by Alan L. Chrisman
(This is part of a series of blogs I’ve been doing on some of the groups and on some of the perhaps lesser-known songwriters and players behind some of rock’s classic artists and songs. So far: Bob Seger, Long John Baldry, Tony Joe White, Harry Nilsson, Glen Campbell, Paul Revere & The Raiders, Johnny Rivers, The Rascals, Rick Nelson, Del Shannon, Badfinger, Bob Marley, etc.)
Jeff Lynne was the brains behind Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) and their many hits in the 70’s & 80’s. But he is also one of rock’s most respected producers, having produced albums for the ex-Beatles, Tom Petty, Traveling Wilburys, Roy Orbison, Dave Edmunds, Brian Wilson, Randy Newman, etc.
Lynn was originally from Birmingham, England. He was in an early band, Idle Race, which put out two albums in ’69. But in 1970, he joined The Move, led by Roy Wood. The Move were well respected and popular in England and known for their theatrical performances, but were not known very much in America at the time. They recorded 4 British albums: The Move, Shazam, Looking On and Message from The Country and several great singles, “I Can Hear The Grass Grow”, “Flowers in The Rain”, “Brontosaurus”, “California Man” and “Do Ya”, from 1966-‘72.
Then Roy Wood and, now Jeff Lynn who joined The Move in 1970, had this idea to combine rock and classical, which led to ELO. Wood left around that time to form his own band, Wizard, which had some success in England. But Lynne carried on with the original drummer, Bev Bevan, from The Move, and added Richard Tandy on synthesizer and others on string instruments. Lynne, Beatles-influenced, said he hoped to create the kind of sound used in John Lennon’s, “I Am the Walrus”.
ELO’s first album, contained their first hybrid classical-rock hit, “Roll Over Beethoven”, in 1972. They were to go on to have many successful: On the Third Day (‘73), Eldorado (’74), Face The Music (’75), New World Record (’76), double Lp Out of The Blue (’77), Discovery (’79) and several more into the 80’s. And off these albums they would have several, especially in America, massively popular hits, “Evil Woman”, “Livin’ Thing”, “Strange Magic”, “Telephone Line”, “Mr. Blue Sky”, “Hold on Tight”, “Don’t Bring Me Down”, and many more.
But in the mid-1980’s, Jeff Lynne (who wrote the songs and was basically ELO), disbanded them to concentrate on his other love, producing. In 1987, he produced and co-wrote songs for George Harrison’s, Cloud 9, and co-wrote his “This is Love”. Then as part of the supergroup, Traveling Wilburys (Harrison, Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Lynne), he co-produced with Harrison their two classic albums. This led to Lynne producing Orbison’s Mystery Girl in ’88 and co-producing Tom Petty’s next two albums, Full Moon Fever and co-writing hits, “I Won’t Back Down”, “Free Fallin’”, and Into The Great Wide Open (“Learning to Fly”) in 1989 and ‘91. He also produced songs for Brian Wilson, Duane Eddy and Randy Newman., and a posthumous album for Del Shannon, Rock On.
Lynne put out his first solo album, Armchair Theatre, with the single, “Every Little Thing”, in 2001, including George Harrison and old ELO bandmate, Richard Tandy. But it was when he was chosen to produce two left-over John Lennon songs, ”Free As A Bird” and “Real Love”, with the remaining Beatles for their Anthologies in ’95 and ’96, that he finally got to work with all his long-time heroes, The Beatles. He then produced one of Paul McCartney’s best recent albums, Flaming Pie, in ’97.
In 2001, Lynne put out one more ELO album, Zoom, with guests George Harrison, Ringo and Richard Tandy. And he produced George Harrisons excellent last album, Brainwashed, before Harrison died in November, 2001 and produced the live tribute CD, Concert for George, in 2003. He produced an album, Analogue Man, for Joe Walsh in 2012 and Lynne released his second solo album, Long Wave, in 2013. He also provided a song for the Hollywood film, American Hustle.
For the 50th anniversary of The Beatles coming to America Grammy Tribute, in Feb, 2014, Lynne performed “Something” and “Hey Bulldog”. It’s also been announced that he is producing Bryan Adams new CD.
Lynne re-visited his hometown, Birmingham, England and received an award in September-not bad for a Birmingham lad, who realized his dream of combining rock and classical and getting to work with some of rock’s biggest artists. Jeff Lynne also has the distinction of being one of the few producers to work with The Beatles, besides their long-time producer, George Martin, and legendary producer, Phil Spector, and to become one of their close friends.
I was fortunate to see Jeff Lynne and ELO three times: The first for their 1st album with “Roll Over Beethoven” in 1972. At that concert they did a version of the original Move rocker,“ Do Ya”, originally written for The Move. I remember they also did a great cover of The Beatles,“Daytripper” too.
I next saw them in ‘80 in Montreal at the Man & His World, former Expo ’67 site for their album, Eldorado. It was a beautiful summer night, and the first time I saw lasers used in a concert.
And again at the Montreal Forum in ‘77 for their double album, Out Of The Blue, with their ‘Flying Saucer’ stage. ELO always had a very theatrical part to their live shows. They were always one of my favorite bands, besides The Beatles.
Below, ELO's version of “Do YA”, originally written by Jeff Lynne for The Move: