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OLE ELO!

2001 is proving to be a bumper year for fans of ELO i.e. Electric Light Orchestra. Apart from the new Zoom release, a remastered reissue program has been instituted with Eldorado, Discovery, Time and Secret Messages the first albums to be re-issued. Furthermore good old Not Lame Records will be releasing in September an ELO/Jeff Lynne tribute album entitled Lynne Me Your Ears.

In this special section celebrating these momentous events, we will be looking at the new album Zoom, the Eldorado re-issue and some of the contributors to Lynne Me Your Ears will tell us all why the music of Jeff Lynne and ELO is so meaningful to them.  

 

 

ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA
Zoom
Sony/Legacy 

If the announcement of a new ELO album, after a 15-year absence, raised eyebrows, then the realisation that Zoom is essentially Jeff Lynne playing everything caused many brows to fu rrow.  What the detractors will fail to recognise is that after co-founder Roy Wood walked away, ELO succeeded or failed based primarily on the creative talents of Jeff Lynne. It is instructive to note that Lynne has been the singer, songwriter and producer of every ELO album after the debut record and the phenomenal popularity ELO achieved in the 1970s was due largely to his ingenious gifts.

Even after Lynne retired ELO upon the release of Balance of Power, signalling the completion of his contractual obligations to Epic, he would make a name for himself, first as an in-demand producer with the likes of Tom Petty, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Roger McGuinn, Randy Newman, Brian Wilson, Del Shannon and even his heroes, The Beatles and secondly as a member of that successful supergroup, The Travelling Wilburys. Even if his solo album, Armchair Theatre failed to make any significant commercial impact.

Now into his 50s, Lynne revives the ELO brand name, keen to make his mark on a brand new music scene. Whilst, he may make little impression on the mediocre fluff that clutters the charts nowadays, he certainly has much to contribute, especially to the millions who recognised the value of classic pop music by picking up the Beatles 1 album.

The Beatles and ELO are almost joined at the hip -- it is so easy to arrive at that conclusion. Early in its career, John Lennon himself approvingly remarked that breakthrough single "Showdown" contained the kind of music the Beatles would have made if they never broke up. Lynne namechecked the Fab Four in the sublime "Shangri-La" - 'faded like the Beatles on Hey Jude,' the line went. When the surviving Beatles decided to record Lennon's "Free As A Bird," inevitably Lynne was brought in to produce the track. Not to mention the fact that George Harrison and Ringo Starr guest on Zoom itself!

Without being blasé about it, Zoom, in my humble opinion, is the nearest thing we have to a new Beatles album in the new millennium. Lennon's astute observation about Lynne/ELO still holds true although at its core, Zoom remains an ELO album. There is no dichotomy in that statement if you think about it carefully.

Lynne's strengths mirror his heroes -- the ability to write irresistible melodies, the keen production expertise, a reverential attitude to pop's rock 'n' roll roots and the uncanny gift of matching arrangements to fit the song perfectly.

These elements are all evident on Zoom - the slick and dynamic "Alright" and "Stranger on a Quiet Street," the 'old school' rockers "State of Mind," “All She Wanted” and "Easy Money," the breezy pop charm of "Melting in the Sun," "Really Doesn't Matter At All" and "Lonesome Lullaby" and the lovely melancholy tunes of "Moment in Paradise," "Just For Love," “In My Own Time” and "Long Time Gone." But the absolute high on Zoom arrives with "Ordinary Dream," perhaps the song most faithful to the ELO tradition here. With appropriate strings embellishment, an instantly impressive melody and heartfelt lyrics about loss and regret – “Couldn’t really understand at all, the writing on the wall from you to me. The jigsaw puzzle of a twisted tale, that set its lonely sail from to you to me,” “Ordinary Dream” easily sits next to the likes of “Shangri-La,” “Can’t Get It Out of My Head,” “Waterfall,” “Midnight Blue” & “21st Century Man” as evidence of the continuing genius of Jeff Lynne.

More than that, Lynne has certainly buffed up his guitar playing during the “fallow” years – many of the songs on Zoom are blessed with outstanding guitar work and it is this main ingredient that sets Zoom apart from its celebrated predecessors.

Not only is this THE comeback record of the year but easily one of the finest albums intelligent pop fans will be fortunate to be acquainted with in 2001. (9)

ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA
Eldorado
Sony/Legacy

The Beatles (with George Martin’s invaluable contribution) proved that orchestral pop could be achieved without compromising either aesthetic with “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “I Am the Walrus.” Jeff Lynne, a professed Beatlemaniac took the Beatles’ cue a step further with ELO’s breakthrough album, Eldorado.

Eldorado presented unique challenges to Lynne and company, this was the first time the band had decided to use a ‘real’ orchestra and choirs where previously multiple overdubs had sufficed. On a personal note, Lynne’s own father had lamented the lack of tunes on Lynne’s compositions.

The result is a concept album (I’d use that term loosely) about the “dreamer, the unwoken fool” which explains the rather stream-of-consciousness theme of many of the lyrics.

However, the genius of Eldorado is the manner in which Lynne, with the assistance of Richard Tandy and Louis Clark manage to segue classical passages with three chord rock ‘n’ roll sequences seamlessly. For example, the glorious “Boy Blue,” the menacing “Laredo Tornado,” the jubilant “Poor Boy (The Greenwood)” and the inevitable Chuck Berry-infused “Illusions in G Major.”

Lynne’s songwriting is in top gear here with the magnificent ballad “Can’t Get It Out of My Head,” the showtune tapestry “Nobody’s Child,” the Lennonesque “Mister Kingdom” (complete with a melodic lift from “Across the Universe”) and the regal title track.

This re-issue splits the bonus tracks between the breath-taking “Eldorado Instrumental Medley” – featuring choice snippets that highlight what was previously obscured by vocals and the rather inconsequential “Dark City” demo, a precursor to “Laredo Tornado.”

Together with Discovery, Eldorado is perhaps the best of the crop out of the first batch of ELO re-issues. Do not miss out the second time around! (10)

WHAT JEFF LYNNE/ELO MEANS TO...

Tony Visconti

I have a vague recollection that when Roy Wood and Jeff were forming ELO or Wizzard (there's the vagueness) I was asked to play keyboards because I did a lot of string arranging for The Move.  I had to disappoint them by saying that I wrote on guitar then, not keyboard and I could just barely get through "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" on piano.  But "Mr. Blue Sky" was a favorite of both Bowie's son and my son when it came out, so it was played to death in our homes.  I ended up loving it very much and gaining deep respect for what Jeff had achieved since his early association with Roy.

Jeremy (Morris)

When the Beatles broke up I was a very sad teenager. Who would carry the torch from then on? Thank God for Jeff Lynne.......he picked right up where the fab four left off. It's no surprise he ended up working with them in the end! Long live Jeff Lynne --all the music he touches turns to gold!!!!! It's great have him back!!!!!!

Michael Carpenter

So many great things. So many great songs. Distinctive, identifiable sound. The ability to make incredibly complex arrangements seem simple, which is an art in itself. The ability to cross genres, from seemingly simple pop to more complex symphonic epics. And the singing, writing and producing skills of Jeff Lynne, someone i admire very much.

Ferenzik

Well, truth is, I didn’t love ‘em at the time they initially burst on the scene.  I was a Move fan first, and back then any defections were viewed with suspicion.  ELO’s commercial success coincided with my general disenchantment with the pop music of the early seventies — a dark age marked most notably (in my mind)  by the appearance of the highly flammable, wide-lapelled polyester suit.   Also,  ELO’s showbiz aspirations were just so “Spinal Tap”:  The dopey staging of a spaceship laden with cello-sawing longhairs in platform shoes and bell bottoms was a far cry from the psychedelic hipness of the Sargeant Pepper-era Beatles, and no amount of hash-pipe haze could obscure that negative impression.
Listening to the recordings now, I’ve formulated a more sanguine view.  Take away the hokey staging and the historical context in which ELO first scored commercial victory, and you have some earnest music being made, with a surprising breadth and depth of emotion.  There is an un-cynical blend of rock band bombast and orchestral pretensions that lacks both bombast and pretense — the hallmark of great pop.  With the passing time, Jeff Lynne’s vision has risen from the ashes, triumphant.   And, against the bleak backdrop of today’s pop music scene — lately consisting of either clean-teen white-boy doo-wop bands in autistic two-step, or moaning mouseketeer divas fronting aerobics class, all united in the lofty purpose of promoting soft drinks and/or sportswear — ELO reminds us that music is, ultimately, an art.


Richard Barone

Why I love ELO?  The unabashed joy of going over-the-top! "Showdown" got to me first... at a tender age... and must have made an impression when you consider the prominence of cellos on my own records!

Jerry Dale McFadden (Swag, Sixpence None The Richer)

Jeff Lynne has always had one of those pleasing voices to me.  I know some people have fave singers that they say they'd love to hear "sing the phone book", well, maybe Jeff isn't one of those singers, but I still never tire of his voice.  When I was a kid I used to think that ELO took up where the Beatles left off.  They still carry the torch for great pop songwriting.  I love them dearly!
 
Bill Lloyd

They kept classic pop full of Beatle-isms on top forty radio at a time when it was 96% dreck (Captain and Tennille, Debby Boone, the list could go on if I had some mid-70's billboards within my reach) they were born out of the move, one of the great bands of the 60's Jeff wrote really great singles like "Can't get it out of my head," "Strange Magic," "Mr. Blue Sky," "Do Ya"' (granted, a move re-make), "Hold On Tight" ... that list could go on too.. instead of choosing to sit back and just count the mailbox money, Jeff Lynne continued to produce great records by Tom Petty, Del Shannon, George Harrison and eventually, the Threetles. Good on him!

Prairie Prince and Gary Cambra of The Tubes with Diana Mangano, lead singer for Jefferson Airplane/ Starship

We love ELO because they're so cute. My favorite was Micky!  No, I liked Davy best!  Well, I always liked George, you know, he was the true genius.

Doug Powell

Jeff Lynne's inventiveness constantly astounds me.  The wildly original arrangements, the often seemingly simple but quite complex songs, the awe-inspiring background vocals, the nuanced lead vocals, and the high production concepts all conspire to make me want to never make another note sometimes because I'm convinced I'll never come close to the art he has succeeded in creating.

(A great big 'THANK YOU' to Doug Powell for putting this together)

ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA
Flashback
Sony/Legacy

This 3CD retrospective of Jeff Lynne and co is presumably to replace the Afterglow set that came out a decade ago. This time around, Lynne is heavily involved in the selection of tracks and (more importantly) the re-mastering process. Meaning that Flashback collects a good number of hit singles, great album tracks, alternate versions and previously unreleased material - all that a fan can expect from a deluxe box set. 

Lynne has chosen to sequence the songs, not in a chronological manner but treating each disc as an entity in itself. Although fundamentally, Lynne abides by three distinct time periods.

The first - roughly 1971 to 1975 - covers ELO's progressive pop phase and includes 10538 Overture and Mr. Radio from the debut No Answer album, which features ELO co-founder Roy Wood. Wood, in fact, was responsible for the name of the band, as he together with Lynne and drummer Bev Bevan had intended ELO as a side project to their proper band, The Move. Wood would leave the group shortly after the release of No Answer.

Drawn from ELOII, On the Third Day and Eldorado (notably, Showdown, Ma-Ma-Ma-Belle, Roll Over Beethoven, Can Get It Out of My Head and Illusions in G Major), this disc highlights ELO's lofty ambition to meld Beatlesque pop with classical music. This aspiration is underlined by the inclusion of three string players in the line-up. Also prominent is an unedited tracking of Lynne's reworking of the Move's only US hit, Do Ya.

Disc two covers mainly the period from 1976 to 1979 as ELO rose to prominence and by the end of the seventies became one of the biggest bands in the world. This was due in no small part to Lynne's scaling back of the prog element to emphasise the pop. The result - a rich vein of music, both artistically and commercially. Mega-selling albums such as Face the Music, New World Record, Out of the Blue and Discovery spawned mega-selling singles like Strange Magic, Evil Woman, Telephone Line, Livin' Thing, Turn to Stone, Mr Blue Sky, Last Train to London, Shine A Little Love and Don't Bring Me Down. Significantly, Lynne pared the band down to a quartet, retaining Bevan, Richard Tandy and Kelly Groucutt.

ELO's success was unchallenged but Lynne was becoming disenchanted with the music business, with the constant touring and promotional activities wearing him down slowly but surely. Disc three finds Lynne somewhat abandoning the trademark epic orchestral sound so associated with his work between the years 1980 to 1986. The eighties would see ELO's star wane considerably, even though albums like Time, Secret Messages and Balance of Power still managed modest hits in Twilight, Hold On Tight, Rock n Roll is King and Calling America.

Lynne's dissatisfaction with life as the head of ELO culminated in his disbanding the group after the release of Balance of Power signalled the end of his contractual obligations to Columbia. He would then go on to be a highly sought after producer and can name the likes of George Harrison, Brian Wilson, Paul McCartney, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Del Shannon, Randy Newman and even his beloved Beatles in his impressive resume.

Notable absentees from this disc are the contributions the band made to the Olivia Newton-John movie vehicle Xanadu. Oddly enough, Lynne re-does the track, which comes across like a Travelling Wilburys' outtake. Disc three also features a handful of tracks dating from 1982 but completed by Lynne in 2000 (viz. Love Changes All, Helpless, Who’s That) and these have the same Travelling Wilburys vibe that marks the revamped Xanadu.

Presumably, this "vibe" will be dominant when the brand new ELO album Zoom! is released to ELO fans worldwide.

Whichever direction Lynne may choose to pursue, one thing is certain - great tunes, great production and great fun are always guaranteed whenever Jeff Lynne is part of the equation.

Flashback and the entire ELO works are proof positive of that fact. Indispensable pop. (10)