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ELO, ELO, ELO...

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LC   

Out of the Blue, from 1977, kills me. It takes me right back to college, because it was released at the start of my freshman year (Oct. 3, 1977—I just looked it up). When I wasn't listening to Beatles, 'berries, or Boats Against the Current, Out of the Blue was spinning on my turntable. In fact, ELO was the first band I saw in concert. I later got to interview Jeff Lynne, who's been an awesome purveyor of brilliant Beatlesque pop. Even though he finally made the R&R Hall of Fame, I still think he's pop music's most underrated genius.  

The double-album Out of the Blue came in a fittingly colorful, almost extravagant package—full lyrics, eye-candy graphics, spaceship cutouts, and a poster. Couldn't have been more impactful to a 17-year-old college kid who loved Beatlesque pop with the sort of raunch and over-the-top strings ELO practiced in that era. 

In the spirit of our ratings games, here's how I'd rank the songs on this masterpiece: 

1. "Mr. Blue Sky" (A+). One of my favorite all-time spirits-lifting pop songs, up there with "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "I Saw Her Standing There."

2. "Turn to Stone" (A). A perfect album-opener and radio hit. Those back-up vocals—so quirky and cool.

3. "It's Over" (A). A common title but a unique pop song. "Summer came and passed away, hardly seemed to last a day, but it's over..."

4. "Big Wheels" (A). A patented Jeff Lynne haunter, with some great vocals, including falsettos, and surprising dynamics.

5. "Believe Me Now/Steppin' Out" (A). I'm combining these two because the former (at 1:21) is a musical intro to "Steppin' Out," another Lynne haunter that's every bit as good as "Big Wheels." It's a love-lost theme, but with a positivity ("I'm gonna be somebody...")

6. "Wild West Hero" (A-). Took me a while to love this one, but I do! It's so odd and weird—a Brit band pining for the U.S. wild west life. Such a cool bridge, too.

7. "Sweet Talkin' Woman" (A-). One of four great singles from Out of the Blue.

8. "Standin' in the Rain" (B+). The kickoff song from Side 3 , one of the most interesting, memorable vinyl sides ever made. It's thematic, going from rainy, dark, and depressing to sunshine and relief in the space of about 20 minutes. This song segues into "Big Wheels" (see above), which runs into "Summer and Lightning" (see below), which takes us, finally, to "Mr. Blue Sky" (see No. 1). The four songs are best when grouped....

9. "Sweet Is the Night" (B+). One of two songs with "sweet" in the title, and another nice Lynne ballad.

10. "Night in the City" (B+). This one opens Side 2 and also was the leadoff song on ELO's 1978 tour set list. It's a cacophonous rocker with crazed falsetto and background vocals and wailing strings. Love it! 

11. "Summer and Lightning" (B). A mood-setter fitting in between "Big Wheels" and "Mr. Blue Sky."

12. "Across the Border" (B-). A rollicking rocker that closes Side 1, which is just about as qualitative as Side 3.

13. "Birmingham Blues" (B-). Lynne wrote about his hometown here, a raunchy rocker near the end of Side 4. 

14. "Starlight" (C+). A plodding pop number with a nice enough hook, Lynne falsettos, heavy backup vocals, and swirling strings.

15. "The Whale" (C+). We never give instrumentals enough love, but this one is pretty cool... an aquatic sort of vibe that gives you a little breather on Side 4.

16. "Jungle" (C). Maybe a bit of a throwaway, something Lynne might call "daft." I can't quite call it a clunker—it's just in the shadow of 15 superior tracks. 

 

 

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James   

Funny, up to Out of the Blue I owned (back in the day) 4 ELO albums - 2, On the 3rd Day, Face the Music and "A New World Record". Hearing some of the singles on OOTB, around when it was released, I felt ELO had kinda (very gradually) turned more poppy, which didn´t jive with what I loved about the band. They were still very very good, but their sound wasn´t up to their earlier sound. 

P.S. I bought Eldorado some time after, and loved that album. And recently I purchased a box set of their catalog, though I haven´t listened yet. I´ll make sure to give OOTB a good chance as I am not familiar with the deeper cuts.

P.P.S. agree LC re: Jeff Lynn. What he did with ELO alone is enough to categorize him as one of the top geniuses of the era, but he also produced a ton of non ELO stuff. For me he´s in the top 5 geniuses of the era, maybe higher.

James

 

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LC   

James, you're right that OOTB marked a more pop direction for Lynne. I think I was a bubbling-under ELO fan when OOTB came out. I believe it was the first of their albums I bought, but I was really intrigued by their sound because of the singles "Can't Get It Out of My Head," "Strange Magic," "Evil Woman," "Telephone Line," and, of course, that crazed reading they gave "Roll Over Beethoven" (the long version). In fact, I may have bought their first greatest-hits package even before OOTB.

After OOTB, I climbed on board fast and furious, backtracking to pick up all of their early albums. 

Lately, I've had tons of fun building ELO playlists on my iPhone... which is how I ended up being moved to write the above on Out of the Blue. Even though that's the album that "secured" me as an ELO fanatic, I love everything leading up to it. Today, here's how I rank ELO's albums; for now, I'll give my "great eight," because I have to reacquaint myself with Time, Secret Messages, Balance of Power, and Zoom (all of which will be in the C area, as I recall). I also want to listen to the two "Jeff Lynne's ELO" from recent years. 

1. A New World Record (A+). Surprise! This one, I felt, was the bridge between their innovative earlier albums and the more mainstream-ready Out of the Blue. And what a bridge it is. "Tightrope," "Rockaria," and "Do Ya" are satisfying rockers. "Telephone Line" is the perfect pop hit. And I'm still very moved by "View Above the Clouds" and "Shangri-La." Not a clunker in sight. 

2. On the 3rd Day (A). Surprise again! On the 3rd Day was so innovative and raw and bizarre, how can you not love it? "On No Not Susan" is one of the great pop songs ever (and like Eric did in "Starting Over," Jeff dropped a subtle F-bomb into the chorus)."Bluebird Is Dead" is an awesomely edgy power ballad. "Ma-Ma Belle" starts off with that killer hook, and "Showdown" is right up there with it. And there's lots of other great racket here. 

3. Face the Music (A). Actually, maybe this—not A New World Record—is the bridge between early ELO and hit-making ELO. It's got two superb singles in "Evil Woman" and "Strange Magic," along with some of the craziness that marked the early records: the instrumental "Fire on High," the majestic "Nightrider," the bombast of "Poker," and  bizarre country/pop/classical mix of "Down Home Town."  But... "One Summer Dream" is my favorite here. "Waterfall" is pretty close—love those early ELO ballads.

4. Out of the Blue (A). See above. More pop, but hey, after putting out the string of ground-breaking LPs you noted above, Lynne probably wanted some big chart action, and he got it.

5. Eldorado (A-). This album kicks along at a relentless pace, and is probably the most "classical" of ELO's classical-rock mixtures. It's the home of "Can't Get It Out of My Head" as well as "Boy Bue," "Laredo Tornado," the ultra-cool "Illusions in G Major," and my other favorite here, "Mister Kingdom." 

6. ELO II (B). "Roll Over Beethoven"! My favorite version of the song (just edging the Beatles' cover).

7. Discovery (B). Started getting a little too slick, influenced by the disco era. But there's still some great material here, including "Last Train to London," "Midnight Blue," and "Don't Bring Me Down." And—you've gotta love "The Diary of Horace Wimp"; it's always on the verge of being a horribly bad song, but you keep listening, and it ends up being kind of charming. 

8. No Answer (C+). The debut album and an "in-development" sound—a little too rough and raw overall, but it has its moments. I love "10538 Overture" and "Nellie Takes Her Bow" especially.

 

 

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Kirk   

I’ve been a fan of ELO all along. Their mid 70’s concert I saw at the forum ranks as one of the best I’ve seen. 

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James   

I´ll tangent out a little.

My top 10 ELO songs,quickly off the top of my head:

1. Can´t Get it out of my Head......out of this world great...especially listening to it on the album being birthed out of "Eldorado Overture".
2. One Summer Dream
3. Roll Over Beethoven (best version out there for my taste, nothing comes close)
4. Ma-ma Bell ....the song that motivated my first ELO album purchase...such a great rocker
5. Eldorado & Eldorado Finale
6. Telephone Line
7. Tightrope
8. Poker
9. Fire on High
10. Evil Woman 

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LC   

Great list, James. I'll pull one together too, and it'll have some overlap for sure ("One Summer Dream"—whew!). 

While I'm doing that, I need to mentionJeff Lynne's first solo album, 1991's Armchair Theatre. If you know the record, you probably love it—I'd give it a B+, or maybe even an A-.... There's one song in particular that elevates the whole thing: "Now You're Gone." I was just listening to it... It's one of those haunting, heart-wrenching Lynne ballads, but with a clear George Harrison influence (he played on that album). There's a sort of Indian wailing by a backup female vocalist at the closing that's chilling—her name is Hema Desai (credited with "classical Indian vocals"), and she helps make it a memorable tag. What a great song, worthy of study. 

You may know "Now You're Gone," but it also would have been easy to miss it when it came out—the album wasn't a huge hit (peaked at #83 in the U.S.). I think if Jeff had called it an ELO album, he might have fared better! There's another song on the album, "Every Little Thing," that's just about as good. And there's a cover of "September Song," one of my favorite songs. 

Anyway, "Now You're Gone": 

 

 

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James   

Wow, I wasn´t familiar with "Now You´re Gone".....it´s fantastic. A song you can "get" on the first listen. It´s for sure up there with the top ELO songs. I´ll look to buy the album. Thanks for the heads up LC.

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Here’s a great Jeff Lynne interview by Ken Sharp...Interesting to see Lynne has Eric Carmen records in his jukeboxes...

Jeff Lynne revisits his roots with ELO and classic covers projects

Whether he’s writing, performing or producing songs, Jeff Lynne has the Midas touch (which might explain the ever-present sunglasses). We didn't get the lowdown on the shades, but Lynne did shine a light on other topics, including what he's singing during "Don't Bring Me Down" and what a "naughty" chord is.
Goldmine staff
Jun 24, 2013
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By Ken Sharp

It’s a perfect day in Los Angeles. A deep blue sky paints the horizon, and as the ELO song says, “there’s not a cloud in sight.” Upon entering Jeff Lynne’s studio enclave nestled high in the Hollywood Hills, I’m met by the awe-inspiring sight of a wall filled with more than 50 gold and platinum records for Lynnae’s tenure with ELO and The Traveling Wilburys and his heralded production work with George Harrison (“Cloud Nine”), Tom Petty (“Full Moon Fever” and “Highway Companion”) and The Beatles (1995’s “Free As A Bird” and 1996’s “Real Love”).

Two vintage jukeboxes occupy corners of the room and are filled with the tracks that comprise Lynne’s musical DNA: The Beatles, Del Shannon, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, The Four Seasons, The Ronettes, Eric Carmen, The Righteous Brothers, Them, The Chiffons, Ringo Starr, Aretha Franklin, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, The Everly Brothers, Dion, Carl Perkins, Ritchie Valens, The Platters, Jerry Lee Lewis and The Supremes, among others.

(Jeff Lynne to receive star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame)

A life-size, R2-D2 Star Wars robot shares space with two wooden horses plucked from an ancient merry-go-round. The bar across the room is barren, save for a quartet of miniature Beatles figures adorned in “Magical Mystery Tour”-era psychedelic finery standing guard over Lynne’s lair. A lavish record company award signifying sales of more than 50 million ELO albums rests atop the pool table, almost as an afterthought.

Despite Lynne’s extraordinary achievements in the music industry, the man himself is modest and unassuming. It’s been more than 20 years since the release of 1990’s “Armchair Theatre,” and Lynne seems rejuvenated. He’s been readying the release of not one but two albums: “Long Wave,” a passion project culling Lynne’s interpretations of songs from his formative years, and “Mr. Blue Sky: The Very Best of the Electric Light Orchestra,” a one-man band set of re-recordings.

Goldmine: You have not one but two albums coming out: re-recordings of ELO classics and a standards album. What sparked this burst of activity? 
Jeff Lynne: I don’t know what led to all of this activity really. But I do remember listening to “Mr. Blue Sky” on the radio, and I thought, “You know, this doesn’t sound like I thought it did when I made it.” I’ve thought this many times about those old ELO records, but this time around I thought, “You know what? I could have a go at this and re-record some of the ELO tracks.” So I started doing that, working on the one song, “Mr. Blue Sky,” and had it finished and played it for a few people. I said, “I think it’s much better than the original version; what do you think?” and they all agreed and felt it was much better. Then Craig (Fruin), my manager, said, “Try another one and see how you get on with that.” I tried another one, which was “Evil Woman,” and that turned out really well. I played that around to people and asked what they thought, and they agreed that it was better. Who’d have thunk it? So I ended up doing the whole lot. It was literally one at a time for a while. Also, in between that, I started another record, “Long Wave,” which I’ve been wanting to do for a few years. All together, it’s probably taken me about three years to finish both albums, because I played everything myself.

 

GM: So Richard Tandy, your longtime friend and fellow ELO member, didn’t participate?JL: No, Richard didn’t play on any of them. But we filmed a concert in this room with Richard and I playing eight old ELO songs, and we’ll keep putting them up on my website. It’s also gonna be shown on the BBC, as well as the new documentary (“Mr. Blue Sky”).

GM: “Long Wave” is a record you’ve been wanting to do for a while.
JL: Yeah, I’ve been collecting all these old tracks that I used to listen to as a kid off iTunes and various other things just to learn them. I’d literally play them a hundred times before I actually started even trying to learn how to properly play them. The arrangements of them were what was putting me off. They sounded so complex and fiddly and grandiose. And I just tunneled into them and kept listening to, say, just the bass, for instance, or just the guitar part. And once I’d got it, I’d get the guitar and play the chords, just simple chords. They sounded like they were all sorts of weird chords, but what I found out is they were just crossover notes in the arrangements. When you finally uncover that and play the rhythm guitar it’s just a simple, lovely little tune.

GM: What I like about the record is you don’t slavishly attempt to mimic these songs. They all ultimately sound like Jeff Lynne songs; your personality really comes through. For example, the Rodgers and Hammerstein song, “If I Loved You” sounds like something you would have written. 
JL: Well, I doubt it, but thanks very much. That’s very kind of you. When I was a kid, my dad used to play that song all the time, and I also used to hear it a lot on the radio. “If I Loved You” was from the musical “Carousel.” I used to listen to it, and my dad would go, “This is the stuff — Rodgers and Hammerstein — this is the greatest.” And I’d go, “I don’t get it, Dad; what the hell is it? It’s too fancy and too grown up.” It didn’t mean a thing to me, because I couldn’t understand it. That’s a song I never thought in a million years I’d ever sing. So, come 45 years or more later (laughs), I’m listening to this again and go, “Hang on, let’s strip all that gear off it. I couldn’t sing it like Shirley Jones and Gordon McRae did in the film. They sang it in a more operatic style. So I tried to make it in my own kind of style and worked on trying to make it sound nice. The whole point of “Long Wave” was to make it so it was mine, really, not some watered-down version of somebody’s else’s versions. So I wanted to make them all sound like mine, and that’s why I stripped the songs bare, which helped me make them as good as I wanted them to sound. Whenever I had to go the mic and start singing all these songs, I was filled with terror because I thought, “What if this sounds like something I didn’t want it to sound like and that I couldn’t escape from?” So I made myself get it right. On “If I Loved You,” I did 10 takes of the vocal and listened to them all separately to see what was good and what was bad. By the time I finished it, I was so thrilled with it. I hadn’t f**ked up the vocal and found I could listen to it without cringing or without noticing anything wrong, because there wasn’t anything wrong. So it was really a labor of love. I tried very hard to get all of the songs to sound as good as I could.

One of Jeff Lynne’s favorite childhood memories came came about during a walk with his music-loving dad. Father and son sang into a big concrete pipe, and Lynne learned about harmony and the major scale. Electric Light Orchestra publicity photo.


GM: How did this music find its way into your work as a songwriter, from the Idle Race to The Move to ELO?
JL: There’s one chord sequence that I really like that Richard Rodgers used a lot, and it wound up in some of my songs. Say you’re in the key of C and you rise to C augmented, and then you go to an F chord, and then it goes up to F diminished — “naughty” chords, as George (Harrison) would say (laughs). You’d climb up all these chords, and it would sound really simple. But with all of the arrangements placed over it, you couldn’t tell that’s all it was. Once I was able to learn it properly, just playing that on the guitar, I realized I’d written at least four songs with that chord sequence, even when I was a novice songwriter. I recognize that it’s been a big influence on me forever.

GM: Being a huge fan of Roy Orbison, I assume you could have chosen any number of songs to cover for “Long Wave.” But you wound up doing “Running Scared.” Why?
JL: I’ll tell you why I chose “Running Scared.” When we were in The Wilburys doing our thing playing guitars and doing vocal parts, we got to talking. I asked Roy, “What’s your favorite of your songs?” And he said, “‘Running Scared,’ that’s my favorite. I certainly didn’t mess that one up.” As if he messed any of them up! He was very modest. I thought to myself, “That’s my favorite, as well, and all the others, too (laughs). They’re all my favorites.” So that’s why I did that, as a tribute to Roy, but obviously I can’t do it like him. Again, I have to do my version of all of these songs. I’m not trying to pretend to be him but trying to do it as best as I can in my own way.
 

GM: Your love of Roy Orbison has been reflected in your own songs. An example: There’s a part in “Endless Lies,” a song from ELO’s 1986 album “Balance of Power,” that is pure Roy.JL: (Laughs.) It’s funny that you should say that. I went down to Nashville a few years before we formed The Traveling Wilburys just to say hello to Roy and see if we could sit and jam and try and come up with a song. Anyway, while I was there, I played Roy “Endless Lies” in his house, and I went, “This is me trying to copy you in the middle; have a listen.” He listened, and he chuckled, and he went, “That’s actually pretty good.” (Laughs.) He was chuffed.

GM: “She” is another standout on the record. I personally wasn’t familiar with the original, only Elvis Costello’s version.
JL: That was the first song I recorded for “Long Wave.” Charles Aznavour did the original. I always loved the simplicity of that song. The old record was very basic and very sparse. The main instrument on it was bass. It seemed like it was a live performance, but the bass line was so beautiful, and these piano chords tinkling. That’s all it was. It was a very small, tiny little song. I thought, “I’m never gonna do it like Charles Aznavour; I’ll do it like me, and do it in three-part harmony, which is what I’m good at.” I made it into my version of “She,” and it’s totally different.

GM: Can you recall the first song you wrote that knocked you out, something that was less imitative of your influences and more Jeff Lynne?
JL: It might have been one that was so different and so quirky from the Idle Race days. I listen back to some of that stuff and go, “What the hell was I thinking?” (laughs) There’s some really wacky Idle Race song that I find a bit strange, but as a pop song with a memorable tune, “Come with Me” is a pretty good one. “On With the Show” I like a lot. I also like “Skeleton and the Roundabout,” too. I still like all those Idle Race songs, but I just find them so weird (laughs).

GM: To this day, the songs you penned for The Idle Race are among your most imaginative and creative, with songs like “I Like My Toys,” “Follow Me Follow,” “Imposters of Life’s Magazine” and “On with the Show.”
JL: I think the different styles that I drew from for The Idle Race came from the songs I used to listen to on the radio at my mom and dad’s house, all that old-fashioned stuff when I was really little. Stuff like George Formby, who George (Harrison) was a big fan of. He was actually in his fan club. George Formby was fantastic. So I think that’s where all those quirky influences came from early on. And it was that psychedelic period, so I was sort of mixing up vaudeville with psychedelic kind of ideas and coming out with old-fashioned tunes with really weird little bits (laughs). It’s all very odd, but I have to say I do like it. Those were my formative years. It took me such a long time to find my actual voice that I wanted to sing in. I’m finally using it now on “Long Wave.” I’ve finally learned how to sing, and I’m finally singing as good as I wanted to sing. I haven’t been practicing singing or anything, but I think these tunes lifted me up a gear and made me try even harder than I’ve ever tried before. My voice has gotten deeper over the years. I haven’t lost the top note, but now it’s gained a couple of lower notes that it didn’t have — resonance. I suppose that happens as you grow older.

GM: How did seeing your hero Del Shannon perform live in the ’60s impact you? 
JL: I first saw Del Shannon play when I was 13 at Birmingham Town Hall, and it just blew me away. I’d never heard a live group until then. I couldn’t understand why the drums sounded like tin cans. They sounded peculiar. Of course, on the record it didn’t sound like that. It took me a while to get used to the real sound of cymbals. But, anyhow, Del was amazing. I finally got to know him and hang out with him in the early ’70s. He was a lovely guy, very sweet. I’ve been lucky in that all my heroes have been really sweet to me and always wanted to work with me, which has been fantastic. I can’t ask for more than that. But deciding to make music my career happened when I found a plastic Elvis Presley guitar in my friend’s wardrobe in Birmingham. I was just going through his cupboards, being nosy and went, “Aw, what the f**k?!” And there was this plastic guitar. I hadn’t even touched a guitar before in my life. I must have been 15 at the time. I said, “What the hell are you doing with this? How come I haven’t got it?” (Laughs.) I persuaded him to lend it to me, and he didn’t want to, but he eventually did. I took it up to my house, and I learned all The Shadows’ numbers and all the instrumentals in the world on this one string on this little plastic neck with a picture of Elvis up there. It was really difficult learning how to play all those songs on one string because you had to start in the right place, or you couldn’t get to the last final note. I used to play this every night. One night, my dad came home, and he must have really noticed that I was really having a bash at this thing like mad, and he brought me an old Spanish guitar, which was fantastic. I went, “Wow, and it has six strings on it!” (Laughs.) It had steel strings, and it was tough as hell to play. You needed a clamp to hold your hand down on the fretboard (laughs); it had massive action, probably half an inch off the neck at the 12th fret. But I loved playing so much. I learnt how to play on that guitar. Funny about that guitar. I’ve still got it, and it cost two pounds when he got it for me. I had it fixed by Danny Farrington, the famous guitar luthier, and it cost me $2,000 to get it playable (laughs). It was only a £2 guitar (laughs.) Once I had that guitar, I said, “That’s it for me mate. I’m set now.” I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I had the confidence to know that I knew all about it.

The guitars Jeff Lynne plays these days are a far cry from the one-stringed plastic Elvis Presley model he borrowed from a friend and used to learn all of The Shadows’ songs. Lynne’s father noticed his son’s fascination with that toy guitar, and bought him a Spanish guitar for £2. Lynne later paid luthier Danny Farrington £2,000 to fix that instrument. Publicity photo courtesy Frontiers Records.


GM: Speak about your early work with a sound-on-sound tape recorder and how it helped facilitate your eventual prowess as triple threat: songwriter-arranger-producer.
JL: I was looking for some way to make demos of my songs. My friend’s dad owned a hi-fi shop in Birmingham. He asked his dad if there were any machines you could record on and bounce one track to another. He said, “Yes, I have the best one, a B&O (Bang & Olufsen) 2000 Deluxe.” It was a dead posh little tape machine then, and cost 120 guineas (laughs). I had to pay for it on the drip because I wasn’t old enough to sign off on it. I wasn’t 21 yet. I got this tape machine halfway through my days in The Idle Race. During that time, I started getting used to recording, working with a machine. I’d be recording guitar on the left and switch to the right and put the sound-on-sound lever up and play a bass and then switch it back and play along with it as you go and add an instrument each time. I ended up sometimes with 20 instruments and the sound was very degraded (imitates whirring sound).

GM: Do you still have those demos?
JL: Oh, yeah. Some of them are good. I used to have a piano stool in that room, and it got the best snare drum sound ever.

GM: What instruments did you have in your makeshift studio in your parent’s front room at your house in Birmingham?
JL: It was a primitive set up. I had an acoustic and electric guitar, a piano, a Mellotron. I got a bass by then, one of those Hofner Beatle basses. So in ’68, I could make complete records in my front room, even in those days, with bass, drums, guitar, piano, vocal, harmonies. The sound might not have been top-of-the line studio quality, but you could still hear the ideas. I was also learning a lot about mic placement. For example, to get this great snare drum on the piano stool, I’d have to put the mic in a certain place. I realized it sounded much bigger if you placed it the wrong way, so you were getting the sound reflection off the wall. It sounded like, “WHACK!” It would be a revelation to me. And then, for the bass drum, I’d put a mic with some foam rubber over it and punch it for the bass drum sound. It was a really powerful bass drum sound. So that was all a great education for me. I was teaching myself everything without leaving the front room of my mom and dad’s house (laughs.) And it was brilliant learning how to construct a song and make it so you could play it for somebody.

GM: Was there a lot of trial and error in terms of learning your production skills, or did it come naturally?
JL: No, it was all trial and error and a total learning curve. But I knew what I wanted, and I hadn’t a clue how to get it early on. I’d make lots of mistakes thinking, “That must be how you do it,” just by guessing.

GM: What inspired you to become a producer?
JL: I learned how Roy (Orbison) used to sing in the studio in the early days, when putting down these masterpiece vocals. He’d be standing behind this coat rack with all these coats hanging over it, so he could have some separation. That’s all they had was a coat rack (laughs). They hadn’t even invented baffles yet. But the sounds that came out of those records was wonderful. All those people, all at once: violins, backing singers, two guitarists, two basses. So that inspired me to want to become a producer. I thought, “Oh, I wish I knew how to do that; that’s the one thing I’d love to do.” To me, the pinnacle of the music business was to be a record producer.

GM: In terms of the template for the ELO sound, it’s claimed that you once said you wanted to take off where The Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus” left off.
JL: Kind of. That was never really my thing. Actually, Roy Wood said that, not me. And he left the group two months after and lumbered me with that kind of quote, “Oh really? Thanks a lot buddy.” (Laughs.) My intention behind the sound of ELO was simply to get away from what all the other groups seemed to be doing around that time. Around ’71, ’72 all the big, long guitar solos were the rage — 10-minute guitar solos. I wanted to do stuff that had more of a tune. I wanted tunes, ’cause I love tunes. I think that’s because of my dad. He was a tune maniac. He knew every classical piece of music there is. He’d say, “That’s the third movement of so and so trumpet thingie,” and I’d be like, “How the hell do you know that?” And he’d say “’Cause I know them all!” And he did. I never knew many of the classical pieces; I knew just a few. Debussy is probably my favorite classical composer, although I like a lot of the other classical composers, too. But I don’t know them like me dad did. He had them catalogued in his mind. So the music came through him to me, ’cause me grandma was a bit on the stage with me granddad doing vaudeville and music hall; this was way before I was born. So it did all come through me dad, who was musical. In fact, he showed me what harmony was when I was only about 5 years old. We were walking down the street, and he was taking me to where he was working, doing a job for somebody, laying slabs — flagstone — in a garden. As we walked past this building site, we came upon a big concrete pipe, probably about five foot diameter. He said, “I’ll show you something; come and look at this.” And he stuck his head in the pipe. And he goes (imitates rising notes), “Ah, ah, ah, ah …” And it echoed into this great big chord. And I went, “Wow, that’s fantastic!” So he said, “Here, you have a go” My voice hadn’t broken yet and I went, (sings) “ah, ah, ah, ah …” And I went, “Wow, it’s like a bloody choir!” And so he taught me the major scale and how to do harmony in one little pipe lesson (laughs.) Who would have thought singing down a pipe would be a great education in itself? But it was.

GM: When you were recording the ELO songs for “Mr. Blue Sky: The Very Best of The Electric Light Orchestra,” what were the challenges you faced?
JL: With today’s technology, things are much easier. But also with another 35 years experience, I know so much more than I knew then. So I’ve got the answer to most things now, although there are still some surprises along the way, or some things won’t work as you expect them to do, even though you’ve been doing them for years. But the learning aspects of making of all these records with George (Harrison), The Wilburys, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison — what wonderful fun I had, absolutely marvelous. I learned a lot doing those records, so today I’m a much better producer than I was when I first started working with George (Harrison). I had a year off from ELO and just worked in my own studio and learned every little nuance of my own studio at home, whereas before I would always get an engineer and say, “Get us a sound with no bass in it, but I want it a bit spiky right there.” I learned how to do that myself, so I didn’t have to rely on anybody and didn’t need to have an engineer around all the time. But when you do a proper recording, you need to have a good engineer like the one I’m working with now. His name is Steve Jay, and he’s a great engineer, I love working with him. He’s got infinite patience, and he’ll have a go at anything with me.

GM: How did you go about dissecting the tracks?
JL: I just made them up straight from listening to the old ELO records. Also, they’re a lot more in time, as these are made to a click track, where on the original versions, it was the four of us jamming, so there was not actual strict time about it.

GM: Why did you choose to record all the instruments by yourself?
JL: I just love playing all those instruments, and I just love when I listen back and know everything on there I played. I’m just silly like that; I think it’s great. It’s so much fun to be a one-man band with the best equipment in the world. It’s such a pleasure. I’ve got a wonderful big piano to play, and I’ve got wonderful guitars to play, great basses, good harmonies to sing. It’s just so much fun.

GM: John Lennon was a big fan of “Showdown.”
JL: Yeah, that’s true. I was working in the Record Plant overdubbing some girl singers onto the end of “Evil Woman.” Ellie Greenwich, the famous singer-songwriter, and two other girls did the part (sings “You’re an evil woman”). It was great to have them. While we were there, May Pang (one-time girlfriend of John Lennon) came into the studio and told me that John had said that ”Showdown” was one of his favorite songs and he thought it should have been No. 1, but UA [United Artists] never got their fingers out, meaning they didn’t put enough in to promote it. That’s what John thought, so that did it for me. I remember writing that song in my mom and dad’s front room. I’d left home by that time, but had set up all my gear in my studio in the front room because I hadn’t moved anywhere that had enough space to have anything. So I’d go back there to make demos. I remember writing that one. It was in C minor, and I remember it lingering about. I knew when I played this riff that it was gonna be great. That was the one time when I took it into “The Cutting Room” and there was this nice guy there, and he just had scissors to do his editing (laughs). He got the tape and put the tape in between his fingers and his thumbs and just went (imitates scissors cutting) and I said (nervously) “What!?” Are you sure that’s the right place?” And he said, “What do you think?” and he was smiling when he did it (laughs). He said, “And you’ll soon find out.” (Laughs.) It was rolling a cigarette with one hand, and he does this with an edit with a really important part of the music. He joined it up, played that song and he said, “You know, this song has such class,” and I was thrilled, because I’d never heard the word class attached to anything I’d done before (laughs), and I was really happy with that.

GM: A song like “Livin’ Thing” is a perfect example displaying what your pal George Harrison used to call as having “naughty chords” — diminished/augmented — very un-rock and roll chords. Where did that influence come from?
JL: Yeah, you’re right, “Livin’ Thing” had an augmented chord. George (Harrison) used a lot of those chords, too. I think the influence of using those types of chords came from the “Long Wave” sort of songs. Trying to marry the two styles together, trying to put those funny old Victorian chords into a new song gives it a good lift. It makes it more of a special song, because it’s got a weird chord in it, and nobody knows how to play it. “Livin’ Thing” has that. There’s a few of mine that have those type of chords in it. I tried to make the songs a little different. “Livin’ Thing” would have had a much more normal run-of-the-mill chord sequence otherwise; the chorus would have been C, A minor, F and G instead of C, A minor, D minor, G augmented and back to the C. That G augmented chord adds a little bit of tension and uplift to the song. That chord is more along the lines of the “Long Wave” songs than the pop idiom. I’m sure I was bringing in those type of chords subconsciously, but I was exposed to all those chords early on, and I’m obviously gonna take them on board with all the more rock and roll chords. I’ve used wacky chords in a lot of my tunes, like “All Over the World,” which has a naughty one, as well (laughs).

GM: Naughty means good.
JL: Yes, naughty but nice (laughs).

GM: In the ELO days, you’d cut a track without having any lyrics and then finish it off and sing the song. Do you still operate in the same manner today?
JL: I still do it like that. I like to do the music first, record it and then write lyrics and sing it. I’ve always got a little tune in my head vocally that will work, but I’m still hoping a more brilliant tune will come to me between now and when I mix it. I don’t usually have any words prepared, maybe an odd word here and there. I like to try and think of the scenario and bring it to life in the tune with the lyrics and vocal melody.

GM: Was that especially challenging in the ’70s when you were under immense pressure to release one album after the other?
JL: Yeah, it was hard work. But the thing is, I’m glad for it now. If I had not had those deadlines, I’d probably still be second guessing the second ELO album (laughs); “It’s not quite right. I don’t know about that.” (Laughs.) So I’m glad I had a deadline, and I’m glad I couldn’t second guess and just let it go and do its thing.

GM: With “Don’t Bring Me Down,” there’s always been much speculation of what you’re singing in one part of the song. Set us straight. What the heck are you singing? Is it “Roose?” “Groose?” “Bruce?”
JL: (Laughs.) I’ll tell you what. That’s all a misunderstanding. I was in Musicland Studios in Germany, and I was putting a lead vocal onto the song and there was a gap (sings “Don’t Bring Me Down”), and I just sang “Groose.” I was doing it just to fill a hole up, I wasn’t gonna use it. Then the engineer, Mack, who is German, suddenly got on the talkback and said, “How did you know that word?” And I said, “What word?” And he said, “Groose. It means ‘Greetings’ in German.” I said, “F**king hell, I never knew that.” (Laughs.) Anyway, I said, “Let’s leave it in, then, it sounds all right, ‘Groose.’” Of course, when we started playing it on the road, everybody’s singing “Bruce!” (Laughs.) And I’m going, “Oh, shit.” I’m not gonna go about explaining every night that it’s not “Bruce,” it’s “Groose.” (Laughs.) So I said, “Oh, f**k it; I’ll sing Bruce.” and I’d sing it that way during shows. But it was really “Groose.” Mystery solved (laughs).

GM: Back during ELO’s heyday in the ’70s, you were on such a whirlwind schedule. How did you ever find time to write songs? 
JL: I’d write a lot on the road and lay down song ideas into a cassette player. I had an electric piano in the dressing room, and I’d write songs for the next album. Some nights, I’d get stuck, and other nights I’d sit down and come up with two ideas. You never knew what was gonna happen.

GM: How were you able to tap into that channel of inspiration?
JL: There certainly is a zone, and once you hit it, you feel like you can just keep doing it until you mess it up — you keep the momentum going and things will keep coming. With the “Out of the Blue” album, I was in this Swiss village up in the mountains and had been there for two weeks and hadn’t come up with a bloody thing. I was just down the pub every night (laughs). I stated to worry after two weeks. “Holy shit. I’m gonna be in the studio in two weeks’ time, and I have no songs.” One day, I got up, and it became the start of me writing 11 songs in two weeks. I wrote the other one in Munich, Germany. Once you tap into that zone, nothing seems too hard, but if you’re not tapped in, forget it.

GM: Would you write songs primarily to please yourself or with your audience in mind?
JL: You can’t really write for what your imaginary audience would like. If you don’t like it yourself, you can’t expect anybody else to like it. I wrote what makes me feel good when I hear it, and I’m happy with it. I go, “Wow, that’s as best as I can do,” and I hope that other people will think so, too. If you write for an audience, you’re gonna second guess yourself all the time.

GM: Is it more difficult to write songs that knock you out today?
JL: It does get harder the longer you’re doing it. When you’ve been a songwriter for 45 years, it’s quite hard to think of new things, especially lyrically and musically, because there’s only so much you can do without repeating yourself. To try and not repeat yourself is the way to go, and I hope I don’t.

GM: Working with today’s technology, with Pro Tools, it presents infinite options. Had you had that technology back in the ’70s would things have been easier for you or would those numerous options have slowed the process?
JL: I think the way it happened is the best way, because you gradually learn, and you gradually learn all the time. So when all this wonderful, stupendous, digital gear arrives, you’re ready for it, because you have exhausted the tape method and done everything you can do on it and there’s no more surprises to have from it. So I think it’s good that evolved as a process. If I’d have had all that stuff at the start, like Pro Tools, I wouldn’t have known what to do with it, and it would have probably f**ked it all up.

GM: Are you working on a new album of original songs?
JL: Yes, I’ve got eight new ones so far. I’d like to get them out next year. I played all the instruments on it. I love it. You can’t keep me off them instruments (laughs.)

GM: Before ELO took a long break and resumed with 2001’s “Zoom,” the band’s last album was 1986’s “Balance of Power,” which remains a strong record with stellar songs like “Getting to the Point,” “Heaven Only Knows” and “So Serious.” There’s a somber and resigned tone to much of the material. Did you know going in this would be band’s swan song?
JL: Yes. I agree. I love that album. To me, “Balance of Power” is one of my favorite ELO albums. It was supposed to be the last ELO album at that point. It was the end of a series of albums I had to do to fulfill my contract. That album didn’t break through like it should, because of politics with the record company not promoting it, thinking “Let’s cut our losses.”

GM: Pick a few ELO songs you’d like people to rediscover. 
JL: Well, you know when I was doing new versions of these ELO songs, I couldn’t stop in the end. I did enough for two albums, but didn’t want to put both out at the same time. They’re all really good, but I did a new version of “Steppin’ Out” from “Out of the Blue,” and it’s so much better than the old one. It blows it away totally, because I sing it so much better. I’ve got more confidence in the tune. And when you come at it again from a totally new place, and you’ve got a brand new sheet or blackboard that’s empty, and you’ve already done it and you know how it goes and you’re not second-guessing it, you can make the record pretty quickly. But when I put the vocal on, that’s what really clinched it; it was so much better. It was powerful, and it was clear, and it was clean. I’ve done a few where I think I’ve done it way better than the old ones.

Fellow Wilbury Tom Petty says he’s never heard Jeff Lynne sing out of tune. “He’s such a pitch freak that he would drive George (Harrison) and I crazy. We did a lot of singing together, the three of us. With Jeff, we always had to sing perfectly in pitch. If it went a little under, he’d go, ‘No, it sounds like The Who.’” Publicity photo courtesy Rhino.


GM: Having worked with everyone from The Beatles to Tom Petty, Brian Wilson to Roy Orbison, Randy Newman to Regina Spektor, when looking back, can you single out your favorite production?
JL: I do love that Brian Wilson one I produced (“Let It Shine”). We wrote that together, and it worked out well. But if I had to pick it would be the two Beatle tracks that we made into records from John’s original cassette — “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love.” Technically, that was the most daunting and physically impossible thing to do, but we got it done somehow, so that was great. It was just really hard to make those songs be something that they shouldn’t have been. They were done as little demos, and the piano was stuck to John’s voice, so you can’t even raise his voice without the piano coming up. Then there was also the problem of timing. The meter was not right for anybody to play to. What I did was measure the speed at the beginning, the middle and the end and just do an average, and that’s the speed that we used for them. I’m most proud of those tracks, because it was the hardest thing I had to do. Plus, I was working with The Beatles, who hadn’t been in the same room for over 20 years. But it was actually marvelous. It was fantastic hearing all the millions of old Beatle stories. That was just what I wanted to hear.

GM: I understand there was a third track you worked on with Paul, George and Ringo called “Now & Then.”
JL: We started on it. It was good, but it never got finished. It never got developed enough as a song for us to ever go back and seriously finish it, but it could be finished one day.

GM: In the late ’60s, you recorded “Girl at the Window” with The Idle Race in which you sing, “John and Paul and Ringo and George were playing lovely tunes from the window of the room by the light of the moon.” Years later, you‘d not only go on to produce The Beatles as well as Paul, George and Ringo, and John championed one of your songs as a favorite. I imagine it must be hard for you to believe your good fortune.
JL: Yes, it’s very hard to believe. Most things that have happened to me in my career would have been very hard to believe. I would have been perfectly happy joining a group called The Nightriders, my first professional group, and just staying with them and playing all the pubs around Birmingham. That was the height of my ambition then. But, of course, as soon as you do that, then a new ambition comes. “What about if we played in London or Liverpool?” (Laughs.) Everything comes as a great bonus. Whatever kept me from going to work in a factory is all a bonus. And I still have a lot of ambitions. I might want to have a go at a film score one day. I’ve shied away from it before, hearing horrible stories about a committee of editors going to chop the shit out of it, and just as you get it right, they’ll say, “Can you cut this down for me?” I just don’t like to hear those stories, and that’s why I’ve never done it up to now.

GM: Finally, among ELO fans there remains great interest in the unreleased track, “Beatles Forever.” Is there any chance it will ever be released?
JL: I doubt it will ever come out. It’s a bit sycophantic (laughs). I wrote it as just a bit of fun. I had a song that I’d done, and I’d called it “Beatles Forever” as a working title and started to think what it would be about. It could be about their great harmony and beat, so I built this song out of it, and it was quite good. But it’s kind of a bit too reverential. It’s like, “All right, we get it, you like The Beatles.” (Laughs.) GM

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On 7/5/2020 at 4:20 PM, James said:

Wow, I wasn´t familiar with "Now You´re Gone".....it´s fantastic. A song you can "get" on the first listen. It´s for sure up there with the top ELO songs. I´ll look to buy the album. Thanks for the heads up LC.

 

 

Yes! Isn't it a knockout? I know what you mean when you say it's a song you "get" on first listen. You can't say that about a whole lot of music. Some of my favorites took multiple listens (and sometimes years) before I appreciated. But "Now You're Gone"—instant! 

Back in my music-magazine editing days—even a little before—I met a guy named Jake, a computer mag writer, who grew up with Jeff Lynne in Birmingham, toured with ELO as a technician and sometimes-backup vocalist, and stayed in touch with Jeff. He used to invite me over for dinner and play hours' worth of tapes he kept from early ELO studio sessions—lots of banter and horsing around and joking. He set me up with phone interviews with Kelly Groucutt (ELO bassist) and then Jeff Lynne. What a thrill that was....When I was editing CD Review mag, I later got to return the favor, in a small way, by setting up Jake to interview one of his heroes, John Mayall, for a magazine feature. I miss Jake—have talked to him since the early 1990s. In fact, he actually appears on several songs on Armchair Theatre (backup vocals—last name is actually "Commander"). Anyway, I remember when he came back from the recording sessions, there were weeks and weeks where he'd be taking up Armchair Theatre, and he was especially excited about "Now You're Gone," even though it wasn't a song he contributed to. So I had this anticipation. Sometimes you end up disappointed when something gets built up... but in this case, "Now You're Gone" lived up to Jake's advance excitement... and then some.

Sorry for the "in the weeds" memory—I miss those old days. Jake was kind of a hero to me (he's about eight or nine years older), and I love how he regaled me with stories of ELO, knowing how much I LOVED the band back then (and still do).

PS: Lew, thanks for the iLynne interview share above. Some great quotes in there! And yes, who'd have thought Jeff Lynne would have an Eric song in a personal jukebox? 

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As I've posted on this site before, when I list my top bands/artists of all time, my Top 3 in this order are:

1. Beatles

2. Elton John

3. ELO

 

I will DEFINITELY be weighing in on this when I have time. I can't wait. 

 

By the way LC, the two latest ELO offerings are pretty good. As a matter of fact, I REALLY like "ALONE IN THE UNIVERSE" from 2015. (I also am a big fan of "TIME", though I realize many fans don't like it as much) I went to see ELO for the first time only last year, and it was OUTSTANDING!! 

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Jeff Lynne – Armchair Theater
Frontier Records
www.frontiers.it

Rating: B

By 1990, Jeff Lynne was not only famous for his work with the Electric Light Orchestra, he was one of the most sought after producers in the world, lending his production talents to releases by Roy Orbison, Del Shannon, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and remarkably, even the Beatles themselves. 

Together with Harrison, Orbison, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan, Lynne was, of course, a member of the Grammy award-winning Traveling Wilburys--a super group like no other. “I’ve been in love with music since I was probably just five years old,” says Lynne. “I was mad for music then--and I still am today.” 

Somehow, he found the time to release his first ever solo album titled Armchair Theater.  The album, which has not been available for purchase for over ten years, mixes Lynne’s poppy ELO style writing with a certain flair for old time rock and roll, which Lynne was heavily influenced by.  The album even features a couple of cover tunes that are reminiscent of what Lynne did on his 2012 release Long Wave in “Don’t Let Go,” “Stormy Weather” and “September Song.”  

The new version of the album was remastered by Jeff Lynne and includes two bonus tracks, both recorded in 1989, “Borderline” and “Forecast.”  Lynne, also invited his rock star buddies to help him out on his solo album.  George Harrison appears on guitar on several tracks and Tom Petty co-wrote the strongest song on the release, “Blown Away.”  His ELO bandmate Richard Tandy also played various instruments throughout the album.  “Don’t Let Go” should have been a huge hit, as it has all the starts, stops, pushes and pulls that Lynne is known for.  

Armchair Theater didn’t make much of a splash, oddly enough, as this was right up the alley of the Traveling Wilburys.  It’s a shame that Lynne didn’t enjoy the same success as the supergroup, as this is a great album, written, performed and produced by a true rock and roll genius.  

At the end of the day, this is a welcome re-release by Lynne and Frontiers Records and should be snapped up by fans of ELO, as well as by people who love good old time, fun rock music. 

ARMCHAIR THEATRE: Every Little Thing, Don’t Let Go, Lift Me Up, Nobody Home, September Song, Now You’re Gone, Don’t Say Goodbye, What Would It Take, Stormy Weather, Blown Away, Save Me Now, Borderline (Bonus), Forecast (Bonus) 

Jeb Wright

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My ranking of ELO albums: (1 thru 7 get various levels of A ratings)

1. Out Of The Blue
2. Time
3. Discovery
4. A New World Record
5. Zoom
6. Secret Messages
7. Face The Music
8. No Answer
9. On The Third Day
10. Eldorado
11. Balance Of Power
12. ELO 2

 

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Thanks, Craig—I need to reacquaint with Time and all later ELOs.

In fact, I just put Time on, and I'm having a flashback as to my early impressions and how a defective CD knocked me off my beam. I remember LOVING the single "Rain Is Falling," and buying the vinyl LP right away. CDs started coming out three years later, and one of the first I got was Time. However—the copy I got (a promo from CBS) was defective and wouldn't play! If I had bought it in a store, no doubt I'd have returned it. But back then, I remember we (my staff and me) had boxes and boxes of promo CDs arriving every day, so I had tons of music to listen to, and I lost track of Time. (Literally and figuratively!)

Listening to it again, I'm loving it—a futuristic pop gem. I'd give it a solid B, ranking it alongside or just below Discovery. "Twilight," "Ticket to the Moon," "The Lights Go Down," "21st Century Man," the single "Hold on Tight"—all quality songs. "The Way Life's Meant to Be" sounds like John Lennon doing an old 1950s classic... except it's one Lynne wrote for Time. 

And how about "Yours Truly, 2095" — a look ahead to Jetsons time, when the voice in the song is talking about driving a hover-car and dating a woman who's actually "an IBM" ("She's only programmed to be be very nice/BU she's as cold as ice...")? Is this what we want? Is this really what we want? I love the line "Time has the final word." So true....

I'll have to go deeper on the other post-Time albums over the next few days: Secret Messages (1983), Balance of Power (1986), and Zoom (2001), and then on to "Alone in the Universe" and "Out of Nowhere" from 2015 and 2019. I have all except the last two (I can't believe I let ELO lapse out of the "must buy, sight unseen" category. 

Love "When I Was a Boy"—I did enjoy taking that one in again, so thanks for the link share. And I'll take any Lynne performance of "Mr. Blue Sky." 

PS: Also, Kirk, I'm jealous you saw mid-1970s ELO, if it was prior to the spaceship tour of 1977. Or was that the tour you saw? 

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As for James' task of 10 favorite ELO songs, it's virtually impossible to do... In fact, it is impossible, so I'm stretching to 15. James, feel free to add five to yours.   

1." Mr. Blue Sky"—The all-time feel-good song.

2. "One Summer Dream"—Ethereal, melancholy, depressing... I love it! 

3. "On No Not Susan"—"Her money and her place, they just don't mean a [expleted] thing."

4. "Can't Get It Out of My Head"—It's everything James promises above. 

5. "Evil Woman"—Can't NOT love this song. Who hasn't been used, abused, and beaten up by an evil woman at some point? 

6. "Shangri-La" —Any song that references "Hey Jude" gets extra points from me.

7. "Big Wheels" —A hidden treasure and a ballad for the ages.

8. "Bluebird Is Dead"—A unique love-lost song. "You gave me a sunny day/Now it looks as if I'll pay."

8. "Telephone Line"—This was the ELO song that really caught my attention upon its release.

10. "Turn to Stone"—An energizer of a song... relentless and catchy.

11. "Wild West Hero"—One of Lynne's imagistic, visual songs. Makes you wanna hang out at a campfire, doesn't it?

12. "Ma-Ma Belle"—If you love crunchy guitar hooks, this is your song. Love the opening line: "Got love, if that's what you need/Got three or four babies sittin' on my knee." 

13. "Roll Over Beethoven"—What a  wild ride. Roll over Chuck Berry!

14. "Rockaria"—So many cool classical music references.... Because of this rock'n'roll song, some of us got curious about and checked into Wagner, Puccini, and Verdi, not to mention Beethoven. I think Jeff wrote this about our own Susie!

15. "Do Ya"—Same sort of crunchy guitar opening as "Ma-Ma Belle," but different. "Do Ya" came out later, but was actually written earlier and stashed for a few years.

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Our boy, EC gets mentioned in this ELO 
review...
 
Original album advertising art.
Click image for larger view.

Bonus Reviews!

Rock wouldn't be in much trouble if a few more bands did their jobs as well as the Electric Light Orchestra does its job, a description of which is most likely on file in the great personnel office in the sky under the heading of Sound Enrichment. The ELO has quite a sense of history where sound is concerned, and in its work you hear echoes of the Beatles, the Moody Blues, the doo-wop groups, and Beethoven. Also Dylan, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and so on.

The United Artists album A New World Record has these elements cross-indexed in a glorious sound one can still with a straight face call rock. Among other things, it makes sophisticated stereo equipment worth having -- which most rock records don't do -- as it sends out knee-bending (fake classical) orchestral bass and a swirl of stuff that's actually warm and musical though it comes from electronic instruments. Jeff Lynne's taste in arranging is warmer (hell, it's schlockier) than, but on a plane even with, Steelye Span's. He looks for other ways to do things, and he has found a fair number. The lyrics here do their job, too, which is to turn up a little something now and then but generally to avoid kicking up too much fuss about it. The emphasis is on the sound of music and not on the fury of it. It isn't a complete "record" of how the "new world" really is, but a welcome affirmation of the suspicion that there's still some good stuff left in it.

- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 2/77.

Eat your diploma, Eric Carmen -- after years of floundering, they've gone all the way and made a Moody Blues album with brains, hooks, and laffs galore. My fave is "Rockaria!," about a lass who "loves the way Puccini lays down a tune." Granted, I initially thought it was strictly for those who got off on music appreciation in high school, like the lass. But now I think it's also for those who hated it, like me. B+

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

A superbly crafted and dark-hued body of songs, all melodic and delectable. * * *

- Bruce Eder, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

The precision of ELO's 1975 set Face The Music was quickly surpassed by A New World Record, which ranges from the operatic rock of "Rockaria" to the mournful "Telephone Line" and a remake of an early Move hit, "Do Ya." * * * *

- Eric Deggans, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

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Kirk   

LC, it was before the spaceship tour- I probably have a ticket stub somewhere...

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Secret Messages was supposed to be a double album but was shortened to just a single record. This is the original track listing. You can actually assemble this if you have the additional tracks as bonus tracks from others albums.

Side One
1.    "Secret Messages"   
2.    "Loser Gone Wild" 
3.    "Bluebird"    
4.    "Take Me On and On"    

Side Two
1.    "Stranger"   
2.    "No Way Out"    
3.    "Beatles Forever"
4.    "Letter From Spain"   
5.    "Danger Ahead"   

Side Three
1.    "Four Little Diamonds"  
3.    "Endless Lies"    
4.    "Buildings Have Eyes"    
5.    "Rock 'n' Roll Is King"   

Side Four
1.    "Mandalay"    5:20
2.    "Time After Time"    3:56
3.    "After All"    0:41
4.    "Hello My Old Friend"    8:37
 

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The songs "Borderline" & "Forecast" (which are bonus tracks from 1990 "Armchair Theatre") are indeed missing from the iTunes website!!  The iTunes album is remastered though!!  That album was originally on Reprise Records in 1990. The remaster version is on Frontier Records. 

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LC   
On 7/7/2020 at 2:22 PM, Craig Benfer said:

 

Secret Messages was supposed to be a double album but was shortened to just a single record. This is the original track listing. You can actually assemble this if you have the additional tracks as bonus tracks from others albums.

Side One
1.    "Secret Messages"   
2.    "Loser Gone Wild" 
3.    "Bluebird"    
4.    "Take Me On and On"    

Side Two
1.    "Stranger"   
2.    "No Way Out"    
3.    "Beatles Forever"
4.    "Letter From Spain"   
5.    "Danger Ahead"   

Side Three
1.    "Four Little Diamonds"  
3.    "Endless Lies"    
4.    "Buildings Have Eyes"    
5.    "Rock 'n' Roll Is King"   

Side Four
1.    "Mandalay"    5:20
2.    "Time After Time"    3:56
3.    "After All"    0:41
4.    "Hello My Old Friend"    8:37
 

 

Craig, I did actually revisit Secret Messages, for the first time in many years. It still hasn't connected, though I've always really loved "Stranger." And of course "Rock'n'Roll Is King" is a great single. But there wasn't much else that was "sticking." I'd be interested in seeing your rankings of the songs on the original Secret Messages release. I'll give it more of a chance, for sure.

As for the "almost" release... I didn't know about the original plan for a two-LP set—pretty interesting! I'm curious about the omitted songs, especially "Beatles Forever," so I searched that one and found it on YouTube. I also found a quote from Lynne where he said he was just sort of noodling around, thinking about the Beatles impact on him, so he wrote this, but never wanted it released. 

 

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LC   

Did anyone else here buy the expanded Out of the Blue CD when it came out in 2007? It had three bonus tracks, two of which were interesting, historically, but not "essential"—and one that's awesome: "Lattitude 88 North. I guess it was one of those heavily traded bootleg tracks, an outtake that ELO fans had known about for years. So when it was included on the 30th-anniversary release, fans were overjoyed. I hadn't heard it at that point, but I bought the disc (again) as soon as it came out, just to get the bonus tracks. And I love "Lattitude 88 North." 

It's so good that I can't believe Lynne left if off the original LP! It would have fit in perfectly on Side 1, after "Sweet Talking Woman." In fact, in that ranking I did that started off this section, I didn't include the bonus tracks, but I'd put this one up in the "A-" or "B+" area.

James, if you dug discovering "Now You're Gone," you''ll dig this too (though you may have already heard it):

 

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James   

LC, I the video won´t play ...says not eligible in my country. I mentioned I recently purchased ELO´s full catalog in a box set. I´m going to listen to "Out of the Blue" very shortly. My copy has "Latitude 88 North" and the 2 other bonus tracks.

P.S. I´m kind of a purist (or dumby maybe) as normally I skip bonus tracks as to me they are a compromise to the integrity of the piece of art that is the original album, its songs, the song order etc. I know, I´m weird, but I will break my rule happily with "Out of the Blue". !!.....and let you know my opinion on the album and the bonus track.

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