What do the British rock bands, the Beatles, Black Sabbath and the Move all have in common? If you are reading this and saw the title, you know it must be the Electric Light Orchestra, or as they are commonly referred to, ELO. Today my set will consist entirely of ELO music so let’s take a look at this great and fascinating band.
Let us start with the Move. This band was started in the Birmingham area in 1965 in the UK. Although they had little success in the United States, they were greatly successful in the UK with 12 singles charting in the top 40. In 1970, Roy Wood, the Move's guitarist, had a plan for a band that would include violins and cellos. He wanted to explore bringing Baroque and Classical arrangements to rock music. He had previously tried taking the Move in this direction but it was now apparent that a new band was needed. The basics of ELO were now there, but it was still nothing more than a side project by Move members, Roy Wood, Jeff Lynn and Bev Bevan (guitar, guitar and drums respectively).
The new fledgling project attracted other musicians and the three, Wood, Lynn and Bevan, continued to record with the Move and work with the new project at the same time. Those three became the Move in these final years and released two final albums under that moniker to pay their bills and fund their new project, the Electric Light Orchestra. The Move released their last album in 1971 and disbanded after releasing a couple of more singles in 1972, including Do Ya, a song that would be reworked by ELO in years to come and become a big hit for them.
In 1971, before the Move disbanded, ELO released their first album. It was supposed to be a self-titled album, but an error was made and it was released with a different title in the United States. The decision to call the album the “Electric Light Orchestra,” was made in the UK. In the States, a record executive forgot the time difference and called the office in London after they were already closed. He responded to the note requesting the title of the album by simply writing “No Answer,” which is how it was released.
ELO used the same manager as the Move, Don Arden. Arden also managed Black Sabbath and the two often toured together. Arden would soon give control of this band to his daughter at a new label, Jet Records. It was Sharon Arden who managed ELO to greatness and through their most successful albums of the 1970s. By the way, you probably know Sharon by a different name. She would marry Ozzy Osbourne of Black Sabbath and is the Sharon Osbourne of reality TV fame.
For their fourth album, ELO released Eldorado, a concept album that made it to #13 in the US charts. The Beatles had perfected the idea of the concept album with their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It has been observed that ELO had formed in the days following the breakup of the Beatles. The Beatles had taken rock music in many different directions, but there was still one direction that they had not explored, classical music. Years after the breakup, John Lennon was asked if the Beatles had survived what would they sound like today. Without hesitation, he said they would probably sound a lot like ELO. That is a strong endorsement if there ever was one.
Also telling was the fact that Jeff Lynn, now front man for ELO after Wood’s departure in 1972, would be asked to produce solo projects by all four Beatles. It has been said that a torch was past from the Beatles to ELO. This is evident in the music, but also in the trust that the Beatles would put in Jeff Lynn in the years to follow. It may have been the one thing that all four agreed upon.
The name “Electric Light Orchestra” is actually a pun. It can be taken two ways. The more obvious of the two is as a band/orchestra named the concept of electric lights. Their first album cover depicted a large light bulb, which embraced this meaning. The other meaning is that they were a light orchestra composed of just a couple of cellos and violins. The word “electric” in this case showing that this light orchestra makes electric music.
ELO would come out with 12 albums before disbanding in the late 1980s. They had more top 40 hits in the US and UK from 1972 to 1986 than any other band. They had a #1 in the States in 1979 with their album, Discovery, or “Disco Very” as it is sometimes called by both fans and critics. When we remember ELO today, we remember the flamboyance of the colorfully lacquered violins and cellos. We recall the amazing light shows and the spaceships. ELO was all of those things and they gave us music unlike anything we had ever heard before or since. An interesting observation is that the Move was very successful in their native UK, but had no real success in the United States. ELO turned that around. While ELO was successful in the UK, it wasn’t near the success that they had in the US and the rest of the world.
In 1983 Bev Bevan, drummer for ELO and the Move from the beginning in 1965, left to be the drummer for Black Sabbath. The band fell apart and broke up after the release of their final album in 1986. Jeff Lyn went on to other projects, including the Traveling Wilburys with former Beatle, George Harrison. Others in the Wilburys read as a Who’s Who for whom Lynn had produced records or worked closely with on other projects, including Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison. In 2000 Jeff Lyn reformed ELO and recorded an album in 2001, Zoom, with appearances by former Beatles, Ringo Starr and George Harrison. Ticket sales for the supporting concert tour were so disappointing that it was cancelled and the Electric Light Orchestra officially came to an end.