ELO: Music of Retrofuturism


Remember when the Beatles stop playing live to focus on their works by spending time in the studio, experimenting music, using multiple overdubbing, and backmasking with orchestral additions? 

The Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) can play all those techniques in live performance. They've been sampled by dozens upon dozens of acts. The Pussycat Dolls took some of Evil Woman and made Beep, and The Hives sampled Don't Bring Me Down to make Go Right Ahead. The Flaming Lips and Super Furry Animals being two examples. But, the greatest amount of ELO's blood is Daft Punk. A French electronic music duo who achieved popularity with continuous success.

Daft Punks's song Face to Face used a sample from Evil Woman, which appeared on their album Discovery (also an ELO album title), and they went out on tour with a huge lighting rig based on a pyramid, where ELO had a spaceship.

ELO were formed in 1970 by Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne with drummer Bev Bevan. They have a desire to create modern rock and pop songs with classical overtones. Classical arrangements and futuristic iconography then became their trademark. Wood leave the band in 1972, then Lynne became the group's leader, arranging and producing every album while writing virtually all of their original material.


Eldorado, ELO's fourth studio album which released in 1974 is the first complete ELO concept album. Lynne conceived the storyline before he wrote any music. The plot follows a character who journeys into fantasy worlds via dreams, to escape the disillusionment of his mundane reality. Lynne began to write the album in response to criticisms from his father, a classical music lover, who said that Electric Light Orchestra's repertoire "had no tune".

In their fifth studio album, Face the Music, ELO did some backmasking in their songs. "Fire on High" contains a backwards message in the beginning. When the song is played backwards, Bevan can be heard saying, "The music is reversible, but time is not. Turn back, turn back, turn back, turn back..."


This was ostensibly Lynne's response to accusations that the song "Eldorado" contained Satanic messages that could be heard when played backwards. "Down Home Town" begins with the chorus of "Waterfall" played backwards. A portion of the string crescendo from "Nightrider" was used backwards on "Evil Woman."


Their seventh studio album, Out of the Blue is among the most commercially successful records in ELO's history, selling about 10 million copies worldwide. The second single from the album, "Mr. Blue Sky" was played as a wake-up call to astronaut Christopher Ferguson on Day 3 of STS-135, the final mission of Space Shuttle Atlantis.

Time, ELO's ninth studio album which released in 1981, is their second concept album written about a man from the 1980s who is taken to the year 2095, where he is confronted by the dichotomy between technological advancement and a longing for past romance. 


As a work of synthpop, Time signaled a departure from the band's sound by emphasizing electronics over its usual orchestra. In later years, the album attracted a cult following from those interested in retrofuturism, becoming the subject of admiration for some popular musicians. In 2001, a CD reissue included three additional tracks that were originally left off the album.


Their next album, Secret Messages was the last album with bass guitarist Kelly Groucutt, conductor Louis Clark, and real stringed instruments. Secret Messages, as its title suggests, was littered with hidden messages in the form of backmasking, some obvious and others less so. This was Jeff Lynne's second tongue-in-cheek response to allegations of hidden Satanic messages in earlier Electric Light Orchestra LPs by Christian fundamentalists which led up to early 1980s American congressional hearings. In Britain, the back cover of Secret Messages has a mock warning about the hidden messages.


ELO disbanded in 1986. In 2001, Lynne attempted to reform the band for a new tour to promote Zoom, the last studio album of original material credited to ELO, but the tour was cancelled due to low ticket sales.

Alone in the Universe which released in 2014 is ELO's thirteenth studio album. It is credited to Jeff Lynne's ELO. The moniker came out from Lynne as a response to ELO tribute and imitation bands, who repeatedly used ELO for promoting their own tours.


Its first single, "When I Was a Boy", is an autobiographical song, about Lynne's childhood and teenage years in Birmingham. The music video shows silhouette of Lynne's musical partnership with ELO and Traveling Wilburys, a British-American supergroup consisting of George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty.


Former members
Bev Bevan – drums, percussion, vocals (co-founder: 1970–1986)
Roy Wood – lead vocals, guitar, bass guitar, cello, keyboards, drums, clarinet, bassoon, oboe, recorder, producer, songwriter, composer, arranger (co-founder: 1970–1972)
Bill Hunt – keyboards, French horn, hunting horn (1970–1972)
Steve Woolam – violin (1970–1971; died 1971)
Mike Edwards – cello (1972–1975; died 2010)
Wilfred Gibson – violin (1972–1973; died 2014)
Hugh McDowell – cello (1972, 1973–1979)
Andy Craig – cello (1972)
Mike de Albuquerque – bass guitar, backing vocals (1972–1974)
Colin Walker – cello (1972–1973)
Mik Kaminski – violin (1973–1979, 1981–1986)
Kelly Groucutt – bass guitar, backing vocals(1974–1983; died 2009)
Melvyn Gale – cello, piano (1975–1979)
Louis Clark – synthesisers, keyboards(1981–1986)
Dave Morgan – synthesisers, acoustic guitar, backing vocals (1981–1986)
Peggy Baldwin – cello (2000–2001)
Gregg Bissonette – drums, backing vocals(2000–2001)
Matt Bissonette – bass guitar, backing vocals (2000–2001)
Marc Mann – guitars, keyboards, backing vocals (2000–2001, 2012)
Sarah O'Brien – cello (2000–2001)
Rosie Vela – backing vocals (2000–2001)

Current members
Jeff Lynne – lead vocals, guitars, bass guitar, cello, keyboards, drums, producer, songwriter, composer, arranger (co-founder: 1970–1986, 2000–2001, 2014–present)

Richard Tandy – keyboards, synthesisers, bass guitar, guitar, backing vocals, producer, songwriter, composer, arranger (1972–1986, 2000–2001, 2014–present)

Current live members (Jeff Lynne's ELO)
Milton McDonald – lead guitar, vocalsMike Stevens – guitar, vocalsLee Pomeroy – bass guitarMarcus Byrne – keyboards
Bernie Smith – keyboards
Donavan Hepburn – drumsRosie Langley – violin
Amy Langley – cello
Jess Cox – celloIain
Hornal – backing vocals, guitar
Melanie Lewis-McDonald – backing vocals