ELO is back on tour. Actually, it is “Jeff Lynne’s ELO” which is touring — an important distinction which underscores a sometimes harsh reality that some fans have had trouble facing up to over the years. Fact is, Jeff Lynne has been the driving force behind that group since its inception so, in effect, he is ELO, no matter what incarnation of the band being discussed. Yes, even the one with Roy Wood (who recruited Jeff to join The Move).
You see, Jeff has been mining that sound since the earliest days of his career, well before he connected with The Move after the commercial failure of two wonderful records made with his band The Idle Race.
Last year on Record Store Day, one of the more exciting releases of the year (for me, at least) was the reissue of the long out-of-print (and near impossible to find here in the U.S.) first album by The Idle Race called The Birthday Party. I reviewed it right around this time last year which you can read here.
This year’s Record Store Day releases were no less exciting as the second, equally-hard-to-find, eponymously titled Idle Race album was reissued. This year’s model is on lovely technicolor sky blue vinyl with red and white splatters and — and it sounds pretty wonderful! The vinyl is quiet and well centered. Overall, as with many of Jeff’s productions, there is a certain muted hush to the sound of the record, requiring you to turn up the volume on your amp to feel the splendor of the recording. Considering that this was Jeff’s first production effort — he was about 20 years old then — the impact of the recordings are all the more impressive.
Stylistically, this album is a bit all over the place (not unlike The White Album by his heroes The Beatles, which came out one year prior). “Going Home” previews the sort of string driven pop sound Jeff perfected in ELO (including an early drum machine type metronomic click, underscoring his love for steadier than steady rhythm tracks).
“Mr. Crow and Sir Norman” is a vaudeville flavored music hall piece replete with accordion, banjo and oom pah beat (not far removed from Paul McCartney’s “Honey Pie,” again, on The White Album) by way of Sgt. Pepper (with its simulated audience applause mixed in). “Please No More Sad Songs” is a beautiful ballad… “Girl At The Window” is notable as its one of the first of many references directly to The Beatles in Jeff’s songwriting. “Big Chief Wooly Bosher” showcases Jeff’s early fascination with the American West, themes later touched on in ELO tracks like “Wild West Hero.”
The album ends with “Hurry Up John,” a jamming bit of psychedelic freak-beat rock with an absolutely killer riff. This should have been the single off the album. Its a kicker, balancing multi-part choral harmonies with a Pink Floyd worthy hook and … that riff!
This is great stuff even if you are just a casual fan of Jeff’s music. If you are a hardcore fan, The Idle Race albums are essential.
Now, while Jeff was busy pushing his Idle Race as far as he could, his eventual subsequent bandmates The Move were riding the waves of their own bumpy career. As something of a stop gap until their next album was finished, the band released a nifty live EP (extended play) 7-inch mini album recorded live at The Marquee in London in 1968. This raw little rocker of a record — called Something Else From The Move — was also reissued for the first time in its original 7-inch format on Record Store Day.
Now while this in of itself is a cool thing — again, as finding an original in the U.S.A. is arduous — as I was researching some details for this review I discovered news that a dramatically expanded CD edition will be coming out in June. Featuring numerous additional tracks no on the original five-song EP, you might want to wait a month or so for this new expanded edition to be released. Besides, chances are if you are already a fan of The Move you probably already have this EP in some incarnation. If not, you really should get it, if only to hear their incendiary cover of The Byrds’ “So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n Roll Star.”
The Move were a fantastic band as were The Idle Race. Together you can hear why they became such a potent force when they re-emerged as The Electric Light Orchestra.
These are some important puzzle pieces of pop music history here, folks.