Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Chart Tragedy: What Went Wrong with Zoom?

When Jeff Lynne abruptly purchased Bev Bevan's share of the ELO brand, name and rights in November 1999, it opened the door for the ELO maestro to embark on another electric light fantastic journey with a band not only underpinned by his acclaimed songs, production and musicianship but now his 100% ownership. It also put fans on notice of the potential recommencement of new Electric Light Orchestra material whilst also signalling the eventual transition of ELO Part II into The Orchestra. Within a year "Flashback" - a 3CD career anthology - had been released to rave reviews with hints of a new album circulating in fanzines and a world largely devoid of Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

Thinking that Jeff's ELO career was over, many fans had been expecting a second solo album to follow up the modest chart success of "Armchair Theatre" in 1990 but his various production projects during the nineties with the likes of Tom Petty, Julianna Raye, the late Roy Orbison, Paul McCartney and (of course) The Beatles likely meant that it remained incomplete and shelved. So when news of a new ELO album - the first since "Balance Of Power" in 1986 - surfaced in the early part of 2001, the ELO fan base got excited. Who would it feature? What would it sound like?

Yours Truly KJS still remembers when Sir Terry Wogan aired "Alright" as announced it as "the new ELO single" on his then BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show in May 2001. New album "Zoom" followed in June. My initial reaction upon first play was that "Zoom" sounded more like a Jeff Lynne solo effort that an ELO record. In fact, I still recall renaming it "Armchair Theatre Part II". "Zoom" sported the familiar ELO logo and the artwork was appealing and impressive. The familiarity of Lynne compositions and arrangements gave it an ELO feel in places but one could not escape the fact that this was Jeff plus a few famous friends, even though Richard Tandy appeared on one track. Essentially, that is what most reviewers said at the time too. It had the name of ELO but the sound of Jeff Lynne - an observation, not a criticism.

Perhaps the strangest thing about the release of "Zoom" was the lack of promotion by both artist, management and record company - almost as if it had been presumed that it would pick up commercially where "Balance Of Power" left off. The casual record buying public in 2001 were very much different than that in 1986 and some ELO fans had long since moved on. I remember struggling to find a copy in my local HMV store. There was no attention grabbing display, like those that were found for the debut Electric Light Orchestra Part Two album in 1991 or the frequent TV adverts that elevated the "Very Best of ELO" compilation put out by Dino in 1994 to #4 on the Official UK Album Chart, their highest chart placing of the nineties. The tide was out at that time for ELO with a number of greatest hits packages permeated by the aforementioned "Armchair Theatre" (#24) and "Electric Light Orchestra Part Two" (#34). It was therefore ironic that "Zoom" peaked at the same chart position as ELO Part II's debut LP ten years earlier.
Fast forwarding to a rainy night in November 2018 and writing this article for elobeatlesforever (elobf), my view and opinion of "Zoom" has softened somewhat over the years, especially with the 2013 reissue via Frontiers, its arrival on 2LP vinyl via Let Them Eat Vinyl in the same year and a new lease of life this year via Sony Legacy. In fact, I am now of the opinion that "Zoom" resembles more of an ELO album as a whole than 2015's "Alone In The Universe", released under the different moniker of Jeff Lynne's ELO but essentially the same formula. So what went wrong with "Zoom"? The answer is that it was perhaps the right album at the wrong time or a mixture of both.

Until next "Time" in the ELO [and related] Universe ... KJS ... 14-Nov-2018

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Roy Wood: The Cheap Trick Connection

Being as both Roy Wood and Cheap Trick will be touring the UK this December, Yours Truly KJS and elobeatlesforever (elobf) reckoned that it's an opportune time to look and the connections between Woody and the legendary rockers with a nod, of course, to ELO.

As far as this writer is aware, Cheap Trick have covered four Roy Wood penned songs to date. The Move's "California Man" in 1978, "Rock 'n' Roll Tonight" in 1990 (a version of "We're Gonna Rock 'n' Roll Tonight" from "Introducing Eddy and the Falcons" found on the album "Busted"), "Brontosaurus" in 1997 (the flip side to their "Baby Talk" single) and their 2017 cover of Wizzard's "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday" (as found on their "Christmas Christmas" album - see elobf review below). Roy also sang on "Money Is the Route Of All Fun", a demo found on the fourth disc of the 1996 box set "Sex, America, Cheap Trick" but recorded in sessions for "The Doctor" (1986).

Guest Review: Christmas Christmas (Cheap Trick)

And those links between Cheap Trick and ELO? The obvious one is Rick Nielsen's tongue-in-cheek "ELO Kiddies", the 'B' side of the 1978 single "Ain't That A Shame". The not-so-obvious mutuality is that the aforementioned album "The Doctor" also included a cover of the Billy Steinberg/Tom Kelly song "Kiss Me Red", which was also to be found on the debut Electric Light Orchestra Part Two album in 1991.

In terms of performing together, Cheap Trick and Roy Wood have gigged together on a number of occasions, the first being at Barbarella's in Birmingham on Friday 16th February 1979 with another occurring during a 1995 charity concert in New York. They were also pictured together backstage at Holmdel, NJ in September 2016. Their respect is mutual with Roy often lauded as a major musical hero and inspiration for the band.

Tickets are still available to see the Roy Wood Rock 'n' Roll Band and/or Cheap Trick supporting Def Leppard via these links thus:

Roy Wood: On The Road Again in 2018

Left: Cheap Trick press release portrait
Above right: Cheap Trick at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1979 (Source: ~It's_me! @ Flickr)
Bottom right: Cheap Trick with Roy at Holmdel, NJ (Source: Cheap Trick @ Facebook)
Find out more about Cheap Trick via these official links thus:

elobeatlesforever (elobf) recommend Cheap Trick to those enlightened folks who love ELOJeff LynneRoy Wood'Brum Beat'The Idle RaceThe MoveThe Beatles and related artistes.

Until next "Time" in the ELO [and related] Universe ... KJS ... 10-Nov-2018

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Remembering Hugh McDowell

Fans of the Electric Light Orchestra and Wizzard were left stunned and saddened on Wednesday 7th November to hear the news that ELO's very own eclectic cellist Hugh McDowell had passed away in St. John's Hospice in London at the age of 65 years having been ill for some time.

London born Hugh was on stage when ELO's live career commenced in Croydon on 16th April 1972 and rejoined Jeff Lynne's orchestrated rockers in 1973 after a successful stint with Roy Wood's Wizzard during which he received a songwriting credit for "Bend Over Beethoven", the reverse side of "See My Baby Jive" and perhaps a backhanded nod to his then former band mates. Hugh developed a reputation for his energetic cello sorcery during ELO's live shows for the next five years and played on the albums "On The Third Day", "Eldorado", "Face The Music", "A New World Record" and "Out Of The Blue" as ELO approached their commercial peak. He was also to be found bearing his belly button on the revamped  front cover of OTTD as well as having his nose somewhat squashed on the rear cover of FTM!
The tongue-in-cheek flip side of Wizzard's #1 hit "See My Baby Jive" (HAR5070) was credited to Hugh ...
Hugh also appeared on the promo film for "Discovery" in 1979 although he did not participate in the recording sessions. Over a decade passed before Hugh returned to the ELO universe as he played alongside The Moscow Symphony Orchestra with Electric Light Orchestra Part Two in 1991 and also reconnected with Kelly Groucutt and Mik Kaminski for their OrKestra project. More recently in 2016, Hugh could be found contributing to The Ancient Order of Froth Blowers' "El Original Brew", the follow-up to another famed Wizzard 'B' side: "The Carlsberg Special" alongside Nick Pentelow and Bill Hunt.
Hugh McDowell: 31st July 1953 to 7th November 2018
As far as Yours Truly KJS and elobeatlesforever (elobf) are concerned, Hugh McDowell will forever be remembered as one of the Magnificent Seven, the classic ELO line up that adorned the album covers and inner sleeves of the first records I ever bought. ELO were a band like no other and Hugh was an integral part of their Seventies success as he cavorted across the stages of the world with white cello in hand whilst being immortalised in a certain poster found inside copies of the OOTB double album (see above). Our thoughts and commiserations go out to his daughter Adelise as we bid farewell to someone recently lauded as "the Jimi Hendrix of the cello".

Until next "Time" in the ELO [and related] Universe ... KJS ... 07-Nov-2018