Back in the late-Sixties and early-Seventies, singers/guitarists/musical visionaries Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne, along with drummer Bev Bevan were in a popular English band called The Move. The band were fairly big in their native England but had relatively little success in the States. That’s when the three decided to leave The Move in order to start a new band that they called the Electric Light Orchestra.
And, like I stated yesterday, the trio’s intention was for this new band to become everything The Beatles were at the time they recorded their LSD-dripping psychedelia ode to Lewis Carroll called “I Am the Walrus”. These three blokes felt this type of musical amalgamation would take place between the string section of an orchestra within the context of a rock song. And, this sound, the sound popularized by the Electric Light Orchestra, was the sound of a very successful band throughout the Seventies and into the Eighties.
Unfortunately, the volatile Roy Wood, left ELO after the first album was released and as the second album was being recorded. Wood went on to form the English glam band Wizzard. In doing so, the rights to the band name, Electric Light Orchestra were transferred to Lynne and Bevan. From the second album on, these two were the only constants, though keyboardist Richard Tandy and bassist Kelly Groucutt joined later on. Now, this agreement between Lynne and Bevan came to a head in the late-Eighties when Bevan wanted the band to record new material and tour, and Lynne, who was a hot, in-demand producer, thanks to his highly successful productions on George Harrison big 1987 comeback album Cloud Nine and Tom Petty’s 1989 solo album Full Moon Fever.
So, Bevan hired a group of musicians, including a future Power Pop legend and all-around ELO fan, Parthenon Huxley (also known as P. Hux), in Jeff Lynne’s spot in the line-up. The group adopted the moniker Electric Light Orchestra Part II (or ELO II), in an attempt to make it clear that the band does NOT include Lynne. ELO II recorded two studio albums and released a live album between the years 1990 through 1997. However, Lynne and Bevan came to a financial agreement that gave Lynne the ELO name in all of it forms, while Bevan was allowed to call his band The Orchestra, who released their final album in 2002 entitled No Rewind. And Lynne released a new ELO album titled Zoom in 2001.
In the meantime, the Electric Light Orchestra’s influence was being acknowledged by a multitude of newer artists, most surprisingly by EDM masters Daft Punk. In 2001, a tribute album called Lynne Me Your Ears: A Tribute to the Music of Jeff Lynne was produced by Not Lame Recording Company and its owner Bruce Bodeen. The double-CD collection involved cover versions of mostly ELO songs by power pop bands of the day. It is an excellent collection of Lynne’s music re-imagined by some of the best power poppers of the day. Two other tribute albums were released in the first decade of the new millennium: one by P. Hux, Homemade Spaceship in 2005 and the other by a group called L.E.O., who released an ELO-influenced album Alpacas Orgling. In all three cases, we are given insight into how ELO’s magic is extending to people in the 21st century.
Today, I am going to rank all of the Jeff Lynne-led Electric Light Orchestra albums from worst to best. So, let’s keep this ELO party moving right along!
14. Balance of Power (1986). This was the sound of Jeff Lynne simply trying to complete a contract. This is a boring album made by a bored musician who would rather be producing other artist’s new albums.
13. ELO II (1972). The sophomore jinx reared its ugly head on this, the band’s second album. This album was the sound of Jeff Lynne wondering what to do with this band after Roy Wood left.
12. Alone in the Universe (2015). Technically, this album is attributed to Jeff Lynne’s ELO. Technically, this a Lynne solo album, but when you are the sole songwriter of the band to begin with, then it is difficult to separate the band from the man. Still, for either Lynne or ELO, this album is weak.
11. On the Third Day (1973). This is the sound of a band who is gathering confidence and the songwriting reflects that growth.
10. Xanadu OST (1980). Yes, the movie sucked! And, this soundtrack is one half Olivia Newton-John’s voice singing over ELO’s music, as Lynne produced the album. But, the ELO side of the album is outstanding!
9. Discovery (1979). Sure, there were several hit songs from this album, but ELO doing disco was just shameful. C’mon Jeff, leave the disco to the dance experts!
8. No Answer (1972). Known as Electric Light Orchestra here in the States, the debut was an exciting blend of the classical music and rock music. However, the sound still has Beatles reference all over the album. The band has yet to find its own unique sound.
7. Secret Messages (1983). Allegedly, Jeff Lynne envisioned this album as a double album, but was told by his label to cut it down to a single album. ELO fans all over have been petitioning Jeff Lynne and his former CBS label Legacy division to finally release the original double album. So far, it seems Lynne is only interested in this album’s current form, which just sounds incomplete.
6. Zoom (2001). Once again, this is essentially a Jeff Lynne solo album, but it is a great comeback album for Electric Light Orchestra. This was the band’s first album of new material in 15 years. Now, it is simply overlooked.
5. Eldorado (1974). This album represents my actual entry into the world of the Electric Light Orchestra on the back of their brilliant John Lennon-esque single “Can’t Get It Out of My Head”.
4. Face the Music (1975). How you forget an album that has two hit songs as good as “Evil Woman” and “Strange Magic”? You can’t once you’ve heard it.
3. Time (1981). This is absolutely the most underrated album in the Electric Light Orchestra’s catalog. It continues to be my “go to” album of theirs. Maybe, it’s because I saw many of these songs come to life in concert or maybe its just that good? In the words of Jack Nicholson’s Joker in the first Michael Keaton Batman movie, “I don’t know if it’s art, but I like it!”
2. Out of the Blue (1977). Who but Jeff Lynne could create a double album concept record about the weather? I assert that no one could! I vacillate between this album and the one at number one as ELO’s most fully realized album statement, though Time continues to rise, it will never rise to the level of these top two albums. Any album that has “Mr. Blue Sky” on it HAS to be good.
1. A New World Record (1976). Back in the mid-Seventies, albums rarely had three Top 40 hits on them, but this album did: “Telephone Line”, “Livin’ Thing” and “Do Ya”. And, had it been released in the Eighties, this album may have squeezed out a couple more hit songs. That’s how deep this album is.
And, this wraps up my little two-day celebration of the music of the Electric Light Orchestra, including the music associated with the spin-off Electric Light Orchestra Part Two, now known as The Orchestra. Additionally, I have given you the titles of some tribute albums as well. The tribute albums may cost you a pretty penny. Or you can simply stick to the original sound and vision for your post-“I Am the Walrus” Beatles sound.
Two more days and the weekend will be here! Rock on, Garth!