Born December 30, 1947, in Birmingham, England. Member of group, the Idle Race, c. 1966-70; member of group, the Move, 1970-73; member of group, Electric Light Orchestra (ELO), 1972-83. Producer and songwriter for various other artists, 1983--. Member of group, The Traveling Wilburys, beginning 1988. Music (with ELO) featured in the 1980 film, Xanadu. Addresses: Record company --Reprise Records, 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91510.
British rock artist Jeff Lynne has been bringing music to fans in his home country and the United States for nearly two decades. He first came to real prominence as the leader of the Electric Light Orchestra--perhaps better known by its initials, ELO. With this band, he scored many hits throughout the 1970s, including "Can't Get It Out of My Head," "Livin' Thing," and "Don't Bring Me Down." After ELO's popularity died down somewhat during the 1980s, Lynne concentrated on production and songwriting work for fellow major stars, former Beatles Paul McCartney and George Harrison among them. Lynne resurfaced as a performer in 1988, when he became a member of the Traveling Wilburys.
Lynne's first small taste of success in the music world came with a group he fronted during the late 1960s called the Idle Race. The band had a sufficient following among British college students to merit recording an album on the Liberty label in 1969, The Birthday Party. A year later, Lynne was approached by Roy Wood of the underground rock group the Move; Wood wanted Lynne to join. The Move had recently undergone radical changes in personnel, and was down to two members, Wood and drummer Bev Bevan. Lynne consented, but not merely to become part of a more successful band. Rather, he was interested in what Brock Helander described in his book, The Rock Who's Who, as "Wood's conception of a fully electric rock band augmented by a classical string section."
The plan was that Wood and Lynne would develop this project, to be called the Electric Light Orchestra, at the same time as they worked on Move albums. The first album the group put out as ELO, No Answer, was well received in Great Britain, and scored a hit there with the single, "10538 Overture," in 1972. Ironically, however, Lynne's first success in the United States, as well as the Move's biggest record in that country, came with the 1973 single "Do Ya," from the Move's Split Ends. Lynne eventually included the number in ELO concert performances.
Split Ends proved to be the last album the Move released. And Wood had grown bored with ELO, leaving it in Lynne's control. As Helander reported, the latter "assumed the primary role as producer, arranger, composer, lead vocalist, and lead guitarist." To make the album ELO II, Lynne decided to put even greater emphasis on the blending of the rock and classical styles, and recruited keyboard player Richard Tandy (also a Move veteran), bassist Kelly Groucutt, cellists Melvyn Gale and Hugh McDowell, and violinist Mik Kaminsky. The latter three musicians had played previously with the London Symphony Orchestra. ELO II provided the remade band with a 1973 hit in the United States, a remake of rock pioneer Chuck Berry's "Roll Over, Beethoven" that featured excerpts from other rock classics.
Some critics felt that ELO's version of "Roll Over, Beethoven" was too much like a novelty record to presage further success for the group, but they were quickly proven wrong. On the Third Day, released later in 1973, provided ELO with a few more minor hits, and fueled audience appreciation for their U.S. concert tours. And Eldorado, released in 1974, launched ELO's first huge single success, "Can't Get It Out of My Head." In the following year, Face the Music included the smashes "Evil Woman" and "Strange Magic." As Helander phrased it, ELO had "secured [its] position in the forefront of so-called 'classical-rock.'"
Oddly enough, however, though Lynne and ELO occasionally charted in their native England, the band fared much, much better with fans in the United States. Their popularity in the latter country continued unabated through the late 1970s, and they saw songs like 1976's "Telephone Line" and "Livin' Thing," 1977's "Turn to Stone" and "Sweet Talkin' Woman," and 1979's "Shine a Little Love" and "Don't Bring Me Down" race up the U.S. record charts. The latter two singles came from the album Discovery, on which Lynne took the classical aspects of ELO further by backing them with a forty-two piece orchestra and a thirty-member all-male choir. In 1980, Lynne and ELO provided music for the soundtrack of the motion picture Xanadu.
Though ELO put out a few more albums during the early 1980s, Lynne's efforts turned increasingly to writing and producing for other stars. He has reportedly said that the major influences upon his songwriting style were John Lennon and Paul McCartney; fortunately his reputation has become such that he gained the opportunity to work for one of his idols, helping McCartney with an album. He has also produced for Dave Edmunds, and assisted Tom Petty and Randy Newman with recordings. And critics had high praise for his production work on George Harrison's 1987 album, Cloud Nine.
But the work that really brought Lynne back into the spotlight was getting together with his famous friends--Harrison, Petty, Bob Dylan, and the late Roy Orbison--and recording as the Traveling Wilburys. Apparently Lynne and friends got the idea while having dinner together in Los Angeles; they eventually decided to adopt the personas of the various Wilbury brothers to lend humor to the project. The result, the Grammy Award-winning The Traveling Wilburys, Volume I, proved popular with fans and critics alike. Lynne discussed the Wilburys' recording sessions with a Rolling Stone reporter: "We would arrive about twelve or one o'clock and have some coffee," he explained. "Somebody would say, 'What about this?' and start on a riff. Then we'd all join in, and it'd turn into something. We'd finish around midnight.... Then we'd come back the next day to work on another one. That's why the songs are so good and fresh--because they haven't been second-guessed and dissected and replaced."
Following the death of Orbison, the remaining Wilburys got together to record a follow-up album, released in 1990 under the title Traveling Wilburys, Volume III (in keeping with the lighthearted tone of the project they "skipped" Volume II, opting to follow Volume I with Volume III). Lynne also found time to put together a solo album for release in 1990, Armchair Theatre.
by Elizabeth Wenning
Jeff Lynne's Career
Jeff Lynne's Awards
Co-recipient (with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty; as group the Traveling Wilburys) of Grammy Award for best rock performance by a duo or group with vocal, 1989, for the Traveling Wilburys, Volume I.
- With the Move
- Message From the Country Capitol, 1971.
- Split Ends (includes "Do Ya"), United Artists, 1973.
- With the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO)
- No Answer (includes "10538 Overture"), United Artists, 1972.
- ELO II (includes "Roll Over, Beethoven"), United Artists, 1973.
- On the Third Day United Artists, 1973.
- Eldorado (includes "Can't Get It Out of My Head"), United Artists, 1974.
- Face the Music (includes "Evil Woman" and "Strange Magic"), United Artists, 1975.
- Ole ELO United Artists, 1976.
- A New World Record (includes "Livin' Thing" and "Telephone Line"), United Artists, 1976.
- Out of the Blue (includes "Turn to Stone," "Concerto for a Rainy Day," and "Sweet Talkin' Woman"), United Artists, 1977.
- Discovery (includes "Shine a Little Love" and "Don't Bring Me Down"), Columbia, 1979.
- Time Columbia, 1981.
- Secret Messages Jet, 1983.
- With the Traveling Wilburys
- Traveling Wilburys, Volume I (includes "Handle With Care," "Rattled," and "End of the Line"), Warner Bros., 1988.
- Traveling Wilburys, Volume III Warner Bros., 1991.
- (With The Idle Race) The Birthday Party Liberty, 1969.
- (With ELO and Olivia Newton-John) Xanadu (soundtrack; includes "I'm Alive" and "All Over the World"), MCA, 1980.
- (Solo) Armchair Theater (includes "Every Little Thing"), Reprise, 1990.
- Helander, Brock, The Rock Who's Who, Schirmer Books, 1982.
- Rolling Stone, December 15, 1988; November 16, 1989.