Monday, July 12, 2010

Electric Light Orchestra, Jeff Lynne (1999)

(As published in Salem Press's Popular Musicians ... )

ORIGINAL MEMBERS: Jeff Lynne (b. 1947), Roy Wood (b. 1946), Bev Bevan (b. 1944), Rick Price.

BEST-KNOWN LINE-UP: Jeff Lynne (b. 1947), Bev Bevan (b. 1944), Richard Tandy (b. 1948), Kelly Groucutt (b. 1945), Mik Kaminski (b. 1951), Melvyn Gale (b. 1952), Hugh McDowell (b. 1953).
OTHER MEMBERS: Mike Edwards, Michael D'Albuquerque, others.


MUSICAL STYLES: pop, rock and roll, disco.

Formed in Birmingham, England, in 1971, the Electric Light Orchestra grew out of the successful U.K. rock band the Move. Led by Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne, ELO attempted to blend pop songcraft with classical grandeur, eventually discovering a formula that transformed the group into one of the most successful "hit machines" of the 1970's. Although attrition among the group's members and changes in musical fashion led to the group's calling it a day in 1986, Jeff Lynne continued to find outlets for his unique sound, both as a producer and as a member of the rock and roll supergroup, the Traveling Wilburys.

"Move"-ing On. From its beginnings in 1966, the Move contained the nucleus of what would later become the Electric Light Orchestra. The multi-instrumentalist Roy Wood and the drummer Bev Bevan were both part of the original ELO lineup. Jeff Lynne, who would later emerge as ELO's leader, joined the Move in 1969, shortly after the release of its Shazam album. As if to foreshadow ELO's classical leanings, the Move based "Night of Fear," its first single, on Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.

The conflict among the members of the Move over the group's direction resulted in frequent lineup changes and wide-ranging musical experimentation. Indeed, the group's very eclecticism may have accounted more than anything else for their failure to establish a large U.S. following. When Wood and Lynne announced in 1971 that the Move would become the Electric Light Orchestra and that more lineup changes would follow, few who had followed the group were surprised.

Misses, Hits, and More Misses. At first, the Electric Light Orchestra appeared as likely to fail in the U.S. as the Move had. ELO's debut album, 1972's No Answer, yielded only one minor hit (the five-minute "10538 Overture") and was distinguished mostly by the failure of its rock and classical elements to cohere. The group's 1973 album, Electric Light Orchestra II, with the eleven-minute "Kuiama" and the eight-minute "Roll Over Beethoven," did little to change the general perception of Lynne as a talented but self-indulgent bandleader. (Wood left shortly after the release of No Answer.)

With On the Third Day (1973), however, the group's vision began coming into focus, and both Eldorado (1974) and Face the Music (1975) contained top-ten hits. The 1975 album Olé ELO collected the best-known songs from ELO's first five albums and went gold. The lineup had solidified as well. Joining Lynne, Bevan, and the keyboardist Richard Tandy were the bassist Kelly Groucutt, the violinist Mik Kaminski, and the cellists Hugh McDowell and Melvyn Gale. Although Kaminski, McDowell, and Gale participated mainly in the group's live performances (the albums' orchestral sections were often performed by full orchestras), they were included in all ELO photos and personnel listings until the Discovery album in 1979.

It was this seven-man lineup that toured in 1976 in support of A New World Record, the group's first platinum album. The album yielded three hit singles, the second of which, "Do Ya," had been a minor hit for the Move in 1972, and the third of which, "Telephone Line," became their third top-ten and first gold single.

Out of the Blue, into the Black. Further evidence of the group's popularity was the success of its 1977 album, Out of the Blue. Despite the popularity in the 1970's of two-record live albums, two-record studio albums were seldom attempted. (Fleetwood Mac's Tusk would not appear until 1979). Nonetheless, Out of the Blue became the group's second platinum album, and the singles "Turn to Stone," "Sweet Talkin' Woman," and "Mr. Blue Sky" helped the group maintain a presence on top-forty airwaves into the fall of 1978.

By this time, the ELO sound had become extremely ornate. Lynne and Groucutt frequently overdubbed their Beatle-esque vocal harmonies into simulated choirs when they weren't using actual ones, and orchestras augmented by Tandy's futuristic synthesizer sounds turned up on almost every track. And although the results, like many of Lynne's lyrics, were often clever, the cumulative effect was becoming heavy-handed. Perhaps it was a sense of having reached a saturation point that led the group to lighten both its membership and its sound for Discovery. On the album's inner sleeve, only Lynne, Bevan, Tandy, and Groucutt were pictured.

Whatever its reasons, the newly streamlined ELO placed four of Discovery's tracks on the top forty in an era when two singles per album was the norm and three a happy exception. By the end of 1980, the group's 1979 Greatest Hits album and subsequent soundtrack to the film Xanadu had sold another three million copies.

The Descent. Over the next six years, ELO released three albums, only one of which--the 1981 album Time--went gold. All three yielded top-twenty hits, with "Hold On Tight" becoming the group's fifth top-ten single, but underselling tours, the appearance of the 1986 Balance of Power album on the relatively minor CBS Associated label, and the shrinking of the "Orchestra" to three members symbolized the group's having worn out its welcome. By 1987, Bevan was filling the drum seat for Black Sabbath.

Otis and Clayton. Lynne immediately became a much sought-after producer, developing connections that culminated in his joining Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, and George Harrison in the rock and roll supergroup the Traveling Wilburys. Each superstar's identity was thinly disguised by a Wilbury-family nickname: Lynne was "Otis Wilbury" on the group's 1988 debut and "Clayton Wilbury" on its 1990 sequel. (His 1990 solo album, Armchair Theatre, caused little excitement.)

Because the sound that Lynne had crafted for ELO owed a great deal to the Beatles, many considered his joining the Traveling Wilburys, which contained an actual Beatle in Harrison , particularly fitting.


No Answer, 1972 (album)
Electric Light Orchestra II, 1973 (album)
On the Third Day, 1973 (album)
"Can't Get It Out of My Head," 1975 (single; from the Eldorado album, 1974)
"Evil Woman," 1975 (single; from Face the Music, 1975)
"Telephone Line,"1977 (single; from A New World Record, 1976)
Out of the Blue, 1977 (album)
"Don't Bring Me Down," 1979 (single; from Discovery, 1979)
"I'm Alive," 1980 (single; from the Xanadu soundtrack, 1980)
"Hold On Tight," 1981 (single; from Time, 1981)
Secret Messages, 1983 (album)
Balance of Power, 1986 (album)
Traveling Wilburys Volume One, 1988 (album; Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison)
Afterglow, 1990 (ELO box set; previously released and previously unreleased material)
Armchair Theatre, 1990 (Jeff Lynne solo album)
Traveling Wilburys Volume Three, 1990 (album; Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty)


Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for Traveling Wilburys Volume One, 1989.


*The phrase "No Answer" does not appear on the cover of the No Answer album because the album supposed to be titled simply Electric Light Orchestra. It was accidentally re-titled as the result of an unanswered record-company phone call.

*During the first part of their 1978 world tour in support of the Out of the Blue album, ELO performed inside a 250,000-pound, laser-equipped "spaceship" that remains one of the most spectacular stage sets in the history of live rock. Ironically, elements of the performance weren't "live" at all; nearly ten years before Milli Vanilli was shamed from the music business for lip-synching, ELO was known to enhance its "spaceship" performances with pre-recorded strings and vocals.

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