Electric Light Orchestra

Electric Light Orchestra is an English rock band that released eleven studio albums between 1971 and 1986. Conceived by multi-instrumentalists Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne, ELO started as an avant-garde spinoff of The Move with drummer Bev Bevan. After one album of psychedelic baroque rock, Wood departed for Wizzard, leaving Lynne to head a septet lineup on the albums ELO II, On the Third Day, and Eldorado.

ELO broke internationally with the 1975 release Face the Music and the hits “Evil Woman” and “Strange Magic.” Their popularity peaked with the 1976/77 albums A New World Record and Out of the Blue and the hits “Telephone Line,” “Living Thing,” “Turn to Stone,” “Sweet Talking Woman,” and “Mr. Blue Sky.” After setting dance floors alight with their 1979 album Discovery and the hits “Don’t Bring Me Down” and “Shine a Little Love,” they did soundtrack music for the 1980 musical Xanadu starring Olivia Newton-John.

In 1981, a four-piece ELO embraced electro-pop on Time and the early MTV clip “Hold On Tight.” They continued the high-tech trend on Secret Messages and Balance of Power. Lynne focused on production work for many years but resurrected ELO in the 21st century.

Members: Jeff Lynne (vocals, guitar, bass, cello, keyboards, drums), Bev Bevan (drums, 1970-86), Roy Wood (guitar, bass, cello, keyboards, drums, clarinet, bassoon, oboe, recorder, 1970-72), Rick Price (bass, 1970), Bill Hunt (keyboards, French horn, hunting horn, 1970-1972), Steve Woolam (violin, 1970-72), Rick Payne (cello, 1971), Mike Atkins (cello, 1971), Trevor Smith (cello, 1971-72), Andy Craig (cello, 1971-72), Richard Tandy (keyboards, bass, guitar, 1972-present), Hugh McDowell (cello, 1972, 1973-79), Mike Edwards (cello, 1972-75), Wilf Gibson (violin, 1972-73), Michael de Albuquerque (bass, backing vocals, 1972-74), Colin Walker (cello, 1972-73), Mik Kaminski (violin, 1973-79, 1981-86), Kelly Groucutt (bass, vocals, 1974-83), Louis Clark (conductor, arranger, keyboards, 1974-86), Melvyn Gale (cello, piano, 1975-79), Dave Morgan (keyboards, acoustic guitar, backing vocals, 1981-86)


Electric Light Orchestra grew from an idea of Move mastermind Roy Wood, who wanted to start a rock band with strings, brass, and reeds in lieu of standard rock instrumentation. The idea excited musician Jeff Lynne, who fronted fellow Brummie psychsters The Idle Race. After the 1969 departure of Move guitarist Trevor Burton, Wood invited Lynne to join his band. Lynne declined, but accepted a second offer in 1970 after the departure of Move singer Carl Wayne. However, Lynne’s interests lied primarily in Wood’s orchestral rock concept.

Between May and September of 1970, the Wood/Lynne Move lineup recorded the album Looking On, released that December as the intended final Move album. It features overdubbed strings and woodwinds, played by Wood in anticipation of their upcoming project. Sessions for the first Electric Light Orchestra album had already begun that summer and would take 11 months. In the meantime, the band decided to issue one further Move album, Message From the Country, to finance the project.

1971: The Electric Light Orchestra

The Electric Light Orchestra released their self-titled debut album in December 1971 on Harvest. Side one contains two songs each from Lynne and Wood. Lynn contributed “10538 Overture,” a mid-tempo rocker with ringing guitars and sawing cello; and “Nellie Takes Her Bow,” a chamber ballad with a sharp martial middle. Wood composed “Look at Me Now,” a Rigby-esque number with staccato, contrapuntal cello; and “The Battle of Marston Moor (July 2nd 1644),” where colliding cellos and crashing timpani evoke the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

Wood opens side two with “First Movement,” a hopping acoustic instrumental reminiscent of “Classical Gas.” Lynne’s instrumental, “Manhattan Rumble (49th Street Massacre),” is a stately piano theme flanked with torrential strings and a music box interlude. It’s surrounded by “Mr. Radio,” which cuts between transistor verses, baroque flourishes and psychedelic minuets; and “Queen of the Hours,” a tense cello trade-off with counteracting reeds and a long-resolving vocal melody. Wood’s “Whisper in the Night” closes the album with a bowed, descending pattern; overlaid with plucked acoustics and arching, elongated syllables.

Lynne and Wood produced Electric Light Orchestra between July 1970 and June 1971 at Philips Studios, London. Wood’s arsenal consists of cello, classical acoustic guitar, bass, double bass, oboe, bassoon, clarinet, recorder, slide guitar, percussion, bass clarinet, and krumhorn. He first used cello on The Move’s 1970 release Looking On but withheld it from Message From the Country (recorded June 1970 to May 1971). Lynne plays piano, electric guitar, bass, percussion, and Moog synthesizer. Bevan added drums, timpani, and percussion to the rhythmic numbers but refrained from “Marston Moor.”

Electric Light Orchestra features additional input from violinist Steve Woolam and trumpeter Bill Hunt, who plays piccolo and French horn on select passages. Woolam died by suicide that same year. Hunt started in Brummie psychsters Breakthru, then joined brass-rockers Hannibal for a 1970 album on B & C.

Hipgnosis designed the gatefold cover, which shows a light bulb on the hardwood floor of a palace interior (front); a fish-eye upshot of ELO in baroque garb with frescoes overhead (back); and vintage monochrome shots of people, places, and events affixed to each song title (inner-gates).

Harvest issued Electric Light Orchestra in the UK, Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, and Australia. In the US, the album appeared on United Artists as No Answer due to a misunderstood note by a UA executive, who inquired by phone about the album’s title but got “no answer.”

“Queen of the Hours” appeared weeks earlier on The Harvest Bag, a November 1971 label sampler with cuts by Barclay James Harvest, Climax Blues Band, East of Eden, Edgar Broughton Band, and Roy Harper.

An edit of “10538 Overture” appeared as a single in June 1972, backed with “First Movement (Jumping Biz).” It reached No. 9 on the UK Singles Chart. Between the album and single, they issued their final Move single: the non-album “California Man,” a Wood rocker backed with Lynne’s “Do Ya” and the Message from the Country track “Ella James.”

1972: Wood Quits, ELO Mk II

Electric Light Orchestra made their live debut as a nine-piece on April 16, 1972, at the Greyhound Pub in Croydon, Surrey. The lineup was Wood, Lynne, and Bevan, plus Hunt and five new arrivals: bassist Richard Tandy, violinist Wilfred Gibson, and cellists Mike Edwards, Hugh McDowell, and Andy Craig.

Tandy played harpsichord on the Move’s 1968 single “Blackberry Way” and deputized their ill bassist Rick Price on the ensuing tour. He spent the interim in Brummie rockers The Ugly’s with bassist Dave Morgan and guitarist Steve Gibbons.

Gibson served as the lead violinist on Septober Energy, the 1971 double-album by Keith Tippett‘s experimental big band Centipede. He appears on the fourth album by King Crimson, Islands, where he plays on “Formentera Lady” and leads the orchestra on “Prelude: Song of the Gulls” and “Islands.”

Edwards did uncredited session work for Barclay James Harvest. Like McDowell, a prodigy with the London Youth Chamber Orchestra, Edwards was a strictly classical player before joining ELO.

ELO toured Italy, where the electric instruments drowned out the strings during live performances. Craig left the band as tensions arose with manager Don Arden, the onetime Small Faces manager notorious for his iron-fisted tactics. He overtook the Move’s affairs after they fired their first manager, Tony Secunda, over an ill-advised 1967 promo stunt that prompted a costly defamation lawsuit by British Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

Sessions commenced on a second ELO album in May 1972 under the working title The Lost Planet. They completed two new Lynne compositions, “In Old England Town” and “From the Sun to the World,” before Wood — perturbed by the experience in Italy and conflicts with Arden — departed with Hunt and McDowell. They formed the core of Wizzard, a rockier big band that released ten singles and the 1973–76 albums Wizzard’s Brew, Introducing Eddy and the Falcons, and Main Street (released in 2000). Concurrently, Wood issued the solo albums Boulders and Mustard.

Lynne assumed leadership of ELO and hired bassist Mike de Albuquerque and cellist Colin Walker, standardizing the band’s seven-piece format.

Albuquerque, an aspiring solo artist, cut the 1970 UA single “Roll Him Over” (b/w “Blind Man”). In 1971, he teamed with vibraphonist Frank Ricotti on the Pegasus folk–jazz release First Wind. He also backed Shigeru Narumo on the Japanese guitarist’s Denon title London Notes. Albuquerque’s presence in ELO let Tandy switch to his primary instrument, the keyboard.

The lineup of Lynne, Bevan, Tandy, Gibson, Edwards, Albuquerque, and Walker performed at the 1972 Reading Festival, a three-day August event with sets by Curved Air, Genesis, Gillian McPherson, Jackson Heights, Matching Mole, Nazareth, Quintessence, Stackridge, Steamhammer, String Driven Thing, Ten Years After, and Vinegar Joe. ELO played on day two (Saturday the 12th) along with Faces, Focus, If, Jericho, Jonathan Kelly, Linda Lewis, and Man. Wizzard, in their second-ever concert appearance, performed after hard-rockers Stray as part of the Sunday evening lineup.

ELO solved the live sound-balance issue with the aid of Barcus–Berry instrument pick-ups. Sessions for their second album continued through October at AIR Studios, London.

1973: ELO 2

Electric Light Orchestra released their second album, ELO 2, in March 1973 on Harvest and UA. It features the two songs from Wood’s final days and two new Lynne originals: “Momma” (retitled “Mama” on UA copies) and “Kuiama,” an 11-minute epic about a soldier who comforts an orphan girl yet must inform her that he killed her parents.

Side one closes with an elongated cover of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” with an interpolation of Allegro Con Brío, the 1st movement of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.

Harvest copies are housed in a gatefold cover designed by Ronchetti & Day, the firm behind visuals for Hydra and Renaissance (Prologue). It shows a light bulb floating through space (outer-gates) and the shirtless band as apparitions against a canyon desert (inner-gates).

Artist Mike Salisbury designed a different gatefold for the UA version, issued in the US and Canada as Electric Light Orchestra II. It shows a clear incandescent bulb floating across a night sky with a silhouetted hilltop (outer) and ELO grouped together in the dark valley near a downed bulb (inner). Salisbury also designed 1973 album visuals for Alphonze Mouzon, Bobby Womack, Clarence Carter, Ike & Tina Turner, John Cale, Lea Robertson, Marlena Shaw, and the UA version of Wizzard’s Brew.

“Roll Over Beethoven” preceded the album as a single, backed with the prior album’s “Manhattan Rumble (49th Street Massacre).” (Subsequent pressings feature “Queen of the Hours” as the flipside.) It reached No. 6 on the UK Singles Chart.

Scrapped Sessions, ELO 2 Tour, “Showdown”

In February 1973, weeks before ELO 2 hit shelves, Electric Light Orchestra cut three songs with original Move vocalist Carl Wayne: “Your World,” “Get a Hold of Myself,” and an alternate take of “Mama.” That month, they toured Scandinavia as the opening act for Deep Purple.

On March 9, ELO played Chelmsford Tech College with Blackfoot Sue and the Gary Moore Band. ELO played a high-profile March 23 show at London’s Rainbow Theatre with up-and-coming Irish rockers Thin Lizzy. On March 30–31, ELO played back-to-back shows with the Steve Gibbons Band, comprised of late-period Idle Race members.

In April, ELO cut four tracks at AIR Studios with T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan: “Auntie” (two takes), “Mambo,” and “Everyone’s Born to Die.” Bolan plays double-lead guitar on the tracks, which were shelved when ELO left Harvest for Warner Bros.

On April 21, ELO shared a double-bill with Hawkwind at the Palace Lido in Douglas on the Isle of Man. Two nights later, they performed at the Chesford Grange Hotel in Kenilworth with support from John Martyn.

ELO launched their first North American tour with a taped showcase in Burbank, California, for the NBC late-night music program The Midnight Special. The tour ran through July 15 and covered 20 cities, including dates with Wishbone Ash (6/2/73: San Diego Stadium), Return to Forever (6/3: Fillmore West, San Francisco), Captain Beyond (6/8: Selland Arena, Fresno), Joe Walsh (6/9: Hollywood Palladium), Procol Harum (6/13: Ellis Auditorium, Memphis), Lee Michaels (6/14: Aragon Ballroom, Chicago), Al Kooper (6/20: Ambler, Penn.), Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (6/23: Academy of Music, NYC), Stories (6/25: Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, Md.), Hall & Oates (6/27: Pine Knob Music Theatre, Clarkston, Mich.), and Peter Frampton (7/12: Santa Monica Civic Auditorium). ELO also taped segments for ABC’s In Concert and Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.

Back home, ELO reentered AIR Studios and cut two new Lynne originals: the shivering “Showdown,” a tense mid-tempo rocker (in C minor); and an abbreviated instrumental remake of “In Old England Town,” which replaces the lurching 3/4 intro with a psychedelic backward fade-in and uses Moog to replicate the vocal melody. Issued as a single in September 1973, “Showdown” reached No. 12 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 9 on the Norway VG-lista. This was their final Harvest release.

Meanwhile, Albuquerque cut his first full solo album, the UK RCA Victor release We May Be Cattle But We’ve All Got Names, a mix of rustic pop and music hall with contributions from Ricotti, guitarist Ollie Halsall (Timebox, Patto, Tempest, Boxer), jazz pianist Gordon Beck (Nucleus), dobro–steel guitarist BJ Cole (Cochise), and Shadows drummer Brian Bennett. One track (“My Darling Girl”) features Byzantium producer (and ex-Ora multi-instrumentalist) Robin Sylvester.

On the Third Day

In November 1973, Electric Light Orchestra released On the Third Day. This was their first album on Warner (UK, Europe, Oceania), their second album of 1973, and their third album overall. It was also their first album completely recorded after Wood’s departure.

On the Third Day contains remakes of “Auntie” (“Ma-Ma-Ma Belle”) and “Mambo” (“Dreaming of 4000”), which fill side two between “Daybreaker” and an orchestral-rock rendition of the Edvard Grieg classical standard “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” These were the last-recorded ELO songs with Gibson and Walker, who both left midway through the Third Day sessions; replaced by violinist Mik Kaminski and an apocryphal cellist named “Ted Blight” (possibly a Lynne pseudonym).

Kaminski hailed from Joe Soap, a pop-rock band with Scottish guitarist Jimmy McCulloch (Thunderclap Newman, Stone the Crows, Wings) that cut the 1973 Polydor album Keep It Clean. Concurrently, Kaminski backed Andy Roberts on the Middlesex folkster’s fourth album, released under the band moniker Andy Roberts and the Great Stampede with contributions from Albuquerque sidemen Halsall and Cole.

Gibson passed on the opportunity to replace David Cross in King Crimson (which recorded their ensuing Red as a trio with no violinist). Years later, he contributed to the second album by Irish folk-rockers the Hothouse Flowers. Walker joined the Royal Opera House and played on one track (“Fool’s Gold”) on Thought Talk, the 1975 second album by rustic-rockers Starry Eyed and Laughing.

Kaminski plays on side one of On the Third Day, comprised of a song suite encased with the prelude/postlude “Ocean Breakup,” a striking cello theme that fades into “King of the Universe” (a slow, swelling minor key number) and fades out of “New World Rising,” which cuts from Moog–cello verses to an explosive symphonic chorus. The suite also contains “Bluebird is Dead,” a slow, slithering ballad; and “Oh No Not Susan,” which frames a similar languid lurch with a fluttering, frantic intro/outro.

The Third Day sessions took place at AIR and De Lane Lea Studios, London, between the recording and release of “Showdown,” which was added as a fifth track on side one of the North American UA version.

Warner copies of On the Third Day are housed in a black triple-gatefold designed by Seabrook Graves Aslett, the firm behind covers for Trapeze and Three Man Army. The front has a square die-cut over a radiating planet Earth that reveals Lynne who, on the inner-sleeve, gazes over a glowing dome light. The inner-fold photos (credited to Stack) show a collage of each member holding similar dome lights and a photo of an eclipse.

UA copies sport a white single-sleeve with a monochrome navel-baring group shot by celebrity photographer Richard Avedon, who also photographed b&w covers to seventies albums by Cheryl Lynn, Melba Moore, Sly & the Family Stone, and Sparks. The Avedon photo includes returning cellist Hugh McDowell, who left Wood’s camp after Wizzard’s Brew and rejoined ELO just after sessions wrapped on Third Day. He would remain with ELO for the duration of its string period.

On The Third Day Tour

Electric Light Orchestra launched a North American tour with an October 23, 1973, performance at the Masonic Auditorium in Detroit with Foghat and Robin Trower. They were set to play Hunter College in Rochester on the 28th with Lynyrd Skynyrd and Fleetwood Mac, but Mac — touring behind their just-released Mystery to Me — temporarily collapsed amid a love triangle involving guitarist–singer Bob Weston (ex-Ashkan), drummer Mick Fleetwood, and Mick’s wife Jenny. (Mac manager Clifford Davis sent another client, hard-rockers Legs, on tour as a proxy Fleetwood Mac, but audiences called out the ruse. Legs morphed into Stretch and made three funk-rock albums).

The tour ran through mid-December, including shows with Blue Öyster Cult  (11/14/73: Hollywood Palladium), Humble Pie (11/19: Selland Arena, Fresno), Average White Band (12/4: Masonic Auditorium, Detroit), the Beach Boys (12/7: Public Hall, Cleveland), Elf (12/9: Northampton Community College, Bethlehem, Penn.), and a multi-bill with BOC, WAR, and ZZ Top (11/18: Feyline Fields, Tempe, Ariz.). The US leg wrapped with a Dec. 16 show at Trenton State College with Return to Forever, now a jazz-rock quartet touring behind their third album Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy.

In February 1974, ELO embarked on a UK tour with Brummie legend Raymond Froggatt. In late March, they launched a two-month North American tour that included dates with Al Stewart (3/30/74: Massey Hall, Toronto), Steely Dan (4/3: Avery Fisher Hall, NYC), Spooky Tooth (4/9: Stanley Theatre, Pittsburgh), Chi Coltrane (4/16–17: Orpheum Theatre, Minneapolis), the James Gang (4/19: Indiana University Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Ind.), Maggie Bell (5/11: Ice Palace, Las Vegas), Steve Miller Band (5/23: Civic Center, El Paso), and the Sutherland Brothers (5/27: St. Bernard Civic Center, New Orleans).

ELO played the April 1974 Westbury Music Fair with Renaissance, who performed material from Ashes Are Burning and their upcoming Turn of the Cards, their third with singer Annie Haslam (Wood’s future fiance). On the 20th, ELO played Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY, with Return to Forever, which now featured teenage guitar prodigy Al Di Meola.

In August 1974, Warner Germany issued The Night the Light Went On (In Long Beach), a document of ELO’s May 12 show at Long Beach Auditorium. Though intended as their first live album, Warner and UA vetoed its release in most markets due to poor sound quality. It features renditions of “Daybreaker,” “Showdown,” “10538 Overture,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” and “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” which segues into the Jerry Lee Lewis chestnut “Great Balls of Fire.” They also perform The Beatles‘ “Day Tripper” and a short medley, “Mik’s Solo–Orange Blossom Special,” a violin improv segued with a folk standard.

The Light Went On gatefold cover was designed by John Kehe (also credited on Third Day and the next two albums) with artwork by Mick Haggerty. It shows a comic fifties crowd fleeing from a theatre explosion (front) and a cosmic night storm over a futurist theatre (inner-gates) overlaid with red-lighted performance pics of each member. This limited release remained the only live album of ELO’s first run.

1974: Eldorado

Electric Light Orchestra’s fourth studio album, Eldorado (subtitled A Symphony by the Electric Light Orchestra), first appeared in September 1974 on United Artists. In October, Eldorado appeared internationally on Warner. The album features eight proper songs and a titular symphonic prelude–postlude. The lyrics chart a narrator’s dreams of heroism and adventure in Eldorado (a place of fabulous wealth or opportunity, named after mythical 16th-century tribal chiefs).

Eldorado Overture” starts the album with ominous narration, which triggers a string-fluttering avalanche that segues into “Can’t Get It Out of My Head,” an airy mid-tempo ballad with a descending chorus melody (in C).

Boy Blue” appears with a shifting intro (orchestral fanfare harp echoey piano) that ushers a churning riff. Its subject is a warrior who returns from battle to a hero’s welcome but rebuffs the praise and glorification of war. “Laredo Tornado” — a comparatively dark and pensive yet even-paced number — hears Lynne emote high on the rising chorus.

Poor Boy (The Greenwood)” is a brisk, windy rocker with a psychedelic free-fall chorus and lyrics about the dreamer’s Robin Hood adventure.

Mister Kingdom” opens side two with subdued, piano-driven verses and a lurching, ballooning chorus. The verse melody recalls “Across the Universe” by The Beatles.

Nobody’s Child” opens with the “Blue Boy” fanfare and shifts to a jazzy R&B strut with call-outs to a “painted lady.”

The album’s shortest vocal track, “Illusions in G Major,” is a fifties rock send-up similar to “Locomotive,” the third part of Wood’s recent Rock Medley (on his 1973 release Boulders). Here, the dreamer is a rock star confiding to his doctor about “Tunes that sounded like the Rolling Stones and Leonard Cohen.”

The titular “Eldorado” is a somber ballad where the dreamer wakes to “another lonely day” and vows to return permanently to Eldorado and “be free, of the world.” The track — which segues into “Eldorado Finale,” a recap of the opening overture — drew protests from Christian fundamentalists, who alleged that Lynne back-masked satanic messages into the first verse.

ELO recorded Eldorado at De Lane Lea between February and August 1974. This is the first of five ELO albums where Lynne employed a full orchestra, conducted by Louis Clark, a onetime bassist of the Raymond Froggatt Band. Previously, Lynne multi-tracked strings to symphonic proportions. From this point onward, ELO’s in-house string trio carried solos and played in lockstep with Bevan and Tandy during vocal passages.

Eldorado was engineered by Dick Plant, who also worked on the two recent Renaissance albums plus 1973/74 titles by Alquin (The Mountain Queen), McGuinness Flint, Principal Edwards Magic Theatre, and Public Foot the Roman (self-titled). The assistant engineer, Mike Pela, worked on the 1974 English-market debut by Hungarian rockers Locomotiv GT. Actor Peter Forbes-Robertson (misnamed Ford-Robertson in the credits) voices the spoken prologue on “Eldorado Overture.”

Eldorado features a screencap (front and back cover) from the 1939 musical fantasy The Wizard of Oz — the scene where the Wicked Witch of the West fails to retrieve the magical ruby slippers from Dorothy. Rock photographer Norman Seeff (Bloodrock, Montrose, Tucky Buzzard) took the tinted inner-sleeve group shot.

Eldorado reached No. 4 in the Netherlands, No. 7 in Canada, and No. 16 on the US Cash Box and Billboard album charts. “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” reached No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Eldorado Tour

Albuquerque left ELO after the sessions that produced “Blue Boy.” Lynne handles bass on most of Eldorado. Upon completion of the album, Lynne hired bassist Kelly Groucutt, a onetime member of Sight and Sound, where he replaced bassist Rick Price when Price replaced Ace Kefford in The Move.

Albuquerque played on 1976 albums by the 20th Century Steel Band and Maxine Nightingale. His second solo album, Stalking the Sleeper, appeared that year on Warner. In 1979, he reteamed with Kaminski (then still part of ELO) in Violinski, which made the albums No Cause for Alarm and Stop Cloning About and charted with “Clog Dance.”

ELO did a four-city tour of Germany, starting on September 25, 1974, in Frankfurt with the Heavy Metal Kids. They did back-to-back sets for the Great Music Circus, an in Heidelberg (9/27: Rhein-Neckar-Halle, with Rory Gallagher, Chapman–Whitney) and Dortmund (9/28: Westfalenhalle, with Bo Hansson). On the 29th, they played Deutschlandhalle, Berlin, with Horslips and American Gypsy.

On November 2, ELO launched a six-week, 32-city North American tour that included shows with UFO (11/6: Tower Theatre, Upper Darby, Penn.) and Hello People. On most shows, they were second-billed with Elf under Deep Purple, who were now in their Mk III phase with singer David Coverdale and bassist–singer Glenn Hughes. (Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore would soon form Rainbow with Elf vocalist Ronnie James Dio).

1975: Classic Lineup

In January 1975, Edwards cleared out for cellist Melvyn Gale, a onetime member of the London Youth Symphony Orchestra. Edwards later taught music and performed with the Devon Baroque orchestra.

This change in personnel ushered the classic ELO septet — comprised of the band’s rock quartet (Lynne, Bevan, Tandy, Groucutt) and string trio (Gale, Kaminski, McDowell) — that held for the next four albums.

In February, ELO did a UK tour with Chopyn, which featured singer–keyboardist Ann Odell, jazz-rock guitarist Ray Russell (Rock Workshop, Running Man, Mouse), and teenage drummer Simon Phillips, an eventual in-demand sessionist (Chris Rainbow, Duncan Brown, Gary Boyle, Gordon Giltrap, Pete Townshend, Peter Doyle).

On March 7, ELO launched a German tour with Barclay James Harvest at the Erlangen Stadthalle in Tübingen.  Though they were booked for 13 dates, the tour was cancelled after five. In mid-April, ELO played three Dutch shows with Kayak. The following month, sessions commenced on a new album at Musicland Studios in Munich, Germany. Upon completion, ELO headed stateside for July shows with Pavlov’s Dog and Triumvirat.

Elsewhere, American sixties rock singer Del Shannon released “Cry Baby Cry,” an Island Records a-side co-written with Lynne. The two would collaborate years later, just prior to the singer’s 1990 suicide. Lynne also produced the 1975 DJM novelty single “Funky Moped,” a cockney fifties pastiche by Brummie comedian Jasper Carrott. Bevan drums on the song, which reached No. 5 on the UK Singles Chart.

Meanwhile, Arden moved ELO to Jet Records, a label he co-founded with Des Brown, a former manager at Warner Bros. The label’s first release was the late-1974 single “No Honestly” by singer–songwriter Lynsey De Paul, Wood’s then-girlfriend. Outside the UK, Jet was distributed by Polydor (Europe, Oceania) and United Artists (North America).

Face the Music

Electric Light Orchestra released their fifth studio album, Face the Music, in September 1975 on Jet. It features eight Lynne originals, opening with “Fire on High,” an instrumental with fluttering strings and brisk acoustic rock sections. The lush, orchestral “Waterfall” precedes “Evil Woman,” a piano-driven Tin Pan Alley number with chorus trade-offs between Lynne and a group of four uncredited female backing vocalists, among them Ellie Greenwich, a noted sixties Brill Building songwriter (“Be My Baby,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Leader of the Pack,” “River Deep, Mountain High”). Side one ends with the terse, martialized “Nightrider.”

Groucutt sings lead on “Poker,” a brisk proto-punk song that opens side two, which takes ethereal turns on the ominous “Strange Magic” and the misty ballad “One Summer Dream.” The penultimate “Down Home Town” is an old-timey Western swing number in the vein of Wood’s pre-rock retroism.

Lynne employed back-masking for sound purposes on “Fire on High” as a mocking gesture toward alarmists who erroneously accused him of doing so on the prior album.

Sessions took place during May–June 1975 at Musicland. Lynne chose the Munich studio on the recommendation of Blackmore, who used it with Deep Purple for their recent Stormbringer. Musicland became the recording site of choice for Lynne, who clicked with the studio’s in-house producer–engineer Reinhold Mack, a soundman on seventies Krautrock albums by Abacus, Out of Focus, Sahara, Subject ESQ., Sunbirds, and recent hard-rock titles by Scorpions and Uriah Heep.

Clark overdubbed the strings at De Lane Lea with engineer Richard Goldblatt, who subsequently worked with the Steve Gibbons Band. Mixing was done at the Record Plant, NYC, by David Thoener, also credited on 1975 albums by David Bowie (Young Americans) and Return to Forever (No Mystery).

Face the Music is housed in a single-sleeve designed by Art Attack, the studio of Haggerty and Kehe. It shows an empty electric chair (front) and a hand strapped to a chair arm (inner-sleeve) photographed by Fred Valentine, whose imagery is also seen on 1974/75 albums by Chango (self-titled), Freddie Hubbard, Isaac Hayes (Chocolate Chip), and Ross. Seeff photographed the back cover, which shows the members of ELO with their bug-eyed, green-tinted faces pressed against the window of the execution chamber.

On UK copies of Face the Music, the LP labels sport the Jet logo: an illustration of “Jet” as a red signage atop a sky-lighted tower. The album (cat# 2310 414) appeared on Jet between label releases by tour-mates Chopyn (Grand Slam) and Roy Wood (Mustard).

Jet lifted “Evil Woman,” “Strange Magic,” and “Nightrider” as singles. “Evil Woman” (b/w the Light Went On version of “10538 Overture”) reached No. 10 on the UK Singles Chart and the US Billboard Hot 100 (No. 9 on Cash Box). “Strange Magic” reached No. 14 on the Hot 100 while Face the Music reached No. 8 on the Billboard 200.

ELO preceded Face the Music with their first tours of New Zealand (August 1975) and Australia (September). In December, they played back-to-back shows with Colosseum II in London (New Victoria Theatre) and Birmingham (Odeon Theatre).

1976: A New World Record

In February 1976, ELO embarked on a three-month North American tour that included dates with Roxy Music (2/23/76: Denver University Arena), Starcastle (2/28: Auditorium Theatre, Chicago), Rush (3/2: Civic Centre, Ottawa), Crack the Sky (4/11: The Warehouse, New Orleans), the Atlanta Rhythm Section and Be-Bop Deluxe (3/14: Civic Center, Charleston, WV), and multiple dates with Little Feat (Feb. West coast leg) and Journey, including a triple-bill with Golden Earring (4/14: Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis).

ELO released their sixth studio album, A New World Record, in October 1976 on Jet. It features eight new Lynne originals and one remade oldie. Cinematic orchestration precedes “Tightrope,” a hopping opener with windy strings and direct, strummed chords; marked by a sliding guitar lick; bookended by a haunting orchestral motif in C minor.

Telephone Line” is a mid-tempo ballad with a phoned intro and a chorus line and melody reminiscent of “Hello, How Are You” by The Easybeats.

Rockaria!” is a revved-up retro rocker reminiscent of the ELO 2-era fifties pastiches — a style more associated with Wizzard and Wood’s solo work.

Mission (A World Record)” veers between muted piano verses, swelling orchestral bridges, and a tight chorus of Clavinet and shimmery strings.

The exuberant singalong “So Fine” rushes past its a cappella intro to a windmill strum similar to (but faster than) “Feels Like Heaven,” the opening track on the 1976 debut album by Easy Street. Most of ELO (barring Kaminski and Gayle) are credited with percussion, as heard in the tribal middle.

Harrowing strings precede “Living Thing,” a direct acoustic strumalong (in C) with an emphatic, closed-cadence chorus.

Above the Clouds” opens with slithering ‘downer’ strings to a staccato compound signature (3+3+2) that hovers frantically over a spacious eighth-note beat.

Do Ya” is a remake of the 1972 Move b-side, recently covered by Utopia on their 1975 second album Another Live. It’s a three-chord rocker (D…CC–G…) with loud guitars and a singalong chorus — evoking fifties rock, Chinn-Chap glam (Sweet, Mud), and the “Louie Louie” tradition.

Shangri-La” is a moderate ballad with airy strings and theremin-like Moog sounds. The lyrics invoke lost love and a yearning for Earthly paradise. The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” is name-checked as a reference point. The song has a lengthy, fluttering, melodramatic coda with theremin-like female vocals.

Sessions took place at Musicland in July during a month-long break from ELO’s busy 1976 touring schedule. Mack engineered A New World Record in succession with titles by Donna Summer, Ian Gillan Band, Roberta Kelly, and Rory Gallagher (Calling Card). Dick Plant engineered Clark’s string and orchestral overdubs at De Lane Lea. Plant also engineered the two albums by Big Jim Sullivan’s Tiger and the 1975–77 Renaissance albums Scheherazade and Other Stories and Novella. A New World Record features uncredited backing vocals by Fanny members Patti Quatro and Brie Brandt.

John Kosh, the onetime Creative Director at Apple Records, designed the New World Record cover art, which introduces the band’s trademark spaceship with red–yellow light rings and a gold, cursive ELO logo at the center. The spaceship appears on their next two albums and related merchandise. The back cover shows a ring of gold stars against cello strings on a night-sky backdrop. Kosh also designed 1976 album covers for Bad Company, Creative Source, Lady Flash, and Rod Stewart.

The inner-sleeve group photo of ELO was photographed by Moshe Brakha, who also photographed 1976 covers for Al JarreauBoz Scaggs (Silk Degrees), Michael QuatroMr. Big (Photographic Smile), Robert Palmer, and Roderick Falconer (New Nation), as well as the cover to the 1976 compilation Olé ELO: a grayscale image of five women standing side-to-side, each facially obscured by one of ELO’s first five album covers.

Jet lifted “Livin’ Thing,” “Do Ya,” “Rockaria!,” and “Telephone Line” as singles, each backed with songs from earlier albums. “Livin’ Thing” reached No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart, No. 2 on Australia’s Kent Music Report, and No. 10 on the US Cash Box Top 100. “Telephone Line” reached No. 1 in Canada and New Zealand, No 4 on Cash Box (No. 7 on Billboard) and No. 8 in the UK, where “Rockaria!” peaked at No. 9. Jet’s promotional gimmicks included color-vinyl pressings of “Livin’ Thing” (blue) and “Telephone Line” (green).

A New World Record reached No. 6 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 5 on the Billboard 200. The album reached No. 1 in Australia, Canada, and Sweden; No. 2 in the Netherlands; No. 4 in New Zealand; and also went Top 10 in Germany, Denmark, Austria, and Norway. Original US copies contained an order form for ELO t-shirts (black with ironed-on ELO album covers), available for $4.50 by check or money order from a PO Box in Stanton, Calif.

Four songs from Word Record (“Tightrope,” “So Fine,” “Telephone Line,” “Rockaria”) and two from Eldorado (“Can’t Get It Out of My Head,” “Boy Blue”) appear on the soundtrack to the 1977 adventure film Joyride starring Melanie Griffith and Robert Carradine.

For the 30th Anniversary reissue of A New World Record on Epic–Legacy, Lynne completed “Surrender” — a song he’d begun writing in 1976 — for inclusion as a bonus track.

A New World Record Tour

The Electric Light Orchestra did a five-week, 23-city North American tour in August–September 1976, between the completion and release of A New World Record. The album appeared just ahead of the Northern hemisphere Jet issue of Boys Will Be Boys, the first of three albums by the South African band Rabbitt: a Pilot-style combo led by singer and multi-instrumentalist Trevor Rabin, who wrote, produced, and largely self-performed the album in a Wood-like hands-on manner.

Concurrently, Jet issued the first of two albums by Widowmaker, ELO’s opening act on the late-summer tour, comprised of ex-members of Lindisfarne, Mott the Hoople, and guitarist Ariel Bender: aka Luther Grosvenor, a member of Spooky Tooth on their 1968/69 albums It’s All About and Spooky Two.

ELO’s summer ’76 tour also included shared bills with Quebecois hard-rockers Mahogany Rush (8/25/76: Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis) and Midwest pomp-rockers Styx (9/10: Indiana State University). On August 18, ELO played at Oakland Coliseum as part of a multi-bill with Gallagher, Jethro Tull, and Camel, then promoting their fourth album Moonmadness. ELO and Widowmaker also appeared at the Nelson Ledges Freedom Festival, a Sept. 6 event in Garrettsville, Ohio, with sets by Steve Miller, Elvin Bishop, Roy Buchanan, the J. Geils Band, and newcomers Heart, then rocketing to stardom with their debut album Dreamboat Annie.

On January 17, 1977, ELO launched another North American tour in Phoenix at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum with opening acts Steve Hillage and Journey, then gearing up for their third album Next (their last before the arrival of Steve Perry). ELO covered 47 cities on the three-month winter–spring tour, including dates with Ambrosia (1/22/77: County Coliseum, El Paso), Gentle Giant (2/18: Riverfront Coliseum, Cincinnati), Leo Sayer (3/10: Omni, Atlanta), Sea Level (3/26: Rupp Arena, Lexington, KY), and Outlaws (3/28: St. John Arena, Columbus, Ohio).

Rising acts on the tour included Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (3/27: Civic Center, Charleston), then reaching newfound heights with their seventh album, The Roaring Silence, and its No. 1 Billboard hit “Blinded By the Light.” On March 30, ELO played Boston Garden with Piper, a pop-rock band with future solo star Billy Squier. An April 1 show at the Civic Center in Hartford, Conn., reteamed ELO with Starcastle, who played material from their 1976/77 CBS albums Starcastle and Fountains of Light. After a swing through Canada with local popsters Lavender Hill Mob, the tour wrapped on April 22 at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., with Hillage, then preparing his third solo album Motivation Radio.

Between May and August 1977, ELO recorded a new album at Musicland. Lynne wrote all the material in a three-week creative burst at his rented chalet in the Swiss Alps, where he produced enough material for a double album. Meanwhile, he issued his first solo single: “Doin’ That Crazy Thing,” a medium-slow disco–funk song (primarily in E) with a chugging rhythm and harmonized chorus, replete with falsettos akin to recent Bee Gees. The b-side, “Goin’ Down to Rio,” has a near-identical backing track and fewer vocals.

1977: Out of the Blue

Electric Light Orchestra released their seventh studio album, Out of the Blue, on October 3, 1977, on Jet. It features 17 Lynne originals across four sides, including a four-song suite on side three.

Turn to Stone” fades in with a brisk, synth-laden mix of strings and strummed acoustic guitar (in E). The windy cadence tightens on the chorus, where the forlorn narrator tells his missing loved one (in a simple yet stark romantic metaphor) “I turn to stone, when you are gone.”

It’s Over” is a mid-tempo, minor-key lament on the end of summer with a flowing, high-harmonized verse and chorus; countered with a sharp, closed-cadence bridge and a swelling orchestral refrain.

Sweet Talkin’ Woman” starts with a classical violin motif that cuts directly to the harmonized call-out “Where did you go?” Amid the roll-out of an angular progression (C…Am….F….Em….Am…), the narrator tells of his frantic search for the song’s titular subject, which leads to stammering dead-ends (“I was waitin’ for the operator on the line”). The persistence of C major invites comparisons to “Living Thing” while the chordal contours and succinct counter-bars indicate Lynne’s harmonic maturity on this album.

Across the Border” sweeps in with cymbal-drizzlingly strings, overlaid with a theremin-like Moog melody. The verses infuse the same orchestral rush as “Turn to Stone” with a rockier three-chord progression (C…F…G…), followed with an unexpected semi-tone (G→A♭) that ushers the whirlwind chorus. The harmonized vocal melody is mimicked with mariachi brass on the instrumental section.

Side two begins with “Night in the City,” a mid-tempo orchestral rocker with persistent tenor harmonies and a damp, ongoing downbeat. The lyrics chronicle the melancholy of a subject who copes with the madness of a city that she’d fled by plane but turned back when she missed the connecting ship to her final destination.

Starlight” is a medium-slow harmonized ballad (in F) with a firm cadence and a spiraling theremin-like theme. The verses allude to a long-distance romance and how far-apart lovers can feel connected under the constellation: viewable and identical across great distances.

Jungle” is a mid-tempo number with layered percussion and tribal precision over three chords (D…G→Bm…) and the sound of crickets. It features Bevan on assorted percussive sundries, including vibraslap.

Believe Me Now” is an medium-slow orchestral interlude with a descending pattern rooted in D minor. The piece is instrumental apart from a distant, echoing utterance of the lines “Can you hear me? I love you…” and some indecipherable vocoderized bits.

Steppin’ Out” is a slow ballad with plaintive piano verses and a swelling, orchestral chorus. This time, it’s the narrator who embarks on destinations unknown.

Side three (18:48) is subtitled Concerto for a Rainy Day, a suite of four songs. “Standin’ in the Rain” opens the suite with tense, upward-fluttering strings (in B minor) that cut to a harrowing, frantic descent (from D minor). The lyrics commence at 2:09, where the line “I’m standin’ in the rain” opens the story of a subject whose good intentions and struggles have reaped nothing but dispair. It segues into Big Wheels,” a slow, somber ballad about failure and depression. On the bridge, the narrator’s memory of “a lonely light that shines upon the window” triggers a perforating string break (in F).

Summer and Lightning” opens with crackling thunder that signals a medium-slow acoustic pattern (in D) and a lyrical change of mood — the narrator takes the storm as a new dawn (hence the paradoxical title) with magic and romantic sparks. The post-chorus sequences are overlaid with treated vocal layers and oceany synths, replete with glistening tonal colors. The percussive pattern of “Jungle” has a brief reprise toward the end of this number.

Mr. Blue Sky” is a hopping music hall number (in F) in which the narrator, with great enthusiasm, greets the return of sunny weather and lively streets. All of this begs the chorus question (to Mr. Blue Sky) “please tell us why you had to hide away for so long,” which Lynne asks over a tense string descent (from D minor).

Side four opens with “Sweet Is the Night,” a medium-slow ballad with a three-chord progression (E…A…B…) and a fluttering chromatic descent (from A). Lynne trades vocal leads with Groucutt, who sings the bridge (“And the sun that shines”) and harmonizes with Jeff on the chorus.

The Whale” is a dreamy instrumental of watery synth waves and sparkling effects. The track has two movements: a rhythmless, ethereal two-chord movement (Emaj7…D….) and a slow, tranquil four-chord progression (F#…Em….Amaj7…G…) with faint orchestration and a synth-string melody that resolves across four bars. Musically, this track recalls select passages by Automatic Man.

Birmingham Blues” is a mid-tempo blues rocker with a tight bar-chord riff (B with hammered sixes) and lyrics about a Brummie singer’s homesickness after months of world travel. On the chorus, they cut to a barroom piano descent (from F#), capped with strumming and orchestral breaks.

Wild West Hero” is a medium-slow orchestral ballad (primarily in G) in which the narrator dreams of heroic valor in the manner of films that depict the Old West (a popular cinematic theme in the 1950s and ’60s, when Lynne was young). He gives a twist to the standard Western theme (“I’d be the Indians’ friend; Let them live to be free”).

Lynne produced and mixed Out of the Blue at Musicland and co-arranged the orchestral parts with Clark. Mack engineered Blue in succession with the 1977 Polydor release Malice in Wonderland by the supertrio Paice Ashton Lord, comprised of two–fifths of Deep Purple (Jon Lord, Ian Paice) and singer Tony Ashton (Ashton, Gardner & Dyke).

Tandy’s Out of the Blue arsenal consists of Hohner Clavinet, Yamaha C7b piano, Mellotron M 400, and the Polymoog and ARP 2600 synthesizers. He takes turns on the Mini-moog and Wurlitzer E.p. 200 electric piano with Lynne, who plays lead, slide, and rhythm guitar on the Gibson E D S 1275 and the Les Paul Custom. Out of the Blue makes extensive use of the vocoder, a voice-processing devise.

Out of the Blue is housed in a gatefold sleeve with artwork by Shusei Nagaoka. The outer-fold depicts an orbital view of Kosh’s ELO spaceship, rendered here with enhanced detail: vents, windows, interiors (cogs, control boards). A shuttle boards the spaceship (front) as two astronauts float in back. The inner-gates show an interior view of the ship’s central module: a lavish circular installation of monitors, planet models, data counters, and hued accent lighting. Nagaoka’s space-age illustrations also appear on the covers of 1976/77 albums by Caldera, Earth, Wind & Fire (All ‘N All), Flight (Incredible Journey), Mandre, Maze, Parlet, Space, and Sunbear.

Original copies of Out of the Blue came with lyrical inner-sleeves, a cut-out cardboard model of the ELO spaceship, a fold-out poster with enhanced monochrome pics of each member, an updated order form for fan club merchandise (shirts, posters), and a special offer for a plastic mylar 2’x3′ print of the cover art. The portrait artwork is credited to Michael Bryan, who also did album visuals for Love Craft and Bootsy’s Rubber Band.

Jet lifted four singles from Out of the Blue: “Turn to Stone,” “Mr. Blue Sky” (blue vinyl), “Sweet Talking Woman” (purple), and “Wild West Hero” (yellow 12”), all with b-sides culled from past albums. The latter three all peaked at No. 6 on the UK Singles Chart. “Turn to Stone” and “Sweet Talking Woman” reached respective peaks of No. 13 and No. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100. Both songs have sound-stage video clips that were aired regularly during MTV’s first year of broadcast.

Out of the Blue reached No. 4 on both the UK Albums Chart and the Billboard 200. The album peaked at No. 3 on the Australian Kent Music Report, the Norwegian VG-lista, and the Dutch Mega Albums Chart. It reached its highest peaks (No. 2) on the Canadian and Swedish album charts. In Germany and New Zealand, Blue peaked at No. 6. Jet lifted “It’s Over” as a fifth single in the US, where the album was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.

In 2017, a picture-disc 40th Anniversary edition of Out of the Blue reached No. 18 on the UK Albums Chart. This edition unearthed two session outtakes: “The Quick and the Daft,” a harrowing orchestral prelude; and “Latitude 88 North,” a straight-ahead harmony pop number with minimal orchestration.

Out of the Blue Tour

The Electric Light Orchestra presented Out of the Blue as a lavish live spectacle. Each night, they performed in a 60′ diameter, 25′ high saucer with laser lights and fog machines. The world tour commenced on January 25, 1978, at the Neal Blaisdell Center in Honolulu and ran for nine months across 92 cities.

The Oceanic leg started in Auckland (1/29/78: Western Springs) and covered four cities in Australia, where ELO played February dates with country-rockers Stars (Brisbane, Sydney) and art-rockers Scandal (Melbourne, Adelaide). The Japanese leg comprised seven shows in six cities, starting with a Feb. 22 show at Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan.

On April 22, ELO launched the European leg of the Out of the Blue tour in Stockholm with Jet labelmates Trickster, a City Boy-meets-Trillion-styled act whose debut album Find the Lady came out in late 1977. Trickster — whose set included theatrical rock anthems like “Goodbye ’65” and “Your Money or Your Life” — served as ELO’s opening act throughout the tour’s Continental, UK, and North American wings. In Europe, ELO played ten shows in Germany and a show apiece in Oslo, Copenhagen, Zurich, Paris, and Rotterdam before landing at the Vorst Nationaal in Brussels on May 18.

On June 2, ELO and Trickster played before the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester at the Empire Pool, Wembley, as part of a charity show MC’d by actor Tony Curtis. After a June 6 show at Bingley Hall, Stafford, ELO returned to Wembley for seven sold-out nights (June 9–12 and 14–16).

In North America, the tour was billed as “The Big Night.” Jet’s promotion included an animated commercial where the ELO spaceship collects its shuttles and spins back to Earth on stadium ground. The US leg commenced on June 30 at the Civic Auditorium in Omaha and ran three months across 40 cities. On July 15, ELO and Trickster played Municipal Stadium, Cleveland, as part of an event dubbed “The World Series of Rock,” which also featured sets by Journey and Foreigner. On select Midwest dates, Jet signees Kingfish — an American roots-rock band with Grateful Dead ties — opened for ELO in lieu of Trickster.

The Out of the Blue tour ended unexpectedly on September 29 at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, Maine. A planned two-nighter at the Forum in Montreal was cancelled over tax disputes between promoters and Canadian officials. The only show in Canada occurred on July 19 at the CNE Exhibition Stadium in Toronto, where ELO and Trickster were joined by a third act, Meat Loaf.

1979: Discovery

The Electric Light Orchestra released their eighth studio album, Discovery, on May 31, 1979, on Jet. It contains nine Lynne originals, including “Don’t Bring Me Down,” their biggest international hit. Each song has a music video where the classic septet mimes in fog-lighted settings. Despite this, Lynne dispensed with the ELO string trio for this recording. The songs are performed by the four-piece rock core (Lynne, Bevan, Tandy, Groucutt) with orchestral arrangements by Louis Clark.

Shine a Little Love” fades in with wind and chimes that signal a locomotive rush (in G). The song has a disco arrangement with sliding bars of 4/4 across the verses and chorus, where an octave bassline drives the rhythm; overlaid with fluttering violin and marquee-synth glissandos.

Confusion” is a mid-tempo number with strummed chords (primarily in C), harpsichord, and Spectorian touches (gong, timpani, grand piano). Need Her Love” is a slow ballad with subdued keyboards, quiet strings, modest drums, and lyrics from a love-lorn narrator whose feelings aren’t returned in full.

The Diary of Horace Wimp” has a hopping piano-driven verse (ala “Mr. Blue Sky”) and windy free-fall chorus. The lyrics concern a menial worker with no romantic history who, at the urging of townsfolk, suddenly finds himself engaged. More than anything on recent albums, this song invokes the music-hall psych of 1967-era Beatles.

Last Train to London” opens side two with a string-laden Clavinet riff (in E minor). It’s another disco-inspired song with a sliding verse and locomotive chorus. The lyrics concern the times that ELO commuted by train between London and Birmingham. In a Bee Gees-like tone, Lynne expresses his eagerness to be off those trains (“But I really want tonight to last forever; I really wanna be with you”).

Midnight Blue” is a slow ballad with a moderate mix of strings, percussion, harmonies, vocoderized ad libs, and a sparkling synth refrain.

On the Run” is an upbeat number with a hyperactive Tandy cadenza that opens and inter-cuts the song, which deals with Lynne’s obligation to consistently refuel himself from city-to-city during long tours. He breaks each utterance of the chorus line with a searing slide lick. Later, the song slows and psyches up to a phased outro.

Wishing” is a medium-slow ballad (in A) with a theramin-like intro and lyrics about separation anxiety on the road.

Don’t Bring Me Down” is a medium-uptempo number with a four-note melody (5→4→3→1 in A minor) and a driving rhythm with emphasized third beats. The lyrics address a wayward woman and resolve on a harmonized falsetto chorus line: “Don’t bring me down, groos.” The word “groos” (a made-up fill syllable) translates to “greeting” (Gruß) in German. Many listeners misheard the word as “Bruce,” which Lynne used jokingly when ELO toured Australia, where the name is common.

Sessions took place at Musicland during March–April 1979. Mack engineered Discovery in succession with the first Violinski album and Real Natural Man, the fourth album by actor–singer Peter Straker.

Photographer Jim Shea took the Mideastern-themed photos that grace the Discovery gatefold sleeve, where the ELO spaceship appears as a sacred artifact discovered by a young Sikh (front). The boy is immediately discovered by a wroth temple guard (back), who draws a scimitar from his belt. On the inner-gates, the boy runs through a desert with the artifact in hand as three scimitar-wielding Sikh pursue him on horseback.

The temple guard is portrayed by American actor–comedian Brad Garrett (then 19), who later played Ray Romano’s brother in the CBS sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond. Shea’s photography also appears on late-seventies albums by the Commodores, Deniece Williams, Easy Street (Under the Glass), Pointer Sisters, and Sherbet (Highway). The layout and graphics are by designer Norman Moore, a visual artist on numerous seventies covers, including Easy Street and recent titles by Boxer (Absolutely), Cafe Jacques (Round the Back), Heatwave (Too Hot to Handle), and Split Enz (Mental Notes).

Jet lifted five a-sides off Discovery: “Shine a Little Love,” “The Diary of Horace Wimp,” “Don’t Bring Me Down,” “Confusion,” and “Last Train to London” — each backed with a deep-cut from an earlier album. All made the UK Top 10. “Shine a Little Love” and “Don’t Bring Me Down” respectively peaked at No. 8 and No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 6 and No. 3 on the UK Singles Chart, where the other three songs peaked at No. 8 (“Confusion” and “Last Train to London” as a double-a-side).

Discovery reached No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart, the Australian Kent Music Report, and the Norwegian VG-lista. It peaked at No. 2 on the French, Swedish, and New Zealand album charts. In the US, Discovery went double-Platinum and reached No. 5 on the Billboard 200.

Discovery is one of the first albums with an accompanying video for every song, predating a similar treatment by Blondie for their 1980 release Autoamerican (often touted as the first video–album).

1980: Xanadu

In early 1980, Lynne was commissioned to write songs for Xanadu, a musical fantasy film starring Olivia Newton-John, Warriors star Michael Beck, and Hollywood song-and-dance legend Gene Kelly. In the movie, struggling boomer artist Sonny Malone (Beck) and disgruntled interbellum architect Danny McGuire (Kelly) are inspired by the mysterious Kira (Newton-John) to open a nightclub. The pair take an abandoned mid-century skating rink (the Pan-Pacific Auditorium in West Hollywood) and transform it into Xanadu: named for its opulence as a modern rock-disco joint (Malone’s vision) and a vintage show palace (McGuire’s plan). Meanwhile, romance ensues between Malone and Kira, who reveals her true identity as the Greek muse Terpsichore.

Electric Light Orchestra perform the five Lynne originals that comprise side two of the Xanadu soundtrack, including the title theme. Lynne sings the first four: “I’m Alive,” “The Fall,” “Don’t Walk Away,” and “All Over the World.”

ELO back Olivia on “Xanadu,” a breezy uptempo tune with a mononymic hookline that reached No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart and eight territories across Europe. The song appears in the scene where the club opens and reappears between Olivia’s dance sequence (“Fool’s Country”) and a reprise of “Magic,” a US Billboard No. 1 written by her manager, Shadows rhythm guitarist John Farrar, who wrote the five Olivia-sung numbers on the soundtrack’s first side, including her duets with The Tubes (“Dancin”’) and Cliff Richard (“Suddenly”).

The Xanadu soundtrack appeared on MCA (North America) and Jet (abroad) on June 27, 1980, six weeks ahead of the film. It topped the charts in six European territories and reached No. 1 on the Australian Kent Music Report and No. 2 in the UK and Canada. In the US, Xanada [OST] reached No. 1 on the Cash Box Top 100 Albums chart and No. 4 on the Billboard 200.

1981: Time

Electric Light Orchestra released their ninth studio album, Time, in July 1981 on Jet. It features 11 Lynne originals linked by a time-travel concept and bookended by a prologue–epilogue theme. Musically, the album takes an electro-pop turn with minimal orchestration.

Prologue” fades in with a vocoderized message from the year 2095, which the narrator drifts to in Twilight,” an uptempo synth rocker with perky precision and a fanfare melody (5→1→3→4 in C major). In the dark of night, he travels 114 years into the future, unsure if his experience is real or just a dream.

Yours Truly, 2095” is an electro-futurist number (thematically akin to “Sister” by Icehouse) with racing precision and remote, channeled vocals about a gynoid, who (in her programmed words) tells Lynne “I love you, sincerely; Yours truly,” and repeatedly asks “Is that what you want?” But according to him, she’s “only programmed to be very nice” and is really “as cold as ice.” He then elaborates:

She is the latest in technology
Almost mythology
But she has a heart of stone
She has an IQ of 1001
She has a jumpsuit on
And she’s also a telephone

Ticket to the Moon” is a somber piano-laden ballad (in D minor) where Lynne longs for “the good old 1980s.” Displeased with 2095 and its conditions, he prepares a flight on Satelite Two with hopes of returning to his own time.

The Way Life’s Meant to Be” is a mid-tempo acoustic strumalong (in B) where Lynne laments the 2095 landscape with its “ivory towers and its plastic flowers.” Bevan joins on the second verse with Spectorian rhythmic touches. The vocal melody recalls “On the Border” (from Out of the Blue) and “Save the Last Dance for Me” by The Drifters.

Another Heart Breaks” is an electronic slow-dance instrumental with echoing sounds and quasi-Asian vibrato strings; set to a two-note bass figure (AA…EE…) against a spacious pulse beat akin to the 1980–81 Ultravox songs “Vienna” and “Rage in Eden.”

Rain Is Falling” opens side two with piano droplets and layered synth-strings at a medium-slow pace (in A) and lyrics that detail the inclement weather patterns of 2095 and how, despite technological progress, this future world lacks time-travel capabilities.

In From the End of the World,” Lynne tries to send a dream letter to his girlfriend back in 1981. The tune has a perky synth-bass pattern (in C minor) with four downbeats per bar — an arrangement similar to the 1979 Euro hit “Twist a Saint Tropez” by the Belgian electro-pop trio Telex — and airy vocals that echo the mid-range of Russell Mael on the recent work of Sparks.

The Lights Go Down” is a three-note number in which Lynne hopes of awaking from his 2095 experience. Musically, it’s a reinvention of fifties pop with pinched, twangy fills and percussive sundries over an electronic drum pattern.

Here Is the News” is a brisk electro-rocker (a musical bookend to “Yours Truly, 2095”) with oscillating sounds and a fuzzy synth motif (in A minor), gradually overlaid with channeled, treated harmonies and waves of keyboard and echoey piano (ala Billy Currie). Amid reports of the 2095 ruler’s draconian actions, the news indicates that science has finally cracked the mystery of time travel. However, Lynne’s hopes of returning to 1981 are rendered moot in 21st Century Man,” a slow, synthesized harmony ballad in which a voice from above tells the protagonist that he’s now a man of the 21st century, where he can only “ride on the wheels of tomorrow.”

Hold On Tight” is an uptempo fifties rocker (in G) with driving piano and harmonized refrains amid fuzzy, revved-engine guitar sustain. The lyrics — removed from the album’s plot but pertinent to the character’s plight — are simple odes to the virtues of dreaming. The third verse, sung in French, is a translation of the first verse (Accroche-toi à ton rêve means “Hold on tight to your dream”).

Time closes with “Epilogue,” a full recap of the album’s sustained, glistening intro bars.

Lynne conceived Time as a double-album but scaled things back after finishing 16 tracks. Three songs missed the final cut: “The Bouncer,” “When Time Stood Still,” and “Julie Don’t Live Here.”

Lynne produced Time in early 1981 at Musicland with Mack, who engineered the album in succession with Don’t Say No, the breakthrough second solo album by Billy Squier. The Munich studio was now favored by Queen, who used it for their 1980 albums The Game and Flash [OST]. Sparks — a Musicland client since their 1979 space-disco comeback No. 1 in Heaven, a Giorgio Moroder production — employed Mack for their 1981/82 albums Whomp That Sucker and Angst In My Pants.

Rainer Pietsch, a conductor on more than 700 German schlager recordings, did the orchestral arrangements on Time in lieu of Clark, who instead played keyboards on the ensuing tour.

Time is housed in a single-sleeve designed by one Guy Fery. It shows a planet hovering over a spire that crashes into water with nearby sand, thereby morphing the starry sky into an ocean. The planet is emblazoned with the gold ELO logo from the now-disused spaceship. This is the first album where ELO are only named by their acronym: a move reflecting their trimmed four-piece lineup (Lynne, Bevan, Tandy, Groucutt) and de-emphasis on strings.

Photographer Frank Griffin took the grayscale inner-sleeve group shots, which show the four members looking up at towers (lyrics overlaid) and posed before the lens, where a side-trimmed Lynne sports a batwing, double-breasted leather jacket. Griffin’s photography also appears on the sleeves of 1980s releases by Dire Straits, Kim Wilde, Saga (Worlds Apart), Saxon, Status Quo, and Thompson Twins.

Jet lifted six a-sides from Time: “Hold On Tight,” “Twilight,” “Rain Is Falling,” “The Way Life’s Meant to Be,” and the double-a-side “Ticket to the Moon / Here Is the News.” The biggest hit was “Hold on Tight” (b/w “When Time Stood Still”), a Top 10 hit in most territories apart from France, where listeners preferred “Twilight” (b/w “Julie Don’t Live Here”) and “Ticket to the Moon.”

“Hold On Tight” dropped with a video that spoofs 1940s serial films with “harrowing” vignettes and death-defying rescues, overlaid with B-movie buzzwords. A lone cinephile watches the unfolding action, which starts with a synchronized, kaleidoscopic floor-dance and ends with a fleeing hero and his rescued damsel crashing through the fourth wall to the cheering cinephile. ELO appear throughout the video as a plain-clothed house band, a white-tux doo-wop quartet, and an after-hours lounge act. MTV aired the video regularly during 1981/82 along with earlier clips from Discovery and Out of the Blue.

Time reached No. 1 on the UK, Swedish, and West German album charts and No. 2 in Austria, Norway, and the Netherlands. It also went Top 10 in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. In the US, Time reached No. 9 on the Cash Box Top 100 Albums chart. The album is certified Gold by the RIAA.

Time Tour, Groucutt Solo

In September 1981, ELO launched their first tour in three years with a Texas three-nighter supported by the Michael Stanley Band. The US tour included 14 dates (Sept. 19–Oct. 12) with singer Ellen Folley, a Bat Out of Hell participant whose recent second solo album, Spirit of St. Louis, features backing by The Clash. On the tour’s remaining 21 dates, Hall & Oates served as ELO’s opening act. The duo, active since 1972, recently entered an ongoing chart phase with the No. 1’s “Kiss On My List” and “Private Eyes,” the latter from their namesake tenth studio album.

ELO played multiple shows at Wembley (December 1–2, 4–5, 9–10) with Voyager, a Trickster-like outfit led by pianist–singer Paul French, the onetime architect of jazz-rockers Tonton Macoute. ELO headed home for a four-night engagement (Dec. 12–15) at NEC, Birmingham. (They added the 15th to accommodate swaths of ticket-holders who couldn’t attend on the 14th due to icy weather.) It had now been 15 years since Lynne took the Midlands stages as the young, hopeful frontman of The Nightriders.

The Time tour reconvened in early 1982 for a round of February–March dates in Europe, where After the Fire played the opening slot. Mack engineered ATF’s recent Musicland recordings, including their charting cover of “Der Kommissar,” a 1981 Continental hit by Viennese singer Falco. On six of the seven German dates, ATF drummer Pete King deputized Bevan.

Between the completion and release of Time, Groucutt cut a solo album with backing by Bevan, Tandy, and orchestration by Clark. The May–July 1981 sessions took place at 54 East Sound Recorders in Pasadena, Calif., where Groucutt handled all guitar, bass, sequencing, and production work on Kelly, released in 1982 on RCA (UK, Europe). It features ten originals, including “Black Hearted Woman,” “Can’t Stand the Morning,” “Don’t Wanna Hear That Song Again,” and “Sea of Dreams.” Musically, the album upholds ELO’s strummed lushness.

Groucutt co-developed the packaging with designer John Warwicker, who also did cover visuals for Blue Zoo, Freur, Kissing the Pink, and Landscape (From the Tea-rooms of Mars… to the Hell-holes of Uranus). It shows Groucutt with his trademark handlebar mustache in its final appearance. The opening track, “Am I a Dreamer,” was lifted as a single. In the video, a clean-shaven Groucutt slow-walks through studio compartments and mimes with smiling eyes in a bright-lighted cathedral with Clark and a skinny-tied Bevan. “Oh, Little Darling” appeared as a second single in a sixties Pop Art sleeve. In 1983, Kelly appeared in the US on the WEA-subsidiary Riva with a revised, shaven cover.

1983: Secret Messages

Electric Light Orchestra released their tenth studio album, Secret Messages, on June 23, 1983, on Jet. Lynne conceived it as an eighteen-track double-album, but the finished product was cut to a single LP comprised of ten originals. This was their final album with Groucutt and their first since Eldorado not recorded at Musicland.

Secret Messages continues the electro-pop approach of its predecessor with the latest advances in technology (programmable drum pads) and effects (chorused, trebly guitar tones).

Secret Messages” fades in with echoes and whispers that usher a peppy synth-rocker with a descending pattern (from G minor). Lynne sings of secret messages that “spill into the air” from all directions like a “flowing river of illusion running with confusion.” Musically, the song enhances the “Yours Truly, 2095” template with sparking synth glissandos, crystaline chorused guitar licks, and shiny high-end production.

Loser Gone Wild” is medium-slow ballad with a two-note synthbass ostinato (Am…Dm…) overlaid with theramin-like synth, trumpet, tambourine, chorused guitar, and lyrics about night fright. The song has a choppy, closed-cadence chorus (in C) that contrasts the ethereal verses.

Bluebird” is a harmonized mid-tempo number with acoustic strumalong verses (G…C…), which cut to a synth-sparking chorus in flat major-sevenths (E♭maj7…B♭maj7…). The bluebird is a messenger of hope for the despondent narrator.

Take Me On and On” is a moderate-paced ballad with chorused guitar (tropical tone), glistening synth, misty ride cymbals, and lyrics about celestial escape.

Four Little Diamonds,” about a ghosting lover, is a mid-tempo rocker with a wall-of-strum texture, twangy licks, and a neo-fifties vibe akin to Rockpile.

Stranger” is a poignant, mid-tempo number with subdued verses (in C with falling two’s) about a young subject who pulls up roots and bids adieu to those he knows.

Danger Ahead” is a hi-tech, uptempo rocker with machine-like 2/4 precision and lyrical alerts about a well-connected woman of questionable intent.

Letter from Spain” is a slow, rhythmless electronic ballad with lush synth tones and air vocals about an old friend’s recent overseas success in films.

Train of Gold” has a tense, nervy, mid-tempo guitar cadence (in G minor) with faint strings and vocables. The lyrics concern an allusive mystery woman who Lynne envisions in a velvet sky.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Is King” is a modernised rockabilly tune that opens with an industrial-dance rhythm to a twangy semi-tone lick (in A), which cuts to boogie-woogie piano pattern with lyrical odes to fifties rock, sung by Lynne with rococo intonations in the manner of Jerry Lee Lewis.

Lynne intended to make Secret Messages a double-album, but this was vetoed by CBS, Jet’s North American distributor, which claimed that a two-record set would be too costly in light of the OPEC oil crisis. The running order of the 1983 album excludes eight intended songs.

No Way Out,” about a romantic dead-end, is a finger-clicking R&B shuffle with walking bass and neo-fifties lounge vibes. The chorus features barber shop harmonies and faint, drizzling piano.

Endless Lies” is a moderate ballad with faint piano, subtle synth, and odd percussive effects. The chorus takes a psychedelic turn with harmonized downbeats and swirling effects.

Buildings Have Eyes” is a perky electro-pop tune (in G) with a trebly synth motif, channeled vocals, and an oscilating chorus (in C). The lyrics concern the grip of big cities on young hopefuls who arrive with dreams of money.

Mandalay” fades in with choral synth. It’s a sparse, moody, ethereal number with echoing drum pads and pinging sounds over a droning synth foundation. The lyrics, inspired by the 1890 Rudyard Kipling poem, recall the Burmese city and one of its inhabitants. The chorus (in D) has remote, treated harmonies and a melody similar to that of “The Martyr,” a song by Utopia on their 1977 album Oops! Wrong Planet.

Time After Time” is a hi-tech electronic number with gated martial drum patterns, psychedelic wind effects, field sound recordings, and multi-source vocals, including the monotone female chorus line. The lyrics allude to a dark menace in the sky.

After All” is an airy, rhythmless interlude with cloudy choral synth systain and faint droplets of piano and plucked guitar.

Hello My Old Friend” is a sparse, modernistic number with assorted synth layers (sparkling and airy) paced by a call-and-response rhythmic track (sampled maracca and cymbal; interspersed with the “Vienna”-style pulse beat). This is the post-apocalyptic closing epic (7:57) of the planned double-album. The lyrics address the state of Birmingham after the events in “Time After Time.” Two-thirds in (5:14) the song takes a closed-cadence, cello-laden turn with spiraling psych effects.

Beatles Forever” is an airy psych-tinged ballad dedicated to The Beatles. The verses (in C) acknowledge the timeless quality of the Beatles’ music. The first direct quote (“She came in through the bathroom window”) occurs in the choppy pre-chorus. Lynne namedrops five Beatles song titles in the chorus, which has a descending chordal pattern that later reappeared in another song indebted to the psych-era Beatles: “Sowing the Seeds of Love,” the 1989 opus by Tears for Fears.

Lynne made heavy use of back-masking on Secret Messages, a tactic employed years earlier on “Fire on High” as a running in-joke. He titled the album accordingly. Sessions took place between December 1982 and February 1983 at Wisseloord Studios in Hilversumm, Netherlands, with engineer Bill Bottrell, a soundman on recent albums by Level 42 and Michael Sembello.

Concurrently, Lynne and Bottrell worked with singer–guitarist Dave Edmunds on the Welsh retro-rocker’s 1983 release Information. Lynne produced the title-track and “Slippin’ Away,” an uptempo number with beeping synths (played by Tandy) and airy acoustic middle-parts. With its MTV-rotated video, the song became the second and last Billboard Top 40 hit for the onetime Love Sculpture frontman.

Clark returned with orchestral arrangements on six songs: three that made the final album (“Train of Gold,” “Danger Ahead,” “Stranger”) and three from the missing half of Secret Messages (“Buildings Have Eyes,” “Time After Time,” “Hello My Old Friend”). The album also features backing vocals by Dave Morgan, Tandy’s onetime Ugly’s bandmate who wrote the 1968 Move track “Something,” the b-side to their UK No. 1 “Blackberry Way.”

Secret Messages sports visuals by art director David Costa, the onetime guitarist of folk-rockers Trees. It shows a collage (presented as a framed picture) of historical figures with background low-rise brick tenements and distant nuclear plants. ELO appear in the second-floor windows of the building on the right. The back cover is designed to appear as the back frame of a painting with three aged notes: one with the tracklist and two that name the frame’s retailer and manufacturer. The names are anagrams of the four members: T.D. Ryan (R. Tandy), F.Y.J. Fennel (Jeff Lynne), G.U. Ruttock (K. Groucutt) and E.V. Nabbe (Bev Bevan).

Jet lifted four singles off Secret Messages: “Rock ‘n’ Roll Is King,” “Secret Messages,” “Four Little Diamonds,” and “Stranger.” Two songs from the album’s missing half, “After All” and “Time After Time,” appear as b-sides on “Rock ‘n’ Roll Is King,” a Top 20 hit in fourteen nations. In Ireland, the title-track reached No. 14. A UK 12″ of “Four Little Diamonds” contains “The Bouncer,” a previously unavailable track from the Time sessions.

Secret Messages reached the Top 20 in Canada and across Europe. In the UK, the album peaked at No. 4. Tracks from the missing album appeared on subsequent compilations, including the 1990 Afterglow box set. In 2018, an unofficial FLAC release of Secret Messages restored the intended four-sided running order with one exception: “Beatles Forever,” which remains unavailable apart from acetates (since digitized).

Electric Dreams

Lynne and Tandy contributed two songs — “Video” (a perky new wave synthpop tune with sampled vocals) and “Let it Run” (a hi-tech rocker with neo-fifites vibes, overlaid with fuzz) — on the soundtrack to Electric Dreams, a 1984 sci-fi romantic comedy starring Lenny Von Dohlen, Virginia Madsen, Maxwell Caulfield, and the voice of Harold and Maude actor Bud Cort as Edgar, the sentient computer. “Video” recycles the chorus from the then-unheard “Beatles Forever.”

The Electric Dreams soundtrack appeared in mid-1984 on Virgin–Epic with songs by Giorgio Moroder (“The Duel”), Human League frontman Philip Oakey (“Together in Electric Dreams,” a Moroder collaboration), Heaven 17 (“Chase Runner”), and the Culture Club (“The Dream,” “Love Is Love”). Sixties transatlantic soul-pop singer PP Arnold performed the film’s title-song, written by Boy George and Culture Club bassist Roy Hay. Virgin lifted “Video” as a single, backed with “Sooner or Later,” Lynne’s third contribution to the project.

Lynne also contributed three songs (“Breakin’ Out,” “Far Away,” “S.O.S.”) to Edmunds’ 1984 release Riff Raff.

In 1985, Tandy and Morgan collaborated on Earthrise, an electro-rock concept album on FM Records.

1986: Balance of Power

Electric Light Orchestra released their tenth studio album, Balance of Power, on February 17, 1986, on CBS (US). On March 3, it appeared in the UK and Europe on Epic–Jet. It features ten Lynne originals, including the singles “Calling America,” “So Serious,” and “Getting to the Point.”

Calling America” is a perky electro-pop number (in D) with airy vocals, vocoderized harmonies, and lyrics about foreign destinations and air travel. The video shows panned footage of the blue-tubed facade of the Centre Georges Pompidou, a Paris arts center that also appears on the cover of Euroman Cometh, the 1979 solo album by Stranglers bassist JJ Burnel.

So Serious” is an uptempo, five-chord synth-rocker (rooted in C) with subtle strum, an E-bow solo, and a recurring vibrato-twang lick. The video intercuts monochrome footage of the trio with their touring auxiliary (Clark, Kaminski, Morgan) and assorted vignettes: a fifties lady in a stalled muscle car; competive swimmers in a color-saturated setting (hot pink and teal); and a veiled model who alludes a suited man in a metropolitan skyscraper.

Sessions took place between the summer–fall of 1984 and the spring of 1985 at Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas. Lynne plays bass, keyboards, percussion, and the Synclavier II computer synthesizer in addition to electric and acoustic guitars. Bevan and Tandy round out the lineup on Balance of Power, which Bottrell engineered with Tom Thiel, a soundman on recent titles by Marc Almond, Yello, and The Three O’Clock. German saxophonist Christian Schneider plays on select passages.

Designers Clive Piercy and Michael Hodgson did the Balance of Power cover art, which uses the letters E, L, and O as features on a modernist face against red (front) and yellow (back) backgrounds. The inner-sleeve has a slanted gray–teal scheme with lyrics and a double-framed, blue-tinted upshot of the trio in stylish attire. Piersy also designed eighties sleeves for Trees, Jefferson Starship, and Tubes frontman Fee Waybill. Hodgson earned credits on recent sleeves for Al Jarreau, Cliff Richard (Silver), Gino Vannelli, and Talking Heads.

“Calling America” appeared in late January as the lead-off single, backed with the non-album “Caught in a Trap.” It reached No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100. The US 12″ includes “Endless Lies” from the then-unreleased second record of the Secret Messages sessions. The UK 12″ includes the rarity “Destination Unknown.”

In late April, ELO lifted “So Serious” as a second single, backed in the UK with the non-album “A Matter of Fact” (“Endless Lies” in the US).

In July, “Getting to the Point” became the third and final Balance of Power single, backed with the deep cut “Secret Lives.” The 12″ contains “ELO Megamix,” a mix of songs from every ELO album since A New World Record (barring Secret Messages).

Balance of Power reached the Top 10 in Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK (No. 9). It also went Top 20 in Japan and Germany.


  • The Electric Light Orchestra (1971)
  • ELO 2 (1973)
  • On the Third Day (1973)
  • Eldorado (1974)
  • Face the Music (1975)
  • A New World Record (1976)
  • Out of the Blue (1977)
  • Discovery (1979)
  • Xanadu (1980 — soundtrack with various artists)
  • Time (1981) (credited as “ELO”)
  • Secret Messages (1983)
  • Balance of Power (1986)
  • Zoom (2001)
  • Alone in the Universe (2015) (credited as “Jeff Lynne’s ELO”)
  • From Out of Nowhere (2019)


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