Epic Reissues - Round 2

Electric Light Orchestra

Round two of Electric Light Orchestra’s 35th Anniversary reissue campaign is in full swing with three pivotal albums from the band’s diverse catalogue: On The Third Day, Face The Music, and A New World Record. Each CD is faithfully remastered and fattened up with buttery bonus tracks and juicy liner notes. These three, along with 1974’s masterful Eldorado (reconfigured on two occasions and not part of this current crop of remasters), is where the lineup consolidated and the music attained a true identity, unmistakable in its thrust, flavoring and spirit. Numerous possibilities abounded, the musicians evolved and tightened, and Jeff Lynne excelled as a songwriter and musical architect — all while gaining acceptance of one of the most-sought-after markets in the free world: America.

For 1973’s On The Third Day, coincidentally the third ELO album, Lynne and company continued their orchestrated odyssey in grand style. They roamed down a dark tunnel, but soon a light bulb emitted in the distance. There would be light and it would be good. Lynne began with two hunks of experimental goo: the episodic “Ocean Breakup / King Of The Universe,” and “New World Rising / Ocean Breakup (Reprise).” You can’t help but admire the ambition. Yet the real gist lies in the momentous rockers, namely “Showdown” and “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle.” Despite its “Grapeline” like riff, “Showdown” served as a starting point for the songwriter's penchant of obliquely marrying classical and pop into sweet radio-friendly morsels. Even so, an endorsement from John Lennon doesn’t make it as satisfying as “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle,” a crunchy little cracker featuring Marc Bolan on second guitar and a cello line to die for. Two other versions are included as part of the five bonus tracks.

1975’s Face The Music would mark ELO’s ascension of the charts to new heights. It became the group’s first platinum album while “Evil Woman” was their second Top 10 hit (“Can’t Get It Out Of My Head” was first) and the follow-up “Strange Magic” scrapped the inside of the Top 20. Thankfully, Lynne still took chances with the format, at times enhancing the arrangements to disproportionate dimensions. The stunning opener, “Fire On High,” erupts into a temperamental instrumental driven largely by Bev Bevan’s four-on-the-floor drumming rumbling beneath a banquet of strings. It would later be worked in as one of many soundtracks to snow skiing wipeouts on ABC’s “Wide World Of Sports.” The brazen power chords of “Poker” arms Face The Music — the first of many ELO albums to be recorded at Musicland Studio in Munich, Germany — with a set of sharpened incisors. But it’s the tender, solemn underlining of “Waterfall” and “One Summer Dream,” boasting a wistful air of enchantment and wonder, that Lynne would strive to duplicate for years to come.

The pinnacle of Electric Light Orchestra’s recorded output is arguably 1976’s New World Record, a title inspired by the 1976 Olympics. Taking the baton in a virtual relay race, Lynne hit gold time after time — “Telephone Line,” the operatic “Rockaria,” “Livin’ Thing,” and a remake of the Move’s “Do Ya” all dented the singles charts around the world. The album sold some 5 million copies and turned Electric Light Orchestra into bona fide superstars. Stadiums, spaceships and an alliance with Olivia Newton-John would make for some puzzling career moves. But New World Record and its successor, 1977's two-disc Out Of The Blue, held the world captive long enough to transform the landscape into a rocky trail strewn with pop sensibility.

The gift of hit-making certainly worked out to Lynne’s advantage when he collaborated on records with Tom Petty, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, and the reunited Beatles of the 90s. But as the world-class producer revisits the world of ELO, contributing random thoughts and memories to the liner notes, one has to speculate as to what else Lynne could have achieved with the group if he had just kept things a little less extravagant and a little more organic, akin to how he seems to work these days. Hey, it’s never too late to pick up from where you left off Jeff.

~ Shawn Perry

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