Electric Light Orchestra (ELO)

views updated

Electric Light Orchestra (ELO)

Electric Light Orchestra (ELO), an enigmatic and controversial 1960s British singles band; formed in 1971 by Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne, and Bev Bevan. MEMBERSHIP: Roy Wood, gtr., voc. (b. Birmingham, England, Nov. 8, 1946); Jeff Lynne, gtr., voc. (b. Birmingham, England, Dec. 30, 1947); Bev Bevan, drm. (b. Birmingham, England, Nov. 25, 1945). Roy Wood left after the first album and Richard Tandy, kybd. (b. Birmingham, England, March 26, 1948) was added.

Formed out of the Move, the Electric Light Orchestra realized Roy Wood’s conception of an electric rock band augmented by a classical string section. Ironically, Wood left after only one album, ceding leadership of the group to Jeff Lynne. Despite the fact that the string section produced little more than gratuitous four- and eight-bar introductions and a lush orchestral sound, the Electric Light Orchestra was hailed as one of the most successful progressive- rock groups of the 1970s. Certainly one of the world’s top concert attractions by the late 1970s, the Electric Light Orchestra toured America in 1978 with a massive stage structure and laser light show, a testament to technology and the public’s apparent demand for extravagant stage presentation. After the group’s demise, during the late 1980s Jeff Lynne established himself as a producer and member of the supergroup the Traveling Wilburys.

Formed in late 1965 by a number of musicians from the Birmingham area, the Move quickly drew the attention of the London underground with their dramatic and often violent stage presentations. Roy Wood had previously manned Gerry Levene and the Avengers with Graeme Edge (later with the Moody Blues) and Mike Sheridan and the Nightriders. Trevor Burton had played guitar with Danny King and the Mayfair Set, while Bev Bevan had drummed with Denny Laine and the Diplomats and Carl Wayne and the Vikings, which included vocalist Wayne and bassist Ace Kefford. With Wood composing virtually all the Move’s material, the band scored a series of British hits with “Night of Fear,””I Can Hear the Grass Grow,” “Flowers in the Rain,” “Fire Brigade,” and “Blackberry Way.” Gaining notoriety for smashing TV sets and pianos on stage, the Move remained virtually unknown in the United States for years. Personnel changes started in 1968, and by 1970 guitarist-vocalist Jeff Lynne was brought in for the avowed reason of forming an outfit that would combine classical strings and rock instrumentation. Lynne had played with the Idle Race for four years, recording one album with the group. By the time of the Move’s first (minor) American hit, Lynne’s “Do Ya,” the group had disbanded.

The newly-formed Electric Light Orchestra signed with United Artists and recorded the critically acclaimed No Answer, which yielded a British hit with Lynne’s “10538 Overture.” However, by 1972 Wood had lost interest in the project and left the group to form Wizzard with onetime Move bassist Rick Price. During the 1970s Wood recorded two albums with Wizzard and three solo albums.

The true beginning of the Electric Light Orchestra came with the album ELO II. Jeff Lynne assumed the role of producer, arranger, composer, lead vocalist, and lead guitarist, and added keyboardist Richard Tandy, a bassist, and three former members of the London Symphony Orchestra (two cellists and a violinist). ELO II secured the band’s position at the forefront of progressive rock and yielded their first albeit minor American hit with a remake of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over, Beethoven.” The band completed its first American tour in the summer of 1973, in support of their next album, On the Third Dai/, which produced two minor American hits, “Showdown” and “Daybreaker.” Eldorado yielded a near-smash hit with the Bee Gees—sounding “Can’t Get It Out of My Head.”

When their next album, Face the Music, was released in 1975, the Electric Light Orchestra’s lineup had stabilized with Lynne, Tandy, Bevan, bassist-vocalist Kelly Groucutt, cellists Hugh McDowell and Melvyn Gale, and violinist Mik Kaminski. The album featured the major hits “Evil Woman” and “Strange Magic,” whereas 1976’s A New World Record produced the hits “Livin’ Thing,” “Telephone Line,” and a remake of the Move’s “Do Ya.” Out of the Blue contained Lynne’s first extended piece since Eldorado, the side-long “Concerto for a Rainy Day,” and the hits “Turn to Stone” and “Sweet Talkin’ Woman.”

For their 1978 American tour the Electric Light Orchestra assembled one of the most spectacular and grandiose stage presentations in the history of rock music. For approximately half of the tour’s shows, the band utilized a 5-ton, 60-foot-wide fiberglass structure resembling a spaceship. The top half of the structure ascended to reveal the band inside. Complete with synchronized lasers, the production stood as a remarkable tribute to technology and showmanship.

In 1978 the Electric Light Orchestra switched to Columbia Records, with all previous and subsequent albums through 1983 released on the Jet subsidiary. Their Jet debut, Discovery, was recorded with a 42-piece German Orchestra and a 30-voice all-male choir, yielding two smash hits, “Shine a Little Love” and “Don’t Bring Me Down,” and two moderate hits, “Confusion” and “Last Train to London.” In 1980 the group recorded most of the music for the movie Xanadu, starring Gene Kelly and Olivia Newton-John. The soundtrack album produced two Electric Light Orchestra hits with “I’m Alive” and “All Over the World,” and a near-smash hit with the title song, recorded with Newton- John. Adopting the moniker ELO for a time, the group scored major hits with the rockabilly-style “Hold on Tight” in 1981 and “Rock ’n’ Roll Is King” in 1983, but then the band dissolved.

Jeff Lynne managed a minor solo hit with “Video” from the 1984 movie Electric Dreams. The Electric Light Orchestra (Lynne, Tandy, and Bevan) reemerged in 1986 with Balance of Power and the hit “Calling America” on CBS Associated. During the late 1980s Lynne produced albums for George Harrison (Cloud Nine) and Tom Petty (Full Moon Fever) and worked on albums by Duane Eddy, Del Shannon, and Roy Orbison. In 1988 and again in 1990 he recorded with the supergroup the Traveling Wilburys. A playful exercise, the group’s members all took fictitious names, such as Nelson (George Harrison), Lucky (Bob Dylan), Lefty (Roy Orbison), Charlie T. Jr. (Tom Petty), and Otis (Lynne); for Volume 3 the Wilburys were Spike (Harrison), Boo (Dylan), Muddy (Petty), and Clayton (Lynne). In the 1990s Lynne recorded Armchair Theatre for Reprise, which disappeared on the charts, and produced Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Into the Great Wide Open. In 1991 Bev Bevan formed Electric Light Orchesta Part Two; one year later they enlisted the aid of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra to stage a live show of their greatest hits, subsequently released on record.


THE IDLE RACE (WITH JEFF LYNNE): The Birthday Party (1969). THE MOVE: Shazam (1970); Looking On (1971); Message from the Country (1971); Split Ends (1973); Best (1974); Best (1994). ROY WOOD: Wizzard’s Brew (1973); Boulders (1973); Introducing Eddy and the Falcons (1974); Mustard (1976); Super Active Wizzo (1977); On the Road (1981); One Man Band (1981). THE ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA: No Answer (1972); ELO II (1973); On the Third Day (1973); Eldorado (1974); Face the Music (1975); Ole ELO (1976); A New World Record (1976); Out of the Blue (1977); Discovery (1979); Greatest Hits (1979); A Box of 77u?/r Besf (1980); Time (1981); Secret Messages (1983); Bfl/mce o/ Power (1986); Afterglow (1990); Moment o/ Truth (1995). ELO AND OLIVI A NEWTON-JOHN: Xanadu (soundtrack; 1980). THE TRAVELING WILBURYS (WITH JEFF LYNNE) : Volume One (1988); Volume 3 (1990). JEFF LYNNE: Armchair Theatre (1990). ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA PART TWO: ELO Part Two (1991); ELO’s Greatest Hits Live (1992).

—Brock Helander

About this article

Electric Light Orchestra (ELO)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article