Electric Light Orchestra

Electric Light Orchestra

Classical music and rock and roll may seem polar opposites, but they actually pair quite well. The Beatles introduced the concept in the 60s, and in the decade that followed, Electric Light Orchestra followed in the Fab Four’s footsteps, fusing the two genres and earning an impressive 27 Top-40 hits as a result.

Electric Light Orchestra (or ELO, if you prefer) was the brainchild of two guitarists, Roy Wood of The Move and Jeff Lynne. The pair of songwriters shared their vision of “picking up where The Beatles left off” in the quest to merge classical with rock. ELO released the self-titled debut album in 1971, rich with string arrangements and pop lyrics. For their efforts, the band scored a top-10 hit with one of the first songs they wrote together, “10538 Overture.”

During their introductory tour the following year, a rift developed between the two founders over creative and business management decisions. Wood walked away from ELO, forming his own band called Wizzard, and Lynn became the guiding spirit of the Electric Light Orchestra. Their second album ELO 2 became a breakthrough success in the US and included their much-embellished cover of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven,” which used some actual Beethoven music and proceeded to put the band on the map.

The ambitious Eldorado was released in 1974. Featuring a 30-piece string orchestra and billed as “a symphony by the Electric Light Orchestra,” the lofty concept album managed to break into the Top-10. Jeff Lynne showed off his formidable ballad-writing skills on the hit, “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” which reached the #9 position on the U.S. charts.

The band, featuring two new members, found success with their next release Face the Music in 1975. Featuring a controversial album cover that showed an electric chair, the record contained two more hits for the band, “Evil Woman,” an upbeat and funky pop tune, and “Strange Magic,” a lush ballad. Their next offering continued to ensure regular airplay for the band. Titled A New World Record, ELO scored two more big hits with “Telephone Line” and “Living Thing.”

The band struck gold in 1977, with the release of their most ambitious effort yet, a double-album called Out of the Blue that was written by Jeff Lynne in an astounding three and a half weeks. The record featured four Top-20 hits – “Turn To Stone,” “It’s Over,” “Mr. Blue Sky” and “Sweet Talking Woman” (the latter quickly becoming a popular song in discos across the country). For good measure, side three included the four-part “Symphony for a Rainy Day” penned by Lynne during a storm in Switzerland.

Two years later, their next endeavor, Discovery, took more of a decided turn towards disco, offering such dance hits as “Don’t Bring Me Down” and “Shine a Little Love.” By the end of the 70s, the Electric Light Orchestra was the biggest-selling act in Great Britain – and doing just fine across the pond as well.

When the new decade arrived, Jeff Lynne and company lent their musical talents to the film soundtrack of Xanadu. As it turned out, the music proved more popular than the film, and the album achieved double-platinum status. Their next release, Time, changed genres altogether. The band left disco behind (much like the rest of us), turning towards a more progressive sound that surprisingly didn’t include strings. Loyal fans went along for the ride anyway and helped the album go platinum.

Two more albums followed in the 80s, but neither were as successful as their many predecessors. Furthermore, Jeff Lynne and other band members were getting more and more distracted by outside projects. The band toured until 1986, when Lynne began focusing his efforts on his pals George Harrison, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison – otherwise known as Traveling Wilburys. The rest of the band took to the road as ELO Part II for the next few years – with disappointing results.

ELO would make a couple of attempts to reunite in the century that followed, but they never were able to recapture the golden era, when they proved that there was still room for string sections amidst the rock and dance grooves of the 70s, – a sound that propelled the band to the top of the charts numerous times and made millions of fans around the world.

If you count yourself as a fan of the Electric Light Orchestra, we hope you’ll take a moment or two and share your memories with us in our comments section below.

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