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‘Nice planet – we'll take it!’: how ELO took over the known universe

From their modest Birmingham beginnings to becoming the biggest band in the world, ELO’s ascent was unstoppable and incredible. Jeff Lynne recalls working with Roy Wood in The Move, hanging ou

Only the wildly optimistic would have predicted from listening to Electric Light Orchestra at the start of the 70s that by the end of the decade, they would be one of the biggest bands on the planet.

Actually, the first track by the fledgling outfit, the Jeff Lynne-penned 10538 Overture (originally intended to be a Move B-side when it was recorded in July 1970), was a Top 10 UK hit, despite sounding, with its big cello riff, like heavy metal played by classical musicians, or hard rock chamber music.

Much of the rest of Electric Light Orchestra’s self-titled debut album was more progressive than pop. Look At Me Now was like Eleanor Rigby on downers. Nellie Takes Her Bow was a riot of discordant strings that could have been Bernard Hermann running amok with a rock band. Manhattan Rumble (49th Street Massacre) might have soundtracked a horror movie shower scene. The Battle of Marston Moor (July 2nd 1644) brought to mind a 17th-century ELP, while Queen Of The Hours used violins less as a sweetener than a shrill counterpart to all the low-register sawing cellos. Only the projected second single from the album, Mr Radio, exhibited any of the qualities of the band who would later colonise the world’s hit parades.

Issued in December 1971, the album faltered at No.32 – ELO’s highest-charting UK album until 1976.

Still, if it hardly augured well for their commercial fortunes, it was certainly a fine showcase for mainmen Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood’s prodigious talents. They may have had fellow founder member Bev Bevan on drums, timpani and percussion, Bill Hunt on horns and keyboards, Steve Woolam on violin, plus three cellists, but it was mainly Lynne and Wood’s show.

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