Saturday, November 3, 2012

Album Review: “MR. BLUE SKY--THE VERY BEST OF ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA”

Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) have one of the most interesting pedigrees in rock & pop music. Originally formed as almost a side project of the band The Move, by Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne, who had both emerged from The Idle Race, with Lynne following Roy Woods as lead vocalist and guitarist and then joining him in The Move. The Move were a very successful English rock band scoring nine Top 20 UK singles in five years, but were among the most popular British bands not to find any success in the United States. The Move could best be described as a Psychedelic Rock Band.

ELO mbs COVER

The group evolved from several mid 1960s Birmingham based groups, including Carl Wayne and the Vikings, the Nightriders and the Mayfair Set. The group's name referred to the move various members of these bands made to form the group. Originally lead by bassist-vocalist Chris "Ace" Kefford, for most of their career The Move was led by guitarist, singer and songwriter Roy Wood. He composed all the group's UK singles and, from 1968, also sang lead vocals on many songs, although Carl Wayne was the main lead singer up to 1970. In the late 1960s, Roy Wood had an idea to form a new band that would use classical instruments; violins, cellos, string basses, horns and woodwinds to give their music a classical sound, taking rock music in the direction "that The Beatles had left off. Jeff Lynne, who had taken over frontman duties from Wood in The Idle Race was excited by the concept. In January 1970, when Carl Wayne left The

Mr Blue Sky: The Very Best 

Move, Lynne accepted Wood's second invitation to join the band on the condition that they focus their energy on the new project.

“When Alice Comes Back to the Farm” The Move w/Roy Wood & Jeff Lynne
On 12 July 1970, when Wood added multiple cellos to a Lynne-penned song intended to be a Move B-side, the new concept became a reality and "10538 Overture" became the first Electric Light Orchestra song. To help finance the fledgling band, two more Move albums were released during the lengthy ELO recordings. The resulting debut album The Electric Light Orchestra was released in 1971 - (It was released in the United States in 1972 as No Answer, the name being chosen because a record company secretary had tried to ring the UK company and get the name of the album — since they were unable to contact them they left a note saying "No Answer") ."10538 Overture" became a UK top-ten hit. Lynne, Wood and Bev Bevan were the founding members of Electric Light Orchestra. They were joined by Bill Hunt (horns, keyboards) and Steve Woolam (violin) on the debut album.
!0538 Overture 1971

Despite the seemingly great success of the new concept, tensions soon surfaced between Wood and Lynne due to problems with management. During the recordings for the band's second LP, Wood left the band taking cellist McDowell and horn/keyboard player Hunt with him to form Wizzard. Despite predictions from the music press that the band would fold without Wood, who had been the driving force behind the creation of ELO, Lynne stepped up to lead the band, with Bev Bevan remaining on drums, joined by Gibson on violin, Richard Tandy now playing the Moog synthesizer in place of Hunt, Mike de Albuquerque on bass and vocals, and Mike Edwards and Colin Walker on cellos.

The new line-up performed at the 1972 Reading Festival. Barcus Berry pick-ups, now sported by the band's string trio, allowed them to have proper amplification on stage for their instruments, which had previously been all but drowned out by all the sound of the other electrified instruments. The band released their second album, Elo 2 in 1973, which produced their first US chart single, a hugely elaborate version of the Chuck Berry classic "Roll Over Beethoven". ELO also made their first appearance on American Bandstand.  After some personnel changes, which would continue for the life of the band, with on Lynne remaining, they released their third album , On the Third Day ,  in late 1973, with the American version featuring the popular single "Showdown."

“Show Down” Original Version 1973

For the band's fourth album, Eldorado, A Symphony , a concept album about a daydreamer, Lynne stopped overdubbing strings and hired an orchestra and choir instead. Louis Clark joined the band as string arranger.The first single of the album, "Can't Get It Out of My Head", became their first US Billboard charts Top 10 hit, and Eldorado, A Symphony became ELO's first gold album.

After the release of Eldorado, there yet more personnel changes, but the line-up stabilized as the band took to a decidedly more accessible sound. ELO had become successful in the United States at this point and the group was a star attraction on the stadium and arena circuit, as well as regularly appearing on The Midnight Special (1973, 1975, 1976 & 1977) more than any other band in that show's history with four appearances.

Face the Music was released in 1975, producing the hit singles "Evil Woman" and "Strange Magic". The opening instrumental "Fire On High", with its mix of strings and blazing acoustic guitars, saw heavy exposure as background music on CBS Sports Spectacular montages, though most viewers had no idea of the song's origins. The group toured extensively through the spring of 1976 promoting the album in the US, playing 68 shows in 76 days. It was on the American tour that ELO first debuted their use of coloured lasers. Despite the recognition and success they enjoyed in the States, they were still largely ignored in the United Kingdom until their sixth album, the platinum selling A New World Record, hit the top ten there in 1976. It contained the hit singles "Living' Thing", "Telephone Line", "Rockaria!" and "Do Ya", a rerecording of a Move song.

“Evil Woman” Live

Next up was the multi-platinum selling double album  Out of the Blue , in 1977. Out of the Blue featured the singles "Turn to Stone", "Sweet Talkin' Woman", "Mr. Blue Sky", and "Wild West Hero", each becoming a hit in the United Kingdom.

After the nine-month, 92-date world tour, with an enormous set and a hugely expensive space ship stage with fog machines and a laser display billed as The Big Night and were their largest to date, with 80,000 people seeing them at Cleveland Stadium. The Big Night went on to become the highest-grossing live concert tour in music history up to that point.

Next on the agenda was the multi-platinum album Discovery (or "Disco? Very!", as fans refer to it),  which included their biggest hit to date, "Don't Bring Me Down", "Shine a Little Love", "Last Train to London", "Confusion" and "The Diary of Horace Wimp". Although the album sold very well, many fans derided it because of the heavy disco sound. Still, Electric Light Orchestra finished 1979 as the biggest selling act in the United Kingdom. ELO had reached the peak of their stardom, selling millions of albums and singles, and even inspiring a parody/tribute song on the Randy Newman album Born Again, titled "The Story of a Rock and Roll Band".

In 1980 Jeff Lynne was asked to write for the soundtrack of the musical film Xanadu, with the other half written by John Farrar and performed by the film's star Olivia Newton-John. The movie performed poorly at the box office, but the soundtrack did exceptionally well, eventually going double platinum. In 1981 ELO's sound changed again with the science fiction concept album Time which returned the band to their progressive rock roots. Time was the last ELO studio album to date to be certified platinum in the United Kingdom. Secret Messages in 1983 was meant to be a double album, but CBS nixed the idea and the band didn’t tour behind it, citing that  drummer Bevan was now playing drums for Black Sabbath and that bassist Kelly Groucutt had left the band. Lynne, Bevan and Tandy returned to the studio in 1985 as a three-piece to fulfill their contractual obligation for one last ELO album…at least for the  20th century, Balance of Power, released early in 1986.

Lynne's comeback with ELO began in 2000 with the release of a retrospective box set, Flashback, containing three CDs of remastered tracks and a handful of out-takes and unfinished works, most notably a new version of ELO's only UK number one hit "Xanadu".

In 2001 Zoom, ELO's first album since 1986, was released. Though billed and marketed as an ELO album, the only returning member other than Lynne was Tandy, who performed on one track. Zoom took on a more organic sound, with less emphasis on strings and electronic effects. Guest musicians included former Beatles Ringo Starr and George Harrison. Upon completion of the album Lynne reformed the band with completely new members and announced that ELO would tour again.

 Mr Blue Sky: The Very Best was released on 8 October and what makes the album unique is that Lynne, who is also a great producer, rerecorded the tunes and the release coincides with Lynne’s solo album, Long Wave.

“Mr. Blue Sky” From Mr. Blue Sky–The Very Best Of ELO 2012

"It all comes down to what you truly love doing, and what I love doing is
overdubbing and making new sounds out of things that are sometimes quite
ordinary on their own, but when you put them together, they make something
new--or something that sounds new. Just discovering things like that
musically is a pleasure." --JEFF LYNNE, 2012

Jeff Lynne has artfully revisited and re-recorded--at his home studio in Los Angeles--the greatest hits of Electric Light Orchestra, actually improving on some of the most classic and beloved recordings ever.The album is a powerful testament to Lynne's enduring artistry and his singular desire to get things right once and for all. Featuring such classics as "Evil Woman, "Don't Bring Me Down," "Livin' Thing" and "Mr, Blue Sky," the result is, in effect, a kind of showdown between JEFF LYNNE today and his extremely illustrious past, and thanks to improved technology and recording artistry, LYNNE somehow comes out on top again. It's a fresh chance to hear these extraordinary songs sounding sharper and clearer than the old versions.

Mr. Blue Sky–The Very Best Of ELO 2012

As good as the originals were, or are still, the remixes are astounding After 40 years it is as if the tunes are reimagined and the technology remakes the tunes and makes them feel complete.

"There was a big reason I wanted to re-record these ELO songs," says Lynne. "When I listen to the old versions they don't sound the way I thought they did when I first wrote and recorded them. I wanted to use the experience I've gained producing records ever since and have a completely new try at
them. I'm not saying the old versions aren't good; I like them very much. We were doing our best, but experience and technology also play a big a big part, and these new ones sound much more solid and tight." The album includes a never-before-heard bonus track, "The Point Of No Return," and a very special version of "10538 Overture" that's a nod to ELO's 40th anniversary.

“Point Of No Return” never-before-heard bonus track only on Mr. Blue Sky–The Very Best Of ELO 2012

The songs that Jeff Lynne wrote and sang--and the recordings that he so expertly arranged and produced for ELO--have endured beautifully and are perhaps even more beloved today than they were back in the Seventies and Eighties. By any standard whatsoever, ELO is one of the most remarkable
success stories in rock history. Consider just the facts: ELO has sold over 50 million records worldwide, and continues to be a remarkably popular.

Between 1972 and 1986, Lynne wrote and produced 26 Top Forty hits in the United Kingdom, and 20 Top Forty hits in the United States, including 20 Top Twenty smashes in the UK and 15 Top Twenty smashes in the U.S.

Outside of the success of ELO, Lynne has led a remarkable career that has found him taking the lessons learned leading ELO and using them to help produce and collaborate with many of the greatest musical artists of all time, including a number of Lynne's all-time heroes including Roy Orbison, Del Shannon, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and remarkably, even the Beatles themselves, as well as contemporaries like Tom Petty and Joe Walsh, whose new album Analog Man Lynne recently helped produce. Together with Harrison, Orbison, 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 made for music then--and I still am today."

 

  • Audio CD (October 9, 2012) Original Release Date: 2012
  • Number of Discs: 1 Label: FRONTIERS ASIN: B008OJ291W
  • In-Print Editions: Audio CD | Vinyl | MP3 Music

The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2012 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

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