Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) were a British rock group from Birmingham, England, who released eleven studio albums between 1971 and 1986 and another album in 2001. ELO was formed to accommodate Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne's desire to create modern rock and pop songs with classical overtones. After Wood's departure following the band's debut record, Lynne wrote and arranged all of the group's original compositions and produced every album.
Despite early singles success in the United Kingdom, the band was initially more successful in the United States, billed as "The English guys with the big fiddles". They gained a cult following despite lukewarm reviews back in their native United Kingdom. By the mid-1970s, they had become one of the biggest-selling acts in music. From 1972 to 1986, ELO accumulated 27 Top-40 hit singles in both the UK and the US, with 20 Top 20 UK singles and 15 Top-20 US singles (as charted by Billboard magazine). The band also holds the record for having the most Billboard Hot 100 Top 40 hits, 20, of any group in US chart history without ever having a number one single.
ELO collected 19 CRIA, 21 RIAA and 38 BPI awards, and sold over 50 million records worldwide during the group's original 13 year period of active recording and touring.
1970–1973: Birth of the band and early albums
In the late 1960s, Roy Wood — guitarist, vocalist and songwriter of The Move — had an idea to form a new band that would use violins, cellos, string basses, horns and woodwinds to give their music a classical sound, taking rock music in the direction "that The Beatles had left off". Jeff Lynne, frontman of fellow Birmingham group The Idle Race, was excited by the concept. In January 1970, when Carl Wayne left The Move, Lynne accepted Wood's second invitation to join the band on the condition that they focus their energy on the new project. On 12 July 1970, when Wood added multiple cellos to a Lynne-penned song intended to be a Move B-side, the new concept became a reality and "10538 Overture" became the first Electric Light Orchestra song. To help finance the fledgling band, two more Move albums were released during the lengthy ELO recordings. The resulting debut album The Electric Light Orchestra was released in 1971. (It was released in the United States in 1972 as No Answer, the name being chosen because a record company secretary had tried to ring the UK company and get the name of the album – since they were unable to contact them they left a note saying "No Answer".) "10538 Overture" became a UK top-ten hit. Lynne, Wood and Bev Bevan were the founding members of Electric Light Orchestra. They were joined by Bill Hunt (horns, keyboards) and Steve Woolam (violin) on the debut album.
ELO's debut concert took place on 16 April 1972 at The Greyhound Pub in Croydon, UK, with a line-up of Wood, Lynne, Bevan, Hunt, Wilfred Gibson (violin), Hugh McDowell (cello), Mike Edwards (cello), Andy Craig (cello) and Richard Tandy (bass). However, tensions soon surfaced between Wood and Lynne due to problems with management. During the recordings for the band's second LP, Wood left the band taking cellist McDowell and horn/keyboard player Hunt with him to form Wizzard. Despite predictions from the music press that the band would fold without Wood, who had been the driving force behind the creation of ELO, Lynne stepped up to lead the band, with Bev Bevan remaining on drums, joined by Gibson on violin, Richard Tandy now playing the Moog synthesiser, piano and other keyboards in place of Hunt, Mike de Albuquerque on bass and vocals, and Mike Edwards and Colin Walker on cellos.
The new line-up performed at the 1972 Reading Festival. Barcus Berry instrument pick-ups, now sported by the band's string trio, allowed them to have proper amplification on stage for their instruments, which had previously been all but drowned out by all the sound of the other electrified instruments. The band released their second album, ELO 2 in 1973, which produced their first US chart single, a hugely elaborate version of the Chuck Berry classic "Roll Over Beethoven". ELO also made their first appearance on American Bandstand show. During the recording of the third album, Gibson was let go after a dispute over money, Mik Kaminski joined as violinist, and Walker left since touring was keeping him away from his family too much, while remaining cellist Edwards finished the cello parts. The resulting album, On the Third Day, was released in late 1973, with the American version featuring the popular single "Showdown". Hugh McDowell who had left the band the previous year returned for the subsequent American Tour in support of the album.
1974–1982: Global success and concept albums
For the band's fourth album, Eldorado, A Symphony, a concept album about a daydreamer, Lynne stopped overdubbing strings and hired an orchestra and choir instead. Louis Clark joined the band as string arranger. The first single of the album, "Can't Get It Out of My Head", became their first US Billboard charts Top 10 hit, and Eldorado, A Symphony became ELO's first gold album. After the release of Eldorado, bassist and vocalist Kelly Groucutt and cellist Melvyn Gale joined, replacing de Albuquerque (who, like Walker before him, quit since the ELO tours were keeping him away from his family too long) and Edwards respectively. The line-up stabilised as the band took to a decidedly more accessible sound. ELO had become successful in the United States at this point and the group was a star attraction on the stadium and arena circuit, as well as regularly appearing on The Midnight Special (1973, 1975, 1976 & 1977) more than any other band in that show's history with four appearances. Face the Music was released in 1975, producing the hit singles "Evil Woman" and "Strange Magic". The opening instrumental "Fire on High", with its mix of strings and blazing acoustic guitars, saw heavy exposure as background music on CBS Sports Spectacular montages. The group toured extensively from 3 February till 13 April 1976 promoting the album in the US, playing 68 shows in 76 days. It was on the American tour that ELO debuted their use of coloured lasers.
Despite the recognition and success they enjoyed in the States, they were still largely ignored in the United Kingdom until their sixth album, the platinum selling A New World Record, hit the top ten there in 1976. It contained the hit singles "Livin' Thing", "Telephone Line", "Rockaria!" and "Do Ya", a re-recording of The Move song. The band toured in support in the US only from October 1976 to April 1977 with a break in December, then an American Music Award show appearance on 31 January 1977, plus a one-off gig in San Diego in August 1977. Casey Kasem said that The Electric Light Orchestra is the "World's first touring rock 'n' roll chamber group" before he played "Livin' Thing" at #28. A New World Record was followed by a multi-platinum selling album, the double-LP Out of the Blue, in 1977. Out of the Blue featured the singles "Turn to Stone", "Sweet Talkin' Woman", "Mr. Blue Sky", and "Wild West Hero", each becoming a hit in the United Kingdom. The band then set out on a nine-month, 92-date world tour, with an enormous set and a hugely expensive space ship stage with fog machines and a laser display. In the United States the concerts were billed as The Big Night and were their largest to date, with 80,000 people seeing them at Cleveland Stadium. The Big Night went on to become the highest-grossing live concert tour in music history up to that point (1978). The band also played at the Wembley Arena for eight straight sold-out nights during the tour as well, another record at that time. The first of these shows was recorded and televised, and later released as a CD and DVD.
In 1979, the multi-platinum album Discovery was released. Although the biggest hit on the album (and ELO's biggest hit overall) was the rock song "Don't Bring Me Down", the album was noted for its heavy disco influence. Discovery also produced the hits "Shine a Little Love", "Last Train to London", "Confusion" and "The Diary of Horace Wimp". Another song, "Midnight Blue", was released as a single in Southeast Asia, and was a hit particularly in the Philippines. The band recorded videos for all the songs on the album.
The Electric Light Orchestra finished 1979 as the biggest selling act in the United Kingdom. ELO had reached the peak of their stardom, selling millions of albums and singles, and even inspiring a parody/tribute song on the Randy Newman album Born Again, titled "The Story of a Rock and Roll Band". During 1979 Jeff Lynne also turned down an invitation for ELO to headline the August 1979 Knebworth Festival concerts. That allowed Led Zeppelin the chance to headline instead. In 1980 Jeff Lynne was asked to write for the soundtrack of the musical film Xanadu, with the other half written by John Farrar and performed by the film's star Olivia Newton-John. The movie performed poorly at the box office, but the soundtrack did exceptionally well, eventually going double platinum. The album spawned hit singles from both Newton-John ("Magic", No. 1 in the United States, and "Suddenly" with Cliff Richard) and ELO ("I'm Alive", which went gold, "All Over the World" and "Don't Walk Away"). The title track, performed by both Newton-John and ELO, is ELO's only song to top the singles chart in the United Kingdom. More than a quarter of a century later, Xanadu, a Broadway Musical, based on the film, opened on 10 July 2007 at the Helen Hayes Theatre to uniformly good reviews. It received 4 Tony Award nominations.
The Electric Light Orchestra Story, Bev Bevan's memoirs from his early days and throughout his career with The Move and ELO, was published in 1980. In 1981, ELO's sound changed again with the science fiction concept album Time, a throwback to earlier, more progressive rock albums like Eldorado. With the string section laid off, synthesisers took a dominating role, as was the trend in the larger music scene of the time, although studio strings were present on some of the tracks conducted by Rainer Pietsch, the overall soundscape had a more electronic feel in keeping with the futuristic nature of the album. Time topped the UK charts for two weeks and was the last ELO studio album to be certified platinum in the United Kingdom. Singles from the album included "Hold on Tight", "Twilight", "The Way Life's Meant to Be", "Here Is the News" and "Ticket to the Moon". The band embarked on their last world tour to promote the LP. It was the first ELO tour without cellists, although Mik Kaminski returned to play his "blue violin". The live line-up was completed with Louis Clark and Dave Morgan (guitar, synthesisers, vocals) playing the string parts on synthesisers, and "Fred the Robot" voicing the "Prologue" and "Epilogue".
1983–1986, 1989: Secret Messages, disbanding and ELO Part II
Jeff Lynne wanted to follow Time with a double album. CBS blocked his plan claiming a double vinyl album would be too expensive. The new album was edited down from double album to a single disc and released as Secret Messages in 1983. (Many of the out-takes were later released on Afterglow or as b-sides of singles.) The album was a hit in the UK reaching the top 5. The album's release was followed by news that there would be no tour to promote the LP, that drummer Bevan was now playing drums for Black Sabbath and that bassist Kelly Groucutt had left the band. Rumours of the group disbanding were publicly denied by Bevan. Although Secret Messages debuted at number four in the United Kingdom, it fell off the charts, failing to catch fire with a lack of hit singles in the U.K. (though "Rock 'n' Roll Is King" was a sizeable hit in UK, the US and Australia) and a lukewarm media response. By 1983 Bevan was expressing a desire to join Black Sabbath permanently and Lynne and Tandy were recording tracks for the Electric Dreams soundtrack under Jeff Lynne's name. However, Lynne was contractually obligated to make one more ELO album. Lynne, Bevan and Tandy returned to the studio in 1985 as a three-piece (with Christian Schneider playing saxophone on some tracks) to record Balance of Power, released early in 1986. Though the single "Calling America" placed in the Top 30 in the United Kingdom (number 28) and Top 20 in the States, subsequent singles failed to chart. The album lacked actual strings, replaced once again by synthesisers, played by Tandy. The album also shed the customary ELO logo that had appeared on every album since 1976.
Lynne, with the 7-piece line-up that supported Time (with the exception of bassist Groucutt being replaced by Martin Smith), played a small number of live ELO performances in 1986, including shows in England and Germany along with US appearances on American Bandstand, Solid Gold, then at Disneyland that summer. The Birmingham Heart Beat Charity Concert 1986 was a charity concert organised by Bevan in ELO's hometown of Birmingham on 15 March 1986. A hint of Lynne's future was seen when George Harrison appeared onstage during the encore at Heartbeat, joining in the all-star jam of "Johnny B. Goode". ELO's last performance for several years occurred on 13 July 1986 in Stuttgart, Germany playing as support band to Rod Stewart. ELO effectively disbanded after that final show in Stuttgart in 1986, but there was no announcement made of it for the next two years, during which George Harrison's Lynne-produced album Cloud Nine and the pair's follow-up (with Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty as Traveling Wilburys) Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 were released. Bevan approached Lynne to make another ELO album in 1988, but Lynne was not interested and went on to announce that ELO was no more.
Bevan (under an agreement with Lynne who co-owned the ELO name with him) continued on in 1989 as ELO Part II, initially with no other former ELO members except Clark. ELO Part II released their debut album Electric Light Orchestra Part Two in 1990. Mik Kaminski, Kelly Groucutt and Hugh McDowell joined the band for the first tour in 1991. McDowell left after that tour. Bevan, Groucutt, Kaminski and Clark recorded a second album, Moment of Truth, in 1994 and toured extensively until 1999. Bevan retired from the line-up in 1999 and sold his share of the ELO name to Jeff Lynne in 2000. The remaining members continue to tour and record, renamed as The Orchestra.
Lynne's comeback with ELO began in 2000 with the release of a retrospective box set, Flashback, containing three CDs of remastered tracks and a handful of out-takes and unfinished works, most notably a new version of ELO's only UK number one hit "Xanadu". In 2001 Zoom, ELO's first album since 1986, was released. Though billed and marketed as an ELO album, the only returning member other than Lynne was Tandy, who performed on one track. Guest musicians included former Beatles Ringo Starr and George Harrison. Upon completion of the album, Lynne reformed the band with completely new members, including his then-girlfriend Rosie Vela (who had released her own album, Zazu, in 1986) and announced that ELO would tour again. Former ELO member Tandy rejoined the band a short time afterwards for two television live performances: VH1 Storytellers and a PBS concert shot at CBS Television City, later titled Zoom Tour Live, that was released on DVD. The planned tour was cancelled and was not rescheduled. Harvest and Epic/Legacy released ELO's back catalogue from 2001–07. Included amongst the remastered album tracks were unreleased songs and out-takes, including two new singles. The first was "Surrender" which registered on the lower end of the UK Singles Chart at number 81, some 30 years after it was written in 1976. The other single was another unreleased recording, "Latitude 88 North", released as the third bonus track on the 2007 remastered version of their 1977 album Out of the Blue. The song was written in 1977, but existed only as a demo recording of the chorus. Lynne returned to the song and finished it in preparation for the remastered version of Out of the Blue.
2010–12: Non-performing work and miniature reunions
On 9 August 2010, Eagle Rock Entertainment released Live – The Early Years in the UK as a DVD compilation that included Fusion – Live in London (1976) along with never before released live performances at Brunel University (1973) and on a German TV show Rockpalast (1974). The US had a slightly edited release on 24 August 2010. The Essential Electric Light Orchestra artwork was re-jigged to feature two different covers. The US and Australian releases shared one design, while the rest of the world featured the other for a new double album release in October 2011. This was the third ELO compilation to present a chronological run-through of ELO's singles/songs following US compilations Olé ELO in 1976 and Strange Magic: The Best of Electric Light Orchestra in 1995. Mr. Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra was released on 8 October 2012. It is an album of new recordings of ELO's greatest hits by Lynne; along with a new song "Point of No Return" to coincide with Lynne's second solo album release Long Wave. These new 2012 albums contained advertisement cards, announcing the re-release of expanded and remastered versions of both the 2001 album Zoom, in addition to his solo album Armchair Theatre, which originally debuted in 1990. Both albums were re-released, in April 2013 with various bonus tracks. Also released was the live album, Electric Light Orchestra Live, showcasing songs from the Zoom tour.
In 2012, Lynne and Tandy teamed up at Lynne's Bungalow Palace home studios to record a live set of ELO's songs. This was broadcast on TV as part of the Mr. Blue Sky documentary.
Lynne and Tandy reunited again on 12 November 2013 to perform, under the name Jeff Lynne and Friends, "Livin' Thing" and "Mr Blue Sky" at the Children in Needs Rocks concert at Hammersmith Eventim Apollo, London.
Band name and logo
The group's name is an intended pun based not only on electric light (as in a light bulb as seen on early album covers) but also using "electric" rock instruments combined with a "light orchestra" (orchestras with only a few cellos and violins that were popular in Britain during the 1960s). The official band logo, designed in 1976 by artist Kosh, was first seen on their 1976 album A New World Record and is based on a 1946 Wurlitzer jukebox model 4008 speaker. The 4008 speaker was itself based upon the upper cabinet of the Wurlitzer model 1015 jukebox. The band's previous logo, designed by John Kehe at United Artists Records, took its cues from the General Electric logo. The new logo appeared on most of the band's subsequent album covers in various forms. For instance, on 1977's Out of the Blue, the logo was turned into a huge flying saucer space station, an enduring image now synonymous with the band. On the follow-up album Discovery, the logo became a small glowing artifact on top of a treasure chest. Bev Bevan usually displayed the logo on his drum kit.
- Studio albums
- The Electric Light Orchestra (1971)
- ELO 2 (1973)
- On the Third Day (1973)
- Eldorado (1974)
- Face the Music (1975)
- A New World Record (1976)
- Out of the Blue (1977)
- Discovery (1979)
- Xanadu (1980)
- Time (1981)
- Secret Messages (1983)
- Balance of Power (1986)
- Zoom (2001)
- Electric Light Orchestra Home – The official Electric Light Orchestra site.
- Face the Music – ELO and related artists information site.
- Electric Light Orchestra Legacy Recordings site – ELO's page at their record label.
- Jeff Lynne Song Database
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Image from Discogs