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2023 Albums Thing 128 - Electric Light Orchestra “The Electric Light Orchestra”

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The Move were one of Birmingham’s (we’re in Birmingham UK now BTW) great bands and one of the more interesting bands of the mid to late 60’s. After a string of top 20 hits (including “Night Of Fear”, “I Can Hear The Grass Grow”, “Flowers In The Rain”, “Fire Brigade” and “Blackberry Way” all hitting the top 5) co-lead singer Carl Wayne left the band in 1970 just before the release of their 2nd album “Shazam”. Jeff Lynne had been asked to join the band in 1969 but declined. On Wayne’s departure he finally agreed to join The Move as 2nd guitar and pianist, the foundation for the Electric Light Orchestra had been laid. One more (non-permanent and less heralded) addition to The Move around this time was multi-instrumentalist Bill Hunt, my Dad’s younger brother and hence, my Uncle Bill. 

Roy Wood had a notion to record a rock band with classical arrangements and instrumentation. Part of Lynne’s reasoning for joining The Move was that they should concentrate on this rock/classical hybrid idea. At a recording session in July 1970 Wood added multi-tracked cello’s to a Jeff Lynne song that was intended to be a Move b-side. The first ELO song was born, “10538 Overture”, we’ll return to that presently.

This album (also known as “No Answer” in the USA after a record company secretary had tried to ring the UK company to get the title of the album but they were unavailable. So she left a note reading "No answer".) was recorded simultaneously with the tracks that became The Move’s final album, “Message From the Country”. Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne and Bev Bevan are the only musicians on all tracks with Uncle Bill adding French Horn parts and Steve Woolam playing violin. The album was released in the UK in December 1971.

ELO played their first gig at the Croydon Greyhound on July 16th 1972 but by 12th August, when they played the Reading Festival, Roy Wood had left the band during the recording of a second album, taking Uncle Bill and cellist Hugh McDowell with him to form Wizzard.

“10538 Overture” was the lead single and track 1 side 1 of this album. Now if you think you don’t know it then just imagine in your mind the guitar riff from Paul Weller’s “The Changingman” and there you have it, Weller lifted the riff note for note and no amount of protestation that he didn’t know “10538…” will convince me otherwise. The song sets the new sound, it’s exactly what they envisioned, a rock band with classical instrumentation and arrangements. The song itself features that killer riff and lyrics that seemingly mirror something akin to “The Prisoner” TV series. For those of an enquiring mind 10538 was the serial number of the tape machine the song was recorded on.

From there on Wood and Lynne share the writing credits equally, 4 each, with Wood certainly sticking to the classical part of the deal and Lynne supplying somewhat more of the rock/classical crossover. Track 2, Wood’s “Look At Me Now” features virtually no rock instrumentation being based around strings and woodwind with a possible acoustic guitar (it may not be) right at the end. Track 3, Lynne’s “Nellie Takes Her Bow”, could have appeared on almost any subsequent ELO album and not seemed out of place, although the instrumental interlude does seem to be there just to force the classical input into a song that doesn’t need it.

Roy’s 3 remaining songs are the quite bizarre “The Battle Of Marston Moor (July 2nd, 1644)” and “First Movement (Jumping Biz)” (both instrumentals although Marston Moor includes a speech “in the style” of Oliver Cromwell to start) and the closing ballad “Whisper In The Night” which points firmly toward his 1973 solo album “Boulders”.

Jeff Lynne’s “Manhattan Rumble (49th Street Massacre)” is another bizarre instrumental. “Mr Radio” and “Queen Of The Hours” could also have appeared on almost any subsequent ELO album and not seemed out of place.

It’s a very strange album, equally split between what we would come to know as ELO and some (at times contrived ?) experimentation with orchestral sounds. The highlight is most certainly “10538 Overture” (eh Paul ;-) ?). Roy Wood (and Uncle Bill) went on to chart topping success with Wizzard and Jeff Lynne, well, he's done OK since this almost progressive album.

10538 Overture - https://youtu.be/tfpkG73ckm4

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