The Story of a Rock and Roll Band

They were six fine English boys / Who knew each other in Birmingham

The Story of a Rock and Roll Band
Johnny played little violin / And Bobby Joe played the big violin

If you haven't had your eye on the news this week, let me be the first to tell you that ELO — sorry, Jeff Lynne's ELO — has announced a farewell tour that's scheduled to begin in late summer and conclude in October. Not the most spectacular of endings for a group that was once popular enough to tour with a goddamn spaceship, but on the other hand, ELO has been more of a brand than a band since at least the turn of the century, and there's a certain poetic justice in an act's commercial profile dwindling as the number of original members declines.

I kid, I kid. Sort of — given that I once publicly referred to the Traveling Wilburys as "four rock legends and the guy from ELO," I can't pretend to have any degree of emotional investment in this band's future or lack thereof. Having lived through the period when you couldn't turn on a radio without hearing a Jeff Lynne production, I feel justified in having long since dismissed him as a one-shtick pony; given that said shtick mostly comes down to cribbing from the Beatles and classical composers while making every rhythm section he records sound like absolute ass, I also feel justified in refusing to apologize for many years of ELO/Lynne besmirchment. (Not a word, but I kinda like it, so it stays.)

But believe it or not, I'm not here to pee on the grave of Jeff Lynne's ELO. Quite the contrary, in fact — after reading Variety's report about the farewell tour, one of my first thoughts was "I should finally listen to their whole catalog." (Full disclosure: My first first thought was "Finally.") Anyway, I've spent the last couple of days listening to a whole bunch of Electric Light Orchestra records, and as I type these words, I'm nearing the homestretch with 1986's Balance of Power, which marks the spot where the band — more or less fully a Lynne dictatorship at this point — sputtered to a halt for either several years or a decade and change, depending on whose lawyers you side with.

(Side note: Balance of Power is... kind of fun? I was not expecting this.)

I've decided that this album is where I'm going to stop my journey, at least for now; I feel like it's fine to draw the line at the place where Electric Light Orchestra ceased to exist. True fans know that a few years later, assorted bits of ELO congregated without Lynne to form the hilariously named Electric Light Orchestra Part Two; the fact that their first album was released on Scotti Bros. should tell you everything you need to know. The name change only happened after Lynne sued, in the process winning entitlement to a share of all of ELO Part II's presumably negligible royalties.

We could (and maybe should) dedicate a whole-ass post to Electric Light Orchestra Part Two, just so we can discuss how their original lineup included a guy whose sole job was lead and background vocals, but he only handled lead vocals on three tracks from the first album, and also how they had to change their name to the Orchestra after drummer Bev Bevan decided to take a hike and sell his share of the ELO name to Lynne. (Somewhat incredibly, the Orchestra is still around, touring with a lineup that includes the perennially underappreciated Parthenon Huxley and Glen Burtnik.) Unfortunately, I need to eat dinner, so we'll have to table that idea for now.

What I do have for you is a playlist of cuts I've cherry-picked from that initial run of ELO records — nearly three hours of songs I can live with and/or actively enjoy even though they emanated from the brain and/or recording console of an artist I have taken pleasure in mocking for several decades. Here's to you, Jeff Lynne. While I will go to my grave hoping to someday hear versions of the albums you've produced that do not make the drums sound like Quaker Oats containers being slapped by a toddler and the bass sound like nothing whatsoever, you certainly had the ability to write and/or recognize a killer pop song. Also, Randy Newman wrote and recorded a song about you! That isn't nothing.