Favorite Bands: Electric Light Orchestra (Part IV)

The official reformation of ELO came in 2000 when Jeff Lynne worked on creating the box set Flashback, a three-disc retrospective covering the entirety of their career and including a number of unreleased rarities. It also included a new version of the song “Xanadu”, formerly a 1980 single with Olivia Newton-John on vocals. This is the one you want if you’re looking for a great selection with the addition of excellent deep cuts as well.

Lynne would follow this up in 2001 with the first new ELO album proper since 1986 entitled Zoom. This was essentially an all-new lineup (although original keyboardist Richard Tandy does show up on a track) and included many guest musicians, including Ringo Starr and George Harrison. Though it was not a chart hit, their fans did indeed welcome them back, especially as they did tour for this record. Also in 2001, Lynne worked again with Harrison on his final album recorded shortly before his death, Brainwashed. He would honor his friend’s passing in November 2002 at the Concert for George.

Lynne however went quiet for the rest of the decade, focusing instead on a major remaster/rerelease project of all of ELO’s studio albums via the Harvest and Epic Legacy labels. Many of these contained extra tracks, including outtakes, b-sides, and unreleased songs. Several best-of compilations were also released over the years, many of them unfortunately so similar in tracking to the point of redundancy that they’re interchangeable.

But in 2012, Lynne okayed a new collection called Mr Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra, in which his best songs have been rerecorded mostly on his own. While this could have been a throwaway, or done as a song ownership/copyright measure, this was purely done out of Lynne listening to some of his own classics and realizing he improve on them, now that he had better technology. The end result is a twelve-track curio that might not be essential, but it’s definitely worth checking out.

This led to several live shows and a new interest in ELO’s music, and a few years later in 2015, Lynne reformed the band once more, this time under the moniker Jeff Lynne’s ELO, and set about recording completely new music. The result was the absolutely stellar Alone in the Universe, a record that perfectly captures their late 70s heyday with dreamy melodies, smart songwriting and even the occasional ‘Beatlesque’ hook. The preview single “When I Was a Boy”, a song (and video) that essentially tells his life’s musical story, and would fit perfectly on Out of the Blue. The album was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic and paved the way for a major tour.

The tour itself would include a stay at the Wembley Arena in London, and its June 2017 show would be filmed and recorded for the film and live album Wembley Or Bust. While live albums and films can be hit or miss, this one’s very entertaining and well worth checking out. [NOTE: This live album was another on heavy rotation during my writing sessions for In My Blue World, and its version of “Xanadu” was the impetus for the story itself.]

Two years later in late 2019, he would follow up with a second album, From Out of Nowhere. This was to be followed up by another world tour, but was cancelled due to the COVID pandemic. The record may not have had as much of the lasting strength as the previous studio record had because of that, but it did gain favorable reviews and did hit the top of the charts in the UK.

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ELO has received many honors over the years including their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017; and in 2020, Jeff Lynne himself was honored an OBE for his contribution to music. And now in 2021, many online streaming services are celebrating the band’s fiftieth anniversary with several new unique playlists to enjoy (including one playful set featuring songs that use the vocoder!) and rereleases to buy.

This band may sometimes be dismissed as cheesy and dated, too much of a late-era Beatles clone, or worse, but they have a long and extremely broad legacy to back them up. Their songs have been covered, sampled, riffed, used in soundtracks, and their classical-meets-pop style has inspired many other bands past and present. And the Birmingham boy with the guitar, the shades, the falsetto, and the unruly poof of dark and curly hair is instantly recognizable to everyone. They’ve inspired so many musicians that critics will describe some songs as having an “ELO style”. They’ve been around for a lifetime, but their songs are ageless and amazing.

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