Electric Light Orchestra
Synopsis of Pop Music
“You’re sailing softly through the sun,
In a broken stone-age dawn,
You fly, so high,
I get a strange magic…”
When the Beatles began adding orchestral arrangements into their sound in the mid-1960’s, they opened up a world of new ideas for musicians who dreamed of combining the beauty of classical music with the energy of rock and roll. Many bands have tried to pull this combination off over the years, but few have done it as successfully as Electric Light Orchestra. This group scored a string of smash hits from the late 1970’s to the early 1980’s with a series of carefully-crafted pop songs that matched a luxurious orchestral sound. In the process, they created some of the most delightful pop music of that era.
Electric Light Orchestra rose from the ashes of the Move, an English band best known on these shores for a rocking tune called “Do Ya.” When that band ended, members Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne and Bev Bevan decided to form a group that would fuse classical ideas with rock music and “pick up where the Beatles left off with ‘I Am The Walrus’.” Wood left after the first album, but Lynne and Bevan continued to develop the classical-rock idea with new members. In 1973, they got radio play with “Roll Over Beethoven,” an epic Chuck Berry cover that worked in parts of Beethoven’s ‘Fifth Symphony.’
On the Third Day, Electric Light Orchestra’s next album, included another radio favorite in the classical-styled instrumental “Daybreaker.” However, they had their breakthrough in 1974 with Eldorado. On this album, the group augmented themselves with a 30-piece string section to present a medieval-themed conceptual opus about a dreamer trying to find his way to paradise. The album became their first entry in the Top-10 and also included a hit single in the ethereal, string-driven ballad “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head.” Like its parent album, it became sailed into the Top-10.
In 1975, Electric Light Orchestra scored another Top-10 album with Face The Music. It gave the band another Top-10 single in “Evil Woman,” a danceable tune built on energetic string riffs. “Strange Magic,” a love song built on a cushion of heavenly harmonies and lush strings, also hit the Top-20. The hits kept rolling for Electric Light Orchestra in 1976 with A New World Record, their first album to hit the Top-5. It overflowed with hits like stomping orchestral-rock of “Livin’ Thing” and the ornate, doo-wop-styled balladry of “Telephone Line.” The group also revisited their past with a Top-30 remake of “Do Ya.”
Electric Light Orchestra reached a new creative peak when they released the double-album Out Of The Blue in late 1977. It brought their fusion of classical sounds and pop hooks to a new level, most notably on “Concerto For A Rainy Day,” which wove four songs into one delightful rock-orchestral work. It also contained plenty of hits. “Turn To Stone” and “Sweet Talkin’ Woman,” a pair of songs that blended driving rock with lush choral and orchestral arrangements, both went Top-20. “Mr. Blue Sky,” a Beatles-ish extract from the album’s “Concerto,” also became a Top-40 hit.
In 1979, Electric Light Orchestra continued their success streak with Discovery. The chugging, disco-styled “Shine A Little Love” became a Top-10 hit from this album, as did the stomping rocker “Don’t Bring Me Down.” The latter song was also notable because it was their first hit without a string section. The next year, Electric Light Orchestra did their first film score for the Olivia Newton-John musical Xanadu. It led to two Top-20 hits in “I’m Alive” and “All Over The World,” a pair of joyous orchestral-rockers with disco beats. The title song, featuring Newton-John on lead vocals, became a Top-10 single.
Electric Light Orchestra returned to pop music in 1981 with Time, an album that downplayed strings in favor of a more streamlined electronic sound. It gave the band yet another Top-10 single with the piano-driven rocker “Hold On Tight” and was followed by the band’s first tour since the early 1970’s. Secret Messages came out in 1983 and boasted a Top-20 hit in the oldies-tribute “Rock and Roll Is King.” In 1986, the group pared down to a trio of Lynne, Bevan and Tandy to record Balance Of Power. They scored one last Top-20 hit with “Calling America” before disbanding later that year.
Since Electric Light Orchestra disbanded, Jeff Lynne has released a solo album (Armchair Theater) and become a superstar producer who has worked with Tom Petty and Roy Orbison. He also paid tribute to Electric Light Orchestra’s original inspiration when he got to produce the new songs for the Beatles on their Anthology albums. Meanwhile, Bev Bevan formed Electric Light Orchestra Part II, a reunion group featuring several of the original band’s members. They have become a hit on the international concert, proving that Electric Light Orchestra’s far-thinking rock/classical combination was far enough ahead of its time to remain in style for years to come.
Artist Release History1971 - Electric Light Orchestra
1972 - No Answer
1973 - Electric Light Orchestra II
1973 - On the Third Day
1974 - Eldorado
1975 - Face the Music
1976 - A New World Record
1977 - Out of the Blue
1979 - Discovery
1979 - ELO's Greatest Hits
1980 - Xanadu
1981 - Time
1983 - Secret Messages
1986 - Balance of Power
1990 - Electric Light Orchestra, Part Two
1994 - Moment of Truth
2000 - The Complete ELO Live Collection
Pop Sub Categoriesrock
Essential Music AlbumsOut Of The Blue (Sony)
Strange Magic: Best Of (Sony)
Band MembersJeff Lynne vocals, guitar
Roy Wood (1971-72) multiple instruments
Richard Tandy keyboards, vocals
Kelly Groucutt bass
Bev Bevan drums
Mik Kaminski violin
Hugh McDowell cello
Melvyn Gale cello