Please tell us why,
You had to hide away for so long,
Where did we go wrong?"
Formed in 1970 by Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne, ELO was originally conceived as a rock band with classical instruments and sounds — an electrified light orchestra, hence its name. In other words, it was intended to bring the synthesis of Classical Music and rock that the inchoate genre of Progressive Rock promised to its logical conclusion. After the release of their first album in 1971, Wood left the band, leaving Lynne and drummer Bev Bevan. That didn't stop them, however. After recruiting some new members, ELO kept getting stronger throughout the 1970s.
ELO's sound started changing considerably as time went on. After the release of the concept album Eldorado, their songs started becoming less classical-sounding and more rock. Out of the Blue, considered to be their best album, started bringing even more synths into their music, and Discovery taking a (mostly) disco sound.
Sadly, ELO started to decline after the release of their second concept album, Time. Secret Messages was successful at first, but quickly fell off the charts. After three years, Balance of Power was released in 1986 and ELO was seemingly finished for good, with Lynne becoming a very prolific and successful producer, helping to revive both Roy Orbison's and George Harrison's careers and producing a very successful solo album for Tom Petty (he would later produce two more of his solo records.)
In 1989, Bev Bevan and Mik Kaminski created ELO Part II and released an eponymous album the same year. It was followed by Moment of Truth in 1994. Bevan then left the band in 1999 and, to settle a lawsuit filed by Lynne, eventually sold his share of the ELO name to him. The remaining ELO Part II members continue to perform, however, renamed as "The Orchestra", and released No Rewind in 2001. Their most recent tour was in fall of 2015.
In 2001, Jeff Lynne released another ELO album, Zoom. However, only Lynne and Richard Tandy, the band's primary keyboardist, were featured players. Lynne then reformed ELO with some new members and started a new tour. However, it was cut short, primarily due to the illness and subsequent death of his friend George Harrison. Tandy and Lynne later continued to perform ELO songs sporadically, notably for a short concert film and documentary recorded at Lynne's own bungalow, and at a highly successful concert in Hyde Park in 2014 later released on home video. The interest led to a new album release by Lynne called Alone in the Universe, released in November 2015, with the band now billed as "Jeff Lynne's ELO".
Their discography (with notable songs) includes:
- The Electric Light Orchestra (1971)note : "Mr. Radio", "10538 Overture"
- ELO 2 (1973): "Roll Over Beethoven", "Kuiama"
- On the Third Day (1973): "Daybreaker", "In the Hall of the Mountain King", "Showdown"
- Eldorado (1974): "Can't Get It Out of My Head", "Mr. Kingdom", "Boy Blue"
- Face the Music (1975): "Fire On High", "Evil Woman", "Strange Magic"
- A New World Record (1976): "So Fine", "Livin' Thing", "Do Ya", "Telephone Line"
- Out of the Blue (1977): "Turn to Stone", "Sweet Talkin' Woman", "Mr. Blue Sky", "It's Over", "Wild West Hero"
- Discovery (1979): "Shine a Little Love", "Don't Bring Me Down", "Confusion", "Last Train to London"
- Xanadu (1980): "I'm Alive", "All Over the World", "Don't Walk Away", "Xanadu"
- Time (1981): "Twilight", "Hold On Tight", "The Way Life's Meant to Be", "Here Is the News"
- Secret Messages (1983): "Four Little Diamonds", "Rock 'n' Roll Is King"
- Balance of Power (1986): "So Serious", "Calling America", "Endless Lies"
- Zoom (2001): "Alright", "Moment in Paradise"
- Alone in the Universe (2015): "When I Was a Boy"
This band shows examples of:
- All Just a Dream: "Jungle", most likely, given that it involves a bunch of animals singing about their awesome blue ship and ends with an alarm clock sound. The plot of Time may or may not have all been a dream.
- Artifact Title: As time went on, the role of the string section decreased, rendering the "light orchestra" part of their name more and more moot. By the release of Time, the violins had disappeared entirely.
- Ascended Fanboy: Lead singer and Face of the Band Jeff Lynne conceived the band's idea with Roy Wood to be a sort of sequel to The Beatles, taking rock music in the direction "that The Beatles had left off." He later worked with former Beatles members on various projects, including The Traveling Wilburys and producing the "Threetles"note singles "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love".
- Bare Your Midriff: The alternative cover to "On the Third Day" by photographer Richard Avedon has ELO baring their belly buttons for the camera.
- Concept Album: Eldorado and Time. Side Three of Out of the Blue, the "Concerto for a Rainy Day", is a sort of mini-Concept Album on a larger non-concept release.
- Cool Shades: Is Jeff Lynne ever seen without them?
- Cover Version: Covered Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven" on ELO 2 and a cover of Del Shannon's "Little Town Flirt" was added for the re-release of Discovery. The song "Do Ya" was also a cover of an older version written by Jeff for The Move, a band he and Wood had been part of previously.
- And their epic version of "In the Hall of the Mountain King", featuring a VIOLIN SOLO! by touring member Mik Kaminski. Kaminski would also regularly cover "Orange Blossom Special" during his violin solos.
- Crapsack World: A good number of songs in Time describe the far-off year 2095 in a vaguely depressing way; some of the problems might just be viewed from the lens of a none-too-happy visitor from 1981 ("The Way Life's Meant to Be", "Yours Truly, 2095"), but other problems seem to concern things we might find a bit dystopian or environmentally unsound (e.g. some of the "news" items in "Here Is The News").
- Credits Gag: Cellist Colin Walker left after "ELO 2" was released, leaving the group with only one cello for "On The Third Day". A fictional cellist "Ted Blight" was credited in the lineup with a blurry photo of sound engineer Rick Pannell, who also mimed cello on a few TV appearances at the time.
- Early Installment Weirdness: The first LP when Roy Wood was in the group - witness the tone and theme of "10538 Overture" compared to the mainstream pop-chart orientated later work featuring Jeff Lynne. Wood took the general progressive rock left-field weirdness to his new band Wizzard.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: "The Diary of Horace Wimp"
- Electronic Music: While they have never fully crossed the threshold into true electronic music, they pioneered many of the techniques that would be adopted by the next generation of artists, such as vocals distorted to the point of doubling as instruments, mixing of traditional and synthetic sounds, and densely layered multitracks. This is especially true for Discovery and later albums.
- Epic Instrumental Opener: One of Jeff's favorite tropes. See also the openings for Eldorado and Time.
- Excited Show Title!: "Rockaria!"
- Fake-Out Fade-Out:
- "Mr. Blue Sky"
- "Boy Blue" from Eldorado has three.
- Funny Afro: Jeff Lynne, who, unlike Brian May's, has kept its original colour.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: "Oh No Not Susan" got away with the word "fucking" during a time when the radio was censored heavily. This may have something to do with it being difficult to distinguish the word with all the double-tracking going on in the song's vocals. This is one of the very seldom times that Jeff Lynne has cursed in his songs; another example would be the use of "shit" in "Easy Money", from Zoom.
- Greatest Hits Album: Several. For the interested, the best of these would probably be the aptly-named Very Best Of... discs.
- The 2012 Very Best Of disc, Mister Blue Sky, is a greatest-hits record, but consisting of all-new recordings of the songs by Jeff Lynne, along with a new track, 'Point of No Return', that Lynne had recorded in 2009.
- Probably the best greatest-hits compilation featuring the original recordings is the 3-CD set Flashback, released shortly before the release of Zoom. The collection is also littered with non-album singles, rerecorded never-finished songs, and alternate takes.
- Hipgnosis: Did the cover art for the first two albums, plus the compilation The Light Shines On.
- Humiliation Conga: "Evil Woman"
- I Am the Band: Jeff Lynne, especially after the release of Zoom. Alone in the Universe is almost entirely performed and sung by Lynne.
- It's been noted that Jeff prides himself as enjoying playing all the instruments (guitar, drums, bass, etc), but averted for his live band.
- Last Note Nightmare: Horace Wimp... Horace Wimp... Horace Wimp...
- The Last Title: "Last Train to London"
- Line-of-Sight Name: Their first album is known as No Answer in America, after the American publishing office called to ask what the title of the album should be and the phone wasn't answered, so "No answer" was written down onto a memo slip that somebody else in the office sent off to the printer.
- List-of-Experiences Speech: The verses of "Do Ya"
- Lyrical Dissonance: "Calling America" and "So Serious"
- Not to mention "Tightrope", "Julie Don't Live Here Anymore", "Ordinary Dream"... Jeff Lynne loves this trope.
- Meaningless Meaningful Words: Eldorado's "Prologue". It sounds pretty profound, but good luck trying to make any sense of it.
- Ditto Time, it seems this trope's common with ELO's concept albums.
- Motor Mouth: The bridge to "Turn to Stone". This gets a lot of cheers from the audience in live performances.
- Again in Twilight, with the recurring Madness Mantra "It's either real or it's a dream there's nothing that is in between".
- New Sound Album: While they had been experimenting with synthesizers and electronic music before, Discovery marked a very significant shift in the band's music.
- One-Book Author: Violinist Steve Woolam only appears on their debut and no other albums, having apparently committed suicide shortly afterwards.
- Protest Song: "Kuiama" and "Laredo Tornado"
- Punny Name: Electric light plus light orchestra. Get it?
- The band's first logo was a parody of GE's then-current "light-bulb" logo.
- Record Producer: Jeff Lynne produced almost all of the band's albums himself, and would go on to produce many other artists.
- Ridiculous Future Inflation: Presumably averted by Time`s vision of the year 2095, as Twenty-First Century Man includes a reference to 'a penny in your pocket'.
- Robot Girl: "Yours Truly, 2095"
- Rock Me, Amadeus!: Their covers of "Roll Over Beethoven" and "In the Hall of the Mountain King", as well as their original song, "Rockaria!"
- Sampling: Played With. The drums in "Don't Bring me Down" is the drum track from a song earlier on the album "On the Run" but slowed down on a tape loop.
- Something Blues: "Birmingham Blues"
- Song of Song Titles: "Beatles Forever" is crammed full of Beatles song titles.
- Spiritual Successor: John Lennon himself referred to ELO as The Son of the Beatles.
- Stop Motion: The music video for "Ain't It a Drag" is in claymation, created by stop-motion studio Open The Portal.
- Subliminal Seduction: After they were accused of this, Face the Music and Secret Messages deliberately had back-masking put in as a joke.The music is reversible, but time is not! Turn back! Turn back! Turn back! Turn back!
- Title-Only Chorus: "Evil Woman".
- Title Track: "Xanadu", "Secret Messages", "Alone in the Universe". A partial case in A New World Record's "Mission (A World Record)".
- Train Song: "Across the Border" from Out of the Blue and "Last Train to London" from Discovery.
- Trilling Rs: "Don't bring me dowwwwn, Grrrrrruuuuuuuusssss!!!"
- Up to Eleven: Their multi-multi-multi-multi-tracked production values, especially around 197478, and the concert productions in 1978 which included a "spaceship" filled with stage lights and lasers overhead operated on this level.
- You Are Number 6: "10538 Overture"
- Zeerust: Time, being about a man from 1981 (the year it was written) transported to the year 2095, naturally has a few (relatively minor) examples:
- The android woman from Yours Truly, 2095 is made by IBM; while IBM still exists, it has started moving away from mass hardware manufacture in the second decade of the 21st century, and if made today the song would probably reference a company like Apple instead.
- Here Is The News is influenced by the style and content of the news from 1981, in particular the story about striking spaceport workers and the mention that there are bulletins 'every hour, on the hour'.
- Plastic bags and plastic flowers are mentioned in a couple of songs to suggest a flimsy, disposable future, but this trend appears to be reversing itself part way into the 21st century as pollution has resulted in mass use of plastic being discouraged, in particular plastic bags being restricted in many countries.