Electric Light Orchestra – First Light

Electric Light Orchestra - First LightElectric Light Orchestra - First LightIn the late 60s, one would’ve been hard-pressed to find a post-Beatles psychedelic power pop outfit more prominent in Britain than The Move. (How prominent? One of their singles was the first song played on BBC Radio 1.) So naturally, the members of the Move would’ve been crazy to knock a sure thing in the head and try something as drastically different as a live rock group with its own string section.

Fortunately for us, Roy Wood and newcomer Jeff Lynne were crazy enough to do just that. Frequently quoted as “picking up where ‘I Am The Walrus’ left off,” Wood and Lynne dared to throw layer after layer of cello on top of Lynne’s latest composition, “10538 Overture”, which was originally slated to be a Move B-side. The result thrilled them enough to continue forging ahead with their neoclassical aspirations in mind, and the songs grew more adventurous from there; “The Battle Of Marston Moor” has no rock elements at all, adding Wood’s historical spoken narrative to a largely baroque backing. “Whisper In The Night” adds layers of cellos and an angelic choir to a fairly simple ballad. Lynne’s “Mr. Radio” strives for an old-time radio sound, featuring no bass whatsoever (but plenty of cellos).

First Light is a 2-CD celebration of the band’s first album, dating back to 1971 (whose original no-frills single-CD release has been reviewed here previously). Remastered from the original session tapes, the original album tracks have never sounded better, and yet the cleaning-up of the material doesn’t strip it of its heady early 70s charm. A new version of the album, brought up to modern specs, would be worth the price of admission alone, but bonus tracks fill out both the CD containing the original album and and entire second CD. Some of the stuff – the incredibly rare live tracks from one of the group’s earliest performances, alternate takes of several songs from the album – is priceless. The live version of a song known only by the title “Jeff’s Boogie No. 2” (later heard on the group’s second album under the title “In Old England Town”) is particularly fascinating, with wildly different lyrics than what eventually accompanied that music. And the live “Whisper In The Night”, minus the cellos and choir but with a helping hand from the other band members’ more traditional instruments, is also worth a listen. And just for the record, I want to know who on Earth recorded the BBC Radio intros to the second disc’s two different versions of “10538 Overture” – who thought to keep that stuff!?

Both discs included copious liner notes booklets, with comments from Lynne and Wood and tons of photos. The first disc is also filled out with an extensive multimedia CD-ROM section featuring the session logs, the band’s discography, and even the rare promotional video from “10538 Overture”.

rating: 4 out of 4Overall, it’s a grand package for those already acquainted with the first album, or those interested in ELO’s beginnings. Sadly, only a few thousand copies of the two-disc Limited Edition have been made, and the title reverts to the first disc only after that. If ELO is up your alley, spring for the deluxe edition while it’s there.

Order this CD

    Disc one:

  1. 10538 Overture (5:37)
  2. Look At Me Now (3:20)
  3. Nellie Takes Her Bow (6:02)
  4. The Battle Of Marston Moor (July 2nd, 1644) (6:05)
  5. First Movement (Jumping Biz) (3:03)
  6. Mr. Radio (5:06)
  7. Manhattan Rumble (49th Street Massacre) (4:25)
  8. Queen Of The Hours (3:25)
  9. Whisper In The Night (4:49)
  10. The Battle Of Marston Moor – alternate take (1:00)
  11. 10538 Overture – alternate take (5:48)
    Disc two:

  1. Brian Matthews Introduces ELO (0:37)
  2. 10538 Overture – acetate version (5:24)
  3. Look At Me Now – quadrophonic mix (3:19)
  4. Nellie Takes Her Bow – quadrophonic mix (5:59)
  5. The Battle Of Marston Moor – quadrophonic mix (5:55)
  6. Jeff’s Boogie No. 2 – live (6:58)
  7. Whisper In The Night – live (5:45)
  8. Great Balls Of Fire – live (5:40)
  9. Queen Of The Hours – quadrophonic mix (3:18)
  10. Mr. Radio – Take 9 (5:18)
  11. 10538 Overture – BBC Sessions version (10:39)
    (includes Whisper In The Night – BBC Sessions version as “hidden track”)

Released by: EMI/Harvest
Release date: 2001
Disc one total running time: 48:40
Disc two total running time: 58:52