Originally intended to be an offshoot of the popular progressive British rock group The Move, the Electric Light Orchestra was meant to be in existence alongside its progenitor. As it happens, the enormously ambitious concept for the Electric Light Orchestra spared little time for other ventures, and the Move dissolved. And in its wake, ELO itself almost dissolved – not an auspicious start for a band now commonly cited as the inspiration of the next generation of pop musicians.
The brainchild of Move co-founder Roy Wood and recent recruit Jeff Lynne (late of the Idle Race), ELO was an adventurous attempt to bring pop music full circle with the classics. The 60s saw many a rock group/session orchestra combination – the Moody Blues’ groundbreaking Days Of Future Passed album, the Beatles’ baroque-ish “I Am The Walrus” and “Eleanor Rigby”, and many a one-off tune such as the Lemon Pipers’ “Green Tambourine”. Wood and Lynne, aside from being intrigued by this sound (especially where the Beatles were concerned), had each had their own revelations when studio string players augmented their own songs. Lynne’s first experiments occurred with his first Idle Race album, The Birthday Party, while Wood had been delighted with the results of such string-overdubbed Move songs as “The Girl Outside” and “Mist On A Monday Morning”. But with ELO, they sought to dispense with rented musicians and bring full-time string players into the rock group itself, for both recording and touring purposes. As the Move continued turning out hard-rock hits, Wood and Lynne were writing and recording material for ELO’s debut effort.
Released in 1971, the Electric Light Orchestra’s self-titled album (released in the US as No Answer thanks to a misunderstood message about phone calls to ELO’s UK label to double-check the album’s title) was a bizarre mix of string-drenched rock songs that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the next Move album, a “Classical Gas”-style guitar instrumental, a jazzy piano instrumental, and something which can best be described as a cross between a baroque-backed tone poem and a historical spoken word recital about the battle of Marston Moor. Many of the string instruments on the cello-heavy first album were actually played by Roy Wood himself, overdubbing repeatedly until the cumulative result was the sound of eight or ten cellos. Perhaps the most recognizable glimpse of the group’s future comes from Lynne’s slightly-overproduced “Mr. Radio”, a pop ballad with gorgeous piano and string work, no bass whatsoever, and all of the vocals filtered as though they sounded as though they were coming through a scratchy radio speaker. If there was an early predictor of the group’s future sound, “Mr. Radio” was it. But as complex as that first album was to realize in the studio, touring with the densely-layered, richly-orchestrated new material was even more stressful. The tour was thankfully brief but, according to the band members, frighteningly stressful due to technical issues. “10538 Overture” graced the British airwaves quite a lot for a debut single from a new band, owing primarily to the members’ association with the Move.
Work began on second album, with Lynne and Wood laying down tracks for some lengthy hard rock numbers, but before they got very far, an argument erupted in the studio – and Wood left the group. After a brief pause, Lynne auditioned new band members, and brought session player Richard Tandy aboard full time for his keyboard and Moog synthesizer wizardry. Mike de Albuquerque was recruited as full-time bassist, and the band’s full-time roster now included two cellists and a violinist; now acting as the band’s sole producer, Lynne frequently overdubbed the string players to sound like a larger ensemble. There was still an album to record, and though Electric Light Orchestra II had only five songs, they were lengthy, jam-heavy art-rock adventures, the shortest of which was seven minutes long. It was here that ELO’s definitive cover of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” emerged, a hard rock take on the classic rockabilly tune which now incorporated Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony into the song at various points. “Roll Over Beethoven”, cut down to a more radio-friendly length, helped ELO to make its first inroads into America, where the mistitled No Answer had slipped past the radar of both radio programmers and the general public.
1973 saw the release of On The Third Day, an album which continued ELO II’s established style of string-sweetened heavy metal riffs, though Richard Tandy’s keyboard artistry now came to the fore, especially with instrumentals like “Daybreaker”. The culmination of ELO’s early hard rock phase arrived in the single “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle”, with an uncredited Marc Bolan from T. Rex matching Jeff Lynne’s hard-hitting guitar note for note. Slightly less heavy, another single, “Showdown”, previewed the band’s future with its catchy, almost funky clavinet bass line and soaring vocal harmonies in the chorus. As if trying to find a way to follow up on “Roll Over Beethoven”, the band arranged and recorded a heavy metal version of Grieg’s “In The Hall Of The Mountain King” to close the album. “Showdown” proved to be Third Day‘s hot commodity: it charted in the U.S. and created Stateside demand for a tour. Some personnel changes occurred in the string section for touring purposes, with ace violinist Mik Kaminski joining the band on the road. Though he didn’t play on the album, Kaminski appeared on the U.S. release’s cover, joining his new bandmates in staring down the camera and – for no readily apparent reason – exposing their belly buttons.
Though Third Day had pushed the envelope, Lynne realized that he was about to hit the ceiling of what could be accomplished by building up layer after layer of two cellos and one violin. For the band’s fourth album, Eldorado, not only was the epic-length song structure abandoned in favor of three and four minute pop songs, but the string passages were arranged for a full orchestra – but Lynne still found himself doubling up, having to play bass himself after the departure of Mike de Albuquerque. A studio orchestra was hired for Eldorado, and with the addition of a choir, ELO suddenly gained an entirely different sound; by the time it was released, Eldorado‘s title was augmented with the subtitle “A Symphony by the Electric Light Orchestra.” With densely layered arrangements by Lynne and Louis Clark (later of “Hooked On Classics” fame), Eldorado bore the chart-climbing, Lennonesque ballad “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head”, and featured several other strong numbers as well, including the outstanding “Laredo Tornado” (a song which not only prominently featured the band’s core string players, but continued Jeff Lynne’s fascination with the fate of Native American culture at the hands of European settlers; later songs would reveal Lynne’s fixation on both the wild west and science fiction). Oddly enough, despite the more lush orchestral sound, ELO’s chart fortunes were greater now in the U.S. than in England, and an exhausting U.S. touring schedule reflected this, as did the arrival of bassist Kelly Groucutt.
Face The Music, ELO’s 1975 entry, ushered in more changes in the band’s touring string section and hailed the start of the band’s biggest climb in popularity. And it was with Face The Music that Lynne and his cohorts migrated to Germany’s Musicland studios for recording duties, ably assisted by an engineer credited only as Mack (who also worked on many of Queen’s albums). The funky single “Evil Woman” – the lyrics to which Jeff Lynne wrote in just five minutes while the band waited in the studio – and the gentle ballad “Strange Magic” were the album’s two big singles, with Groucutt’s falsetto vocals fitting in perfectly with Lynne’s increasingly thick wall of backing voices. Though a choir was still hired for some tracks on Face The Music, increasingly the reliance was on several tracks of Lynne and Groucutt harmonizing different parts. Face The Music was also infamous for its backward intro, a sinister voice-over intoning “The music is reversible, but time is not. Turn back! Turn back! Turn back!”, as heard in the creepy intro to the guitar/cello duel of “Fire On High”. “Nightirder” was also released as a single, but it didn’t chart as high as either of its predecessors.
1976’s A New World Record scored the band three huge hits, “Telephone Line”, “Livin’ Thing” (later used rather memorably in the movie Boogie Nights) and “Rockaria!”. This album also established the logo that ELO would use on album covers, tour programs and advertising for the rest of its career. The album also featured a cover of “Do Ya”, a Move song written by Lynne which has since been covered by Ace Frehley, Todd Rundgren, Jason Falkner, and many other artists, as well as the moody “Mission (A World Record)”, a sci-fi rock opera chronicling an alien observer’s thoughts while watching urban life on Earth.
1977 saw the release of Out Of The Blue, a double album whose cover art cemented the fanciful notion of the ELO logo as a spaceship (and if there was better album art to have during the year that both Star Wars and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind hit the theater, I haven’t seen it). The synth-heavy single “Turn To Stone”, followed by the jaunty and Beatlesque “Mr. Blue Sky” (later recorded by Lynne, by himself without using the original backing tracks, for a Volkswagen advertising campaign circa 2000) and the catchy “Sweet Talkin’ Woman”, dominated radio airplay, and a massive international tour saw the band arriving in a clam-shell-shaped “spaceship” stage, complete with laser light show and fog machines. A video was recorded of one such tour stop at Wembley Arena, and most of 1978 was spent on the road. Also in 1978, Lynne broke out for his first solo project: a decidedly disco single which only saw release in a later box set consisting of A New World Record, Out Of The Blue and Discovery. Lynne played and sang everything on “Doin’ That Crazy Thing” (and its B-side, “Goin’ Down To Rio”) himself, a slight (but, in all brutal honesty, barely listenable) glimpse of things to come in his career.
After a year’s break for touring, ELO went back into the studio to record the album Discovery, though it marked the beginning of major changes. There were the usual flashes of studio strings on the album, but few (if any) hints of the group’s core string trio – and on the album itself, resident cellists Melvyn Gale and Hugh McDowall were no longer credited, and violinist Mik Kaminski was listed as a guest artist (not the first time that fate would befall a musician who had formerly been considered a full-time band member). Some of the album’s strings were, in a first for ELO, synthesized. And the album’s biggest single, “Don’t Bring Me Down”, was practically a Lynne solo concoction. In his liner notes for the 2001 re-release of Discovery, Lynne says he made a loop of Bev Bevan’s drumming from another song, added “ten grand pianos, two cement mixers and a crate of Newcastle Brown Ale,” essentially putting the song together by himself late at night – another sign of things to come. With the new album firmly entrenched in the same disco-fied sound as Lynne’s solo single, keyboardist Richard Tandy coined the album’s title, Disco-very, from his wry assessment of the band’s new sound.
ELO’s increasingly lush sound had made them a hot prospect for movie soundtracks, but no one had yet secured the band’s services to produce original music for a specific movie. With 1980’s soundtrack to Xanadu, that finally changed as Lynne composed six new songs just for a movie described in its marketing hype as “the last great movie musical.” (At one point, Lynne was slated to contribute the entire score to the movie, though if any work was completed on that front, it has never been heard.) Starring Gene Kelly, Olivia Newton-John and Michael Beck, the song-and-dance-cum-roller-boogie extravaganza flopped at the box office, but netted ELO its first-ever #1 single, “Xanadu”, featuring Olivia Newton-John on lead vocals. There were two other radio hits, “All Over The World” and “I’m Alive”, a lush ballad accompanying a Don Bluth-directed animated segment (“Don’t Walk Away”), and an excellent synth-heavy ballad that has gained undeservedly little notice, “The Fall”. The sixth song, “Love Changes All”, wasn’t finished for inclusion in the movie or its best-selling soundtrack album (half of which featured Olivia Newton-John’s songs featuring other guests like the Kinks, Gene Kelly and Cliff Richard). An ELO instrumental, “Drum Dreams”, wasn’t included on the album either, and was released only as the B-side to the “Xanadu” 45. As one might expect from the title, “Drum Dreams” is one of the few ELO tracks to put Bev Bevan in the spotlight.
By this time, Jeff Lynne was ready to leave ELO and go on to greener pastures, perhaps as a solo artist but more likely as a producer. However, at the band’s birth, a slightly questionable deal was struck between the band’s principals and manager Don Arden, whose reportedly heavy-handed tactics “persuaded” many of the acts in his roster to keep recording, keep touring, and keep releasing – or else. Another of Arden’s clients, the seemingly unflappable ex-Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne, has been quoted as saying he was “terrified” of Arden. (It must be noted, however, that Ozzy was stuck with Arden permanently, and not just as a manager: Osbourne married Arden’s daughter Sharon.) In any event, Arden cracked the whip: under its contract with him, ELO had to stay together long enough to record three more albums.
1981’s Time arrived with a drastic change in ELO’s sound. Though there were still hints of the four-to-the-bar disco beat, the new album was awash with synthesizers, electronic drums and processed vocals – and real live strings were few and far between. Arriving at the height of the new wave movement, Time generated three radio hits, “Twilight”, “Here Is The News” and “Hold On Tight”, a straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roller which also had the dubious distinction of becoming the jingle for the coffee industry’s “coffee achiever” ad campaign a few years later. Time was also ELO’s first attempt at a true concept album since 1974’s Eldorado, with a time travel/science fiction theme at its core.
In 1982 and 1983, in addition to working on an ambitious new double album with ELO, Lynne was starting to do some outside production work. He wrote and produced the song “Slipping Away” – originally intended to be an ELO number – for Dave Edmunds, and the result bore so many signature sounds that many listeners mistook it for ELO itself. “Slipping Away” and the Lynne-produced “Information” stuck out a bit like sore thumbs on Edmunds’ largely rockabilly album Information, but they got Edmunds radio airplay at a time when he was considered by many to be in a retro rut. Edmunds had Lynne produce even more tracks on the follow-up album, 1984’s Riff Raff.
But 1983 was also to be the year that ELO released a new double album, the Out Of The Blue of the band’s post-orchestral era. Employing the latest technology – even early sampling – Secret Messages had a unique sound: more technology, and at the same time more basic rock ‘n’ roll guitar work. Edmunds’ influence could perhaps be felt on back-to-basics rockers like “Four Little Diamonds” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll Is King”, while Lynne waxed futuristic on songs like “Time After Time”. As the production period for the album grew longer, Lynne grew more dissatisfied with some of the songs. What he finally delivered was Secret Messages as a single LP. Songs like “Buildings Have Eyes”, “Mandalay” and the bluesy “No Way Out” would later be released as box set bonus tracks; “Endless Lies”, a Roy Orbison-esque ballad with a sped-up chorus, would be held back and reworked for the next ELO album. And one song, “Beatles Forever“, would become the lost ark of the ELO catalogue.
A brief tour for Secret Messages followed the album’s release, but Lynne was growing visibly annoyed with the road. Work on Dave Edmunds’ Riff Raff followed in 1984, as did the return of Jeff Lynne the solo artist on the soundtrack for the movie Electric Dreams. Lynne wrote and recorded two songs, “Video!” and “Let It Run”, for the movie; as 45s, the two singles were backed with, respectively, an instrumental version of the sample-heavy “Video!” and a bluesy rocker, “Sooner Or Later”. It would be 1986 before ELO released another album.
By the time Balance Of Power hit the stores, with “Calling America” getting a little airplay an era increasingly dominated by the likes of Wham, Whitney Houston and hard-rock hair bands, ELO had jettisoned Kelly Groucutt as bassist. He sued for unpaid royalties, but the response to the suit stated that Groucutt had been a session player, not a full member of the Electric Light Orchestra. By the time the matter was settled, there was no chance of patching up the relationship. Bevan was less than thrilled with the increasing use of electronic drums and percussion, with Lynne occasionally adding his own percussion to the Balance Of Power tracks without consulting his drummer. And when the record was delivered, and a very short tour was finished (with the band’s falling-star status evident as it played support for Rod Stewart instead of headlining the tour), Lynne had fulfilled the contract and delivered three more albums. As far as he was concerned, ELO was through.
After disbanding ELO in 1986, Jeff Lynne immediately went on to produce ex-Beatle George Harrison’s acclaimed 1987 album Cloud Nine, which also featured songs co-written by Lynne and Harrison (including the hit single When We Was Fab, a tribute to Harrison’s Beatles years). Harrison had initially approached Dave Edmunds to work on the album, but Edmunds couldn’t participate due to his own busy schedule and recommended Jeff Lynne instead. Lynne and Harrison collaborated again in a supergroup called the Traveling Wilburys, featuring Lynne, Harrison, Tom Petty, and rock legends Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison. This led to Lynne producing and playing on Petty’s solo album Full Moon Fever (the biggest seller in Petty’s career) and Orbison’s final album, Mystery Girl. The lead single for the latter was also co-written by Lynne, and has been covered by several other artists, including Bonnie Raitt. After Orbison’s untimely death, another Wilburys album was made, and Lynne worked on the next two albums by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, as well as a couple of soundtrack singles with Harrison. In 1990, Lynne released the brilliant solo album Armchair Theatre (taking its name from an early British soap opera created by Sydney Newman, who would later create UK science fiction icon Doctor Who), which made a minor chart splash with the singles “Every Little Thing” and “Lift Me Up”, but despite the prominence of Lynne’s name as a producer and songwriter in recent years, his profile as an artist seemed to suffer from his self-imposed anonymity during the ELO years; the album didn’t make a dent on the charts or in sales.
Other one-off production projects occupied Lynne’s time in the 1990s, including albums and singles with Julianna Raye, Joe Cocker, and Miss B Haven (a band whose drummer, Mette Mathesen, had done amazing session work on Armchair Theater), but in 1994, as plans were drawn for a definitive Beatles documentary and new rarities collections on CD, Lynne got an opportunity to work with his heroes at last. Yoko Ono, the widow of the late John Lennon, allowed the remaining Beatles to have three demo recordings by Lennon; the other Beatles would reunite, add their own touches to the songs, and release them as the first “new” Beatles songs in 25 years. George Martin was naturally the first person contacted by Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, but due to health problems – including issues with his hearing – the producer who had shepherded the Beatles through their most famous recordings declined. Harrison suggested Jeff Lynne as the next logical choice, and despite some reservations on McCartney’s part, Lynne got the job. While actually producing and even participating in the first new Beatles sessions since 1970 (Lynne provided some backing vocals, thus becoming yet another member of the rarified pantheon of “fifth Beatles”), cleaning up pops, hiss, electrical hum and background noises from John Lennon’s lo-fi cassette recordings proved to be an immense technical task, but one which paid off: the Beatles Anthology‘s three volumes sold in record numbers, with fans lining up at some stores for sales which began a minute after midnight, inspiring almost Star Wars-style merchandising frenzies. Originally each 2-disc set was intended to have one of the “new” songs, but the amount of material on the third volume – and difficulties in completing the third Lennon song to the other Beatles’ satisfaction – meant that the third song undertaken by Lynne and the remaining Beatles would never be heard.
Another bonus of the Beatles sessions was that McCartney, initially skeptical of Lynne’s abilities, chose him to produce several songs on his next solo album, Flaming Pie. Lynne also produced material for Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band, and Ringo would later repay the favor by becoming only the third studio drummer in ELO’s history (of which more in a moment).
Lynne was not the only ELO alumnus active after the band folded in the 80s, however. Former bassist Kelly Groucutt, after issuing his own underrated solo album and suing over lost ELO royalties in an acrimonious court battle, formed his own band in a distinctly ELO vein with former violinist Mik Kaminski. Calling their band OrKestra, they played a collection of ELO staples, originals by both Groucutt and Kaminski, and new material as well, but once again faced legal action when nebulous wording in tour posters drew a lawsuit alleging that OrKestra was trying to pose as ELO itself (though by that time, ELO had disappeared). The band made a guest appeareance – and played some original songs – in the teen film Summer Job, but found little success in the U.S.
In the year leading up to the release of Lynne’s solo album Armchair Theatre, Bev Bevan was also busy, recruiting a new group of musicians, intending to reform ELO without Lynne. (The band’s former leader considered suing over the use of the name, but ultimately decided that it wasn’t worth the time and money of a court battle.) Bevan rounded up Pete Haycock, Neil Lockwood, and former commercial jingle-writer (and John Lennon session musician) Eric Troyer to form ELO Part II. Debuting not long after a three-CD ELO retrospective box set hastily issued by Epic Records in 1990, Part II divided the fan community’s loyalties; after all, Bevan too was a founding member of the original ELO. The new band, however, sounded for the most part like a late-80s “hair” band, drenching slickly-produced hard rock with sweetened studio strings. (The producer for Part II’s first studio venture was Jeff Glixman, who had worked with such bands as Kansas.) The self-titled debut album’s most authentically ELO moments, however, came not from Bevan but from Troyer, who broke the hard rock mold to deliver a few real live gems that weren’t at all out of place alongside the songs written by Jeff Lynne; “Thousand Eyes”, in fact, featured string work not unlike that which made ELO distinctive in the late 70s, arranged by Louis Clark. Even with Don Arden acting as the band’s manager, ELO Part II got little respect from radio – and their album had a hard time landing a label, finally being issued in the U.S. by Scotti Bros., a label most remembered for being the original home of Weird Al Yankovic.
In 1991 and ’92, ELO Part II embarked on an ambitious world tour, and Bevan invited OrKestra along as the opening act. In the end, both bands wound up on stage doing classic ELO encores, and ultimately Groucutt and Kaminski decided to fold OrKestra into ELO Part II. With Louis Clark having joined Part II on the road, the question of whether or not the band was truly ELO became hazier – there were now no fewer than four members of the original band’s lineup from its heyday, and Groucutt quickly emerged as the lead singer, with Troyer taking over for his own songs. Lockwood and Haycock left after the tour, and the remaining members recruited Phil Bates, a guitarist/vocalist/songwriter who had to audition – like everyone else who was up for the part – by presenting the band with an original song in the classic Jeff Lynne pop-rock mold. The group’s next album, Moment Of Truth, had a sound which more obviously strove for the late 70s classic ELO vibe, with the occasional hard rock number thrown in, even opening with a Louis Clark-composed orchestral overture. By this point, Part II had shed Scotti Bros. as its label home (after a 1992 CD chronicling the band’s Moscow dates with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra tanked in record stores, heading immediately for the cutout bins) and Arden’s management as well. Another tour ensued, with local orchestras supporting the group in several venues. (Another live CD, One Night, was released after a successful collaboration with the Sydney Symphony in Australia.) But as the late 90s rolled around, Bev Bevan was surprised when the one thing he perhaps least expected happened. Jeff Lynne was back – and he wanted the ELO name back.
After yet another court settlement, ELO Part II was stripped of its name, and Bevan – after drumming for the Move or some combination of ELO for almost 40 years – decided to retire from the drum kit. Groucutt took over the group, now simply renamed The Orchestra, and another drummer (and, after Phil Bates’ departure, a new lead guitarist) had to be recruited. A new album of original songs was released as an ELO fan club exclusive in 2001, with an Argentinian label picking up the album for wider distribution in 2003.
In the meantime, Jeff Lynne had been back in the studio working on his follow-up to Armchair Theatre for quite some time, and with the ELO name now back in his possession (and free of the demanding Don Arden contract), he decided to release the new album under the ELO banner. Some fans argued that Lynne alone did not constitute ELO, but with keyboardist Richard Tandy sitting in on at least one song on the album, their fears were allayed somewhat. Late 2000 saw a compilation of remastered ELO classics and rarities – including “Love Changes All” from the Xanadu sessions and several lost Secret Messages tracks – finished in the studio by Lynne during recent sessions, as well as a new version of “Xanadu” itself with Lynne handling all of the vocals. 2001 was to be the comeback year: Lynne’s new ELO album, Zoom, was issued, and a VH-1 Storytellers special was filmed and aired to publicize the “group’s” return. On stage, that meant Lynne, his girlfriend (and former disco-era diva) Rosie Vela, Richard Tandy, and a handful of hand-picked but unknown-to-the-public musicians filling in on bass, guitar, drums and even cello. (In the studio, ELO – for the purposes of Zoom – consisted of Lynne by himself, with occasional guest appearances by Rosie Vela, cellist Suzie Katayama, and even Ringo Starr and George Harrison on a couple of songs.) Two more concerts were filmed in Los Angeles from which videos would be edited for outlets such as VH1, and a nationwide U.S. tour was planned – and then cancelled, when the huge venues booked by the band’s management failed to sell out in advance. (It is worth noting, however, that ELO’s tour was cancelled mere weeks before September 11th, 2001, so it seems like that the tour would have come to a premature end in any event.)
With no tour and very little promotion to back it up, Zoom was an inauspicious relaunch for ELO. The brief surge in label interest, however, graced the fans with not only a new album, but four remastered albums from ELO’s 70s and 80s catalog, and a UK-only two-disc remastered edition of the group’s very first album. Numerous artists also gathered to pay tribute to Lynne’s songwriting and performance style on a 2-CD collection called Lynne Me Your Ears, with pop luminaries from Todd Rundgren to Jason Falkner to Sixpence None The Richer taking part. Press material for Tal Bachman’s hit debut album included an interview in which Bachman referred to ELO’s album as “sacred musical revelations.” On his solo album Camera Obscura, indie artist Paul MelanÃ§on pays a slightly humorous tribute in a song titled “Jeff Lynne” – sung from the point of view of a lonely musician (who’s trying to “be just like Jeff Lynne” in the lyrics) who won’t leave his studio to spend time with his girlfriend until it’s too late. In 2005, a diverse collective of artists called L.E.O., often e-mailing tracks to each other so new parts could be added, released a stellar album that wasn’t a series of covers, but an overt stylistic tribute to the various sounds Lynne had tried on in his recording career. Once considered a footnote of disco-era history, ELO and Jeff Lynne are now name-checked by some of pop music’s brightest rising stars as a seminal influence.
Having completed the high-profile task of finishing production on George Harrison’s posthumous Brainwashed album, Jeff Lynne continues dividing his time between his own musical creations as well as outside production work. There’s often talk of more music or even a remounted tour by the “revived” (or perhaps, more accurately, “repopulated”) ELO, possibly under a new label run by Lynne himself. The original ELO’s work continues to be remastered, though an ambitious program of re-releases was stalled when Zoom lost momentum; for years, the remastered projects now reside entirely in the UK, with elaborate double-disc editions of the group’s first two albums being released as limited editions. The remastered editions of the other albums finally restarted in 2006, releasing newly cleaned-up versions of each of the group’s studio albums with newly-discovered (and newly finished by Lynne) bonus tracks through 2007. Some fans expressed disappointment that holy grails such as “Beatles Forever” and the lost Xanadu score were nowhere to be found, but fine songs like “Surrender” and “Latitude 88 North” more than compensated for most devote listeners.
Elsewhere, Kelly Groucutt, Mik Kaminski and Louis Clark keep their own portion of the ELO torch lit by playing limited engagements as The Orchestra. With several years of originals from ELO Part II, OrKestra and the band’s latest incarnation, they’ve become far more than just a cover band (though there is, as always, a demand for some classic Lynne-written ELO chestnuts). Even Roy Wood, after several different bands and solo projects, is still in the music business, generally regarded as one of England’s greatest pop treasures gone underground. (Lynne produced a 1990 recording session for Wood, including a demo of an addictively great pop number called “You And Me” which was liberally sprinkled with both of their signature sounds, but aside from a low-quality leaked copy of that demo, nothing else from that session has ever been heard.)
Despite fans’ hopes for a Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall Of Fame induction (which would all but force a reunion of the group’s original members), it seems unlikely that ELO’s principal players will ever share the stage or studio again. But with so many of them still actively making music, the band’s legacy remains…and continues to grow.