Originally devised as a band that would “pick up where the ‘Beatles’ I Am The Walrus’ left off,” the Electric Light Orchestra was well on its way to carving out its own admittedly unconventional niche when the band’s leadership was split down the middle. Stunned by the sudden defection of founding member Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne and company regrouped, brought in a few more players, and kept the band’s original mandate – a rock group with its own live string section – intact. The result, in 1972, was two vinyl sides of beauty running the gamut from heavy metal to near-classical rock to ballads. Now, some 31 years later, the result is two full-length CDs of that same beauty and then some.
The original album – only five songs in all, but some of them epic-length – is a wonder to hear in this newly remastered edition, and the early takes of songs like “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle” and “Dreaming Of 4000” (intended for the group’s third album) are revealing looks at those tunes’ evolution. But the real treat here is a handful of songs we’d never heard before, with the jewel in that particular crown being “Everybody’s Born To Die”, a very surprisingly Dylan-esque number that makes one think that Jeff Lynne listened to “Like A Rolling Stone” for inspiration (both musical and lyrical) and then concocted his own uniquely ELO-ified electric folk song. The quality of the recording is such that it sounds like it could’ve been recorded yesterday, and despite it being a Dylan pastiche, it’s at least a good Dylan pastiche. It’s also a marvel to hear in a raw, un-adorned form; had it progressed far enough to be included on ELO II or On The Third Day, chances are the vocals would’ve been echoed, double-tracked, or otherwise messed with. Here we get to hear the raw power of Jeff Lynne belting this song out with no electronic trickery.
I was less enthralled with the three numbers featuring former Move lead singer Carl Wayne on vocals. With the ELO rhythm section of Lynne, Bev Bevan, Mike de Albuquerque and Richard Tandy backing him, Wayne croons three Lynne originals (including a string-free cover of “Mama”). Conflicting with earlier news that Lynne had attempted to recruit Wayne to replace Roy Wood in ELO, the liner notes explain that manager Don Arden hooked Wayne up with Lynne in an attempt to break Wayne’s “cabaret crooning” image to relaunch his stalled rock career. Even if that’s the case, it wasn’t much of a mold-breaker – it really comes across in the style of early 70s Christian rock more than anything. If Carl Wayne needed a direction, I much preferred the hard-psychedelic-rock re-interpretations of several standards on the latter half of the Move’s Shazam, but it’s still interesting to hear what else the members of ELO (and the Move) were doing on the side.
I also have to admit to enjoying the wealth of material in the two liner notes booklets: we finally have printed lyrics for this album, and the press reviews from the time of the album’s release are insightful and hilarious. John Peel’s review of the “Roll Over Beethoven” single in particular cracks me up for two passages: “The strings, rocking like bitches, play sort of ghost-train evil” and “If it is not a number one, I shall come among you with a whip.” Now that’s a music review! I’ll make sure to use the latter of these two memorable phrases in a future review, and perhaps the first if the opportunity should present itself.
Sadly, this is probably the last of the ELO remastered albums, due to budget constraints and copyright issues still persisting from the band’s early switches from one label to another, but even so, what a way to go out.
I don’t suppose walking among the Sony Music brass with a whip would help to resurrect the reissues, would it?
- In Old England Town (Boogie No. 2) (6:57)
- Momma… (7:00)
- Roll Over Beethoven (7:04)
- From The Sun To The World (Boogie No. 1) (8:18)
- Kuiama (11:21)
- Showdown (4:11)
- In Old England Town (Instrumental) (2:44)
- Baby I Apologise (3:43)
- Auntie (Ma Ma Ma Belle, take 1) (1:19)
- Auntie (Ma Ma Ma Belle, take 2) (4:03)
- Mambo (Dreaming Of 4000, take 1) (3:03)
- Everyone’s Born To Die (4:40)
- Roll Over Beethoven (take 1) (8:16)
- Brian Matthew introduces ELO (0:22)
- From The Sun To The World (Boogie No. 1 – BBC Sessions) (7:26)
- Momma (BBC Sessions) (6:57)
- Roll Over Beethoven (single version) (4:36)
- Showdown (take 1) (4:18)
- Your World (with Carl Wayne – take 2) (4:55)
- Get A Hold Of Myself (with Carl Wayne – take 2) (4:43)
- Mama (with Carl Wayne – take 1) (4:59)
- Wilf’s Solo (instrumental) (3:40)
- Roll Over Beethoven (BBC Sessions) (7:40)
Released by: EMI/Harvest
Release date: 2003
Disc one total running time: 74:41
Disc two total running time: 49:38