Cheering you up for a dreadful Wednesday, one song at a time
For those of us taking care of business during the regular workweek, I guess it’s safe to assume we’ve all felt that dreadful Wednesday blues. Sometimes, that middle point of the workweek can be a true drag. But help is on the way!
Today, the music doctor recommends a blue sky, a particularly attractive proposition if you live in an area where you recently had snow skies: Mr. Blue Sky by the Electric Light Orchestra is a great fit.
Written by Jeff Lynne,Mr. Blue Sky is the closer of Side three of ELO’s seventh studio album Out of the Blue, which appeared as a double-LP in October 1977. It’s the fourth tune in a suite of songs titled Concerto for a Rainy Day.
Songfactsnotes, On a BBC Radio interview, ELO leader Jeff Lynne talked about how he came up with this song after he locked himself away in a Swiss chalet attempting to write ELO’s follow-up to A New World Record. “It was dark and misty for two weeks, and I didn’t come up with a thing. Suddenly the sun shone and it was, ‘Wow, look at those beautiful Alps.’ I wrote ‘Mr. Blue Sky’ and 13 other songs in the next two weeks.”
Mr. Blue Sky is by far the most streamed ELO tune on Spotify with 627.34 million streams. By comparison, the band’s next most frequently streamed track is Don’t Bring Me Down (180.78 million), the song that first brought the band on my radar screen in 1979.
Here’s a bit more from Songfacts: Jeff Lynne was quite pleased with this song. “It captured what my vision of ELO was all about,” he said. “All the bits that come in and out, the backing vocals, the cellos sliding, all the little naughty bits, the sound effects, everything is exactly what I imagined ELO to be.” (quoted in Hi-Fi News & Record Review, 2014) Here’s the official video.
Mr. Blue Sky was also released separately as Out of the Blue’s second single, first in January 1978 in the UK, followed by the U.S. in June of the same year. It had the most chart success in the U.K. and in The Netherlands where it climbed no. 6 and no. 8, respectively.
In the U.S., the single peaked at a more moderate no. 35 on the Billboard Hot 100. It still reached 3x Platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America as of April 26, 2021, making it ELO’s top-selling single in the U.S.
Happy Hump Day, and always remember George Harrison’s wise words: All things must pass!
An email I received from thebeatles.com on Wednesday brought to my attention a new video clip of George Harrison’sMy Sweet Lord. What I expected to see was the audio of the song with some video montage of footage showing George – well, not exactly!
It actually turned out it’s an X-Files type comedy mini-movie. Instead of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, it stars comedians and former Saturday Night Live cast members Fred Armisen and Vanessa Bayer as agents with a mission to discover “something out there.” It also features appearances by Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh, Jeff Lynne and other personalities.
Here’s how thebeatles.com put it: An all-star cast from the worlds of music, TV, film and comedy have come together to honor George Harrison in the first-ever official music video for his iconic hit song, “My Sweet Lord.”
Directed by Lance Bangs, the video stars Fred Armisen and Vanessa Bayer as metaphysical special agents who are tasked by the head of a clandestine agency, played by Mark Hamill, to search for that which can’t be seen.
Also featuring Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh, Jeff Lynne, Jon Hamm, Natasha Legerro, Darren Criss, Rosanna Arquette, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Patton Oswalt, Reggie Watts, Tim and Eric, Taiki Waititi, and many more, click below to watch the video now.
Of course, My Sweet Lord is from Harrison’s third solo album All Things Must Pass from November 1970, the first that appeared after the breakup of The Beatles. The tune, which also became the triple-LP’s lead single on November 23, 1970, four days prior to the album’s appearance, is best known because of the copyright infringement lawsuit it triggered.
Without going into the details, I think there is no doubt My Sweet Lord sounds very similar to He’s So Fine, a tune written by Ronnie Mack that became a hit in 1963 for The Chiffons. Harrison eventually was found to have “subconsciously plagiarized” the song.
On a more cheerful note, the recent 50th anniversary edition of All Things Must Pass received a nomination for a 2022 Grammy for Boxed or Special Limited-Edition Package. It’s just amazing to me how many different Grammy categories exist. That being said, I’m happy for Dhani Harrison, Olivia Harrison and art director Darren Evans, who were involved in the anniversary edition.
Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time
Another Sunday is upon us, which means the time has come again to go a music excursion where the only thing that’s certain is that nothing is certain. Because anything goes, any genre, any decade, as long as I dig the music. It feels very liberating not to limit myself to a specific album or theme in these posts. Perhaps not surprisingly, The Sunday Six continues to be my favorite feature of the blog.
Dr. Lonnie Smith/For Heaven’s Sake
I’d like to start this little music journey with Dr. Lonnie Smith, a jazz Hammond B3 organist I’ve featured a few times before. Sadly, he passed away from pulmonary fibrosis on September 28 at the age of 79. Smith first came to prominence in the mid-60s when he joined the quartet of jazz guitarist George Benson. After recording two albums with Benson, he launched his solo career with his debut album Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ in 1967 – then still known as Lonnie Smith. At some point, he decided to become Dr. Smith and wear a traditional Sikh turban. While he neither obtained an academic doctor title nor did he covert to Sikhism, Dr. Lonnie Smith was an amazing musician in my book. As a fan of the Hammond B3 sound, this isn’t exactly a leap for me. I’d like to celebrate the doctor’s music with For Heaven’s Sake, a track he wrote and recorded for his 2016 album Evolution. The backing band included Jonathan Kreisberg (guitar), Joe Lovano (saxophone), John Ellis (bass clarinet) and two drummers: Joe Dyson and Johnathan Blake.
Norah Jones/Don’t Know Why
For this next tune, let’s go back 14 years to February 2002 and the first album by jazz-oriented singer-songwriter and pianist Norah Jones. Come Away With Me was one heck of a debut for the then-23-year-old. It surged to no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200 and received Grammy Awards for Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album. Jones, the daughter of sitar maestro Ravi Shankar and Sue Jones, a New York concert promoter, has since released six additional solo albums, as well as various collaboration records, EPs and compilations. Here’s Don’t Know Why, the lead single off Jones’ debut album. The tune was written by American singer-songwriter Jesse Harris who first recorded it for his 1999 sophomore album Jesse Harris & the Ferdinandos. Until today, I had not heard the lovely guitar-based original. I’ve always loved Jones’ version.
The Traveling Wilburys/Rattled
Let’s pick up the pace with a great tune by The Traveling Wilburys. The super-group was conceived by George Harrison and Jeff Lynne during recording sessions for Harrison’s 1987 comeback album Cloud Nine that was co-produced by Lynne. The Wilburys came together in April 1998 and in addition to Harrison and Lynne included Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan. While initially Harrison had envisaged a series of Wilburys albums and a film about the band, the group ended up releasing only two records. Six weeks after the release of their debut album Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 in October 1988, Roy Orbison died from a heart attack at age 52. The second and final Wilburys album Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 appeared in October 1990. While Lynne, Petty and Dylan were interested in continuing the group, it was Harrison who apparently lacked enthusiasm to keep things going. Here’s Rattled, a neat rockabilly tune from the Wilburys’ first album, featuring Lynne on lead vocals – rrrrrrrrr!
James Brown/It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World
Time to go back to the ’60s and James Brown. I trust the Godfather of Soul who by the early ’70s had become a major funk artist needs no introduction. It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World, which first appeared as a single in April 1966, was co-written by Brown and Betty Jean Newsome. It became Brown’s third no. 1 on the Billboard Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles chart and his third top 10 hit on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100. It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World also was the title track of a compilation album that was released in August of the same year. Each time I listen to this tune, I still get goosebumps. Here’s an extended live version that nicely illustrates what an amazing performer Brown was – the singing, the passion, the moves – just incredible!
Elvis Costello and the Imposters/Go Away
For this next pick, let’s return to the current millennium and a tune I love by Elvis Costello and the Imposters. Costello has frequently used this backing band since his 2002 album When I Was Cruel. The group includes Steve Nieve (keyboards), Davey Farahger (bass, backing vocals) and Pete Thomas (drums). Go Away, written by Costello, is the closer of Momofuku, his 21st studio album from April 2008. The tune was also released separately as a single. The album reached a meager no. 112 in the UK on the Official Albums Chart and peaked at no. 59 on the U.S. Billboard 200, while the single didn’t chart at all. At the time, Costello explained the record’s title was a tribute to Momofuku Ando, the inventor of the Cup Noodle, as reported by Billboard. “Like so many things in this world of wonders, all we had to do to make this record was add water,” he said.
Pete Townshend & Ronnie Lane/Rough Mix
And once again, this brings me to the sixth and final tune. This instrumental is the title track of a collaboration album released in September 1977 by Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane, who was best known as the bassist and founding member of Small Faces and that band’s successor Faces. Rough Mix was Townshend’s second record outside The Who and is his only collaboration album to date. While Lane also wanted to co-write songs with Townshend, the title track is the only tune where that happened. Rough Mix enjoyed moderate chart success in the UK and the U.S., reaching no. 44 and no. 45 on the respective mainstream album charts. The title track is a groovy tune, which among others features Eric Clapton (guitar) and John Bundrick (organ).
Ten-hour open air festival for great cause features top-notch music tribute acts
After taking a break last year due to this seemingly never-ending pandemic, Rock the Farm 2021 had felt a long time coming – especially the weeks leading up to it! Yesterday (September 25), the wait was finally over. The annual event in Seaside Heights, N.J., organized by the CFC Loud n Clear Foundation, combines music performed by outstanding tribute bands with raising funds and awareness for programs that support individuals and families struggling with addiction. CFC’s efforts aim to fill the gap after clinical treatment, a period when staying sober and remaining on track can be particularly challenging. You can read more about this nonprofit organization and their important work here.
Rock the Farm 2021 marked the seventh time the festival took place. As in years past, the line-up of tribute acts was impressive: One Fine Tapestry (Carole King), Coo Coo Cachoo (Simon & Garfunkel), Walk This Way (Aerosmith), Decade (Neil Young), The Traveling Milburys (The Traveling Wilburys), Guns 4 Roses (Guns N’ Roses), TUSK (Fleetwood Mac) and Tramps Like Us (Bruce Springsteen).
Just imagine for a moment these would have been the real acts. Apart from being non-affordable for most music fans, obviously, it wouldn’t have been possible to have all these artists appear at the same festival. Creating a unique music experience is a key idea behind Rock the Farm! And it’s definitely part of what makes it so much fun to attend!
Following are some highlights from the 10-hour music marathon that took place on two stages next to each other. I’m going in chronological order, featuring one clip per tribute act that are all from New Jersey except when noted otherwise.
One Fine Tapestry/I Feel the Earth Move
As in years past, One Fine Tapestry, a tribute to Carole King, kicked off Rock the Farm. At the core of this act are Gerard Barros and Diane Barros, a versatile husband and wife duo performing a variety of different tribute shows. Yesterday, they were backed by a full band. Here’s I Feel the Earth Move, a tune from King’s Tapestry album that appeared in February 1971 – one of the many gems celebrating their 50th anniversary this year!
Coo Coo Cachoo/Mrs. Robinson
Coo Coo Cachoo are Thomas Johnston and Ed Jankiewicz, who have been performing Simon & Garfunkel songs since they met in high school close to 50 years ago – that’s just remarkable! Here’s their set opener Mrs. Robinson. Written by Paul Simon, the tune was included on Simon & Garfunkel’s fourth studio album Bookends from April 1968. It also became the record’s lead single and, of course, was part of the soundtrack for the romantic comedy drama The Graduate released in December 1967.
Walk This Way/Love in an Elevator
Walk This Way are a Dallas, Texas-based tribute to Aerosmith, featuring Ian Latimer as Steven Tyler (vocals), David Semans as Joe Perry (guitar, backing vocals), Chris Bender as Tom Hamilton (bass), Martin Turney as Joey Kramer (drums), Eamonn Gallagher as Brad Whitford (guitar) and Chris Loehrlein as Russ Irwin (keyboards). They opened their set with Love in an Elevator, a track co-written by Perry and Tyler, and included on Aerosmith’s 10th studio album Pump that appeared in September 1989. It also became the record’s second single.
Decade/Almost Cut My Hair
Decade are a band around Neil Young tribute artist John Hathaway (guitar, vocals), who has performed with different line-ups over the years. Yesterday’s backing band included Gordon Bunker Strout (guitar, backing vocals), Joseph Napolitano (pedal steel guitar), Billy Siegel (keyboards), John Perry (bass), Bob Giunco (drums) and Pam McCoy (backing vocals). In addition to Young songs, they also throw in a few tunes by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, such as this great rendition of Almost Cut My Hair featuring Pam McCoy on lead vocals. Penned by David Crosby, the song is from the Déjà Vu album, the first CSN record with Neil Young, released in March 1970.
The Traveling Milburys/Telephone Line
Traveling Wilburys tribute act The Traveling Milburys feature Nelson Milbury as George Harrison, Lefty Milbury as Roy Orbison, Charlie T. Milbury as Tom Petty, Otis Milbury as Jeff Lynne and Lucky Milbury as Bob Dylan. Also part of this Canadian band are Rick Hyatt (keyboards), Mike Berardelli (bass) and Danny Sandwell (drums). Apart from Wilburys songs, the group plays many tunes from the individual artists that made up the Wilburys. Here’s Telephone Line, a track written by Lynne from ELO’s sixth studio album A New World Record that came out in September 1976.
Guns 4 Roses/Sweet Child o’ Mine
Guns 4 Roses, another Dallas-based band, are a tribute to Guns N’ Roses. Their members are Laz as Axl Rose (lead vocals), Eamonn as Slash (guitar), Chris as Duff McKagan (bass), David as Dizzy Reed (keyboards), Martin as Steven Adler (drums) and Chris as Izzy Stradlin (guitar). Here’s Sweet Child o’ Mine from Guns N’ Roses’ debut album Appetite for Destruction released in July 1987. The tune, which also became the record’s third single, was credited to the entire band. These guys were truly rockin’ the farm!
TUSK/You Make Loving Fun
TUSK are a tribute band focused on the pop rock period of Fleetwood Mac. The group includes Kathy Phillips as Stevie Nicks (vocals), Kim Williams as Christine McVie (keyboards, vocals), Scott McDonald as Lindsey Buckingham (guitar, vocals), Randy Artiglere as John McVie (bass) and Tom Nelson as Mick Fleetwood (drums). Their harmony singing is just incredible! Here’s You Make Loving Fun written by Christine McVie and from the Rumours album that appeared in February 1977. It also became the record’s fourth and final single.
Tramps Like Us/Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Closing out Rock the Farm 2021 was music by The Boss performed by longtime Bruce Springsteen tribute Tramps Like Us – great way to end a 10-hour music marathon! Formed in 1990, the band features front man Mark Salore as Bruce Springsteen (vocals, guitar), together with Jon Malatino (acoustic guitar, percussion, backing vocals), Ken Hope (piano, organ, keyboards, backing vocals), Tom LaRocca (saxophone, keyboards, guitar, backing vocals), Scott Bennert (bass, backing vocals) and Marty Matelli (drums, percussion). Here’s Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, one of my favorite tunes from Born to Run, Springsteen’s third studio album from August 1975.
This was my fourth Rock the Farm in a row. While except for The Traveling Milburys I had seen all other tribute acts at previous Rock the Farm and/or other concerts, this event truly has been a gift that keeps on giving. Admittedly, my decision to attend this year did not come as easily as in the past, given COVID-19. After all, I had stayed away from most music events over the summer. Rock the Farm was the one I simply didn’t want to miss!
Sources: Wikipedia; CFC Loud n Clear Foundation website; One Fine Tapestry website; Coo Coo Cachoo Facebook page; Walk This Way website; Decade Facebook page; Traveling Milburys website; Guns 4 Roses website; TUSK website; Tramps Like Us website; YouTube
Earlier this week, I wrote about my top 5 studio albums turning 50 this year. That post was inspired by “Top 50 Albums Turning 50,” a fun program on SiriusXM, Classic Vinyl (Ch. 26) I had caught the other day. But capturing the greatness of 1971 with just five albums really doesn’t do justice to one of the most remarkable years in music, so I decided to have some more fun with it.
This time, I’m looking at great debut albums from 1971. While that caveat substantially narrowed the universe, an initial search still resulted in close to 10 records I could have listed here. Following are my five favorites from that group, again in no particular order.
Electric Light Orchestra/The Electric Light Orchestra
Electric Light Orchestra, or ELO, were formed in Birmingham, England in 1970 by songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood, along with drummer Bev Bevan, as an offshoot of British rock band The Move. The idea was to combine Beatlesque pop and rock with classical music. I always thought the result was somewhat weird, feeling like The Beatles and Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” on steroids; yet at the same time, ELO created a signature sound and songs that undoubtedly were catchy. The band’s debut album, the only record with Wood, first came out in the UK on December 3, 1971 as The Electric Light Orchestra. In the U.S., it appeared in March 1972, titled No Answer. Fun fact: According to Wikipedia, that title was accidental when a representative from U.S. label United Artists Records unsuccessfully tried to reach an ELO contact in the UK and wrote down “no answer” in his notes. Here’s the record’s opener 10538 Overture, a tune Lynne wrote, which initially was recorded by The Move to become a B-side to one of their singles.
Bill Withers/Just As I Am
Bill Withers got a relatively late start in music. By the time his debut single Three Nights and a Morning appeared in 1967, Withers already was a 29 year-old man who previously had served in the U.S. Navy for nine years. It took another four years before his debut album Just As I Am was released in May 1971. Unlike his first single that went unnoticed, the record became a significant success, reaching no. 35 and no. 37 in the U.S. and Canadian mainstream charts, and peaking at no. 9 on the Billboard Soul charts. Much of the popularity was fueled by lead single Ain’t No Sunshine, one of Withers’ best known songs and biggest hits. Just As I Am was produced by Booker T. Jones, who also played keyboards and guitar. Some of the other musicians on the album included M.G.’s bassist and drummer Donald “Duck” Dunn and Al Jackson, Jr., respectively, as well as Stephen Stills (guitar) and Jim Keltner (drums). While Ain’t No Sunshine is the crown jewel, there’s more to this record. Check out Do It Good, a soul tune with a cool jazzy groove, written by Withers.
ZZ Top/ZZ Top’s First Album
While guitarist Billy Gibbons recorded ZZ Tops’s first single Salt Lick (backed by Miller’s Farm) in 1969 with Lanier Greig (bass) and Dan Mitchell (drums), the band’s current line-up with Dusty Hill (bass) and Frank Beard (drums) has existed since early 1970. This makes ZZ Top the longest-running group in music history with unchanged membership. It was also the current line-up that recorded the band’s debut ZZ Top’s First Album released on January 16, 1971. It was produced by Bill Ham, who was instrumental to ZZ Top’s success. Not only did he produce or co-produce all of their records until their 12th studio album Rhythmeen from September 1996, but he also served as the band’s manager until that year. Here’s the great blues rocker Brown Sugar, one of my favorite early ZZ Top tunes written by Gibbons.
Bonnie Raitt/Bonnie Raitt
As a long-time fan of the amazing Bonnie Raitt, picking her eponymous debut album for this post was an easy choice. According to Wikipedia, it was recorded at an empty summer camp located on an island on Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota. That location had been recommended to Raitt by John Koerner and Dave Ray, two close friends and fellow musicians. We recorded live on four tracks because we wanted a more spontaneous and natural feeling in the music, a feeling often sacrificed when the musicians know they can overdub their part on a separate track until it’s perfect, Raitt explained in the album’s liner notes. Here’s Mighty Tight Woman written and first recorded by Sippie Wallace as I’m a Mighty Tight Woman in 1926.
America sometimes are dismissed as a Crosby, Stills & Nash knockoff. I’ve loved this band since I was nine years old and listened for the first to their 1975 compilation History: America’s Greatest Hits, which my six-year older sister had on vinyl. The folk rock trio of Dewey Bunnell (vocals, guitar), Dan Peek (vocals, guitar, piano) and Gerry Beckley (vocals, bass, guitar, piano) released their eponymous debut album on December 26, 1971 in the U.K. That was the year after they had met in London where their parents were stationed with the U.S. Air Force. The U.S. version of the record, which appeared on January 12, 1972, included A Horse with No Name, a song that initially was released as the group’s first single and was not on the UK edition. Remarkably, that single became America’s biggest hit, topping the charts in the U.S., Canada and France, and surging to no. 3 in the UK. Here’s a track from the original UK edition: Sandman written by Bunnell. Beckley and Bunnell still perform as America to this day. Peek left the group in 1977, renewed his Christian faith, and pursued a Christian pop music career. He passed away in July 2011 at the age of 60.
While mornings in Central New Jersey are still on the chilly side, it’s slowly starting to feel like spring. Recently, when I stepped out for a morning walk prior to starting home office, I could hear birds singing. And just yesterday, I had the same experience again, so chances are the birds are real and not just in my head! Hoping this won’t jinx the start of the milder season, I’ve decided to put together this little playlist featuring songs that are about spring, at least in a broader sense.
The Beatles/Here Comes the Sun
I can hardly think of a more perfect tune to mark the upcoming season than Here Comes the Sun. The song, which appeared on The Beatles’ real final album Abbey Road from September 1969, remains one of my favorite George Harrison tunes.
Electric Light Orchestra/Mr. Blue Sky
Admittedly, this song doesn’t mention spring anywhere (neither does Here Comes the Sun), but I feel the lines Mr. Blue Sky/Please tell us why/You had to hide away for so long? can be interpreted as a reference to winter having passed. Written by Jeff Lynne, the tune is included on Electric Light Orchestra’s seventh studio album Out of the Blue released in October 1977. It also became one of the record’s five singles and was one of ELO’s higher charting songs in the UK, climbing to no. 6 on the Official Singles Chart.
Johnny Nash/I Can See Clearly Now
This is one of the best picker-uppers I know. Again, the tune could be about sunshine following the rain in pretty much any season. But heck, let’s not over-complicate things here! I Can See Clearly Now was written by Johnny Nash as the title track of his 1972 studio album. The tune was also released as a single and became Nash’s biggest hit topping the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S., as well as the charts in Canada and South Africa. It’s been covered by Jamaican reggae singer Jimmy Cliff and many other artists. There’s just something about Nash’s soft vocals in that tune that always puts me at ease.
Judy Collins/So Early, Early in the Spring
While I just cleverly noted there’s no reason to overthink things, you still may find it a bit peculiar that up this point none of the featured songs in this post have the word “spring” in the title or the lyrics. Okay, I shall relent and offer you So Early, Early in the Spring by Judy Collins, a pretty tune with a nice Joni Mitchell vibe. Collins included this traditional on her 1977 compilation So Early in the Spring… The First 15 Years. BTW, now 81 years old, the American folk singer is still active, some 62 years into her career. According to her website, Collins performed two online concerts in New York two weeks ago – incredible!
Indigo Girls/Southland in the Springtime
Without striving to be a spring song over-achiever, here’s another lovely tune that clearly names the season: Southland in the Springtime written by Emily Saliers, who together with Amy Ray makes up American folk rock duo Indigo Girls. This is a track from their third studio album Nomads Indians Saints that came out in September 1990. Really like this!
The Flaming Lips/Can’t Stop the Spring
Let’s wrap up this set of spring tunes with a rocker. And, yes, it’s yet another track that has “spring” in the title: Can’t Stop the Spring by The Flaming Lips. While I would put this tune in the weirdly catchy department, it’s got a good motto to me. Can’t Stop the Spring, credited to the entire band, is from their sophomore album Oh My Gawd!!! released in January 1987. Formed in Oklahoma City in 1983, The Flaming Lips are still around. Last September, I featured a tune from their most recent album American Head in a Best of What’s Newinstallment.
If somebody asked me what I thought about the music by Electric Light Orchestra, I’d say ‘weirdly catchy.’ This may not sound exactly positive, but I’ve actually enjoyed their songs for more than four decades. To me, especially during their early stage, ELO oftentimes feel like a combination of The Beatles with a wall of sound on steroids, featuring classical music and other heavy arrangements. While I generally find big production can be a mixed bag, when it comes to ELO, their brilliant execution won me over a long time ago. Plus, in my book it’s pretty cool when a band manages to develop a sound that’s instantly recognizable and different from pretty much any other group on the planet.
Before getting to some music, I’d like to provide a little bit of background. ELO got their start in 1970 in Birmingham, England, when songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood got together with drummer Bev Bevan as an offshoot of The Move. Lynne was excited about Wood’s concept to create a group to “pick up where The Beatles left off” by combining rock with classical instruments like violins, string basses and woodwinds. In June 1970, the vision came into focus with 10538 Overture, ELO’s first tune and debut single. This was followed by the band’s first UK studio album The Electric Light Orchestra, which came out in December 1971. In the U.S., it was titled No Answer and released in March 1972.
After Wood’s departure in July 1972, Lynne became ELO’s sole leader. In March 1973, the band’s sophomore album ELO 2 appeared in the UK (called Electric Light Orchestra II in the U.S.). Ten additional albums followed until the summer of 1986 when Lynne disbanded ELO, though no formal announcement was made at the time. In 1989, Bevan with Lynne’s blessing picked up the pieces and went on as ELO Part II. Bevan left in 1999, and the remaining members of the band continued under the new name The Orchestra, a formation that exists to this day.
In 2001, Lynne reformed ELO and, mostly relying on guest musicians who included George Harrison and Ringo Starr, released the new album Zoom in June that year. The next 13 years saw reissues of ELO’s back catalog and various mini reunions, which included an appearance as Jeff Lynne and Friends at the Children in Need Rocks concert in London in November 2013. The success of that performance led to a gig at BBC Radio 2’sFestival in a Day at London’s Hyde Park in September 2014 as Jeff Lynne’s ELO. Tickets sold out in 15 minutes after BBC Radio 2 had announced the show.
Jeff Lynne’s ELO have since issued two studio albums and conducted various tours. The supporting tour for the most recent album From Out of Nowhere, which had been scheduled to start in October 2020, was canceled due to COVID-19. Currently, there appears to be no word on when Lynne and his band are planning to hit the road again. Time for some music!
Let’s start where it all began. Here’s 10538 Overture, ELO’s first single from June 1972. Written by Lynne, it was also included on their debut album The Electric Light Orchestra (No Answer).
Many artists have covered Chuck Berry’sRoll Over Beethoven. None of these versions come anywhere close to ELO’s cover, which blends elements of Ludwig van Beethoven’sFifth Symphony with Berry’s classic rock & roll tune. It’s completely over the top and it’s just brilliant! I was going to include a clip of the original studio recording from ELO’s sophomore album ELO 2 (Electric Light Orchestra II). Then I remembered Lynne’s performance at the 2017 Rock and Hall of Fame induction and thought it’s just too much fun to ignore. Come on, Beethoven, let’s tell Tchaikovsky the news!
In November 1973, ELO released their third studio album On the Third Day. Here’s kickass rocker Ma-Ma-Ma Belle, featuring Marc Bolan on twin lead guitar – my-my-my! Unlike 10538 Overture and Roll Over Beethoven, which peaked at no. 9 and no. 6 in the UK, respectively, ELO’s third single only made it to No. 22. In the U.S., the first top 10 chart success on the Billboard Hot 100 would come with the next tune.
Can’t Get It Out of My Head was the lead single of ELO’s fourth studio album Eldorado from September 1974. It became the band’s first U.S. hit, climbing to no. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100. Apparently, folks were less fond of the ballad in the UK where it failed to chart altogether.
Starting with their fifth studio album Face the Music, ELO began moving away from large-scale orchestral sound to embrace a more radio friendly pop rock style. It paid off and resulted in a series of well-selling albums. Here’s Mr. Blue Sky from Out of the Blue, ELO’s seventh studio release from October 1977. The double LP became one of their most commercially successful records.
ELO first entered my radar screen with Discovery, their eighth studio album that came out in May 1979 when the disco era was in full swing. I got it on vinyl at the time and still own that copy. The record generated five singles that became hits in numerous countries. The most successful one was Don’t Bring Me Down. The track I’d like to feature is Last Train to London, which was included in a playlist served up earlier today by my streaming music provider. It also triggered the idea for finally doing a dedicated post about ELO.
Ticket to the Moon appeared on ELO’s ninth studio album Time from July 1981. It also was released separately as a single in December.
I’d also like to acknowledge some of ELO’s music after Lynne revived the band. Here’s Alright, the opener to the above mentioned Zoom from June 2001, the first official ELO album since Balance of Power, which had come out in February 1986, five months before Lynne had quietly disbanded ELO.
Let’s do two more. First up: When I Was a Boy, the opening track from Alone in the Universe released in November 2015, the first album appearing as Jeff Lynne’s ELO. The 13th studio album overall in the band’s catalog was well received and peaked at an impressive no. 4 on the Official Albums Chart in the UK where it also scored Platinum certification. In the U.S., Alone in the Universe climbed to no. 2 on the Billboard Top Rock Albums chart.
From Out of Nowhere, which appeared in November 2019, is the most recent studio album by Jeff Lynne’s ELO. Here’s Down Came the Rain featuring nice Beatle-esque harmony vocals. Like on the predecessor, Lynne played most of the instruments and sang all lead and backing vocals.
During their original 13-year recording period, ELO sold more than 50 million records worldwide. Between 1972 and 1986, they scored 27 top 40 tunes on the UK Official Singles Chart and 15 top 20 hits in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. According to Wikipedia, ELO also hold the distinction for being the only band with the most Billboard Hot 100 top 40 hits (20) in U.S. chart history without having had a no. 1 single – who is tracking this kind of stuff? Last but not least, ELO (Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne, Bev Bevan and Richard Tandy) were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017.
I just came across this incredible clip again, and I’m somewhat in disbelief that I didn’t post it earlier. The footage captures Jeff Lynne’s ELO during their 2017 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction performance, tearing up the stage with the band’s incredible 1973 cover of Roll Over Beethoven.
Jeff Lynne demonstrates his impressive guitar chops, as does Keith Urban – not an artist I usually listen to. But you have to give credit where credit is due. Urban’s solo, which starts at about 2:40 minutes, is short but pretty bad ass!
Written by Chuck Berry, Roll Over Beethoven was first released as a single in May 1956. It was also included on his third studio album Chuck Berry Is on Top, which essentially is a greatest hits compilation and perhaps the ultimate classic rock & roll record.
Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) recorded their unique rendition of the song, which blends Berry’s rock & roll classic with the main theme from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, for their sophomore album ELO 2 that appeared in March 1973. A shortened version was also released as a single ahead of the record in January 1973.
Roll Over Beethoven became one of ELO’s signature songs and a popular show closer. It also marked the band’s first international hit, hitting no. 6 in the UK and charting in Australia (no. 53), Canada (no. 19), Germany (no. 22), The Netherlands (no. 19) and the U.S. (no. 42).
It’s safe to assume many folks have watched the above clip, probably more than once – I certainly have. But after having done so yet another time, I simply couldn’t resist reposting it. This just has to be one of the greatest moments in rock & roll live history!
To start, While My Guitar Gently Weeps is one of my favorite George Harrison tunes. I also dig the all-star band that celebrated George and his music back in March 2004 at his posthumous induction as a solo artist into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Tom Petty and fellow HeartbreakersSteve Ferrone (drums) and Scott Thurston (bass), Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood, guitarist Marc Mann and George’s son Dhani Harrison – and of course the guy who ended up stealing the show: Prince!
While I had known Prince was a talented multi-instrumentalist, until that moment, I had not fully appreciated what a killer guitarist he was. And I’m not quite sure the other guys who were on stage with him that night had either.
Everything sort is flowing along nicely, with Petty and Lynne doing a beautiful job on vocals and Mann skillfully playing guitar fill-ins and Eric Clapton’s solo – kind of what you’d expect from top-notch musicians. Then, at about 3:29 minutes into the action, Prince who had been in the background steps forward and takes this performance to the next level.
At first, the other guys don’t quite seem to notice. At around 4 minutes, Prince is starting to ramp up. At 4:30 minutes, he’s in full attack mode. At 4:44 minutes, he’s turning around looking at Petty and lets himself slowly fall back into the audience. Petty has a second to briefly smile before he needs to resume singing, while Dhani is in full smile mode. The guy who is catching Prince is pushing him back up on stage. Once back on his feet and in a stable position, Prince continues his scorching solo. Eventually, the song is coming to an end.
While I can’t imagine Prince’s backward dive into the audience hadn’t been carefully planned in advance, to me, this is rock & roll at its best. Undoubtedly, this amazing performance and guitar solo raised the bar forever and won’t be forgotten!
When it comes to vocal groups, I can’t think of a more compelling example than The Temptations. Their perfect multi-part harmonies have impressed me from the very first moment I heard them sometime during my early teenage years. I was reminded of The Temptations’ mighty singing while listening to a Christmas playlist yesterday that includes their beautiful rendition of Silent Night. Since I’m a huge fan of great harmony vocals, I decided a tribute post was an order.
The story of The Temptations began in Detroit in 1960 when members of two other vocal bands formed a group called The Elgins: Otis Williams, Elbridge “Al” Bryant and Melvin Franklin of Otis Williams & the Distants, and Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams who came from a group called The Primes. Following an audition in March 1961, an impressed Berry Gordy signed the group to Motown imprint Miracle Records. However, there was one problem. The name Elgins was already taken by another band. According to Wikipedia, Miracle Records employee Billy Mitchell, songwriter Mickey Stevenson, Otis Williams and Paul Williams came up with the idea to call the group The Temptations.
In April 1961, the group released their debut single Oh, Mother of Mine. Co-written by Otis Williams and Mickey Stevenson, who also produced the track, the tune was not successful. Neither were the following seven singles The Temptations released. In January 1964, Al Bryant was replaced by David Ruffin, marking the start of “The Classic Five” era that would turn the group into superstars. In the meantime, Smokey Robinson had become their producer, and it was one of his tunes that became the group’s first no. 1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the Hot R&B Singles charts: My Girl, released in December 1964. Every time I hear that song, I got sunshine, no matter how cloudy my day may be. By the way, that cool bass intro is played by the amazing James Jamerson. Feel free to snip and groove along!
While it would take The Temptations another four and a half years before scoring their second double no. 1 on the Hot 100 and Hot R&B Singles charts, they released plenty of other hits in the meantime, many of which topped the Hot R&B Singles. Here’s one of my favorites: Get Ready, another tune written and produced by Smokey Robinson. I was going to feature an audio clip of the track but couldn’t resist using the below footage instead, which was captured during a TV appearance in 1966. The song appeared in February that year. Even though none of the singing and music are live, just watching the dance choreography of these guys and the female backing dancers is priceless!
And then the era of The Classic Five came to an end after success and fame apparently had gotten to David Ruffin’s head. His behavior led to friction with the other members of the group, and The Temptations ended up firing him on June 27, 1968. The very next day, he was replaced by Dennis Edwards, a former member of The Contours. The new line-up became what some called the group’s “second classic line-up.” But more changes were in store.
Norman Whitfield took over as producer, and The Temptations started adopting a more edgy sound, influenced by contemporaries like Sly & The Family Stone and Funkadelic. The group’s four-year psychedelic soul period kicked off with their ninth studio album Cloud Nine from February 1969. The record climbed to no. 4 on the Billboard 200 and brought the group their first Grammy Award in the category Best Rhythm & Blues Group Performance, Vocal or Instrumental. Here’s Run Away Child, Running Wild, a co-write by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong. A shorter version of the tune was also released separately as a single and became another no. 1 on the Hot R&B Singles chart. Here’s the full album version. That’s one hell of a hot funky tune!
Even though The Temptations had come a long way from their oftentimes romantic songs that marked their early years, the group did not entirely abandon sweet ballads. Here’s one of the most beautiful in my opinion, released in January 1971: Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me). Evidently, the public liked it as well. The song became the group’s third and last to top both the Hot 100 and Hot R&B Singles charts. Interestingly, it was written by the same guys who penned Runaway Child, Running Wild. Perhaps appropriately, the track also appeared on an album called Sky’s The Limit. Damn, these guys could harmonize – it’s pure perfection and actually no imagination!
Writing about The Temptations’ psychedelic soul era wouldn’t be complete without including another epic tune: Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone, another Whitfield-Barrett gem. Initially, it was recorded and released as a single in May 1972 by another Motown act called The Undisputed Truth – something I had not known until I did some research for this post. While their original is pretty cool, I still prefer The Temptations’ version. Interestingly, it hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 but “only” peaked at no. 5 on the Hot R&B Singles chart. Here it is in its full 12-minute glory!
By the time of the release of 1990 in December 1973, The Temptations had become tired of psychedelic soul and wanted to move back to their more upbeat style and lyrics of the ’60s. The album turned out to be the final record produced by Whitfield. January 1975 saw the release of the group’s next studio album A Song For You. Wikipedia lists a hodge-podge of producers, including Berry Gordy, Jeffrey Bowen, James Anthony Carmichael, Suzy Wendy Ikeda, Clayton Ivey and Terry Woodford. The record was the group’s last to top the Billboard Hot R&B LPs chart. It also featured their two last no. 1 singles on the Hot R&B Singles chart, Happy People and Shakey Ground. Here’s the latter, a nice groovy tune co-written by Jeffrey Bowen, Alphonso Boyd and Funkadelic guitarist Eddie Hazel, who also played lead guitar on the track.
Following A Song For You, success dried up. After the release of The Temptations Do The Temptations in August 1976, the group left Motown and signed with Atlantic Records. That didn’t change their trajectory, and after two albums, they returned to Motown in 1980. Two years later, they reunited with co-founder Eddie Kendricks and “Classic Five” era member David Ruffin for a tour, during which they recorded a studio album appropriately titled Reunion. Released in April 1982, the record marked a comeback of sorts, peaking at no. 2 on the Hot R&B LPs and a respectable no. 37 on the Billboard 200. Here’s opener Standing On The Top, a funk tune written and produced by Rick James, who also contributed vocals and clavinet.
While success has largely eluded them since Reunion, The Temptations have released 17 additional studio albums. The most recent, All The Time, appeared in 2018. Here’s Stay With Me, a cover of the beautiful pop soul tune by English songwriter and vocalist Sam Smith. In fact, when I heard this version for the first time, I thought it was Smith together with The Temptations, but apparently it’s not. The tune is credited to Smith, James Napier and William Phillips, as well as Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne, following a legal settlement. After the song’s release, Petty’s published had noticed a similarity to I Won’t Back Down and reached out to Smith’s team.
Altogether, The Temptations have had an impressive 14 chart-toppers on the Hot R&B LPs, including eight in a row between March 1965 and February 1969 – I suspect this must be a record. The group also scored 14 no. 1 hits on the Hot R&B Singles chart and topped the Hot 100 chart four times. In 1989, The Temptations (Dennis Edwards, Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, Otis Williams and Paul Williams) were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rolling Stone has ranked them at no. 68 on their list of 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
The Temptations are active to this day, with Otis Williams remaining as the only original founding member. The other current line-up includes Ron Tyson (since 1983), Terry Weeks (since 1997) and Willie Green (since 2016). Next year, the group will embark on a tour through the U.S., U.K. and Germany to celebrate their 60th anniversary. This includes two dates in May in my area. My wife and I saw The Temptations once in the early 2000s at The Apollo in New York City, together with The Four Tops. We both remember it as a great show, so we’re thinking to catch them again. The current tour schedule is here.