Top 10 Electric Light Orchestra Songs
When Jeff Lynne joined Roy Wood’s British band the Move in 1970, it was with the condition that the group blend their basic rock moves with classical music, in a nod to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. After recording two final albums with the Move, Lynne and Wood formed Electric Light Orchestra, realizing Lynne’s dream of pairing classical instruments (cello, violin, french horn, oboe, etc.) with rock ‘n’ roll riffs. The band’s 1971 debut is a clunky attempt to get some footing with this new hybrid. By their fourth album, Wood was long gone and Lynne steered ELO away from the classical pretensions (a drawn-out cover of Chuck Berry‘s “Roll Over Beethoven,” originals like “10538 Overture”) and toward strings-assisted rock songs with huge pop riffs. The tracks on our list of the Top 10 Electric Light Orchestra Songs come from the five-year period in the mid-to-late-’70s when they were one of the most reliable bands on the planet.
‘Don’t Bring Me Down’
The closing track on ELO’s eighth album is their highest-charting single in the U.S. (it reached No. 4). Propelled by a marching drum loop, “Don’t Bring Me Down” was the group’s last classic cut. The following year they recorded the Xanadu soundtrack with Olivia Newton-John; in 1981, they made the snoozy concept album Time.
‘Turn to Stone’
The opening track and first single from the band’s double-album opus Out of the Blue, like every single cut on our list of the Top 10 Electric Light Orchestra Songs, comes with a Godzilla-size hook that stomps over everything in its way. The small symphony of strings that pushes its way through the choruses is a bonus blast of awesome.
‘Can’t Get It Out of My Head’
The band’s first Top 10 single and first moment of greatness. After three albums of stilted classical-inspired orchestral rock, Lynne loosened the reins a little and let ELO stray into more modern melodic territory. Parts of Eldorado still follow some of the rigid rules of the past: It’s almost required, since it’s a concept album. But this gorgeous ballad stands out.
‘Mr. Blue Sky’
The Beatles-esque “Mr. Blue Sky” has grown in stature over the years, with artists as diverse as rapper Common and indie-rock singer Mayer Hawthorne incorporating it into their songs. The original single got to only No. 35, but its place on the two-LP Out of the Blue is pivotal: It’s the final part of side three’s “Concerto for a Rainy Day Suite.” Plus, it’s one of the best-ever uses of the vocoder in a ’70s song.
One of ELO’s greatest ballads not only is a highlight of the band’s first Top 10 album, it also marked a turning point in their career. After testing a couple of commercial pop songs on the previous LP (1974’s Eldorado), the group jumped into more radio-friendly tracks on Face the Music (see No. 2 on our list of the Top 10 Electric Light Orchestra Songs). This is one of the best.
“Do Ya” was the Move’s only chart single in the U.S. (it stalled at No. 93 in 1971). Five years later, Lynne revisited his song with ELO, this time hitting the Top 20. Unlike many of the tracks on our list of the Top 10 Electric Light Orchestra Songs, “Do Ya” keeps the classical elements to a minimum. The song – one of the band’s toughest cuts – features one of rock’s all-time greatest guitar riffs.
‘Sweet Talkin’ Woman’
The fourth single from the band’s double-album Out of the Blue features the LP’s biggest pop explosion. “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” is all strings, synths, guitars and call-and-response backing vocals before effortlessly gliding into that one-of-a-kind chorus. It’s also one of ELO’s greatest group performances.
Jeff Lynne has written some terrific hooks over the years (see pretty much every track on our list of the Top 10 Electric Light Orchestra Songs), but this is one of his all-time best. “Telephone Line” was the last single to be released from A New World Record, but it was the only one to hit the Top 10. A futuristic-sounding song with a classic melody.
ELO’s breakthrough hit is the moment where the band recast itself from somewhat stuffy art rockers into a more playful (and way funkier) group. The Top 10 “Evil Woman” includes the band’s usual mix of old-school strings and new-school keyboards, but this time they’re backing a funky dance-floor beat that drives the song all the way to pop glory.
The first single from ELO’s sixth album didn’t crack the Top 10 (it stopped at No. 13), but it’s one of the group’s most popular songs. It also features a little bit of everything that made them great: a string-solo opening, soulful backing vocals, synth waves occasionally crashing into the chorus and a gigantic hook. The legacy of “Livin’ Thing” was sealed when it was used during the closing scene of the 1997 movie Boogie Nights, as Mark Wahlberg’s porn star whips out his monster (prosthetic) penis. Not sure if this is what Jeff Lynne had in mind when he wrote the song, but it’s a perfect moment nonetheless.