Well, I guess this is proof that I’m a sucker for nearly anything with the Electric Light Orchestra’s name on the cover. This latest release from Eagle Records, the people who brought us rather nice CD pressings of concert recordings from ELO’s 1975 and 1978 tours, is a collection of studio numbers from the band’s appearances on BBC Radio’s Bob Harris Sessions show between 1972 and 1974. If it sounds like I’m a little bit skeptical, it’s because in places the songs on this CD sound exactly like the studio versions that eventually saw light on their respective albums. “Kuiama” especially raised my suspicions – are we sure that this isn’t the same cut that wound up on ELO II? Either that, or ELO really was the best live band in the world, managing to duplicate the entirety of a song, right down to its production nuances, in a live performance!
But “Roll Over Beethoven” and “From The Sun To The World” are clearly not the same recordings I’ve heard at least two hundred times. Jeff Lynne’s vocals are a big part of the difference – in some places he sings a little rougher, and in a few places on the latter track, he actually sings a little better than he did on the final cut which made it to vinyl in 1972. The instrumentation is also significantly different on “From The Sun”, including a guitar solo in place of a violin solo during the instrumental break, and some much heavier synth work courtesy of Richard Tandy. Sadly, this song also fades out just as it’s starting to kick into the series of lightning-fast solos.
The Bob Harris Sessions version of “Mama” (listed on this CD, and on quite a few other compilations, as “Momma”) is outstanding – miles ahead of what actually made the cut for ELO II in 1972. Unusually, Lynne’s vocals are very dry, free from the echoplexing and reverb with which he usually drenched his own singing in post-production. And Jeff Lynne is an excellent singer – this track proves that he didn’t need to hide behind all the effects for so many years. The harmonies are also much wider, almost Queen-like, and better mixed. It almost sounds like an Armchair Theatre outtake of a recent cover version of the song.
“In The Hall Of The Mountain King” has never really been an ELO track I’ve listened to a lot, but this live version is another testament to Jeff Lynne’s guitar skills, the strength of ELO’s string section in the early 1970s, and the thundering intensity of Bev Bevan in his prime.
The final suite of five tracks is where I get sorely disappointed with this album. These songs, all from On The Third Day, sound exactly, in every detail and every tiny nuance, like the recordings I’ve heard on Third Day for more than half my life. It’s a damn shame – I would have loved to hear alternate takes or even different mixes of these songs from one of the band’s most mysterious and intricate albums. Simply lifting tracks from the album for this CD is the equivalent of the studio version of “Standin’ In The Rain” which opens the video of the 1978 Wembley Arena concert…it’s more than a little bit misleading.
So, the final question is…for those die-hard fans who have heard every last ELO song in existence a thousand times, is it worth the effort to track this CD down? I’m such a fan myself, so my answer is a “Yes!”…but that’s a qualified yes. Even if it’s just for this version of “Mama”, I recommend the BBC Sessions album to those who have the time and money to blow on finding this one.
- Kuiama (11:05)
- Roll Over Beethoven (7:40)
- From The Sun To The World (7:19)
- Momma (6:56)
- In the Hall of the Mountain King (5:42)
- King of the Universe (2:35)
- Bluebird Is Dead (4:24)
- New World Rising (4:01)
- Daybreaker (3:31)
- Ma Ma Ma Belle (3:40)
Released by: Eagle / Edel
Release date: 1999
Total running time: 56:56