I think it has been well established that I love the band ELO. Their blend of classic rock
Jeff Lynne, one of the founders, wanted to carry on where The Beatles left off, creatively speaking. Take the sound of Abbey Road, and develop it further, with more orchestra, and more experimentation
1. ‘WHISPER IN THE NIGHT’ The Electric Light Orchestra (1971)
RUNNERS-UP: 10538 Overture, Nellie Takes her bow, Mr. Radio
Sung by Wizzard
Not their best song, and not even their best album. The sound wasn’t nearly as light and pop-oriented as later releases would be. The sound in this comes off as quite pretentious. While it didn’t necessarily capture fans at this early point in time, the first album was a great first effort, and Mr Radio captured the spirit of what the band would be in the mid-70’s-early 80’s.
2. ‘FROM THE SUN TO THE WORLD’ ELO 2 (1973)
RUNNERS-UP: Momma, Roll over Beethoven
This album, unfortunately, had a lot in common with the first one. While there were not many songs, they made up for that in length, though a lot of the baroque-influenced music was dropped. While this album did not sound commercial, thanks to their cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, the album reached the top 40. The tracks were not concise, but I feel the band did more trying to make less instrumental heavy songs and focused more on the lyrics.
For me, the gem of this album is ‘From the sun to the world’, which while standing tall at 8 minutes, is one of the most epic pieces that the band has ever made, and they never made one since. the instruments are just beautiful, and the haunting intro keyboard always makes me tingle.
3. ‘DAYBREAKER’ On the Third Day (1973)
RUNNERS-UP: In the Hall of the Mountain King, Showdown, Ma-Ma-Ma Belle
Perhaps realising that the long, oversaturated tracks of the first two albums were too much, ELO’s third outing perhaps mellowed them out a little bit for the commercial audience. The tracks were shorter, and a little more commercialised. Daybreaker is an example of how the band had changed. It is in the style of a track from the first two albums, but in a shorter format, and as such, is much more accessible to newer fans.
The keyboards make this track another epic one from ELO. It’s a shame this album never got as much commercial success, but perhaps there was a silver lining in that. As the band’s fourth effort helped steer them in the right direction…
4. ‘ELDORADO’ Eldorado (1974)
RUNNERS-UP: Mister Kingdom, Laredo Tornado, Can’t get it out of my head
Eldorado was the first concept album that the band had written, and it is often under-appreciated, in my opinion. But I think that the band had started to get the formula right. Mixing mainstream rock and orchestra with electronic music is hard. That’s 3 very different genres to mix and experiment with. Eldorado the album got it right. And this song is the best effort.
It is more concise, like the previous album, it retains the orchestra, and the more commercial sound made the album, and this song, great. It is also a very emotional song from Jeff Lynne, which makes me feel all kinds of emotions, and is the only song to make me tear up a little bit.
5. ‘NIGHTRIDER’ Face the Music (1975)
RUNNERS-UP: One Summer Dream, Strange Magic, Fire on High
ELO went from strength to strength, and the band continued to evolve. The line-up of the band had never been that consistent, but by the time of ‘Face the Music’, a new line-up was picked and is perhaps the one most fans think of. Kelly Grouchett joined the band, with members Jeff Lynne, Bev Bevan (both the founders of ELO) and Richard Tandy (Keyboardist since the second album). This song is a great example of why this album is great, as the band mastered the mix that many associates with classic ELO.
The song was released as a single, but I am unsure if it charted anywhere, as Wikipedia does not have the answer. But I do hope it did, somewhere. It would be a shame because this is a great song. The album itself reached Number 38 in the British Album Charts…3 years after it was originally released. Oh well, at least it did get some credit.
6. ‘SHANGRI LA’ A New World Record (1976)
RUNNERS-UP: Tightrope, Telephone Line, Mission (A New World Record)
The most chilled out song that the band had ever made, the sliding guitar at the start, makes me want to kick back and relax. The lyrics, again, emotional. It sounds like the end of an album should be. This was ELO’s big break. This album was the one which saw the band get the recognition in the UK that they so desperately sought out to achieve. It showed how they mastered the mix that would make them successful, and Shangri-La is the song that encapsulates that.
It mixes all the elements, and it is a beautiful, and remarkable piece of music. It feels like a love song to the humble beginnings of the album. It is a longer track on the album, with the orchestra, and the very artsy sound that ELO’s early stuff had. It feels like the band were saying goodbye to that era, and what a glorious way to do so.
7. ‘STEPPIN OUT’ Out of the Blue (1977)
RUNNERS-UP: The whole ‘Concerto for a Rainy Day’ (I couldn’t pick four songs for one spot, even if it has Mr Blue Sky in it), Turn to Stone, Wild West Hero
When people hear the name ELO, I think this is the album most would Identify them by. Of course it is, it’s their ‘A night at the Opera’, or their ‘The Wall’. It’s the most well-known album. Most double albums seem to fail when the dreaded ‘Filler’ tracks come in. But no, ELO actually manages to make every track a ‘Single Track’. I feel like every one of them could be a single. I pick this track because it could have been a single. It closes off side two of the album (because it was a double album) and is the best way to do so.
It has a lot in common of the previous album, in how it sounds, but it does manage to fit in with this album, and the sound that it has. Even though it wasn’t a standalone single, it is certainly a great example of ELO at their highest point.
8. ‘THE DIARY OF HORACE WIMP’ Discovery (1979)
RUNNERS-UP: Last Train to London, Midnight Blue, Wishing
Discovery was a turning point in the ELO musical direction. The last 3 albums essentially followed the same basic formula. It had that mix of orchestra, electronic music, and rock. The orchestra was largely dropped at this point, as Lynne had fired all the string section of his band. Which kind of sucks, but I suppose it was in the name of advancement. This album sounded more disco, as was the style at the time, and was perhaps a little more electric, though the orchestral and rock elements were still in the formula, the orchestra was downplayed.
Horace Wimp was an exception, unlike the rest of the album (with the exception of ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’). It was actually a perfect Beatles-esque tribute song, certainly living up to the band’s title ‘Sons of Beatles’ as said by John Lennon. The album was a number one in the UK, their first number 1, but I like this album less than their previous ones, but Horace Wimp, I must admit, is a great song.
9. ‘DON’T WALK AWAY’ Xanadu (1980)
RUNNERS-UP: Xanadu, All Over The World
I’m counting this as an album, despite it being the soundtrack to the cult film Xanadu. Xanadu was not a good film, but I give it credit where credit is due, the cast was behind the project, and the music (It is ELO, so of course it’s good) was top notch. I’d like to clarify what I said in my review of the album ‘Time’, I do like the music in the film, but the film itself isn’t very good. Like I was trying to say, if your film is the one which inspires the Golden Raspberry Awards, then your film isn’t very good.
I love this song. It’s a slow, dancy tune, with great vocals, and it’s all very romantic. It is a shame the songs were wasted on the film, because they are very good, and I give credit to ELO and Olivia Newton-John for doing a great job. This song and most of them follow the trend of the last album, with the gradual takeover of the synthesiser. It sounds good, but the trend continues, and we begin to hear less orchestra with each successive album…
10. ‘THE WAY LIFE’S MEANT TO BE’ Time (1981)
RUNNERS-UP: Twilight, 21st Century Man, Hold on Tight
Time was that album which saw the almost complete synthesiser invasion of the band’s music. Many of the strings were replaced with heavily synthesised orchestras. Though some elements remained, it was largely gone. But this album is one of the best ELO albums. It is another concept album, which came around the time of Star Wars was released. So Space was very big back then. The song I picked was deliberate, as it is one of the least synthesised on the album. Not that that was a bad thing, in fact, the band did a great job with them. After all, it is the 1980’s, practically all music was written with synthesisers.
ELO managed to use it in a way which was very versatile for the time. The themes of the album, the song, the instruments, and the vocals are what make this song. It is the last of the high point in ELO’s career, for me. When I listen to this, It feels like the end of an era. The band had done so much over the last 5 albums, that when they reach the top, it all falls down from there…
11. ‘BLUEBIRD’ Secret Messages (1983)
RUNNERS-UP: Secret Messages, Rock ‘n’ Roll is King, Letters from Spain
Secret messages is probably the weakest ELO album. The songs, while technically very good, all fall rather flat, and at the end of the 10 track album, you feel like you could have got more from somewhere else. The band try their best, but it is all very monotone when I hear it, as the band had ditched their identity, and became too commercialised. Which I think is a shame. Admittedly, in the early ’70s, being more commercial helped the band, but only because they were so different from what we had at the time, between 1976-1981, the band were at the forefront, maintaining their commercial sound, and being unique.
By the time this album was released, the band had lost their identity, at least in my opinion. Bluebird was probably my favourite track from this album because it tried to be what ELO used to be, with their then-current sound. It was a good track, but unfortunately, the track did not shake off the fact that the old ELO was gone, and the music on this album was pretty weak, compared to what came before it. You could tell that the remaining members of the band began to tire from the project, and by 1986, they had released their last album…
12. ‘SECRET LIVES’ Balance of Power (1986)
RUNNERS-UP: Heaven only Knows, So Serious, Calling America
After the band’s previous outing, ‘Balance of Power’ was a marked improvement. By this point, the band (now the trio of Lynne, Bevan, and Tandy) had finally gone full synth. By making it so dated, and drenched in the ’80s, I feel that helped the album be much stronger. Secret Messages tried too hard to sound epic, but Balance of Power sounded more fun, and pop-orientated.
Though the lyrics were actually fairly dark, the oxymoron of feel-good music, and more melancholy lyrics and themes made this a great, if unappreciated, album. Secret Lives I picked because it sounded the most dated track on the album. I am a sucker for 80’s music, so of course, I like it. ELO were starting to get better with this album, but unfortunately, this is where it ended. For 14 years…
13. ‘JUST FOR LOVE’ Zoom (2001)
RUNNERS-UP: Stranger on a quiet Street, Lonesome Lullaby, Ordinary Dream
This album’s inception might need a bit of explaining. After a hiatus of 2 years, Bevan had approached Lynne about another ELO album. Lynne refused, already busy as one of the Travelling Wilbury’s, making a solo album, making Roy Orbison’s solo album, and producing Free as a bird and Real Love for The 3 surviving Beatles, to be put on their Anthology trilogy of albums and perhaps because he saw no point. I did say the group kind of got stale by ’86.
Bevan started another band, ELO Part 2, with former ELO members. They did 2 albums, before Bevan retired, and sold his half of the ELO name to Lynne, who decided to return to the project. And ELO Part II is not included on this, because the bulk of the albums were with the original core members, and I haven’t listened to them.
When Lynne took charge again, he remastered the previous albums, a new compilation album, and then made a new album, Zoom. The album was not successful, but it did bring ELO back to their roots, with that classic formula. Just for Love is not the best example of that, a track like ‘Ordinary Dream’ would have been better suited to describing the album’s sound. But Just for Love is my favourite. Because it captures the spirit of the band while being a second coming for the group.
14. ‘ALONE IN THE UNIVERSE’ Alone in the Universe (2015)
RUNNERS-UP: When I was a Boy, Love and Rain, When the Night Comes
Another 14 years later, and ELO release their 14th album, under the ‘Jeff Lynne’s ELO’ banner. Is it good, is it bad? Well, it’s just average. The problem is that the album is entirely Jeff Lynne. All the instruments you hear, with the exception of the Tambourine and the shakers, are Jeff Lynne. All the lyrics are Jeff Lynne. In one respect, you expect a good quality of music, and it is. But it is only as good as Jeff Lynne. You don’t have a band who master instruments, you have one man who can play all the instruments, very well, but not like Bev Bevan on drums, or Richard Tandy on Keyboard.
But the album is very slickly produced and does sound like proper ELO if it is a little too slick, and a bit soft. Alone in the Universe is the best example of the good aspects of the album, I feel. It is a great album closer and feels like a natural concluding song to an album. It is the best example of what ELO does best.
15. ‘HELP YOURSELF’ From out of Nowhere (2019)
From out of Nowhere was a pleasant surprise to me, when it was released in 2019. Musically, I believe that this is a stronger album than Alone in the Universe. The music is upbeat and bright, it sounds more varied in its musical compositions, and is still a slickly produced album, still performed by Jeff Lynne. There’s quite a few songs that I like on this one.
I suppose if I have to pick one choice, just for this list, I would give it to Help Yourself. Its a chilled out song, with a positive message that I can get behind. The message of keep being yourself is probably the most earnest iteration of it in a modern song. And it just feels positive and good, like a good ELO song should be.
So those were my favourite album tracks. But there were a few B-Sides and rarities I must mention as well. As unfortunately, not many people mention these, when often, they’re better than some of the studio album tracks. I selected a few, from various points in ELO’s career, and while I won’t go into them, I ask you to give them a listen independently if you haven’t already:
- Everyone’s Born to Die
- Latitude 88 North
- When Time Stood Still
- The Point of No Return
- In for the Kill
ELO Final Thoughts
To close my post, I think it fair to give a sweeping review of the band as a whole. The Electric Light Orchestra defined what popular music was between the 70’s and the 80’s. They were at the forefront of music, and delivered feel good tunes, which anyone can get into. The band it good, not only because they can make good music, but because they’ve been making good music for a long time.
They’ve evolved over time to suit the tastes of what people were listening to. And though at times, the band had made a few weak songs, there is always a silver lining to it. The ELO name has graced British Music for over 40 years, and we should appreciate the impact that this band had. And that’s all I have to say on the matter. Thank you, ELO.