ELO effectively broke up in July of 1986 once Jeff Lynne’s contractual obligations were over, and he spent the next several years working closely with many of his musical friends as a producer. His biggest project was with ex-Beatle George Harrison on his 1987 comeback album Cloud Nine. George himself hadn’t released a record in five years (the last being 1982’s meandering Gone Troppo) and what better than to introduce his new sound with someone who knew exactly how his former band sounded? It definitely has Lynne’s signature sound all over it, but it only complements Harrison’s new fresh sound. It was a huge hit and remains a favorite — and its first single “Got My Mind Set On You” still gets occasional airplay. Its second single, a nod to Harrison’s younger years in the Beatles, is a perfect mix of Harrison psychedelia and Lynne dreaminess.
Harrison enjoyed the success of his album and had been planning to record a b-side with a few of his musician friends, including Lynne, but the end result was so fun and radio-friendly that they made a full album together under the name The Traveling Wilburys alongside Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison. Lynne and Petty were the youngest in the group and it must have blown their minds to be working so closely with their musical heroes. They would record two records together.
But Lynne was only getting started. He’d also worked with Orbison solo on his Mystery Girl album, Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever, and wrote several songs for others. And in 1990 he released his first solo album, Armchair Theatre, and in 1991 he worked with Petty again with the Heartbreakers album Into the Great Wide Open, which became one of the band’s biggest sellers.
And then he got to work with the Beatles, his favorite band ever.
In 1994, when Harrison, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr reconvened to work on the Anthology project, they’d had in mind that they’d record some new music under the hallowed name — the first new music by the band in twenty-five years — and Lynne was a perfect choice. He knew and understood their sound and could co-produce it without stepping on anyone’s shoes, history or egos. The plan was to take three songs that John Lennon had written and recorded in rough demo form in the late 70s, with Yoko Ono’s blessings. Two songs were recorded, “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love”, and both were huge hits and added to the official discography.
Lynne would keep busy through the rest of the decade continuing his production and songwriting work, with the likes of Tom Jones, Roger McGuinn, Joe Cocker, and Paul McCartney on his Flaming Pie record.
Meanwhile…the rest of the band did not disappear from view. Drummer Bev Bevan, bassist Kelly Groucutt and violintist Mik Kaminski created their own version of the ELO brand with Electric Light Orchestra Part II, with vocals provided by Eric Troyer. While not exactly a chart success, they did retain the classic pop-with-strings ELO sound, and the albums are worth checking out. Bevan would leave the line-up after the second album, but Troyer and Kaminski have continued the project under its new name, The Orchestra, which is still alive and thriving as a touring band.
Coming soon: Part IV, in which Lynne revives the ELO name once again, with several compilations and new recordings!