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ELO: The Secret Of Their Success

After their stellar success in the 70s, what was to become of ELO? Prog discusses the band’s journey into the 80s and beyond with Jeff Lynne…

If ELO bestrode the 70s like a colossus, then the 1980s and beyond would prove to be much more different for the band.

Then again, in stylistic terms, 70s prog really only had punk and new wave to contend with – 1979’s Discovery was the band’s first No.1 album in the UK and their biggest selling album to date. The 80s, however, was a decade beset with constant stylistic shifts – the perpetual hunt for a new marketable angle hardly conducive to a musician of Jeff Lynne’s pedigree.

That said, Lynne began the decade with change afoot. Discovery was the first ELO album not to feature cellists Hugh McDowell and Melvyn Gale, or violinist Mik Kaminski, although all three were on the ensuing tour.

When ELO released their first album of the new decade, Time, in 1981, the band were settled a the Lynne/Bevan/Tandy/Groucutt quartet, but many things that had set ELO up as one of the most spectacularly popular bands of the 70s were about to change.

I got fed up with using strings and was really glad when the synths came in.

“I’d got fed up with strings by then,” says Lynne. “In those days the unions used to be so mean and strict, they would stop playing as soon as the clock got to the 12. They’d put the gear away, however far through the song you were, which I thought was a rotten trick. Because you wouldn’t do that to anybody. Bloody minded, I’d call it. So
I got fed up with using strings and was really glad when the synths came in.”

The synths may have come in, but in Time, ELO released the proggiest album they had done in years: a science fiction-orientated concept album, whose bombastic opening couplet of Prologue and Twilight would later be sampled by Cher. The album topped the UK charts (the band’s only UK No.1 alongside Discovery) and boasted four popular singles, including _Hold On Tigh_t, Ticket To The Moon and _The Way Life’s Meant To B_e. ELO toured, bringing Kaminski back and bolstering their sound with Louis Clark and Dave Morgan on synthesizers. It would be their last tour for over 30 years.

“We toured America and England,” Lynne recalls. “We had the record for Wembley Stadium, until Dire Straits broke it!”

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