ELO is back

Michael Gerber
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Since we’re talking about Jeff Lynne, I wanted to pause for a moment and take Dullblog’s temperature on Electric Light Orchestra. Because ELO is back with their first album in 14 years, and I just listened to this catchy little tune.

Commercially — for the moment — ELO is back, but for a lot of Beatles fans, they’ve never left. Their greatest hits spend a lot of time on my iTunes playlist, for sure. The overlaps between Jeff Lynne and his four Liverpudlian heroes are well known, and too numerous to list here. But before they snuggled up together in the Eighties and Nineties, I seem to recall a pricklier relationship. I remember reading several quotes where Lennon referenced ELO to dismiss the idea that an intact Beatles would’ve continued to transform music in the Seventies. And a Harrison quote that was something like, “When ELO ran out of Beatles songs to copy, they stopped.”

But I can’t find anything like this on the internet. Did I dream it all? Please help!

Here’s something interesting I did find preserved in electrical amber: During John’s famous DJ stint at WNEW, he said this about ELO’s then-current “Showdown”: “We’re gonna play Electric Light Orchestra from last year, Showdown, which I thought was a great record and I was expecting it to be #1 but I don’t think UA [United Artists] got their fingers out and pushed it. And it’s a nice group — I call them ‘Son of Beatles’ — although they’re doing things we never did, obviously. But I remember a statement they made when they first formed was to carry on from where the Beatles left off with Walrus, and they certainly did. And for those people who like to know where licks and things come from, which I do…. this is a beautiful combination of I Heard It Through The Grapevine by Marvin Gaye and Lightning Strikes Again [by] Lou Christie, and it’s a beautiful job with a little Walrus underneath.”

Listen to the full quote, here (which includes an amusing admission of larceny by Lennon):

And here’s the song in question:

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  1. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    Someone named Marc Sptiz had this to say on SALON:

    In the ’80s and early ’90s, while ELO went into something of a false hiatus (they still ruled radio, only now it was the “classic rock” format), Lynne gained a reputation for taking once nitty gritty guitar playing singer-songwriters like George Harrison and Tom Petty and making their records sound like they were recorded at the bottom of a wet Heinz beans can … and backed by ELO. People bought these records by the multi-millions.

    I remember hearing Lennon’s guest DJ gig on WNEW when it first aired, and it was the first time I’d ever heard of ELO. I bought one of their albums on John’s recommendation. I remember Lynne was getting criticized by rock critics for being TOO obvious a magpie. During one press conference, they asked him about “Mr. Kingdom” and wasn’t it a direct copy of “Across the Universe” and they kept at it until he replied with irritation “Somewhat.”

    I was an on-and-off ELO fan, even though each album would have only one or two great songs (the rest being cheese) and I eventually lost interest. I found some of Lynne’s melodies interesting, although it seemed he was forever re-writing Santo & Johnny’s “Sleepwalk” (in a nice way).

    I liked his collaboration with Harrison. They hooked up during Lynne’s 1980s minimalist period (well, minimalist for Jeff Lynne, anyway) and he got George back into a nice tight backbeat again, with Savoy Truffle saxophones.

  2. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    The square root of Lynne?

  3. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    I remember Lynne was getting criticized by rock critics for being TOO obvious a magpie. During one press conference, they asked him about “Mr. Kingdom” and wasn’t it a direct copy of “Across the Universe” and they kept at it until he replied with irritation “Somewhat.”
    One thing I find interesting (continuing this conversation with myself) is how much heat Lynne took from the 1970s rock press for his lifting of various Beatle melodies and arrangements. But they had no problem with his “borrowing” from Marvin Gaye. Every rollingstone magazine reviewer simply had to go track by track and point out what ELO had stolen, but the R&B originals were rarely mentioned.

    Rock critics were okay with the long/proud tradition of affluent British rockstars appropriating entire songs from black artists, changing a few lyrics, adding some virtuoso guitar solos and calling it their own. Manifest Destiny!

  4. karen Hooper karen Hooper wrote:

    One of my favourite memories as a young 20-something was getting on the expressway with my then boyfriend and whiz down the road playing the Eldorado Overture. (I still like doing it, as a matter of fact.)

  5. Avatar J.R. Clark wrote:

    I always found it amusing that George Harrison, of all people, became musical partners with Jeff Lynne. Lynne made a hell of career appropriating bits of 1967 Beatles songs—the very songs George admitted being disinterested in participating in!

    I’ve never been a Jeff Lynne fan, either as a performer or producer. The drums on his songs always sound metronomic and plodding.

    I got the impression that George rammed Jeff Lynne down Paul’s throat as a condition for his participation in the Anthology. Paul’s comments indicated as much. Thank the gods Ringo was allowed to contribute his “pudding” drums on Free As A Bird. Both Free As A Bird and Real Love have those plodding drums that bring the songs down in my opinion.

  6. Avatar ChelseaQW wrote:

    I’ve always enjoyed ELO, in a “greatest hits” capacity. Showdown is a good one. But Jeff Lynne’s production is like, just on the verge of insanity to my ears. When it works, it works. But it’s too intense sometimes. He produced George Harrison’s Cloud 9, right? I think it worked OK on that. But as I’ve stated before I hated his work on FAAB and RL.

    I feel like Rick Ocasek does a better job at what Jeff Lynne tries to do. Ocasek is a cleaner, tighter, more disciplined producer but in a similar vein.

  7. Avatar J.R. Clark wrote:

    Agreed. FAAB was meant to be a delicate song. Imagine “Julia” or “Blackbird” if they were given the Jeff Lynne treatment—that’s how I feel about FAAB. It sounded like a dirge and that is NOT The Beatles’ sound.

  8. Avatar Craig wrote:

    Who wrote this post? Are we supposed to guess? I’m guessing it was Michael but just wanted to point out that, on my iPad at least, I can’t see an author anywhere on this page – and this goes with all Dullblog posts.
    It would seem to me, Michael, that the quote you provide of John slurping ELO would counter your previous statement that John wasn’t such a big fan…right?
    Personally, I’ve always found Jeff Lynne creepy. Those enormous sunglasses and the big bushy beard; who’s he hiding from? His hit songs, while good, just don’t equate with greatness, do they? There’s an essence missing…. a soul, perhaps?
    Re: Anthology/Threatles, he really didn’t have much of an existing record to work with on Bird so I give a pass on that one. It is interesting that he was involved in Anthology at all, isn’t it? Here you have Paul and George and George M: 3 guys who produced many, many records in their careers. Was George so afraid of Paul taking over the project and wrestling away any kind of control/input that he (George) felt he deserved that he demanded Jeff produce? Me thinks JR nailed it in his post above about George holding Jeff over Paul’s head as producer in order for his participation bc he knew Anthology needed at least his presence. Has this ever been more fully explored either here on HD or elsewhere? Why the Fu#$ did Jeff Lynne produce those Anthology sessions??

    • @Craig, the author is in a box to the immediate left of the start of the post. This may be a weirdness in the theme, which is growing old and I may change it over the break.

      I can’t tell what Lennon thought of ELO. I seem to remember him slagging them — but then I found that bit of praise. The praise took place in his period of separation from Yoko, which seems germane. His dismissal of ELO is of a piece with the “I’m an artist, not a pop star” talking point that festoons every interview with Yoko at his side. So I don’t know what he thought of them.

  9. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    Why the Fu#$ did Jeff Lynne produce those Anthology sessions??
    George Martin wasn’t particularly interested in the job. Jeff Lynne had co-produced a #1 single for Harrison (Got My Mind Set On You) as well as “When We Was Fab” (capturing the walrus Beatles sound). He was a friend of Harrison’s. They were comfortable with each other and worked well together resurrecting George’s recording career. Jeff Lynne has admitted that Paul was distant and wary of him at first, but soon warmed up as the Threetle sessions progressed.
    I’m guessing Harrison wasn’t crazy about the FreeAsABird/RealLove overdubbing idea, and agreed to participate ONLY if Lynne was involved. I mean, who else should they have gotten? Todd Rundgren??
    It would have been nice if George Martin had been involved, but he has said in interviews he didn’t like the idea.

  10. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    … and Paul warmed up to Jeff Lynne so much that he allowed Lynne to produce his cover of “Maybe Baby” for a film soundtrack:

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