ELO2:
ELO had a bunch of songs that were bigger hits but I dug these. Plus I heard a lot of those on classic rock radio I’m kinda sick of hearing them. I think ELO’s popularity peaked here sometime in the late ’70s. Punk had taken over and their lush sound was no longer the thing. Lynne, as mentioned above, has had an incredibly successful career playing, singing, producing and collaborating with others.
The band, now called Jeff Lynne’s ELO, continues to this day and in fact have announced a brief North American tour. (Why are bands coming to Boston less frequently? Not a happy trend.)
Fellow blogger Cincinnati Babyhead recently featured the band’s great cover of “Roll Over Beethoven.” So I will leave you here with another mama song from On The Third Day, “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle.” (Marc Bolan plays on this one.) “You got to ma-ma-ma belle or I will get you.” (Whatever that may mean.)
*And yet those wankers in Pink Floyd used a UK ring tone on …. something, I forget.