Happy Birthday, Jeff Lynne!
Born December 30, 1946, Jeff Lynne is many things - an award winning producer, singer and songwriter, the leader and prime mover of ELO, one of the lynchpins in the Traveling Wilburys, and an unabashed Beatles fan. While that fact is immediately evident in listening to any of ELO's early work, it's also clear in the music he made long before finding fame, specifically his work with the distinctly English pop rock band The Idle Race (so named because his grandmother never considered making music as a proper job) and the Move, one of Britain's best but largely unappreciated art-rock outfits -- and the precursor to the Electric Light Orchestra (later ELO). In fact, Lynne's always looked to the Beatles for inspiration, a tack he was able to bring to fruition once he joined forces with the eccentric and eclectic Roy Wood, his foil in the later days of the Move and the early days of ELO. Like Lynne, Wood saw rock as more than simply three chords and a chorus; he opted for lush arrangements, complex melodies and a vast array of instrumentation - bagpipes, bassoons, sitars and other elements seemingly alien to rock environs. The final two Move albums, Looking On and Message from the Country, found the two men collaborating earnestly and enthusiastically, before striking the notion for the Electric Light Orchestra, an ambitious outfit that plucked elements of classical music and rock 'n' roll.
Wood left the fold after only one album, but Lynne kept the band going, expanding on the original premise by bringing in an actual string section and bringing the concept full circle with an imaginative cover of "Roll Over Beethoven" that was included on the group's second album. Successive albums amped up the orchestration and abbreviated the handle to simply ELO. By that point, Lynne was almost wholly responsible for the songwriting, arranging and the band's ever-evolving trajectory, which accumulated numerous hit singles and high-charting album prior to going on hiatus in the mid '80s.
However by then, Lynne had built up enough of a track record to succeed on his own. He contributed several songs and his production talents to the best-selling Xanadu soundtrack and wrote material for others - among them, the Everly Brothers, Joe Cocker, Bonnie Tyler, Aerosmith, Tom Jones, Dave Edmunds, Brian Wilson and Randy Newman. While some critics began to tire of his over-the-top arrangements and apparent willingness to pander to commercial concerns, Lynne found renewed credibility when he connected with George Harrison and took on the production and co-songwriting chores for Harrison's comeback LP, Cloud Nine. The album yielded a hit single in "Got My Mind Set On You" and not only helped raise his profile, but also established a Beatles connection that led to his role in the Wilburys, alongside Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan. He would branch off from that ensemble to work with both Petty and Orbison on individual projects before landing his dream job as the man behind the boards for the three surviving Beatles' reunion singles "Real Love" and "Free as a Bird," both of which were recorded for the Anthology series. That in turn led Lynne to collaborations with both Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.
Lynne managed to resurrect ELO in 2001, releasing the album Zoom as a way to recover the rights to the ELO name from drummer Bev Bevan,who had formed a bogus group called ELO Part II. Essentially a solo album, it was basically a follow-up to his individual effort from a decade before, 1990's Armchair Theatre. He also renewed his working relationship with Tom Petty, producing the latter's third solo album. At the same time, his Beatles ties remained intact. He helped complete Harrison's final album Brainwashed after Harrison's death, then played a major role in the live commemorative event, Concert for George and its subsequent DVD. During the concert, he sang lead on the songs "The Inner Light," "I Want to Tell You" and "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)." It wasn't the first time he had sung Beatles tunes; he had previously covered "With a Little Help from My Friends" and "Nowhere Man" for the film soundtrack All This and World War II.
Lynne's dead-on devotion and eerie similarity in style to the Fab Four puts him in a distinctive category of outfits that have based their entire MO around the Beatles template. And this doesn't include Rain or the Fab Faux, whose livelihoods are derived from imitating the Beatles music. Nor does it include Todd Rundgren, whose 1976 album Faithful masterfully replicated the Beatles motif on its second side.
• The Rutles: The brainchild of Monty Python's Eric Idle and the Bonzo Dog Band's Neil Innes, the Rutles effectively parodied the Beatles' style and story for both a television special ("All You Need Is Cash") and a handful of recordings which found them effectively duplicating their sound and melding them with absurdist lyrics. While the band's efforts are obviously in jest, they were competent musicians, and several of their songs are actually catchy and quirky enough to win comparison with the Beatles originals.
• Badfinger: Originally signed to the Beatles Apple label under their original moniker, the Iveys, their similarity in sound to their musical mentors had some people believing they were actually the Beatles operating under a pseudonym, driven by a desire to get back to basics after the increasing complexity of Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour. The fact that both Paul McCartney and George Harrison contributed production and songwriting to their early albums helped bolster those similarities, as did the fact that the Badfinger members actually bore more than a passing physical resemblance to the individual Beatles as well.
• Klaatu: Speaking of unsubstantiated rumors, the Canadian prog-rock outfit spurred a deluge of hearsay when they released their eponymous debut in 1976. The story suggested that the album was originally recorded in 1966, but that the master tapes were mysteriously lost. In 1975, the missing masters were supposedly found and so the band decided to release the album as a tribute to the late Paul McCartney, who, as we all know, died in a 1966 car crash, only to be replaced by "Billy Shears." Owing to the fact that the album contained no photos or credits of the musicians and that it was released on Capitol, the Beatles' Stateside label, it baited Beatles fans for quite some time.
• The Bee Gees: It may seem hard to believe in retrospect, but back around the time of the Bee Gee's self titled debut, there were those who believed the Brothers Gibb were actually John, Paul, George and Ringo assuming another guise. The logic was similar to that employed about Badfinger - that the Beatles were looking to get back to their earlier, simpler pop sound without disrupting the experimental efforts of their later efforts.
• The Raspberries: While some may say the similarity is only passing, the band's power pop inclinations and Eric Carmen's vocal on "Please Go Away" is McCartneyesque to the max. And of course, it can always be said that most power pop bands owe no small debt to the Beatles to begin with.
• Cheap Trick: While there may be little connection other than the aforementioned power pop stance, the fact that they backed up John Lennon during the initial sessions for his final album, Double Fantasy and famously played Budokan as the Beatles had done a decade before, left an indelible imprint on their sound. It didn't hurt that they also re-imagined the Sgt. Pepper album in 2009, thereby keeping the connection intact.
Get the Music Newsletter
Find out about upcoming concerts and special offers happening in the South Florida music scene.