Tag Archives: Electric Light Orchestra

Roy Wood & Wizzard • Main Street [CD]

As far as eccentric British musicians go, there may be none as gone as ROY WOOD. You wanna talk about a guy with a vision? How about a guy with all kindsa visions? He was a founding member of the great Birmingham ’60s beat band, The Move, co-founder of Electric Light Orchestra with Jeff Lynne, and the prime mover of WIZZARD. That “group” – which sometimes seemed like Wood playing all the instruments himself – was responsible for a number of UK hits in the ’70s, though sadly only their “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” is the only single of theirs that ever came close to charting here in the States. By the time Wood got to recording what came to be known as Main Street, the man was (in his own words) “trying to grow up… [it was] probably a last minute attempt to retain some sort of sanity.” Well, I guess you could call it that – if you’re Roy Wood!

What we have here is a reissue of an album that went unreleased upon its completion in 1976. A lone single (“Indiana Rainbow”) was issued in the UK as “from the forthcoming album, Wizzo” that was unable to gain any chart attention and so the album went unissued until 1999. This time, Esoteric Recordings has added a bonus track and tweaked the artwork (though they didn’t improve on Edsel’s design from ’99). This is a weird album. It’s full of a lot of the dense power pop arrangements that Wood is known for, but then, on top of that, there’s all of this jazzy stuff thrown in. Sometimes it’s fusion courtesy of his lead guitar, sometimes it’s pseudo swing and even some faintly calypso-sounding instrumentation. It’s got subtle nods to even the gnarliest Move stuff (“Brontosaurus” and “Curly,” particularly), as well as other supremely rockin’ bits (like the bonus track, “Human Cannonball”) that’ll draw you in, and even some progressive rock for variety. I mean, if ever there was an album that benefited and/or suffered from including everything but the kitchen sink, this is it.

I honestly don’t know what to think of Main Street… Is it an album that’ll grow on me and become a regular part of my rotation? I don’t expect it to – it’s just too out there. But – and this is a big but – if you’re a Roy Wood fan and you missed this one the first time it came out, you will obviously be drawn to this, practically the (il)logical conclusion to where Roy was heading with Wizzard all along. After it’s all said and done, you may just utter (like I did more than once), “Well, that is a weird album.” – Marsh Gooch

2.5/5 (Esoteric Recordings ECLEC2730, 2020)

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The Idle Race • The Birthday Party [2CD]

There was so much going on in pop music in 1968, the year THE IDLE RACE’s The Birthday Party, their debut album, was first released. It’s not hard to understand how something this good could have been overlooked; luckily one of the band’s leaders, Jeff Lynne, went on to a level of fame that meant anything he had a hand in creating would arouse interest for decades to come. England’s Cherry Red Records, under their Grapefruit imprint, have just released a two disc celebration of that album, complete with both the mono and stereo mixes and the album’s attendant 45 releases.

What kind of pop music are we talking about here? Well, like so much of what made – and didn’t make – the charts then, there are definitive Beatles vibes going on, but there’s some good ol’ British style pschedelia going on, too. How else to explain the abundance of mellotron, sing-song melodies, double-tracked harmonies and songs about guys sitting in trees, ladies who think they can fly and other psilly psubjects. My favorite tunes on The Birthday Party are “Sitting in My Tree,” “Don’t Put Your Boys in the Army, Mrs. Ward,” “On With the Show” and the album’s natural closer, “End of the Road.” You also get (on Disc 1) singles “(Here We Go Round) The Lemon Tree,” which was given to the Idle Race by The Move, who went ahead and recorded it and then released it before Liberty Records could get Lynne & Co.’s version out. Too bad, too, because it’s about as good as The Move’s version so it could have been the goosing that the Idle Race’s career needed. Another good one is the alternate take of “Follow Me Follow,” which is less straight ahead than the album version and actually better than that. “Days of the Broken Arrows” is a non-LP A-side that definitely makes for a great single (and its B-side is great, too, that being “Worn Red Carpet”).

Jeff Lynne left The Idle Race after the group’s second album (Idle Race) for The Move, spent a couple years with that group and then started ELO with fellow Mover Roy Wood (with both groups running simultaneously for a year or two). Listening to The Birthday Party is a good way to see how Lynne worked his way from nascent popster to world renowned producer (he went on to produce, besides his own Electric Light Orchestra, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Paul McCartney, Traveling Wilburys and The Beatles, among many others). This is a 2CD set jam packed with tunes that you’ll want to hear again and again. — Marsh Gooch

4/5 (Grapefruit QCRSEG065D, UK, 2020)

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Electric Light Orchestra • Out of the Blue [40th Anniversary Picture Disc]

Another anniversary, another reissue. Yet, ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA’s Out of the Blue is truly deserving of a celebration. The double album was first released in October 1977, amid all the hype about punk rock and the desecration of our beloved rock ’n’ roll. Forty years later the prophecy that punk would destroy all stands unfulfilled; rock ’n’ roll carries on as “classic” music, mostly of a bygone era, via countless repackages of the best it had to offer.

This here double picture disc of Out of the Blue is truly something to look at (I’m going by the photos I’ve seen), although it can’t be quite as awesome as the original issue. That was a 2LP album in a gatefold cover with printed inner sleeves, a mini poster of the band and – wait for it! – a cut-out space station/rocket ship just like the one on the record jacket! And YES, I did assemble mine as a 14 year old and hung the poster, too. Today’s picture disc release comes with none of those extras, just Jeff Lynne’s masterpiece carved into the grooves of records that can’t possibly show all the magic that is Blue. I mean, picture discs are naturally pressed with shallower grooves to accommodate the picture inside, thus making for a quieter and (likely) less expansive sound. The original pressing, as well as some of the many reissues over the last four decades, is really the one to have.

With five singles hitting the charts, Blue was ELO’s biggest bang, eventually selling some 10 million copies worldwide. You know many of them: “Turn to Stone,” “Sweet Talkin’ Woman,” and the nowadays ubiquitous (thanks to its inclusion in dozens of movies) “Mr. Blue Sky.” The band’s sound had evolved to a unique hybrid of rock, classical and pop. What started out as a great idea (their classicalized cover of “Roll Over Beethoven” was among their early singles, along with the epic “10538 Overture”) hit its zenith with this sprawling double album, which even included a side-long Concerto for a Rainy Day. Judging by the DVD of one of this era’s shows, the ELO of ’77 must have been something to see and hear in person.

Heavy on harmonies, stacked in layers thanks to 24-track recording and Jeff Lynne’s amazing ability to take melodies and turn them into major statements, Out of the Blue was like The Beatles smashed into The Beach Boys and The Everly Brothers while Phil Spector got the entire shebang on tape. My guess is Lynne was as focused on dense, dynamic arrangements as Brian Wilson was before him, though I don’t expect Jeff was wearing a fireman’s helmet in the booth… But I’ll bet it was really hot in there!

As for the strings, well, the Electric Light Orchestra at this point – lavish, grand – was six or seven band members plus the extra violins, cellos and what have you that accompanied them on record and on stage. Blue is ELO at its most magnificent. From this peak there was nowhere higher for Lynne & Co. to go, and so on the next LP, Discovery (cynically also known as Disco Very), the band shed most of the genuine strings and accomplished its orchestral manoeuvres mainly via synthesizers. It doesn’t matter that ELO’s biggest hit in America was “Don’t Let Me Down” (Bruuuuuuuuce!); Out of the Blue was the album that finally captured what was in the boss’s head and displayed it like a gigantic billboard for all to see. Hey you with the pretty face, welcome to the human race!

In 2007 a deluxe anniversary CD came out in a limited edition book-bound cover with the cutout space station (albeit in much smaller form) and 24-page booklet; that version and the standard jewelcase version included bonus tracks and new mastering. Sadly, one of the songs had a noticeable dropout thanks to the age of the stereo master tape and so this reissue loses a point. A vinyl reissue on Simply Vinyl was also issued (in 1999) and it suffered from over the top digital mastering (not usually a plus for vinyl reissues), and since then it had also been issued properly via Epic/Legacy (on clear vinyl, 2015). I’m not sure whether these vinyl versions – or the picture disc set that gave me reason to write this review now – include the aforementioned dropout, which is considerable but not a deal breaker since this album is such an essential piece of the ELO (and rock ’n’ roll in general) discography. You should give them a shot if they’re easily available. Otherwise, I’d try and hunt down an original on Jet/United Artists or even the slightly later Jet/CBS version (USA), or maybe even a UK import on Jet/UA. Hell, whatever version you get, Out of the Blue is something you must own.

5/5 (Epic 8898545616S1, 2017)

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