Ten Great Songs From One Great Year
The ELO Sound
Worldwide, the Electric Light Orchestra has had a huge following. However, while successful in America, much of their popularity really centered around the years between 1976-1981. Furthermore, none of their singles ever topped the American charts (their highest reaching single, “Don’t Bring Me Down”, peaked at #4 in 1979).
Still, Jeff Lynne made a huge impact in American rock and roll. As a writer and producer, his influence and sound was heard everywhere. Whether it was Olivia Newton-John’s success on “Xanadu”, or Tom Petty’s comeback in the late 1980’s, it seemed that ELO was back in the mainstream, just not as “ELO.”
To prove my point, listen to these ten songs I’ve chosen and you will hear what I mean. Every one of them could have been included on any Electric Light Orchestra album. Amazingly, as a producer and writer, Lynne finally topped the American charts with George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set On You.”
Slipping Away – Dave Edmunds
Edmunds was never well known in the States, but had a cult following in Britain. His first US hit, “I Hear You Knocking” reached #4 in 1970 and was really the last he was heard from in America. In Britain, he collaborated with Nick Lowe (“Cruel To Be Kind”) to form the band Rockpile. However, with the advent of MTV, he managed another American chart hit in 1983 with “Slipping Away”, which really could have passed for an ELO hit.
Handle With Care – Traveling Wibury’s
The Traveling Wilbury’s came together during a dinner meal one night at the home of Bob Dylan. Joining Dylan were Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and George Harrison. Tom Petty’s involvement happened by chance because as Harrison had left his guitar at Petty's house. From that chance encounter, the song, “Handle With Care” was created and a supergroup was formed. Roy Orbison's death on December 6, 1988, precluded further collaborations with the original lineup. In tribute to Orbison, during the music video for "End of the Line", when Orbison sings, his photo is shown followed by a shot of his guitar in a rocking chair.This Is Love – George Harrison
Taken from Cloud Nine, George Harrison's comeback album, this song - more than any other, really could be an ELO song. The guitars, the strings, the whirlwind, Jeff Lynne's background vocal and the entire style of song is pure ELO. This was the song that gave me the idea for the entire list.
One Way Love – Agnetha
Agnetha Fältskogis was one of the founding members of the hugely successful group Abba. From 1973 to 1981, her band ruled the European charts like none other since The Beatles. While other bandmates had success post-Abba (Anni-Frid Lyngstad, or Frida, hit the chart in ’83 with “I Know There’s Something Going On” and Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson hit big with the production of “Chess”), Agnetha remained tied to her homeland in Sweden. However, she did collaborate wit Jeff Lynne for a British hit in 1983. Once again, it could well have been on any ELO album, especially Xanadu or Discovery.
Into the Great White Open – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Following the success of his solo comeback album, Full Moon Fever (also produced by Lynne), Petty brought his band back together to record a new record in 1999. The result was a successful album and top ten single, “Into the Great Wide Open.” The song, and video, tell the tale of a young man who rises from nowhere to stardom overnight, only to fall again after his moment in the sun ends. This was one of the best collaborations of Jeff Lynne’s influence with Tom Petty’s storytelling produced.
Free As a Bird – The Beatles
The three surviving Beatles (at the time) originally intended to record some incidental background music (as a trio) for the Beatles Anthology project, but also wanted to record new songs. The Beatles had always agreed that if one of them did not agree with something the idea would be vetoed, so the only way they could reunite musically as The Beatles was if Lennon could be on the recording. McCartney then asked Ono if she had any unreleased recordings by Lennon, so she sent him cassette tapes of four songs, including “Free as a Bird.”
Real Love – The Beatles
Another song Yoko Ono gave Paul McCartney was “Real Love.” Like “Free as a Bird”, both were turned over to Jeff Lynne to produce because Lynne and George Harrison were great friends, and Lynne idolized John Lennon. Both recordings, which became the final top 40 hits for the Fab Four, are clearly Jeff Lynne productions and again, could fit on any number of ELO records.
The World Tonight – Paul McCartney
Following his work with The Beatles and George Harrison, Paul McCartney also turned to Jeff Lynne for production assistance on his next album, Flaming Pie. While unlike Tom Petty’s recordings, Lynne did not co-write any of McCartney’s songs on the LP, his influence was clearly apparent – especially on the single, “The World Tonight.” The song peaked at #23 in Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart.
You Got It – Roy Orbison
By the late ‘80s, Roy Orbison well deserved his place in rock and roll history. As a ‘50s and ‘60s icon, he topped the charts with huge hits, like “”Only the Lonely,” “Crying” and “Oh, Pretty Woman.” But he continued to write and record for many years to follow. Orbison's career was fully revived in 1987. He released an album of his re-recorded hits titled In Dreams: The Greatest Hits. A song he recorded named "Life Fades Away" was featured in the film Less Than Zero. He and k. d. lang performed a duet of "Crying" and released it on the soundtrack to Hiding Out, winning a Grammy for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals. The following year, he began collaboration with Jeff Lynne on a new album. However, that took a back seat to the Traveling Wilbury’s project, which gave Orbison a whole new generation a fans. Following the release of the Wilbury’s first LP, Orbison and Lynne then released the Mystery Girl LP, featuring the title track written by Orbison, Lynne and Petty. This was yet another ELO song recorded by another singer. This time, Jeff Lynne’s product went to #9.
Learning To Fly – Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers
Taken from the album Into The Great Wide Open, this song turned out to be one of Tom Petty’s most popular hits – going to number one on Billboards Album Rock Charts. Written by both Petty and Jeff Lynne, it would be the last single the two collaborated on and is one of the more recognizable ELO-style recordings.
Do Ya – The Move
“Do Ya” was released as the third single from the Electric Light Orchestra’s 1975 LP, A New World Record. However, it was also the only ELO song that was also recorded by Jeff Lynne’s previous band, The Move. In fact, the drum solo, in the middle of the ELO recording, is actually Bev Bevan’s solo taken live while a member of The Move. This recording of “Do Ya” is pretty basic and raw, but it gives you a good insight to the origins of ELO.