Electric Light Orchestra (ELO): A Power-Pop Symphony

The music and career of these symphonic pop icons

Electric Light Orchestra
Electric Light Orchestra. Getty Images

Who is Electric Light Orchestra (ELO)?

Arising from the ashes of one of Britain's great power-poppers, the Electric Light Orchestra was supposed to be a one-off exercise in symphonic post-Beatles rock, but leader Jeff Lynne's way with a hook soon turned them into cinematic and absurdly touching orchestral bubblegum.

Electric Light Orchestra(ELO)'s best known songs:

  • "Mr. Blue Sky"
  • "Evil Woman"
  • "Livin' Thing"
  • "Sweet Talkin' Woman"
  • "10538 Overture"
  • "Telephone Line"
  • "Turn to Stone"
  • "Don't Bring Me Down"
  • "Do Ya"
  • "Twilight"

Where you might have heard them "Evil Woman" is seemingly deathless and eternally well-loved, and a lot of recent commercial exposure has done the same thing for "Mr. Blue Sky." But their performance at the 2015 Grammys introduced them to a whole new audience, as did their status as epic '70s soundtracks for smart period-piece films like American Hustle and Boogie Nights

Formed 1970 (Birmingham, England)

Styles Pop-rock, Prog rock, Rock and Roll, Disco

Principal Members:

Jeff Lynne (b. December 30, 1947, Birmingham, England): vocals, guitar, keyboards
Bev Bevan (b. November 25, 1944, Birmingham, England): drums
Kelly Groucutt (b. September 8, 1945, Coseley, Stratfordshire, England; d. February 19, 2009, Worcester, England): bass, backing vocals
Richard Tandy (b. March 26, 1948, Birmingham, England): keyboards, backing vocals
Mik Kaminski (b. Michael Kaminski, September 2, 1951, Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England): violin
Hugh McDowell (b. July 31, 1953, Hampstead, London, England): cello
Melvyn Gale (b. January 15, 1952, London, England): cello

Claims to fame:

  • Merged classical, rock, and pop in a seamless way no rock act has done before or since
  • One of the Beatles' major stylistic heirs
  • Their innovative live show, featuring a full-size spaceship on stage, helped make them a legendary concert draw
  • Singer/songwriter Jeff Lynne is one of rock's great pop tunesmiths

The History of Electric Light Orchestra (ELO)

Early years

The British pop band The Move enjoyed several hits in their native country through 1970, many directly inspired by the experiments of The Beatles: "Blackberry Way," "Tonight," and "I Hear The Grass Grow," sometimes balanced with rather heavy power-pop numbers. Founder Roy Wood was growing dissatisfied with singer Carl Wayne, however, and envisioned a new project: a symphonic pop band that would "pick up where the Beatles left off." Wood enlisted fellow members Jeff Lynne and drummer Bev Bevan to add cellos to a planned Move b-side, "10538 Overture." The result was a hit, and the trio left The Move to form ELO.


Electric Light Orchestra (often abbreviated ELO) made a very baroque self-titled debut, but Wood, already growing restless, left to form the glam rock band Wizzard, leaving Lynne to go it alone with Bevan. Jeff fleshed out the band, even going so far as to add two cellists and a violinist, and forged ahead, making some inroads into the US with a very literal cover of Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven." After dabbling in prog rock, however, Lynne turned to pop, and the hits began to come: "Showdown," "Can't Get It Out of My Head," "Evil Woman." The hits, along with an elaborate arena show, made ELO a 70s favorite.

Later years

The group only became poppier and more popular, but it soon allied itself with the burgeoning disco movement, leading to their "Xanadu" duet with Olivia Newton-John and alienating the band's base. Even though ELO landed a few more hits, its time was largely over. Lynne, however, went on to become one of the great producers of the 80s and 90s, producing Tom Petty's "Full Moon Fever," George Harrison's comeback "Cloud Nine," and Roy Orbison's comeback single "You Got It"; eventually all of the above joined Bob Dylan in the Traveling Wilburys. An abortive attempt at relaunching the ELO brand was attempted in 2001.

More About Electric Light Orchestra (ELO)

Other ELO members:

Roy Wood (1970-1972; vocals, guitar, bass, drums, cello, clarinet, bassoon, oboe, recorder)
Bill Hunt (1970-1972; drums)
Steve Woolam (1970-1971; violin)
Wilfred Gibson (1972–1973; violin)
Colin Walker (1972–1973; cello)
Mike Edwards (1972-1974; cello)
Mike de Albuquerque (1972-1974; bass, vocals)

Other ELO facts and trivia:

  • The band's name is a pun on "pops" orchestras that play popular music; in Britain they're known as "light" orchestras
  • After hearing "Showdown," John Lennon began admiringly referring to the band as "Beatles Jr."
  • Parodied by Randy Newman in his 1979 song "The Story of a Rock and Roll Band"
  • Officially shortened to "ELO" in 1981 after Lynne jettisoned his string players
  • The group's self-titled debut album was named No Answer in the US due to a transatlantic miscommunication
  • Lynne started Jet, one of the decade's premiere artist-owned boutique labels
  • Lynne balked at using "Livin' Thing" in the movie Boogie Nights, until he saw the film and declared it "genius"

Electric Light Orchestra(ELO)'s greatest hits and albums

Top 10 hits
Pop "Can't Get It Out of My Head" (1974), "Evil Woman" (1975), "Telephone Line" (1977), "Don't Bring Me Down" (1979), "Shine a Little Love" (1979), "Xanadu" with Olivia Newton-John (1980), "Hold on Tight" (1981)

Top 10 albums:
Pop Face the Music (1975). A New World Record (1976), Out of the Blue (1977), Discovery (1979). Xanadu with Olivia Newton-John (1980)

Notable covers Frehley's Comet, the solo band started by former KISS member Ace Frehley, covered "Do Ya" with some success in the early '80s, and Todd Rundgren recreated "Bluebird is Dead" on a 2001 Jeff Lynne tribute album called Lynne Me Your Ears. Pop-punk band J Church once covered "Tightrope," a song whose melodramatic string intro has also been sampled by several hip-hop artists

Movies and TV Director Kenneth Anger loved the album Eldorado and used it to replace the original score on his notorious "Satanic" 1954 film Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome; ELO was also the first band to create an entire video album, releasing performance videos for every song from 1979's Discovery