The A-side of Electric Light Orchestra’s first 45 had been originally written for The Move, but once it was recorded, it was clear to songwriter-producer Jeff Lynne and his co-producer and bandmate Roy Wood that “10538 Overture” was the sound of a different band altogether. Wood had overdubbed what he later remembered as a “cheap Chinese cello” onto the driving track which the two singers/multi-instrumentalists had created with the aid of Bill Hunt on French horn and Steve Woolam on violin. The pair reveled in the wonders of double-tracking as they created their own hard rock orchestra. Backed with Wood’s “Classical Gas”-inspired instrumental composition “First Movement (Jumping Biz),” “10538 Overture” was issued on Harvest Records in June 1972 in the U.K. (a U.S. release would follow one month later), and ELO was born. That single naturally kicks off Legacy Recordings’ new box set The U.K. Singles Volume One 1972-1978, containing sixteen vinyl replica 45s from the electrifying first era of the band’s remarkable history. The box set is available exclusively through the official ELO webstore.
The 34 tracks on this collection, all in their original single versions (many of which were edited from the lengthier album renditions), would certainly make for an enjoyable CD or vinyl set. But the real thrill here is seeing and feeling these singles as they first appeared. These sixteen 45s are all packaged in replica sleeves and labels bearing the nostalgic logos of Harvest, Warner Bros. Records, Jet Records, and United Artists in various original designs. This hasn’t been done on the cheap; the Harvest sleeves, for instance, have the appropriate fold-over flap rather than being printed as a flat sleeve. And be sure to keep your 45 adapter handy; replicating the original releases, some of the disks have the larger center holes more common to U.S. singles.
ELO’s first three singles appeared on EMI’s progressive Harvest imprint, including “Roll Over Beethoven” b/w “Queen of the Hours,” both sides of which bore the influence of the Fab Four on Jeff Lynne. They showcased Lynne’s naturally Beatle-esque vocals (of course, they recorded “Roll Over”) but also took the Fabs’ classical influences a big step further. One might have thought that crossing Chuck Berry’s jubilant oldie with Beethoven’s actual Fifth would be a bit much, but ELO pulled it off in majestic fashion. Indeed, “a bit much” seemingly wasn’t in Lynne’s vocabulary. When Wood departed from the ranks just as “10538 Overture” was rising up the charts, Lynne took control of the band, eventually nudging it in a sophisticated, melodic pop direction without losing sight of his grand ambitions and classical sensibilities.
His knack for a hook was evident on Single No. 3, “Showdown.” While still in a prog/symphonic rock vein, its funky, R&B flourishes were new to ELO. The song has a bit of checkered history; it was released as a non-LP single in the U.K. but added to the U.S. version of the band’s third album, 1973’s fittingly-entitled On the Third Day. With slashing strings, searing guitars, and an irresistible hook, “Showdown” attracted the favorable attention of John Lennon. Its instrumental B-side, “In Old England Town,” was a unique edit of “In Old England Town (Boogie No. 2)” from sophomore album ELO 2, and is one of two tracks from that album to feature Roy Wood (on bass and cello) in his final contributions to the band.
Both On the Third Day and its conceptual follow-up, 1974’s Eldorado, ended up on Warner Bros. for the U.K., so the famous “Burbank, Home of Warner Bros. Records” palm-tree labels are seen on “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle” b/w “Oh No Not Susan” and “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” b/w “Illusions in G Major.” In addition to an edit, the rocking “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle” (featuring T. Rex’s Marc Bolan opposite Lynne on dueling guitar) features a unique single mix. (“Oh No Not Susan,” featuring a rare profanity for ELO, was jettisoned in the U.S. in favor of the proggy “Daybreaker” as the B-side. A live “Daybreaker” can be heard here as the B-side of the later release “Nightrider.”) The haunting “Can’t Get It Out of My Head,” the group’s first ballad A-side, marked another step forward for Lynne as a songwriter and ELO’s first top ten in America.
Another breakthrough came with “Evil Woman,” ELO’s debut single on the Jet label, which became a top ten hit on both sides of the Atlantic and one of Lynne’s signature songs. The gleeful pop lament from 1975’s Face the Music was less severely edited for the U.K. single than its U.S. counterpart, though still more than a minute was sliced off the album track. (“10538 Overture” occupies the flipside in a live version.) The dramatic “Nightrider” (with a stunningly cinematic string arrangement) and another beautiful ballad, “Strange Magic,” were also released as singles from FTM. The latter’s U.K. single issue presented the album track minus its orchestral introduction, while the U.S. version was more substantially truncated. While FTM didn’t chart in the U.K. until its inclusion in a 1978 box set, it was a U.S. top 20 success and the band’s ticket to international commercial superstardom.
A standard United Artists label with the Jet logo was utilized for “Livin’ Thing,” the first of three British singles off 1976’s A New World Record. Arranged by Lynne, keyboardist Richard Tandy, and Louis Clark, the catchy anthem went to No. 4 in the U.K. (No. 13 U.S.). The 45, b/w the epic “Fire on High” from Face the Music, was pressed on blue vinyl which is, of course, replicated in the new box. ANWR also yielded Jet issues of “Rockaria!” b/w “Poker” (housed in a picture sleeve) and the Lennon/McCartney-esque “Telephone Line” b/w a double feature of “Poorboy (The Greenwood)” from On the Third Day and “King of the Universe” from Eldorado.
The final five disks in The U.K. Singles Volume One are all in picture sleeves. 1977’s triumphant double album Out of the Blue spawned four singles, the first of which was “Turn to Stone.” Despite its swirling strings, catchy call-and-response, distinctive vocals, and lavish production, the urgent rocker peaked out of the top ten on both sides of the Atlantic. (“Turn to Stone” had the last laugh: it gained major radio airplay, and in 2008, it was recognized for a million airplays.) Next was “Mr. Blue Sky,” naturally pressed on blue vinyl. The euphorically madcap musical fantasia remains today among ELO’s most indelible tunes, with its sci-fi overtones, orchestral and choral classical flourishes, prominent vocoder, and loving Beatles homages. A top 10 hit in the U.K., it shockingly only reached No. 35 stateside. The sweeping, anthemic “Wild West Hero” (in a picture sleeve showing all illustrious members of the band: Lynne, Mik Kaminski, Hugh McDowell, Kelly Groucutt, Melvyn Gale, and Bev Bevan) brought a touch of baroque composer Johann Pachelbel to a prog-rock ballad. The infectious, lightly disco-fied “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” followed both “Mr. Blue Sky” and “Wild West Hero” to the U.K. top ten, and reprised the vocoder usage of the former. (A fifth single, “It’s Over,” was issued in the U.S. only.) All four U.K. singles pulled their B-sides from older albums going back as far as On the Third Day.
The box set concludes with the four-song The ELO EP, released in conjunction with the box set Three Light Years comprising On the Third Day, Eldorado, and Face the Music. The inclusion of “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” on the EP led to a top 40 U.K. chart placement for the song, almost four years after it charted in the United States. The EP was the prolific band’s final release of 1978; ELO would return in 1979 with Discovery, but that’s presumably a story for another box set.
The collection is beautifully packaged within a heavy case bearing a lift-off lid. The only thing missing from this celebration of ELO’s first decade is a booklet of liner notes and credits, as there’s no annotation here beyond that which was printed on the original sleeves and labels. (There is no remastering credit, though the sound has all the warmth one would expect from high quality vinyl.) The lack of context is frustrating for an otherwise impeccable release. The U.K. Singles Volume One 1972-1978 is, in essence, a “greatest hits” collection on 45 RPM from the band’s first, and some would say finest, years. One would be hard-pressed to find a more joyful and dramatic group of songs: strange magic, indeed.
You can order The U.K. Singles Volume One 1972-1978 at ELO’s official webstore!