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ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA
by Mr. Curt
The earliest mention of an electric orchestra was during the Move's final glorious heydays when their single career took prominence. Primarily a trendy pop singles band, the Move brought a lot of diverse excitement to the English charts. That they never broke up is testament to the correctness and tenacity of its major composer, Roy Wood. With the addition of Jeff Lynne (ex-Idle Race, a band similar to the Move, but less moody) for their third album, "Looking On," and fab single, "Brontosaurus," the band's scope immediately widened. Wood was eager to push onto new ventures. With Spectors pumping through his veins, the Move quietly transformed into E. L. 0. They did release another (hum-drum) album and some killer singles ("Chinatown, " "Tonight," and their last 45-the incredible "Do Ya"). It was a time for concepts, invention, and initial well being.
Electric Light Orchestra's first album, "No Answer," was recorded by Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne, and Bev Bevan (the Move's drummer since inception) as an experiment. It was received ,with great acclaim, mainly because of Lynne's and Wood's compositional strength. On Jeff's tracks, strings never intruded-they always complemented his hook-phrasing. Roy's tunes seemed created with strings in mind; in fact, his whole ,technique involves working off the sawing of his multi-tracked cellos and string basses.
The contrast in light (Lynne) and dark (Wood) orchestral textures created this imbalance of acceptance which was resolved by Wood's departure from the group. A press statement said Roy would rather leave his own concept than stifle the burgeoning talents of Lynne, who had received very little of the press' attention. And so wise Wood became Wizard . . . Just because Wood had so much style, E.L.O.'s second album (the first with Lynne in the conductor's pit) is vastly different in content and sound--a string section supplemented the cellos, and the band set its course for the radio airwaves . . . recording "Roll Over Beethoven" was sheer brilliance and as a result, E. L. 0. soon became a respected and familiar band in the U.S. Immediately, with Lynne's lead, the band made a conscious attempt to save AM radio. "Showdown" and "Ma Ma Belle" and "Can't Get It Out of My Head" and "Evil Woman" are four different singles which demonstrate the scope of their progressiveness. The songs are highly arranged, using a full orchestra to strengthen the band's strings, but, they always rock with a fluid tempo that Lynne enjoys using.
I keep wanting to compare Jeff Lynne to Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson, but fear that such comparisons are inconsequential. It is true, though, that all three pace the orchestrated rock song similarity. They prefer shorter numbers heavily sweetened by a lush orchestra, spiced by a lead guitar and tight rock back-beat. The more (and better) production squeezed into three-to-four minute numbers, the better the chances of making more. So beginning on "Eldorado," Lynne's songs became more concise and tangible. ( . . . comes from listenin' to "Pet Sounds" and "Eleanor Rigby" too often, I suppose). It helped in each subsequent album's pacing and style. E.L.O.'s newest, even contains some funky numbers, but .,. even they don't sound repulsive, just rhythmically different. "New World Record" may be their most unique LP to date, as well as the most influenced: from Beatles to Beach Boys to War to Herrmann, the band has completely synthesized its style. E.L.O.'s playing has always been assured, precise, and tight, especially during their maturation period ("On the Third Day" to "Face the Music"). The cellos and violin, in particular, assert themselves with devastating fury, not surprising as the string players are all graduates of the London Symphony Orchestra. This period also brought the band to America for their first headlining tours and to the television rock shows, where their flair for the eccentric won them many more followers. Again, it paid to be different and E.L.O. were more conscious of their direction. There was so much to think about--the staging, the lighting, and planning everything almost a year in advance. E.L.O. had become big business by being neither too commercial nor too progressive-just different . . . while maintaining a perfectionist's attitude toward everything they attempted, Ole E.L.O.!
A couple of weeks ago, while preparing this story, R.A.T.W. was graced by the opportune appearance of E.L.O. drummer Bev Bevan, hoppin' around on a promo tour for the band's new album. An articulate and avid conversationalist, Bev spent a cordial afternoon with us chatting about his career with/as part of the Move and E. L. 0. . . . here's some of his thoughts:
On the gradual success of E.L.O.: "We never dreamt of this current sort of success, really. We'd done well with the Move back in England--we'd all made a decent living, though we never made much money--we all enjoyed doing music as a way of life. Still, we never thought we could come to a town and play for twenty thousand people, get all these gold records--how could we know? It was only an experiment to start off with and when we got the band on the road, and tried to play the material live, well we nearly gave up two or three times--almost threw the towel in--because we didn't think it would work right, like we couldn't get the amplification the way we wanted, or we couldn't find the right musicians to put in the band. We actually thought we made a mistake with our concept. It took a lot of perseverance to get it right."
On the (philosophical) differences between the first version of E.L.O. and the present line-up: "The first album was really experimental--and I don't think much of it worked. Maybe two or three tracks are worth keeping--it's the one album I'm not too particularly fond of. There was no band at the time--it didn't exist. There was Roy, Jeff, and me, and the help of a couple of guys in the studio. But now, we have a very stable group: a seven-piece band that's been together almost two years; plus for recording we use a large studio orchestra. On stage, our keyboardist, Richard Tandy, uses his vast array of keyboards to make up for the lack of people we use in the studio. Like on that first album, Roy was scraping away on his cellos--and he's not even a cellist. I suppose, at that time, it was quite distinctive, but it was not what we (Jeff & Bev) really wanted. We started looking at it with a perfectionist's attitude. Now we meticulously plan a show number by number, and very rarely change it. we carefully pace ourselves so that the final portion of our concerts is mostly up-tempo numbers-- the hit singles, usually. People like to listen to our pieces for a while and then they like to get stompin'. We've had a lot of experience on the road now and we think this works best."
On the rerecording of the smash Move hit, "Do Ya" (on the new World Record" LP): "It's a song we've been doin' for years on stage and we kept meanin' to drop it because Jeff is really anti-Move--he doesn't like being associated with the Move. He thinks that it's a bit of history and that's the end of it. He cuts himself off from the whole cult. But "Do Ya" is the one tune that has survived, and, by recording it as an E.L.O. song, Jeff is hoping that the song will be remembered as an E.L.O. song instead of a Move song. I don't feel as strongly about it `cause I've got some fond memories of the Move, being a founder member and all. But Jeff came in at the end-during the band's last six months--so he was a bit cut off too."
On their one-and-only American tour as the Move: "It was the silliest tour any British band has ever done in America. We did it ourselves, really, without the help of anybody at all. We arrived in New York, hired a car for ourselves, a U-Haul trailer for our gear, and drove to Detroit. We did three nights with Iggy & the Stooges. Then, we drove across the country on Route 66--crazy thing to do, and we did it in five days, amazingly enough . . . and then, we got to L.A., and played the Whiskey with a band called Gypsy, and then we went to San Francisco and did five nights at the Fillmore with Little Richard and Joe Cocker. We were supposed to play somewhere else (it was Boston!), but we had had enough and decided to go home. We were so narrow-minded in those days. We were quite content with the singles success we had in England and America was just a holiday for us. We just had to se it."
On his personal tastes in music: "I think a lot has to do with what age you are when you first get turned onto music. My favorite era goes way back to `60 and `61-- the stuff I play at home is Everly Brothers, Del Shannon, early Elvis--that's got more (strange) magic to me than anything else. It had more impact on me than any other music I'd ever heard. Maybe it's the same with everybody--maybe it's the music you first become aware of when first getting into music, in your early teens--maybe it has a more lasting effect. This could be the height of the nostalgia level--having musical memories to accompany those early experiences, like a first date or something."
On his first solo single, Sandy Nelson's drum classic, "Let There Be Drums": "Oh, you know about that, huh? It never got released in America (except through the import dealers) cause it was planned just for England around the time of the advent of disco, about two years ago. We thought it would be fun to do it. 'The initial idea was to get an album together with other drummers and record a bunch of drum classics, like "'Topsy" or " Wipeout"--anything with a drum basis. I've spoken to some drummers and they all seem interested. Perhaps Roger Taylor (of Queen) is the most likely friend I'll be working with, because we lead such similar lifestyles. But I've also mentioned it to John Bonham, Ian Palce, Ringo, Anysley Dunbar--now finding time to do it is the main problem. I think it might sell. It won't be that commercial, but at least it'll be different.
On the publicity campaigns to hype bands (both the Move and E.L.O. had been promoted with massive marketing): "Well, it doesn't make any difference to the music, cause that's going to remain the same. But, the more people that get to hear it, then the more pleased every artist will be. So the more a record company gets behind an artist, the more the relations are bound to be pleasant. Personally, I think United Artists does a good job with us. We have close liaison with them, so we generally approve everything before they put it out. It's nice being one of their top acts, instead of being lost in the rush as with larger, impersonal companies.