Electric Light Orchestra – Live At Wembley, 1978

Electric Light Orchestra - Live At Wembley, 1978This has been available on videotape for ages, but in the past three or so years has seen release on CD and DVD as well. Does that really improve it? Well…no. Not really. Despite being a Royal Gala performance (with the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester in the crowd), this is far from the best live show ELO has ever put on. There are far stronger performances on the BBC Sessions disc and Live At Winterland. But this was from “the spaceship tour!” So naturally, this is what everyone remembers. (In case you’re one who doesn’t: the spaceship tour is the year-long globetrotting circuit ELO did using an enormous fiberglass spaceship set as its stage; the “flying saucer,” a weak likeness of the famous ELO spaceship on the Out Of The Blue album cover, would open each night with an elaborate fog and light show to reveal the band within – provided that the hydraulics to open the “lid” and lift the band up into view worked. Jeff Lynne has since likened the 1978 tour to Spinal Tap.)

Things start out somewhat inauspiciously with the “Concerto For A Rainy Day / Standin’ In The Rain” intro…on tape. The rendition of the remainder of the song following the intro isn’t exactly the band’s high point.

The fact of the matter is that the sound on this album is atrocious. If you’re going to spring for the Live At Wembley album, get the DVD instead of the CD. That way, at least the awful sound quality is at least offset by the ability to see something. And sadly, this is probably the only concert footage of ELO we’re going to see until Lynne and his new recruits hit the road to crank out the classics and the new stuff 1 out of 4from Zoom this summer.

The DVD also features an entire separate section featuring the complete collection of laughably low-budget videos from the album Discovery, a nice bonus to help justify the cost.

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  1. Introduction – Tony Curtis (2:48)
  2. Standin’ In The Rain (3:37)
  3. Night In The City (3:52)
  4. Turn To Stone (3:53)
  5. Tightrope (4:34)
  6. Telephone Line (4:19)
  7. Rockaria! (2:52)
  8. Wild West Hero (3:09)
  9. Showdown (3:13)
  10. 1-Minute Talk (0:54)
  11. Sweet Talkin’ Woman (3:53)
  12. Mr. Blue Sky (3:38)
  13. Do Ya (4:46)
  14. Livin’ Thing (3:57)
  15. Roll Over Beethoven (6:45)

Released by: Eagle / Edel
Release date: 1998
Total running time: 56:10

Electric Light Orchestra – Balance Of Power

Electric Light Orchestra - Balance Of PowerThis was the last real album recorded by ELO, and don’t let Bev Bevan – who now fronts ELO Part II – tell you otherwise. This modest album, as aptly described in the liner notes of the Afterglow box set four years later, doesn’t sound a whole lot like what you’d come to expect from ELO. It is as different from the mid-70s ELO signature as the group’s classical-heavy-metal-fusion first album was, but moves steadily into the 80s. The great vocal harmonies are still there, but the orchestra is not (unless emulated by keyboards), and the sound just doesn’t seem as full as it3 out of 4 stars once did. The songs aren’t bad, though – “Without Someone”, “Is It Alright” and “Calling America” sticking out as my favorites and the most authentically ELO-ish – but perhaps this should have been Jeff Lynne’s first solo album instead of the last ELO album.

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  1. Heaven Only Knows (2:54)
  2. So Serious (2:41)
  3. Getting To The Point (4:29)
  4. Secret Lives (3:28)
  5. Is It Alright (3:24)
  6. Sorrow About To Fall (4:03)
  7. Without Someone (3:51)
  8. Calling America (3:29)
  9. Endless Lies (2:58)
  10. Send It (3:39)

Released by: Epic
Release date: 1986
Total running time: 34:56

Electric Light Orchestra – Secret Messages

Electric Light Orchestra - Secret MessagesOriginally conceived and recorded as a double album, Secret Messages was for some reason cut down to a single album and released in 1983, bestowing upon the world a somewhat grating single “Rock ‘n’ Roll Is King” (I’m sure you’ll remember the chorus: “Wham-a-lam-a, bam-a-lam-a, rock ‘n’ roll is king!”) and then, for all intents and purposes, disappearing into undeserved obscurity. This entry on my Damn Near Perfect Album List is, like Time before it, an example of just how good ELO was in the 80s, even if radio didn’t think so. I can’t think of a song on here that I don’t like, with the possible exception of the CD bonus track “Time After Time”, which bears4 out of 4 stars more resemblance to Jeff Lynne’s work on Electric Dreams than to ELO, and perhaps there lies a hint as to why Secret Messages was halved prior to release, though some of the deleted songs heard on Afterglow are just fine. My highest recommendations!

  1. Secret Messages (4:43)
  2. Loser Gone Wild (5:25)
  3. Bluebird (4:06)
  4. Order this CD in the Store Take Me On And On (5:02)
  5. Time After Time (4:00)
  6. Four Little Diamonds (4:05)
  7. Stranger (4:27)
  8. Danger Ahead (3:53)
  9. Letter From Spain (2:51)
  10. Train of Gold (4:21)
  11. Rock ‘n’ Roll is King (3:45)

Released by: Jet
Release date: 1983
Total running time: 46:38

Electric Light Orchestra – Time

Electric Light Orchestra - TimeThough this isn’t my favorite ELO album of the 1980s, it contains my favorite song by the group which is also quite likely my favorite song of all time. I can’t say enough good things about “Rain Is Falling”, which achieves an almost perfect balance of orchestral and rock elements, and the vocals aren’t echoed too much (a common ELO failing of which even I tire), and it’s the band at its peak – at least for me. I could take up the rest of this whole review on this one song, but there are a whole dozen other tunes on Time, including the mechanical “Yours Truly, 2095” (with the great lyric “I met someone who looks a lot like you / She does the things you do / but she is an IBM”!), the laid-back harmonies of4 out of 4 stars “The Lights Go Down”, and “21st Century Man”. As always, most people will remember the album’s singles, “Twilight”, “Here Is The News”, and the coffee achiever song “Hold On Tight” (as in hold on tight to your dream). I highly recommend this one, as I do most ELO albums!

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  1. Prologue (1:16)
  2. Twilight (3:42)
  3. Yours Truly, 2095 (3:12)
  4. Ticket to the Moon (4:07)
  5. The Way Life’s Meant To Be (4:39)
  6. Another Heart Breaks (3:48)
  7. Rain Is Falling (3:55)
  8. From the End of the World (3:16)
  9. The Lights Go Down (3:34)
  10. Here Is The News (3:45)
  11. 21st Century Man (4:09)
  12. Hold On Tight (3:06)
  13. Epilogue (1:32)

Released by: Jet
Release date: 1981
Total running time: 44:01

Xanadu – music by Olivia Newton-John & ELO

Xanadu soundtrackAt the time of this review, Xanadu doesn’t seem to have been pressed on CD in the States, at least not recently, so I had to get a Japanese import, but at least the Japanese realized where the true value of this movie’s music was and put the ELO tracks first! (Oh, all right, just to be fair, I really, really like Olivia Newton-John’s “Magic”, and the big-band/rock combo “Dancin'” featuring The Tubes is really nifty. There, I admitted it.) Among the ELO tracks, the only weak entry is “Xanadu” itself, but even so3 out of 4 stars it’s not a bad song. It may not be the lost holy grail that ELO fans would really like to hear – Jeff Lynne’s abandoned instrumental score for the movie itself – but in general, the music was better than the movie.

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  1. I’m Alive (3:47)
  2. The Fall (3:36)
  3. Don’t Walk Away (4:47)
  4. All Over The World (4:05)
  5. Xanadu (with Olivia Newton-John) (3:28)
    Olivia Newton-John tracks:
  6. Magic (4:28)
  7. Suddenly – with Cliff Richard (4:00)
  8. Dancin’ – with the Tubes (5:15)
  9. Suspended in Time (3:53)
  10. Whenever You’re Away From Me / with Gene Kelly (4:18)

Released by: MCA
Release date: 1980
Total running time: 41:37

Electric Light Orchestra – Discovery

Electric Light Orchestra - DiscoveryFor me, this is ELO’s low ebb, the point at which they pretty much hit bottom. But I suppose nearly every band must have come close – even the Alan Parsons Project broke into an embarassingly disco-esque boogie in the middle of “The Voice” from their 1977 album, and so ELO was bound to go disco, however briefly. Sadly, it seems to be this phase which everyone remembers, consigning ELO to a fate of forever being relegated to Hits of the 70s! collections. “Last Train To London” is just about my least favorite ELO song of all time – it’s got good bass work, and that’s really all I can say in its favor. “Don’t Bring Me Down” is okay, though I preferred the later version played by the group live, which transformed the 2 out of 4 starssong from another miserable disco tune into a real rocker, and “Shine A Little Love” is only marginally better. So is there anything good about Discovery? Well, yeah, at least a couple of things. “Confusion” and “Need Her Love” are good songs, while “Wishing” is pretty much average ELO. I can’t really recommend this unless you, like myself, happen to be an ELO fanatic/completist.

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  1. Shine a Little Love (4:42)
  2. Confusion (3:43)
  3. Need Her Love (5:12)
  4. The Diary of Horace Wimp (4:17)
  5. Last Train to London (4:33)
  6. Midnight Blue (4:19)
  7. On The Run (3:56)
  8. Wishing (4:14)
  9. Don’t Bring Me Down (4:02)

Released by: Jet
Release date: 1979
Total running time: 38:58

Electric Light Orchestra – Out Of The Blue

Electric Light Orchestra - Out Of The BlueYou have to be in the mood for ELO, and a whole lot of ELO at its most ELO-esque, if you’re going to absorb this entire double album in one sitting. This album contains the singles “Turn To Stone”, “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” and “Mr. Blue Sky”, three of the best ELO singles ever to hit the airwaves. Some of the best album tracks also come from this one as well, including “Starlight”, one of the best songs ELO ever recorded. Don’t ask me why, but my favorite Jeff Lynne compositions show their 50s-retro roots quite audibly. Also included are “Jungle”, a song that sounds incredibly silly on the surface but is appealing all the same; “Standing In The Rain”, keyboardist Richard Tandy’s most jaw-dropping performance (and this was years before MIDI, children); the rough-edged Birmingham Blues (about the band’s home town – England, not Alabama); “Summer And Lightning” and “Night In The City” (two of the very few songs in which every possible good clichè of ELO’s sound converges), and one of my favorite instrumentals, “The Whale”. 4 out of 4 starsSome would argue that this is the last time ELO really sounded good, and that’s not entirely untrue. Out Of The Blue also marks the beginning of ELO’s most commercial phase of existence; the adventurous ELO of old didn’t return until 1981.

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  1. Turn To Stone (3:47)
  2. It’s Over (4:08)
  3. Sweet Talkin’ Woman (3:48)
  4. Across the Border (3:53)
  5. Night in the City (4:01)
  6. Starlight (4:26)
  7. Jungle (3:51)
  8. Believe Me Now (1:21)
  9. Steppin’ Out (4:39)
  10. Standin’ in the Rain (4:21)
  11. Big Wheels (5:05)
  12. Summer and Lightning (4:14)
  13. Mr. Blue Sky (5:05)
  14. Sweet is the Night (3:26)
  15. The Whale (5:02)
  16. Birmingham Blues (4:23)
  17. Wild West Hero (4:42)

Released by: Jet
Release date: 1977
Total running time: 70:12