Nov 10 2012

Popular Culture 20121109: The Electric Light Orchestra

The Electric Light Orchestra, also known as ELO, were a pretty good British band that officially formed in 1970.  Like many British bands of its era, ELO went through huge personnel changes over the years.  We shall confine our discussion to the band(s) from 1970 to 1983, sort of like what we did with The Moody Blues not that long ago.

The band were founded by Roy Wood (previously leader of the decent British band The Move), and Jeff Lynne (previously from the band The Idle Race, which also had Wood as a member for a while).  Interestingly, The Move continued to record and release records whilst ELO was being formed, largely to pay the bills.

The original lineup of the band in 1970 were

Bev Bevan (also from The Move) on drums, percussion, and vocals,

Bill Hunt (little other information available) on keyboards and horns,

Jeff Lynne (bio already given) on vocals and just about everything else and songwriter,

Roy Wood (bio already given) about as eclectic as Lynne, and

Steve Wollam (little other information available) on violin.

The very first ELO song was supposed to be a The Move one, but Wood added a bunch of cello and they decided that it should be credited to the new band.  It was written by Jeff Lynne and ironically was released AFTER their first LP was released.  More on that later.

The first album (The Electric Light Orchestra) was released in 197112 on Harvest Records in the UK.  In the US it was released in January or February of 1972 on United Artists Records under the title No Answer.  This was because of a simple failure to communicate betwixt the US and the UK labels, a telephone message on the US side saying only “No answer”.  The US label thought that this was the name of the album!

But that was still not the first ELO recording released!  In the UK, Harvest Records would often release EPs of new material by new artists to see how it was received.  The Jeff Lynne song “Queen of the Hours”, released on a compilation album called The Harvest Bag in 197111.  It was also released on the first ELO album the next month.  I am almost sure that it is Lynne singing.  Here it is:

Note that Lynne has a voice quite similar to that of George Harrison, with whom he collaborated much later.  It is a nice, but strange, song.  Note the characteristic heavy cello involvement.

Queen of the hours lies waiting for the wind to blow away the veil of time

Slowly now the threads of age are starting to unwind


Queen of the hours

Along, Along, Along the path of time, of time,

She is still

The clock shall tell the tale

When all is well, is well.

Black was the night that came in from the East and caused the land to sleep.

Riding on a storm, it carved a message in Isabella Creek.


Dawn is the death wish night has passed away, it left the sacred flower,

Opened up the grave and bowed its life unto the Queen of Hours.

On the first album, the initial song was the Lynne number previously mentioned, 10538 Overture.  This is the album mix, and I shall follow it with the single mix.

And here is the single mix:

Did you see your friend crying from his eyes today

Did you see him run through the streets and far away


Did you see him run, did you see him fall

Did his life flash by at the bedroom door

Did you hear the news it came across the air today

Someone has been found on the rocks down in the bay


Did you see him hide, did you see him crawl

Does his life mean more than it did before

Did you see that man running through the streets today

Did you catch his face, was it 10538


By the way, their debut album charted at #196 in the US and at #32 in the UK.  THe single of 10538 Overture charted at #9 in the UK but failed to chart in the US.

“Look at me Now”, by Roy Wood, was the second song on the record.  It certainly does not sound like Lynne singing, so I assume that it is Wood.

Someone is waiting, lurking in the trees

The spirit of her is walking back to me

Ah look at me now feeling emotion

Ah look at me now

The King of the castle brought her to her knees

Gave the Salvation Army girl a squeeze

Ah look at me now feeling emotion

Ah look at me now

Look at me now

Now she’s a sallow face

Scattering her lace — on dewy ground

Ah, I keep searching my head

Now it’s spinning around

Lifting her head, her countenance redeemed

Re-acted the murder by the silver stream

Ah look at me now displaying emotion

Ah look at me now

Look at me now so cold and yet so brave

Weave me some wings to take me to her grave

Ah look at me now feeling emotion

Ah look at me now

Look at me now

I do not particularly like this song.  It is too dissonant for my taste, but as an experimental piece it is OK.

The third song on the debut album is Lynne number “Nellie Takes Hew Bow”.  It is definitely Lynne singing.

Who thanked the Lord for the clothes

that she wore and mended,

Nellie with the big old fashioned eyes

Who won the heart of a crowd

tore apart, took a bow,

Nellie there’s a different world backstage


I see the flood lights burning

I hear the band play on

Now Nellie takes her bow

She said she really could not stay

She had a brand new play to play

And so she paints her face and smiles

And she’ll be someone else in a while


Just a lonely girl who could not face a broken world,

And so she acts out all her dreams and wishes that’s how it had been

But when the audience is near, it seems as though she doesn’t even care.


Nellie just sent me a line to tell me she was doing fine

She got the lead and on Broadway, and now they’re digging her today

And as she turns the final page, living

someone’s life upon the stage


This is sort of a sad song and evidently another experimental piece.  I kind of like it.

The forth and last song on the first side of the album was the historical “The Battle of Marston Moor (July 2nd 1644)”, a Wood piece.  This battle was sort of the beginning of the end for the Royalist partisans in the first English Civil War, paving the way for an ambitions Oliver Cromwell to become Lord Protector of England in 1653.  These were dark days, and the people suffered greatly under the theocracy established by Cromwell and his compatriots.  As a matter of fact, not long after he died from natural causes in 1658 the monarchy was restored in 1660.  Cromwell was so reviled by then that his body was exhumed and “executed” by hanging in 1661!  Or at least most historians believe that, but there is some controversy as to whether it was really Cromwell’s body that was treated thusly, because there were rumors that his authentic body had been removed and a substitute body put in his tomb.  In any event, the intent was to “execute” Cromwell, whether or not they got the right body.

My Lord King,

You stoop to betray your own people,

And even in the eyes of God,

Do you not relent?

I am therefore bound by no other course

I shall raise an army;

Together we will march against you and your kind,

And every born man will fight to regain his own freedom,

And cleanse his wretched soul.

I think that the words were those of Cromwell, but the music certainly is by Wood.  It is an interesting piece, although a bit ponderous.

The first track on the second side is a Wood piece called “First Movement (Jumping Biz)”, and instrumental.  It sort of reminds me of “Classical Jazz” meets Frank Zappa.

The second song of the second side is “Mr. Radio” by Lynne.  To me this song has more of the “classical” ELO sound than most others on the debut album.  There is a reason for this, and we shall discuss this towards the end of the piece.

Hello, Mr. Radio, you friendly station,

So glad of your company, your morning music,

My wife she ran away, she left our home,

And though you’re here with me, I’m on my own.

Hello, Mr. Radio, you friendly speaker,

You played my request today, request to see her

Your voice comes riding home across the air,

You travel ’round the world, but still you’re here.

I heard on the news today the world is no good,

But if she returns today mine could be so good

I look into the sky, your waves rush by,

The weather man has lied, it makes me cry.

Hello, Mr. Radio, do I disturb you?

Sometimes I forget my place, I seem to know you

I miss you when you close, you’ll never know,

And when your programmes go, I’m on my own.

This is a very sad song, about a man who has lost his loved one, but perhaps not forever.  The reference in the final line is, I believe, to the fact that both in the UK and the US broadcast stations (both TeeVee and radio) would sign off at particular times.  Many AM stations in the US still do that, or at least cut power and engage directional antennae to avoid interfering with “clear channel” AM stations, usually operating at 50,000 watts.  For higher frequencies such interruptions is service are not necessary for technical reasons, but were often done in the past for economic or political ones.

When I was a lad I well remember KFSA-TV, Channel 5 in Fort Smith, Arkansas signing off after The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on weeknights.  By the way, the origin of the term “the late, late show” had to do with movies being played after normal sign off time.  All of that programming was local, because there was no network feed after that.  There was no legal requirement for them to sign off, as far as I can tell, but since few people were watching it made sense to go dark.

There is something else interesting about this song.  Different sources say that it was released in 1971 or 1972, and some say that it was released and then withdrawn as a single.  I do not know the real deal on this one.  If you have better information, please let us know in the comments.

The third song on the second side is the Lynne number “Manhattan Rumble (49th Street Massacre)”, another instrumental.  It sounds like a very experimental piece as well.  I am not sure if I like it or not.  Once again, I can sense some Zappa influence.

Another Lynne piece, “Queen of the Hours” is the forth song on the second side.  We have considered it earlier, since it was the very first ELO release.

The last song on the album is a Wood composition, “Whisper in the Night”.  It is not what we think of when we think of ELO, but it is quite a beautiful and again sad, song.

Whisper in the night

Over silent evening air

Angel’s gown shines white

All at once you’re glad she’s there

Daughter of your dream shine a guiding light for me

For I’ll be here till light

Whisper in the night

Till she has forgiven me

Night turns into gold

So the tide may turn today

Though God gave the world

It’s not mine to throw away

Daughter of your dream shine a guiding light for me

For I’ll be here till light

Whisper in the night

Till she has forgiven me

La da da — da

Whisper in the night

Till she has forgiven me

Help to face what the day may bring

Angels sing

You were sent to make the night be kind

What will I find

Snowflake bird she came

Taking grey clouds from your door

Face the midnight sun

You have something to live for

Daughter of your dream shine a guiding light for me

For I’ll be here till light

Whisper in the night

Till she has forgiven me

La da da — da

Whisper in the night

Till she has forgiven me

Thus ends the debut album for ELO.  Note that only a few songs, all of them Lynne ones, resemble the sound that we expect to hear when we listen to this band.  There is a reason for that.

Not long after the album was released, Roy Wood up and quit the band.  Both he and Lynne produced the first album, and both financial and creative differences were cropping up betwixt them.  Wood went on to start a fairly successful band called Wizzard, but it never had the commercial success that did ELO have.

It is sort of ironic that Wood was the actual, if any single person was, founder of ELO and left after the first album.  But leave he did, taking a number of personnel with him.  That left Lynne in complete control of the band, both creatively and in the business sense.  Because of Wood leaving, the sound that we have come to know as ELO became possible.

ELO is far from my favorite band, but they did have their moments.  Not many of those moments were on this album, however.  Next time we shall look at their second album which is, in my opinion, much better.  But music, like other art, is highly subjective.

Please comment freely about my thoughts.  I shall respond as my circumstances allow tonight.

Warmest regards,

Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith

Crossposted at

Daily Kos,

Docudharma, and


1 comment

  1. Translator, aka Dr. David W. Smith

    a pretty good band?

    Warmest regards,


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