Rock and roll may be king, but the symphony plays a good jester.
There was a time during the 1970s and early 1980s when a very unique English band gained fame with a special blend of symphonic rock music to give us classic radio staples like “Telephone Line,” “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” and “Mr. Blue Sky.”
More than four decades later, in 2016, that band – the Electric Light Orchestra – was nominated for the first time for entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and come this April, they will gain entry as first-ballot inductees.
The fact that Jeff Lynne and company are getting into the RRHOF on their first ballot means that they truly belong there. That the nomination came twenty years after ELO were first eligible means that the Rock Hall has been getting it wrong all these years.
Indeed, it’s the “Orchestra” part of ELO that likely contributed to this unforgivable slight, as the band through the years has featured as many cellists as it has guitarists (eleven each), including Lynne who’s played both instruments along with several others. It is Lynne, with his famously large afro and enormous talent to match, who has been the principal songwriter, producer and backbone of the group and its various incarnations since 1971, when they released their first album in the U.K., The Electric Light Orchestra, featuring their first single, “10538 Overture.”
Over the years, ELO has been compared to the Beatles and Queen and have been lumped into music categories including progressive rock, art rock, cello rock and symphonic rock. That’s a lot of rocks, but the truth is, ELO has always marched to the beat of their own drums (and violins), and even shone a little love to disco during the peak of their popularity back in 1979.
I’ve always been intrigued by the group myself, and I remember hearing a story on Casey Kasem’s “American Top 40” countdown show that recalled a time when the band’s leaders grew so tired of dealing with the hassles of hiring unionized session musicians (namely the cellists and violinists that comprised much of their orchestral sound and who could only work very specific hours), that they hired them directly to become part of ELO.
Speaking of AT40, that countdown show was how was I was introduced to ELO. They had 20 of their hits reach the Top 40 between their first (1974’s “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head” and last (1986’s “Calling America”), and have the dubious distinction of being the group who’s had the most top-40 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart without ever reaching #1 (“Don’t Bring Me Down” came closest; #4 in 1979).
Eventually, as the 1980s progressed, the string instruments gave way to synthesizers and the hits became fewer and farther between. Jeff Lynne disbanded the group in 1986, various offshoots occurred over the years, and then Lynne reformed ELO in more recent times.
When the Hall of Fame inducts the Class of 2017 in April, Lynne will be listed along with original ELO members Roy Wood and Bev Bevan, as well as key member Richard Tandy. Which of those four actually appear onstage to accept and perform is anyone’s guess.
What is known is that ELO is finally getting its due reward, something that should have happened 20 years ago.
This writer, for one, is happy about that. And to commemorate ELO’s overdue accomplishment, djrobblog has ranked what I consider to be ELO’s 25 Best Songs, those “rockestrated” tunes that got them to the RRHOF…