Singer-songwriter and guitarist Jeff Lynne - ELO, The Idle Race and Travelling Wilburys
Jeff Lynne in the early days
Jeff Lynne is regarded by many people as a genius, and I am one who would think of him in that way. He became world famous as a singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer.
Lynne had many hits with the Electric Light Orchestra, or ELO as they were commonly known, and later as part of The Travelling Wilburys but his first band The Idle Race, for some strange reason, were never the massive success they deserved to be despite brilliant songs and plenty of critical acclaim.
I remember discovering the band on the late great John Peel and Kenny Everett's radio shows on BBC R1. Both John and Kenny used to regularly play The Idle Race, and I can recall Everett making well-deserved comparisons with The Beatles. The Idle Race had songs that really were that good!
Idle Race photo
Songs by Jeff Lynne with the Idle Race
What stood out about the Idle Race songs were Jeff Lynne's incredible vocals and guitar-work, his arrangements and production, and the subject matter which ranged from the whimsical tale of a sad skeleton who works in a fairground in their single, Skeleton and the Roundabout, to Big Chief Woolley Bosher (about an Indian chief's fight against the white man who invaded his land) and Girl at the Window that tells the story of a lonely boy and his dreams of getting together with a girl he loves. Both the latter songs were on The Idle Race .
There was a childish nature about the themes and lyrics to some of the songs and perhaps not surprisingly Skeleton and the Roundabout was used as the opening music for the children's TV series Zokko. Mr Crow and Sir Norman is the story of the relationship between a ventriloquist and his dummy. I Like My Toys says it all in the title.
But behind this whimsy, which should not have gone against the success of the songs because acts such as the Incredible String Band had no problems with appealing to their legions of fans with material that was in a similar vein such as Minotaur's Song and Witches Hat , there was an underlying melancholy in songs like Sea of Dreams in which a little girl "closed her eyes and met her maker".
The albums Birthday Party and The Idle Race were both released at the tale-end of the '60s and childish notions and whimsy were very much part of the flower power era and psychedelic pop so it is a real mystery why Jeff Lynne's songs did not attract a much wider audience.
He was becoming known for his distinctive guitar playing and was able to make his electric guitar sound like a violin. Hurry Up, John is the Idle Race performing some brilliant psychedelic rock music and Lynne's guitar is a high point of the song.
There was always a lot going on in Jeff Lynne's songs: great lyrics, original subject matter, attention to harmonies and soaring vocals, and they were never just the type of rock song you can simply bash out. Jeff Lynne's songs for The Idle Race were very creative compositions in all ways.
Many of them, such as A Better Life (The Weatherman Knows) and Please No More Sad Songs are sublimely beautiful.
It is almost as if Jeff Lynne's songs on the first two albums by The Idle Race were too good! I could never understand why more people were not as into the band as I was.
I suppose it must have been just as much a mystery to Jeff Lynne to see that all the work he had put in on these albums didn't reap the success he deserved. He accepted a proposal by his friend to join The Move and left The Idle Race in 1970. Roy Wood
The band carried on without him and released a third album entitled Time Is with songs by Dave Pritchard who had contributed a couple in the past. Pritchard wrote Reminds Me Of You and A Better Life on The Idle Race . They were great songs but not in the same league as Lynne's material.
I saw them live but was very disappointed. Without Jeff Lynne for me the magic had gone.
Idle Race - The Skeleton and the Roundabout
Idle Race - Hurry Up John
Idle Race link
The Move, ELO and success at last
Jeff Lynne contributed to The Move until 1972 when the band which now consisted of Lynne, Roy Wood and Bev Bevan, was transformed into the much bigger group with a much bigger sound, known as ELO. The Move had already had many a hit with Roy Wood and Carl Wayne as the lead vocalist in the late '60s but the new band was to carry on upwards to even greater heights.
ELO added cellos, violin, horns and keyboards, to the traditional instrumentation of guitars, bass and drums. It was a new sound that was meant to takeover "where The Beatles had left off," and the new formula worked. Wikipedia tells us:
"By the mid-1970s, they had become one of the biggest selling bands in music. From 1972 to 1986, ELO accumulated 27 Top 40 hit singles in both the UK and the US."
By 1972 Roy Wood had left ELO to form his new band Wizzard and this left ELO with Jeff Lynne as the leader. He went on to score many hits with the band that included Can't Get It Out Of My Head in 1974, and Evil Woman in 1975.
Jeff Lynne had become the hit-maker he had dreamed of in the days of The Idle Race.
Idle Race - Come With Me + Reminds Me Of You - 1969 45rpm
© 2010 Steve Andrews