Greetings and salutations to all of my fellow rock music lovers out there! I hope you all had a terrific Turkey Day with your loved ones. I know that I sure did. Now, that November is about to give way to December, we are about to find out which nominated artists are going to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. If you have never been there, you should go. Even those of you with only a passing interest in rock music will enjoy the place.
Now, I still believe that Pearl Jam and Tupac will be inducted, along with Janet Jackson, Chic and The Cars. But, if I could choose another artist for induction, I would choose the Electric Light Orchestra. Finally getting leader Jeff Lynne would mean that all five members of the Traveling Wilburys would be RRHOF members, without the band being inducted. Now, that would be interesting for the nominating committee having to seriously consider that “supergroup” for eventual induction.
As far as I am concerned, ELO deserves induction. I understand that the band’s sound is a continuation of the sounds initiated by The Beatles during their Magical Mystery Tour days. As a matter of fact, my oldest son has always said if he wanted to listen to ELO, he would listen to the post-Sgt. Pepper Beatles’ albums. And, he has a point. But, those of us that got to hear ELO first-hand, without much Beatle knowledge, Jeff Lynne’s band was pure pop heaven.
I always say that my love of music began to blossom in 1974, which is fortunate since that was the year ELO had a Top 10 with”Can’t Get It Out of My Head”, the near perfect John Lennon-sound-a-like song. The following year, the band had Top 10 hit songs with “Evil Woman” and the sublime “Strange Magic”, which I bought as a 7″ single.
Then, for the USA’s bicentennial year, ELO released my favorite album of theirs, A New World Record. I remember wearing out that album, as I nearly played it every day for three months straight. That album was packed with three hits that Casey Kasem played on his American Top 40 radio show: “Livin’ Thing”, the majestic “Telephone Line” and a cover of Jeff Lynne’s original band’s, The Move, UK hit “Do Ya”. I think it might have been my playing that album that caused my brother to become an Electric Light Orchestra fan. It was back then that I promised him I would take him to see ELO the next time they came to Indy. I fulfilled that promise in the Fall of 1981 when I took him down to Indiana University to see ELO and Daryl Hall & John Oates.
In 1977, ELO released their tour-de-force double album Out of Time. That album had three more hits in “Turn to Stone”, “Sweet Talking Woman” and the greatest Beatle-sounding song never written by a Beatle, “Mr. Blue Sky”. The big surprise about those songs is that “Mr. Blue Sky” was NOT a Top 10 hit. Just writing that sentence seems incredible since the song is the most perfect Beatlesque song ever written. As far as I was concerned, that song is Jeff Lynne’s masterpiece.
It was during the Out of the Blue Tour that ELO introduced their “spaceship” stage. The spaceship was based upon the craft on the cover of Out of the Blue. The ship would “fly” at the beginning of the concert, only to land and open up into a stage on which the band would perform. Then, upon the conclusion of the concert, the spaceship would close, only to “fly” off. It was a fantastic concert prop, one of the better ones from the Seventies, which included KISS’ whole stage production and Parliament/Funkadelic’s “Mothership Connection” spaceship. That tour took the band on a nearly two-year trek around the world. Obviously, Jeff Lynne, the creative force behind ELO came back burned out from the tour. But, the record company, who was constantly looking for more hit songs.
So, in 1979, ELO released the very weak Discovery album, although the album still contained two Top 10 hits and another song that stalled before reaching too high in the Top 40. The big hits were “Shine a Little Light” and the last mega-hit of the band’s career, “Don’t Bring Me Down”. The third song was the disco-fied “Last Train to London”. That appeared to the trend for the “tired” artists who were the Seventies’ rock hit masters to do, as Rod Stewart, KISS and the Rolling Stones, were among those who dabble with disco sounds. To me, ELO made a nice disco song, but not a good ELO song. I enjoy that song only a little bit more today than I did then. To me, it was simply filler because Jeff Lynne was tired.
In 1980, ELO was one-half of the musical minds behind the Xanadu soundtrack, which may have only caused the band to fall further from its rock roots while becoming a pop band. In spite of that, they had one hit song from that soundtrack that was a duet with the movie’s star Olivia Newton-John. The song was the title song of the movie’s soundtrack, “Xanadu”.
The following year, 1981, the band bounced back one more time to create more of a rock album than they had since Out of the Blue, when ELO released Time. The album hearkened back to the sound of the mid-70s, only instead of an actual string section, the band employed synthesizers. It was an attempt to update their sound, but only made them seem a little desperate. Additionally, Lynne was getting in touch with his musical youth, which was reflected in the sound of their only hit song on the album, the slightly rockabilly-sounding “Hold on Tight”. Back in 1981, before they became huge in their homeland, the USA, the Stray Cats were big in the UK, bringing their brand of neo-rockabilly, which only influenced the older British artists like Jeff Lynne.
ELO released two more albums during the 1980s. Both were boring and weak, though the 1983 LP, Secret Messages, spawned the band’s last Top 40 hit song, “Rock ‘N’ Roll Is King”. Once again, Lynne dipped into the Stray Cats’ playbook to come up with a song that sounded like what it was, ELO playing rockabilly. Don’t get me wrong about the band’s last two hit songs. I loved them at the time, and they continue to stand up today. But, in both cases, the songs sounded like the last gasps of a talent who relied upon himself too much as he got older. Gone was the chemistry between musicians that had made ELO such a unique and interesting band. The last album, Balance of Power, came out in 1986, but nothing from the album was the least bit interesting. ELO’s sound had become as sterile as much of the mid-80s music sounded.
Since that time, Jeff Lynne has picked up the ELO moniker in order to release two more albums during the Twenty-First Century. In 2000, ELO released the excellent album called Zoom. That album sounded like long-lost Electric Light Orchestra songs from the mid-70s. Then, last year, Alone in the Universe, was released under the moniker “Jeff Lynne’s ELO”. Both albums were essentially Jeff Lynne solo albums, only their releases were followed by full-band versions of the Electric Light Orchestra out on tour. I have seen video of the latest tour and it appears that Lynne has finally integrated the real strings of ELO’s 70s version with the synthesizer-based versions of the 80s. The current touring band seems to be large enough to capture the sounds in Lynne’s ears to finally pay off more as a live band.
So, if my generation’s greatest band of purveyors of the post-Sgt. Pepper Beatles’ sound stands a chance getting into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, this year might be their best chance. At least until after the rap, soul and alternative artists get caught up with the classic rock artists who have dominated the induction ceremonies lately. 2017 would be a great year to induct more than five artists.