If you can’t get it out of your head, it probably was written or produced by Jeff Lynne
By Phill Marder
Long ago, an astute scribe – so long ago, can’t remember who – described the Electric Light Orchestra as what the Beatles would have sounded like if they had remained intact.
I always thought that comment was exceptionally complimentary – to the Beatles as much as ELO. And it would be nice to see ELO finally inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But if not the band then, considering his work with ELO and since ELO’s demise, it has become almost mandatory to induct its leader, Jeff Lynne.
Lynne powered The Move through its final incarnation before Move founder Roy Wood split as ELO started up. Clearly, Lynne was the chief creative force, writing almost all the material, producing the ELO albums and handling most of the lead vocals as well as guitar. The Electric Light Orchestra fulfilled Lynne’s vision, counting three permanent string musicians in its number of seven. Bands had started to include horn sections in their permanent lineups, but a string section? That was totally unique.
And Lynne made it work – in the studio and on stage, where the string section bounced around like a bunch of out of control spinning tops.
From 1972 until 1986, ELO dominated the airwaves with material of the highest quality. In the United States the group fielded 15 chart albums, five of which reached the Top 10. On the U.S. Hot 100, the band could not be denied, 26 efforts reaching the chart, seven of which achieved top 10 status. In their British homeland, the achievements were even more staggering – 10 LPs hit the top 40, seven of those climbing into the top 10. Two ELO long-players topped the British charts, “Discovery” in 1979, “Time” in 1981. While ELO failed to produce a #1 single, it dominated the British charts for the same 14-year stretch, 26 singles climbing to the top 40, with a remarkable 14 top 10 hits and several others just falling short of the top 10.
When the group finally disbanded, Lynne further strengthened his HOF credentials by issuing “Zoom” in 2001 under the ELO moniker, that LP reaching a respectable #94. As usual, Lynne did the writing and producing, but this time – except for some guest appearances, including Ringo and George Harrison – Lynne also played most of the instruments and did the majority of the vocal work. It stood up well with the best ELO recordings.
That Lynne’s efforts with ELO still endure today is evident from the success of the band’s greatest hits packages and reissues. Ten have reached the British charts since 1989, two greatest hits efforts reaching the top 10, while a reissue of the double LP “Out Of The Blue” climbed all the way to #18 just three years ago and 35 years after ELO’s debut on the charts.
The most super of all super groups, The Traveling Wilburys included (l to r) Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and George Harrison
This came as no surprise to those familiar with Lynne. In the Traveling Wilburys, the most super of all super groups, the members, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and George Harrison, trusted Lynne to give them the production worthy of such a talented assembly and he did, also functioning as a permanent band member. That leaves Lynne the lone Wilbury not yet inducted into Rock’s Hall of Fame. All were already familiar with Lynne’s work, Lynne having produced Harrison’s “Cloud Nine,” which ended a 12-year absence from the top 10 for the guitarist, Orbison’s mammoth “Mystery Girl” effort and Petty’s “Full Moon Fever” release.
Lynne, whose productions maintain a magnificent glow while retaining the clarity of each instrument and the feel of a band actually playing as opposed to being studio manufactured, also worked with rock legends Brian Wilson, the Everly Brothers, Joe Cocker, Tom Jones and Duane Eddy as well as Dave Edmunds and Randy Newman. An unabashed Beatle fanatic, Lynne has also collaborated with Paul McCartney and Starr and John Lennon in a way, Lennon’s “Free As A Bird” part of Lynne’s prominent work on the lauded Beatles’ Anthology.
On his website, Lynne described his love of writing and production. “It all comes down to what you truly love doing, and what I love doing is overdubbing and making new sounds out of things that are sometimes quite ordinary on their own, but when you put them together, they make something new — or something that sounds new. Just discovering things like that musically is a pleasure. I love creating, more than re-creating. That’s why I never really loved playing live as much. There were lots of great nights that I enjoyed, but for me it wasn’t as satisfying as making the next song.”
I’m not sure what the next song will be, but the music of the last 40 years would not have been nearly as good without Jeff Lynne. The Hall of Fame should call him…soon.