My Playlist: Electric Light Orchestra

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.

ELO (from left): Roy Wood, Bev Bevan and Jeff Lynne

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’s Festival 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’s Roll Over Beethoven. None of these versions come anywhere close to ELO’s cover, which blends elements of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth 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.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Clips & Pix: T. Rex/Get It On

Whether you like glam rock or T. Rex for that matter or not, Get It On just is a great rock tune – simple with only three chords, yet brilliant. Really one of my favorite ’70s rock tunes!

T. Rex were officially inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Ringo Starr last night. Under normal circumstances, this would have been a live event in February, but due to COVID-19, it was postponed and became a virtual TV show on HBO, which honored each inductee with a mini-documentary.

Written by T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan and released in July 1971, Get it On became the band’s second no. 2 hit in the UK and their most successful U.S. single peaking at no. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. In fact, Bolan penned the tune during a U.S. tour specifically for the U.S. where it was retitled Bang a Gong (Get It On), hoping it would raise the band’s profile there. But glam rock never became as popular in America as it did in the UK.

According to Songfacts, Bolan worked out the track’s rhythm with T. Rex drummer Bill Legend. When the band got to L.A. as part of their tour, Get it On was recorded at Wally Heider Studios. While the rhythm, chorus and the line “you’re dirty and sweet” were in place, Bolan had to come up with the remaining lyrics on the spot. The last line, “Meanwhile, I’m still thinking…” is taken from Chuck Berry’s Little Queenie, a tune Bolan had in mind when writing Get It On.

In addition to Bolan and Legend, the recording featured then-future Yes member Rick Wakeman (piano, Hammond), former King Crimson member Ian McDonald (saxophone), T. Rex bassist Steve Currie, as well as Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman (backing vocals) of The Turtles. Get It On was also included on the band’s sixth studio album Electric Warrior released in September 1971, the first under the (shortened) T. Rex name and their most successful record.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

It’s That Time Of The Year Again…Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Nominations

Class of 2020 encompasses nine first-time nominees, including Pat Benator, T. Rex, Thin Lizzy and The Doobie Brothers

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has unveiled the class of 2020 nominees. Inevitably, this will respark the annual debate whether artists who fall outside the rock genre like Whitney Houston, The Notorious B.I.G. or Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan should have been nominated in the first place, or why certain rock bands or artists who have been eligible for many years once again did not make the class. But despite all the Rock Hall’s imperfections, the music nerd in me still gets excited. Following are the artists I dig the most among the nominations.

If you glanced at the subhead of this post, you already know where I’m going with this. Ladies first: Pat Benatar. Having been eligible since 2004, Benatar is one of the great female rock vocalists in my book. According to her bio published on the Rock Hall’s website, Benator is a classically trained mezzo-soprano who quit her job in 1971 to pursue a career in singing. In 1979, she met guitarist Neil Giraldo, and the two formed a long-lasting duo, established their own entertainment company, and are still performing to this day. Here’s Heartbreaker from Benatar’s debut album In The Heat Of The Night, which was released in August 1979. Co-written by Geoff Gill and Cliff Wade, the tune was her breakthrough single, climbing to no. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100. The clip, which is from Benator’s 35th anniversary tour that took place in 2015, also throws in Ring Of Fire by Johnny Cash – fun to watch!

T. Rex, initially called Tyrannosaurus Rex, were formed as a psychedelic folk rock group by singer-songwriter and guitarist Marc Bolan in 1967. In 1970, the band changed their name to T. Rex and began their transition toward glam rock, which first was on full display on their sixth studio album Electric Warrior from September 1971. The band went on to record six more albums until Bolan’s untimely death in a car accident in September 1997, just two weeks prior to his 30th birthday. T. Rex had many members over the years. From the line-up that existed at the time of Bolan’s death, it appears only Herbie Flowers (bass) and Tony Newman (drums) are still alive. Here’s what’s perhaps the band’s best known song, Get It On. Written by Bolan, it appeared on the Electric Warriors album. T. Rex have been eligible for the Rock Hall since 1993.

Next up: Thin Lizzy, a great band formed in Dublin, Ireland in 1969, who has been eligible for a nomination since 1996. In particular, I dig them for their twin lead guitar harmonies. Until the band’s breakup in September 1983, Thin Lizzy released 12 studio albums. In January 1986, co-founding member, bassist, lead vocalist and principal songwriter Phil Lynott, who had been the group’s de facto leader, passed away from pneumonia and heart failure caused by sepsis. In March 1996, guitarist John Sykes, who had been part of Thin Lizzy’s final line-up, decided to revive the band. While he is no longer part of it, the group remains active to this day. Essentially, they are performing as their own tribute and except for a few live albums have not released any new records. In addition to their great guitar sound, one of the cool things about Thin Lizzy was the band’s interracial aspect – Lynott’s father was from British Guiana. His mom was from Dublin. The Boys Are Back In Town from Jailbreak, Thin Lizzy’s sixth studio album that appeared in March 1976, is a great example of the aforementioned twin lead guitars. On this song, they were played by Brian Robertson and Brian Downey.

As more frequent visitors of the blog know, I’m a fan of The Dobbie Brothers, so I was particularly pleased to see their nomination. The band had been eligible since 1996. What always attracted me to the Dobbies, which were founded in San Jose in 1970, was the combination of rock and their amazing three-part harmony singing. Two of the original vocalists, Tom Johnston (guitars, vocals, harmonica) and Patrick Simmons (guitar, vocals), remain part of the band’s current line-up. John McFee (guitars, pedal steel, violin, harmonica, vocals) has been a part of the group since 1979. I’ve seen the Dobbies twice over the past 20 years, most recently last year, and they still sound phenomenal. While I generally prefer the band’s early phase, here’s a great rocker from their 10th studio album Cycles released in May 1989: The Doctor, a tune co-written by Johnston, Charlie Midnight and Eddie Schwartz. The clip was captured during a concert in April 2017.

The induction ceremony will be held at Public Auditorium in Cleveland, Ohio on May 2, 2020. It will be preceded by induction week with celebratory events and the opening of the 2020 inductee exhibit. Music fans can vote once a day from now on through January 10, 2020 and pick up to five nominees per ballot. The top five artists will comprise a “fans’ ballot” that will be tallied along with the other ballots to choose the 2020 inductees.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rock & Roll Hall of Fame website; YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: July 24

While one can argue it’s a bit arbitrary to look back at what happened on a specific date in rock history, oftentimes, I find it interesting what comes up. Plus, I haven’t written about July 24. As in previous installments, this post isn’t meant to be a catch-all. Instead, it’s a selection of events involving artists I like. Here we go:

1964: The Rolling Stones were playing the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, England. At some point, a group of folks in the crowed started spitting at the band. After Keith Richards had spotted one of the perpetrators in front of the stage and that guy had ignored his warning to cut it out, he lost it and kicked him in the mouth. Things got out of hand quickly, and angry fans trashed the place. The Blackpool city council didn’t like the riot and banned the Stones from playing at the venue. The ban lasted a remarkable 44 years. Then, in March 2008, as reported by The Independent, Blackpool’s council leader at the time Peter Callow declared, “It’s time to bury the hatchet and extend the hand of friendship. I want to say: ‘Come back, Mick. All is forgiven.'”

Rolling Stones Blackpool Riot 1964.jpg

1965: The Byrds topped the UK Official Singles Chart with Mr. Tambourine Man, their first and only no. 1 single in the UK. Written by Bob Dylan, the tune was the title track of their studio debut that appeared in June that year. Three months earlier, Dylan had initially released the song as part of his fifth studio album Bringing It All Back Home. The Byrd’s cover is a beautiful example of Roger McGuinn’s signature jingle-jangle Rickenbacker, a guitar sound I never get tired of.

1967: British national daily The Times ran a full-page advertisement declaring “the law against marijuana is immoral in principle and unworkable in practice.” According to The Beatles Bible, it was “signed by 64 of the most prominent members of British society, which called for the legalisation of marijuana.” The signatories included all four members of The Beatles and their manager Brian Epstein.

Times Marijuana Advertisement July 1967

1972: Get It On by T. Rex is at no. 1 on the UK Official Singles Chart, the first of four successive weeks. The British glam rockers recorded the tune for their second studio album Electric Warrior that came out in September 1971. Like all tracks on the album, Get It On was written by guitarist and lead vocalist Marc Bolan. It became the second no. 1 for T. Rex in the UK after Hot Love, a standalone single from February 1971. Retitled Bang A Gong (Get It On) in the U.S., the song peaked at no. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking the band’s most successful chart performance here.

Sources: Wikipedia, This Day In Music, This Day In Rock, The Independent, UK Official Singles Charts, YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: May 20

Earlier today it occurred to me that I hadn’t done a post for this recurring feature for quite some time. I oftentimes find it intriguing what these look-backs on rock & roll history can unearth. As in previous installments, this overview is selective and as such by no means meant to be complete. Here we go.

1964: Rudy Lewis, the lead vocalist of The Drifters, suddenly passed away at age 28. It was the night before the band was scheduled to record Under The Boardwalk, which would become one of their biggest hits. Lewis had performed lead vocals on most of The Drifters’ best known songs since the departure of Ben E. King in 1960. Instead of rescheduling studio time to find a new frontman, the band decided to bring back Johnny Moore, who first had been their lead vocalist in the mid-50s.

Rudy Lewis
Rudy Lewis

1966: The Who were scheduled to play a concert at Ricky Tick Club in Windsor, England. When John Entwistle and Keith Moon didn’t show up in time for the gig, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey grabbed the bass player and the drummer of a local band that had opened up for them and took the stage. Moon and Entwistle finally arrived in the middle of the set. Words started flying, and a fight broke out that culminated with Townshend hitting Moon in the head with his guitar – thinking how Townshend was infamous for furiously smashing his guitar at the end of Who performances, it’s not a pretty picture to imagine. Moon and Entwistle quit the band over the incident. But it only took them a week before realizing they just couldn’t walk away from one of the greatest rock & roll bands – the perks that came with it likely also played a role!

The Who In 1966
The Who in full harmony in a 1966 press photo. From left to right: John Entwistle, Keith Moon, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

1967: The Beatles’ new album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was given an official preview on Where It’s At, a radio show broadcast on the BBC Light Programme. The preview was a pre-taped feature by DJ Kenny Everett and included interviews with John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. There were also extracts from each of the Sgt. Pepper tunes except for one – A Day In The Life. The day prior to the broadcast, the BBC decided to ban the song over lyrics it considered to promote a permissive attitude toward taking drugs. I suppose they must have gotten their knickers twisted over the words in the song’s middle section, Found my coat and grabbed my hat/Made the bus in seconds flat/Found my way upstairs and had a smoke/And somebody spoke and I went into a dream – oh, Paul, how could you!

1972: T. Rex were on top of the British singles chart with Metal Guru. Written by Marc Bolan, it was the British rock band’s fourth and final no. 1 single in the U.K. The song did not chart in the U.S. and peaked at no. 45 in Canada. Metal Guru was the second single from The Slider, the glam rockers’ seventh studio album that came out in July that year.

Sources: This Day In Rock, This Day In Music, The Beatles Bible, Wikipedia, YouTube