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 from The Move, 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 as its remaining founding members. 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 initial centralization of lengthier orchestral prog-rock epics began to wane in favor of a more hook-based (and decidedly Beatles-esque) pop sensibility, with the eponymous orchestra relegated to an increasingly peripheral role. 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, in 1981. Secret Messages, a planned double album ultimately reduced to a single LP by its Troubled Production, was initially successful on release in 1983, but quickly fell off the charts. Lynne effectively disbanded ELO following the album, reuniting three years later as a pared-down three-piece (comprising Lynne, Bevan and longtime keyboardist Richard Tandy) to record Balance of Power to fulfil a contractual obligation. The album, a lyrically dour work with a light synthpop aesthetic, was largely unsuccessful, and ELO was seemingly finished for good. Subsequently, Lynne continued the development of his increasingly prolific and successful producer career, 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, initially aided by three musicians entirely unrelated to ELO, created ELO Part II and released an eponymous album (featuring longtime ELO string arranger Louis Clark in a prominent guest capacity) in 1991. Over the subsequent years, Part II evolved into an increasingly successful touring act, particularly following the long-term addition of two further ELO veterans, bassist (and secondary vocalist) Kelly Groucutt and violinist Mik Kaminski. Now boasting four ELO members/affiliates, Part II released the heavily arena rock-inspired Moment of Truth in 1994. Bevan ultimately 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. They later toured in the fall of 2015, but they continued to perform regularly in Walt Disney World's "Garden Rocks" series during the spring Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot. While the Orchestra continues to perform into the present, Kaminski is the sole remaining member (following Clark and Groucutt's deaths) with any connection to the original ELO.
In 2001, meanwhile, Jeff Lynne released another album under the ELO name, Zoom. However, Lynne and Tandy were the sole members of the original band featured on the album. 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 in 2015, Alone in the Universe, with the band now billed as "Jeff Lynne's ELO"; Lynne provided the majority of the album's instrumentation himself, virtually rendering it an ELO album In Name Only. The newly-reconstituted group has gone on several tours since, with another album, From Out of Nowhere, releasing in 2019.
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"
- From Out of Nowhere (2019)note : "From Out of Nowhere", "Time of Our Life"
Not to be confused with Yellow Magic Orchestra.
Today's forecast calls for these tropes:
- 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.Am I awake, or do I dream? The strangest pictures I have seen...
- Artifact Name: 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 (though the synths still provide a lush orchestration often).
- Big Rock Ending: "Mr. Blue Sky", after the Fake-Out Fade-Out
- Book Ends: Eldorado and Time both have similar "noise" intros and outros.
- 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?
- According to Jeff, he got the idea to wear big sunglasses from Roy Orbison, so as to hide his nervousness of the crowd when playing concerts.
- 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.
- Darker and Edgier: "Balance of Power". The album contains songs set to happy and mostly synthesized, backing music with haunting, sad and evocative lyrics about breaking ups, Jeff Lynne's disillusionment over the band and the album's Troubled Production.
- "Days of the Week" Song: Almost happens with "Horace Wimp", which leaves off Saturday.
- 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, while Lynne remained at the head of ELO and had rapidly revamped its sound into more mainstream, Beatles-esque pop by the time of Face the Music four years later, a genre the band would continue to use throughout the '70s and early '80s.
- 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.
- Erotic Dream: The explanation behind the bizarre lyrics of "Strange Magic".
- Everything Is an Instrument: The "ding-ding-ding-ding" in "Mr. Blue Sky" is Bev Bevan hitting a fire extinguisher with a drumstick.
- Excited Show Title!: "Rockaria!"
- Fake-Out Fade-Out:
- "Mr. Blue Sky"
- "Boy Blue" from Eldorado has three.
- "Shangri-La" from A New World Record
- "Jungle" sort of qualifies, though it gets a slightly faded replay of half the chorus.
- Format-Specific Joke: The vocoded speech at the end of "Mr. Blue Sky" is, contrary to popular belief, not the song's title again, but the words "Please turn me over", as on the original LP release that song marked the end of side C.note
- Gratuitous French: "Hold on Tight" repeats the chorus in French.
- 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.
- In Name Only: Arguably applicable, to varying degrees, to both notable projects (ELO Part II and Jeff Lynne's ELO) succeeding the original band. While founded by longtime ELO drummer Bev Bevan and featuring a maximum of four alumni from its predecessor, the majority of ELO Part II's album material (with notable exceptions such as "Honest Men", "Hello" and "Blue Violin") stylistically veers more towards a harder Arena Rock aesthetic in the vein of Journey or Styx, albeit with fleetingly ELO-reminiscent orchestral arrangements, over the more Beatles-esque sensibilities of its precursor. Jeff Lynne's ELO, conversely, features the original group's central figure providing the majority of instrumentation and composing in a steadier, more country-influenced style more starkly reminiscent of Tom Petty and Roy Orbison than the lavish studio pyrotechnics of his '70s work, suggesting the corresponding albums to be closer aesthetic relatives of Jeff Lynne's solo career than to his output with the original ELO.
- Last Note Nightmare: Horace Wimp... Horace Wimp... Horace Wimp...
- Inverted in "Fire On High"; an incomprehensible load of cacophonous strings, backmasked messages and sections from Handel's Messiah played right at the start... then the comprehensible part comes out of nowhere.
- 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.Yes Iím turning to stone / ícause you ainít coming home / why you ainít coming home / if Iím turning to stone / youíve been gone for so long / and I canít carry on / Yes Iím turning Iím turning Iím turning to stone
- 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.
- Revolving Door Band: The members who aren't Jeff Lynne or Richard Tandy tend to change.
- 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'.
- 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.
- Sexiness Score: The song "Nightrider" calls the subject girl in the song a "ten a penny dream".
- "Evil Woman" contains the lyrics "There's a hole in my head where the rain comes in", a reference to The Beatles' song "Fixing a Hole".
- The album cover for Eldorado uses a screencap from The Wizard of Oz, specifically the scene where the Wicked Witch of the West tries and fails to steal Dorothy's ruby slippers.
- "Shangri-La":My Shangri-La has gone awayFaded like The Beatles on "Hey Jude"
- 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.
- And in turn, The Polyphonic Spree has been compared to ELO, with songs like "Soldier Girl" proving the point.
- A one-off supergroup called LEO featuring Bleu, Andy Sturmer of Jellyfish and Taylor Hanson released a spot on pastiche album of ELO called Alpacas Orgling in 2003.
- 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!
- Tears of Joy: Horace Wimp cries when his marriage proposal is accepted.
- 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!!!"
- Weather Report Opening: "Mr. Blue Sky" begins with a literal weather report, delivered with the crackle and reverb of a radio broadcaster predicting a clear day ahead. The track then launches into first verse of the song, with Jeff Lynne breathlessly describing a beautiful day with cloudless skies and abundant sunshine:Intro: "Morning! Today's forecast calls for blue skies."Verse 1: The sun is shining in the sky
There ain't a cloud in sight
It's stopped raining, everybody's in the play
And don't you know, it's a beautiful new day, hey
- X Meets Y: John Lennon loved "Showdown", calling it a mix of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine", Lou Christie's "Lightning Strikes" and "I Am the Walrus".
- You Are Number 6: "10538 Overture" is about an escaped prisoner who is referred to only by his number.
- 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.