Classic Rock Bottom



The Electric Light Orchestra's ambitious yet irresistible fusion of Beatlesque pop, classical arrangements, and futuristic iconography rocketed the group to massive commercial success throughout the 1970s.

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Latest Activity: Jun 22, 2010

Electric Light Orchestra, commonly abbreviated ELO, were a symphonic rock group from Birmingham, United Kingdom, who released eleven studio albums between 1971 and 1986 and another album in 2001. ELO were formed to accommodate Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne's desire to create modern rock and pop songs with classical overtones. After Wood's departure following the band's debut record, Lynne wrote and arranged all of the group's original compositions and produced every album.

Despite early singles success in the UK the band were initially more successful in the United States, billed as 'The English guys with the big fiddles'. They soon gained a cult following despite lukewarm reviews back in their native United Kingdom. They were managed by agent Don Arden, father of Sharon Osbourne.

By the mid-1970s, they had become one of the biggest selling bands in music. From 1972 to 1986, ELO accumulated 27 Top 40 hit singles in both the UK and the US. The group also scored 20 Top 20 U.K. hit singles, as well as 19 Top 20 hit singles in the U.S. Billboard charts. The band also holds the record for having the most Billboard Hot 100 Top 40 hits of any band in US chart history without ever having a #1 single.

ELO collected 21 RIAA awards, 38 BPI awards, and sold well over 40 million records worldwide, not including singles

Birth of the band

In the late 1960s, Roy Wood, guitarist, vocalist songwriter of The Move, had an idea to form a new band that would use violins, cellos, string basses, horns and woodwinds to give their music a classical sound, taking rock music in the direction "that The Beatles had left off." Jeff Lynne, frontman with fellow Birmingham band The Idle Race, was excited by the concept. In January 1970, when Carl Wayne left The Move, Lynne accepted Wood's second invitation to join the band on the condition that they focus their energy on the new project.

On 12 July 1970, when Wood added multiple cellos to a Lynne-penned song intended to be a Move B-side, the new concept became a reality and "10538 Overture" became the first Electric Light Orchestra song. To help finance the fledgling band, two more Move albums were released during the lengthy ELO recordings. The resulting debut album The Electric Light Orchestra was released in 1971 (1972 in the United States as No Answer) and "10538 Overture" became a UK top ten hit.

Roy, Jeff and Bev were the initial members of Electric Light Orchestra. They were joined in 1971 by Bill Hunt (horns, keyboards) and Steve Woolam (violin).

ELO's debut concert took place on April 16, 1972 at The Fox & Greyhound Pub in Croydon, U.K. with a lineup of Wood, Lynne, Bevan, Bill Hunt (horns, keyboards), Wilfred Gibson (violin), Hugh McDowell (cello), Andy Craig (cello) and Richard Tandy on bass.

However, tensions soon surfaced between Wood and Lynne due to problems with management. Amid the recordings for the band's second LP, Wood left the band taking cellist McDowell and horn player Hunt with him to form Wizzard. Despite predictions from the music press that the band would fold without Wood, who had been the driving force behind the creation of ELO, Lynne stepped up to lead the band, with Bev Bevan remaining on drums, joined by Gibson, Richard Tandy (now on the Moog synthesizer), Mike de Albuquerque on bass and vocals and Mike Edwards and Colin Walker on cellos.

On the Third Day US album cover portrait of ELO by Richard AvedonThe new lineup performed at the 1972 Reading Festival. Barcus Berry pickups, now sported by the band's string trio, allowed them to have proper amplification on stage for their instruments, which had previously been all but drowned out by all the sound of the other electrified instruments. The band released their second album, ELO 2 in 1973, which produced their first US chart single, a hugely elaborate version of the Chuck Berry classic "Roll Over Beethoven". ELO also made their first appearance on American Bandstand.

During the recording of the third album, Gibson was let go after a dispute over money and Walker left since touring was keeping him away from his family too much. Mik Kaminski joined as violinist, while remaining cellist Edwards finished the cello parts before McDowell returned to ELO from Wizzard. The resulting album, On the Third Day, was released in late 1973, with the American version featuring the hit "Showdown" along with an unusual photograph, seen at right, taken by famed photographer Richard Avedon which had ELO's "Do It With the Light On Tour" lineup exposing their navels. Global success

For the band's fourth album, Eldorado, A Symphony, a concept album about a daydreamer, Lynne was finally able to stop overdubbing strings, and hire a proper orchestra and choir. Louis Clark joined the band as string arranger. The first single off the album, "Can't Get It Out of My Head", became their first US Billboard charts Top 10 hit, and Eldorado, A Symphony became ELO's first gold album.

After the release of Eldorado, bassist and vocalist Kelly Groucutt and cellist Melvyn Gale joined, replacing de Albuquerque (who, like Walker before him, quit since the ELO tours were keeping him away from his family too long) and Edwards respectively. The lineup stabilised as the band took to a decidedly more accessible sound. ELO had become successful in the United States at this point and they were a star attraction on the stadium and arena circuit, as well as regularly appearing on The Midnight Special (1973, 1975, 1976 & 1977) more than any other band in that shows history with four appearances.

Classic Lineup making a first album appearance on Face the MusicFace the Music was released in 1975, producing the hit singles "Evil Woman" and "Strange Magic". The opening instrumental "Fire On High", with its mix of strings and blazing acoustic guitars, saw heavy exposure as background music on CBS Sports Spectacular montages, though most viewers had no idea of the song's origins. The group toured extensively from February 3 till April 13 1976 promoting the album in the USA, playing 68 shows in 76 days . It was on the American tour that ELO first debuted their use of coloured lasers.
Despite the recognition and success they enjoyed in the states they were still largely ignored in the United Kingdom until their sixth album, A New World Record, hit the top ten there in 1976. It contained the hit singles "Livin' Thing", "Telephone Line", "Rockaria!" and "Do Ya", a rerecording of a Move song. The band toured in support in the US only from October 1976 to April 1977 with a break in December, plus a one off gig in San Diego in August 1977 A New World Record was followed by a multi platinum selling album, the double-LP Out of the Blue, in 1977. Out of the Blue featured the singles "Turn to Stone", "Sweet Talkin' Woman", "Mr. Blue Sky", and "Wild West Hero", each becoming a hit in the United Kingdom. The band then set out on a nine-month, 92-date world tour, with an enormous set and a hugely expensive space ship stage with fog machines and a laser display. In the United States the concerts were billed as The Big Night and were their largest to date, with 80,000 people seeing them at Cleveland Stadium. The Big Night went on to become the highest-grossing live concert tour in music history up to that point (1978). The band also played at the Wembley Arena for eight straight sold-out nights during the tour as well, another record at that time. The first of these shows was recorded and televised, and later released as a CD and DVD. In 1979, the multi-platinum album Discovery (or "Disco? Very!", as fans refer to it), was released. Although the biggest hit on the album (and ELO's biggest hit overall) was the rock song "Don't Bring Me Down", the album was noted for its heavy disco influence. Discovery also produced the hits "Shine a Little Love", "Last Train to London", "Confusion" and "The Diary of Horace Wimp". Although there would be no live tour associated with Discovery, the band recorded the entire album in video form. The Discovery music videos would be the last time the "classic" late 1970s lineup would be seen together, as the violinist, Mik Kaminski, and the two cellists, Hugh McDowell and Melvyn Gale, were dismissed shortly thereafter . The Electric Light Orchestra finished 1979 as the biggest selling act in the United Kingdom.[citation needed] ELO had reached the peak of their stardom, selling millions of albums and singles and even inspiring a parody/tribute song on the Randy Newman album Born Again.

In 1980 Jeff Lynne was asked to write for the soundtrack of the musical film Xanadu, with the other half written by John Farrar and performed by the film's star Olivia Newton-John. The movie performed poorly at the box office, but the soundtrack did exceptionally well, eventually going double platinum. The album spawned hit singles from both Newton-John ("Magic," #1 in the United States, and "Suddenly" with Cliff Richard) and ELO ("I'm Alive", which went gold, "All Over the World" and "Don't Walk Away"). The title track, performed by both Newton-John and ELO, is ELO's only song to top the singles chart in the United Kingdom. Xanadu was turned into a surprising hit Broadway Musical that opened on 10 July 2007 at the Helen Hayes Theatre to uniformly good reviews and received 4 Tony Award nominations. The Electric Light Orchestra Story, Bev Bevan's memoirs from his early days and throughout his career with The Move and ELO, was also published in 1980.

In 1981 ELO's sound changed again with the science fiction concept album Time, a throwback to earlier, more progressive rock albums like Eldorado. With the string section laid off, synthesisers took a dominating role, as was the trend in the larger music scene of the time. Time topped the U.K. charts for two weeks and was the last ELO studio album to date to be certified platinum in the United Kingdom. Singles from the album included "Hold on Tight", "Twilight", "The Way Life's Meant to Be", "Here Is the News" and "Ticket to the Moon." The band embarked on their last world tour to date to promote the LP. It was the first ELO tour without cellists, although Mik Kaminski returned to play his famous "blue violin." The live line-up was completed with Louis Clark and newcomer Dave Morgan(guitar, synthesizers, vocals) playing the string parts on synthesizers, and "Fred the Robot" voicing the "Prologue" and "Epilogue". Decline Jeff Lynne wanted to follow Time with a double album; CBS blocked his plan claiming it would be too expensive. The new album was edited down from double album to a single disc and released as Secret Messages in 1983 (many of the outtakes were later released on "Afterglow" or as b-sides of singles). The album was an instant hit in the UK reaching the top 5. The album's release was dampened by a string of bad news—that there would be no tour to promote the LP, that drummer Bevan was now playing drums for Black Sabbath and that bassist Kelly Groucutt had left the band (Groucutt later sued Lynne, Bevan, and ELO's management for alleged lost royalty fees and the matter was eventually settled out of court).[citation needed] Rumours from fans about the group disbanding were publicly denied by Bevan. Although Secret Messages debuted at number four in the United Kingdom, it fell off the charts, failing to catch fire with a lack of hit singles in the U.K.(though "Rock and Roll is King" was a sizeable hit in UK, and, the U.S.) and a lukewarm media response. By 1983 Bevan was expressing a desire to join Black Sabbath permanently, Lynne and Tandy were recording tracks for the Electric Dreams soundtrack under Jeff Lynne's name, and, with Groucutt's departure, ELO was assumed to be finished. However, Lynne was contractually obligated to make one more ELO album. Balance of Power (1986)Lynne, Bevan and Tandy returned to the studio in 1985 as a three-piece (with Christian Schneider playing saxophone on some tracks) to record ELO's final album of the 20th century, Balance of Power, released early in 1986. Though the single "Calling America" placed in the Top 30 in the United Kingdom (#28) and Top 20 in the States, subsequent singles failed to chart. The album was absent of actual strings, replaced once again by synthesisers, played by Tandy. The album also shed the customary ELO logo that had appeared on every album since 1976.

Lynne, with the 7-piece lineup that supported Time (with the exception of bassist Groucutt being replaced by Martin Smith), played a small number of live ELO performances in 1986, including shows in England and Germany along with US appearances on American Bandstand, Solid Gold, then at Disneyland that summer. The Birmingham Heart Beat Charity Concert 1986 was a charity concert organized by Bevan in ELO's hometown of Birmingham on 15 March 1986. A hint of Lynne's future was seen when George Harrison appeared onstage during the encore at Heartbeat, joining in the all-star jam of "Johnny B. Goode". ELO's last performance of the century occurred on 13 July 1986 in Stuttgart, Germany.

ELO essentially disbanded after that final show in Stuttgart in 1986, but there was no announcement made of it for the next two years, during which George Harrison's Lynne-produced album Cloud Nine and the pair's follow-up (with Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty) Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 were released. Bevan approached Lynne to make another ELO album in 1988. Lynne was not interested and went on to announce that ELO was no more.


The Electric Light Orchestra (UK) / No Answer (US) (1971/1972)
ELO 2 (UK) / Electric Light Orchestra II / ELO II (US) (1973)
On the Third Day (1973)
Eldorado, A Symphony (1974)
Face the Music (1975)
A New World Record (1976)
Out of the Blue (1977)
Discovery (1979)
Xanadu (1980)
Time (1981)
Secret Messages (1983)
Balance of Power (1986)
Zoom (2001)

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