What’s up with ELO? Their work has held up quite well but they get almost no airplay on oldies stations. Is their work tied up in a legal fight or something?
This is one of those tracks that is best played through good quality headphones, cranked up.
ELO still holds the record for the most top-40 hits for a band that never hit number 1.
There were some legal fights between Jeff Lynne and some of the ex-members of the band. Basically, as technology got better and better, Jeff Lynne needed less assistance, and the size of the band dropped. By the time of “Time” and “Secret Messages” it was 4 people, “Balance of Power” was 3, and “Zoom” was Jeff Lynne with a little Richard Tandy—the only member of the original band still working with Lynne—and various guest musicians.
During the big gap between “Balance of Power” and “Zoom”, some of the others wanted to record as ELO, but Jeff Lynne considered that his name, so after some negotiation they became “Electric Light Orchestra Part II”. Then Bev Bevan sold his half of the rights to the ELO name to Lynne and gave up on ELO Part II, and they had to change their name to “The Orchestra”.
In 2012, Jeff Lynne released “Mr. Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra”, which was basically a Jeff Lynne solo album in which he went back and re-recorded his favorite ELO songs with the help of guest musicians (including his daughter, who also assisted on the “Zoom” tour). So at this point, ELO is basically Jeff Lynne.
What makes me sad is that listening to the solo re-recordings, they are very dead and mechanical. “Mr Blue Sky”, for example, has a rigid drum machine cowbell going all the way through it. Absolutely everything is at the same correct speed, every note is on the beat, and the instrumental breaks are removed so the song propels to a conclusion. In interviews Lynne says he finally got it to sound exactly the way he wanted it to. I guess I’m happy for him, but he doesn’t seem to realize that one of the things that made the original so great was the tension between a big classical orchestra and tight rock drumming and guitars. When the lyrics end and the orchestra takes over and goes a little slow, that’s not a failure — it’s wonderful the way it feels as though it’s literally being dragged towards sunset and the final vocoder signoff.
TL;DR: Jeff Lynne has basically Lucased his back catalog.
Happily, unlike with Lucas, the originals are all available still. The original intended double album version of “Secret Messages” hasn’t been released, but there are good modern remasterings (no loudness wars) of the whole back catalog.
…but I have no answer as to why they get no airplay.
Thank you for the update!
As I understood it, Bev Bevan, an original member of The Move even before Lynne, tried to resurrect ELO as Electric Light Orchestra Part II, and was sued by Lynne. After a court decided that Bevan had just as much right to the “ELO” name as Lynne, and ELO II failed commercially, Bevan sold the rights to the name back to Lynne, who went on to make “Zoom.”
The mid-2000s remasters of the ELO albums include additional songs, supposedly written in the same era as the original albums, but without Richard Tandy, Louis Clark and the others helping out, you wouldn’t know it. They sound pretty weak. Jeff Lynne really is similar to Lucas in that way - capable of great things, with a little help from others, but pretty generic on his own.
The extra songs on “Secret Messages” are tracks that were supposed to be on the double album, but were cut because the record label wouldn’t release a double LP. The ones on “Time” were single B-sides.
I think it’s unfair to call Lynne generic when working on his own – he has done some fine solo work, including “Armchair Theater”. It’s just that he’s recently fallen into the artistic trap of overpolishing the life out of his work, because the technology now lets him do it and there’s nobody around to say “Jeff, stop adjusting the timing of every last note and go out and have a beer”.
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