A Six-Pack of Electric Light Orchestra

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?

Spotify link

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

Spotify link

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.”*

Spotify link

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.”

Spotify link

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:

Spotify link

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.)

Spotify link

*And yet those wankers in Pink Floyd used a UK ring tone on …. something, I forget.

33 thoughts on “A Six-Pack of Electric Light Orchestra

    1. I’m always puzzled when someone says that. If a friend asked you to play six for him or if you were a DJ who wanted to play ELO in a block, I’m sure you’d be able to do it. Can’t play everything so you just pick a nice cross-section that is representative. Or ones that you just dig and maybe haven’t heard for a while. That’s the approach I’ve always taken anyway.

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  1. ELO is an interesting band, in my opinion – oftentimes bombastic and completely overproduced (think Phil Spector on steroids), yet at the same time, many of their songs are just brilliant. And they certainly created their own signature sound, which I find pretty cool as well.

    In some regards, I think the above can also be said about Queen.

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  2. Fun post Jim. Enjoyed your selection a lot.

    Personally, I love “Mr Blue Sky” (in all it’s Magical Mystery Tour pasticheness) and “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head”. Jeez but Jeff could write some earworm hooks! There are also some low spots, of course. Would you tackle a ‘Worst Six’ of ELO? 😉

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  3. Nice post, Jim. Very welcome for me too, as I was looking at some ELO the other day when I was out on a impromptu ‘dig’. I don’t know anything about them or their music, but some folk have recommended them.

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    1. Oh yeah, Super-popular band in their day. Can’t turn on ‘classic rock’ radio almost ever here in the States without hearing one of their tunes and virtually none of them are on this list. So that’s probably a different half-dozen right there. If you’re a fan of great pop/rock, grandiosely overproduced, they’re your guys!

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  4. I have them in the same category as Supertramp – perky prog-tinged pop that annoyed me when I listened to classic hits radio a lot, but now I kind of miss them and am considering checking out their records…. I like ‘Mr Blue Sky’ a lot.

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  5. I have their first two records. I would hear ELO on the radio after that. Always some good hooks I never got back into them. I think Lynn is a rocker at heart and he has a great voice for it. But you know at a certain time the radio was swamped with certain bands that would get played to death. At least ELO didn’t hurt the ear. ‘Keepsmealive’ just dropped a take on a Lynn solo. Has me curious.

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    1. Yeah, I intentionally stayed away from some of the most overplayed ones. Sick to death of them. But these I still dig. Doubt if I’d go see them if they did come my way but an enjoyable, different band.

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  6. Jim, I’ll second what Aphoristical said. Like Supertramp, nice ear candy (especially the McCartneyesque “Mr. Blue Sky”), but I prefer the harder and heavier ELP to ELO. When I was in high school, ELO (like Kiss) was the band your kid brother listened to…and my brother Steve played “A New World Record” to death. But compared to today’s pop music, ELO are the Beatles.

    (Also…R.I.P. Dick Dale, king of the surf guitar.)

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    1. I assume you’re making the ELP/ELO comparison due to similarity in name? 🙂 Because otherwise I don’t even think of them in the same breath. ELO – symphonic pop-rock, ELP – total prog.

      But I’ve got room in my head for both. Interestingly, with few exceptions, as much as I liked ELP back then, I find myself drawn to them less. I considered going to see Carl Palmer but I listened on YouTube and I found I had long since moved out of that neighborhood, no forwarding address.

      But ELO is a band that frankly, I listen to when the’re on the radio and otherwise not much else. But it was nice to rediscover them. for the post. And yes, compared to what’s out there now, ELO is way above.

      As to Dick Dale, yes, I played “Pipeline” on the guitar the other day in his memory. (He had some bad, bad health problems.) And then of course, there’s this.

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        1. Right? I made that shit up on the fly. Feel free to use it. 🙂 BTW, Supertramp is, for me, a “radio band.” So I hear them on the radio and I like ’em. Nothing to dislike, But never a big fan.

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        1. No worries about the digression. That’s what conversation is. I wasn’t necessarily a big Dale fan per se. But I dug that sound. You certainly knew it was him.

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        2. Nick and I went to a Red Sox game last year. They play all kinds of music over the PA system at every possible break. They played ‘Pipeline’ and the intro got an instant reaction from both of us. So I went home and learned it. Not hard, but fun.

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    1. I can see both sides of this. I am all for stripped down garage rock. But then I also love overproduced pop. Too much Phil Spector growing up I suppose. But anyway, too each their own I suppose. As I’m too fond of saying, you either fall in love with songs or you don’t. Fuckin’ ay! 🙂

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        1. I will likely never know first-hand. My wife does not like to fly but will do so about as long as it takes to get to, say, Europe. A flight that long would wreak havoc with her stomach. And if we stayed at different cities to and fro in order to make the trip more palatable it would wreak havoc with my wallet. Alas, no cute dingo to purchase and take home for us. 😁

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