The Electric Light Orchestra
“And it’s raining all over the world
It’s raining all over the world
Tonight, the longest night”
Glam Rock was ‘over the top’, ‘in your face’ and unabashedly eccentric and that’s why I loved it. With a few exceptions my parents disliked it, there wasn’t the melody or style that they expected in music, and that made me even more determined to enjoy it. When I first saw the Electric Light Orchestra they seemed to be the ultimate glam group – they had an eccentric name, played rock and had classical instruments – ideal for upsetting parents.
I was therefore more than a little surprised when my parents started to talk about the group. They didn’t dig the music but they knew the players and even claimed that they were linked to songs like “Flowers in the Rain” that we heard every Sunday on “Family Favourites”. Of course I didn’t believe them but I did secretly check out what they said with my mate Geoff (he had an older brother who had copies of Melody Maker going back for years). It was only after talking to Geoff and discovering the Move that I realised the horrific truth – for the first time in my short life I had to admit that my parents knew more about trendy music than me!
It’s Birmingham, February 1966 and an after-hours jam session results in the formation of a key sixties group The Move and the start of the Electric Light Orchestra. The jam involves the main players from the city’s music scene – Bev Bevan, Carl Wayne, Chris “Ace” Kefford, Roy Wood and Trevor Burton. As The Move they not only produce some of the most radio friendly pop singles of the era, they also release cutting edge LPs and have a wild, heavy stage show – three different personalities within one group.
While The Move made an immediate impact in the Birmingham scene it wasn’t until they joined forces with manager Tony Secunda that success in London, and nationally, became a possibility. He was the marketing and image maker that supported the creativity within the band.
Their first release “Night of Fear” hit number two in the charts (‘promoted’ by the group towing a fake H-Bomb around Manchester) and began a string of chart hits and publicity stunts. With hits including “Flowers in the Rain”, “I Can Hear The Grass Grow” and “Blackberry Way” alongside stunts such as sending out promotional blackberry pies and champagne the group appeared to be a manufactured band.
The truth was however much more complex, their publicity was contrived, but the hits were penned by the writing genius Roy Wood and live the group were totally different. It was the mixture of attitudes and approaches that made The Move so dynamic, volatile and ultimately short-lived. The end began when Secunda went too far with his publicity stunts and released, fake, pornographic postcards of the Prime Minister – the group ended up in court and shortly after Secunda and The Move parted company. This was followed by the departure of Ace Kefford and a single “Wild Tiger Woman” that wasn’t a hit. Shaken by this, perceived, failure Carl Wayne threatened to split the group unless the next song was a hit; Roy delivered in style with “Blackberry Way” but the writing was on the wall for the group and, as their live performances became a series of greatest hits, Trevor Burton left.
While live the group moved into cabaret, in the studio they were becoming more adventurous with their second album, (“Shazam”, 1969), being hailed as a masterpiece. It was however Carl Wayne’s swansong as he left the group in January the following year, relationships within the group had become strained and Roy was developing a new concept – the Electric Light Orchestra.
At this point Jeff Lynne joined the group and Roy took on the task of lead singer. While The Move continued to record both LPs and singles and continue to have hits the group started to take a back seat to Roy’s new vision – ELO – and, in 1971, Roy, Jeff and Bev formed the nucleus of the Electric Light Orchestra. Roy had got the idea for the group while working with Tony Visconti on orchestral arrangements for Move songs but it was Jeff who gave birth to the sound with his composition “10538 Overture”. Released as a single it matched the bombast of the Glam movement and reached the top ten in 1972.
Whilst their first album was critically acclaimed there were difficulties between Roy and Jeff regarding the group’s direction and just after the release of “10538 Overture” Roy left the group to form Wizzard and write his own chapter in Glam Rock.
Jeff took over leadership of the group and they made a major impact at the 1972 Reading Festival. Their interpretation of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” became an instant classic, hit the top ten and saw them at the height of their powers with regard to Glam Rock. Their success was consolidated with “Showdown” but the subsequent single “Ma Ma Ma Ma Belle” failed to chart in the UK (despite an uncredited performance by Bolan playing lead alongside Jeff) as did “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head”.
Whilst ELO’s star started to wane in the UK it was rising in the US where the albums “On the Third Day” and “Eldorado” saw their fan base grow. As the audiences in the UK dwindled the group concentrated on the US with extensive tours. They continued to record however and in the UK were rewarded with a top five in the form of “Livin’ Thing” in December 1976 (this was the beginning of an unbroken run of 15 UK top twenty singles taken from hit albums). With the associated album “A New World Record” realising another two hits singles with “Telephone Line” and “Rockaria!” (probably their last track to capture some of the Glam ethos) ELO were back on track.
Their following album was to become a major release in the history of rock music – “Out of the Blue”. Supported by a nine month sell out tour and containing the iconic “Mr. Blue Sky” this saw ELO become a global concern. At the end of 1978 they had a single, EP, album, double album and triple album box set all in the UK top fifty at the same time!
In 1979 they released the LP “Discovery”. It contained “Don’t Bring Me Down”, their biggest ever single hit, and marked another first for the group – this was the first Electric Light Orchestra single that didn’t have strings. The group had come a long way from Roy’s first vision and Jeff’s first composition……………