45 Years Ago: Electric Light Orchestra’s Ambitious Debut Merges Rock and Cellos
When Electric Light Orchestra released their self-titled debut in December 1971, the band's core trio of multi-instrumentalists Jeff Lynne, Roy Wood and drummer Bev Bevan were still in the Move. Although ELO would far surpass their predecessors in terms of sales, it was originally intended as a side project to explore a new sound.
“Roy and I would go to pubs and clubs in Birmingham and keep talking about having this group with strings,” Lynne told Uncut in 2013. “We finally figured out a way of doing it, and while we were making [the Move’s final LP] Message From the Country we started knocking out these little tunes, just the two of us, and [drummer Bev Bevan] putting the drums on afterwards.”
The final days of the Move coincided with Electric Light Orchestra's first steps largely because no one thought Wood and Lynne’s concept of an orchestral-minded rock band would pay off. Making the Move’s last album helped encourage the band’s U.K. label, Harvest, to take a chance on the new group. It also helped that, while making tracks for the Move, Lynne and Wood found the classical/rock balance they were looking for in one song.
"'10538 Overture' was an idea that Jeff brought along to the studio which was originally to be a Move track,” Wood recalled in the liner notes to the 2006 reissue. “At the time, I was very keen on collecting instruments, and had just acquired a cheap Chinese cello. After we had finished overdubbing the guitars, I sat in the control room trying out this cello and sort of messing around with Jimi Hendrix-type riffs. Jeff said, ‘That sounds great, why don’t we throw it on the track.’ I ended up recording around 15 of these, and as the instrumentation built up, it was beginning to sound like some monster heavy-metal orchestra.”
Listen to ELO Perform '10538 Overture'
The song would become the centerpiece of Electric Light Orchestra’s self-titled first album, which was largely an experimental affair – rawer and stranger than the glossy ELO records to come. Lynne and Wood shared songwriting and vocal duties on the debut, with the latter pushing his notions for baroque rock, with cellos and woodwinds accompanying (or even replacing) traditional pop instruments.
With a concept to “pick up where the Beatles left off,” Wood went wild, playing almost every instrument on “The Battle of Marston Moor,” when drummer Bevan refused to collaborate on such a bizarre track. “It was a bit odd recording it, me and Roy playing it all ourselves with all these silly instruments: bassoons and stuff like that,” Lynne said. “It was fun and kind of wacky, a pseudo-classical pantomime horse.”
Electric Light Orchestra didn’t really take off until the release of the “10538 Overture” single (a No. 9 U.K. hit) the following summer, in June of 1972. In the meantime, ELO secured a U.S. release for the album in March, although the release bore another title – the result of an amusing accident.
United Artists phoned the band to ask the name of their debut, but no one from ELO picked up, so the caller wrote down “no answer” in a notebook. An executive misinterpreted the phrase as the title, and Electric Light Orchestra’s first Stateside album became No Answer.
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