Band Members: Jeff Lynne (guitar/vocals), Michael de Albuquerque (bass), Richard Tandy (keyboards), Bev Bevan (drums), Mik Kaminski (violin), Hugh McDowell (cello), Mike Edwards (cello).
Producer: Jeff Lynne.
Engineer: Dick Plant & Mike Pela (assistant).
Orchestra conducted by: Louis Clark.
Tracks: Eldorado Overture; Can't Get It Out Of My Head; Boy Blue; Laredo Tornado; Poor Boy (The Greenwood); Mister Kingdom; Nobody's Child; Illusions in G Major; Eldorado; Eldorado Finale.
The early seventies were a good time for progressive rock music and concept albums. In 1973, Yes had just released 'Tales from Topographic Oceans' (a double LP with only 4 long tracks), Genesis were working on their biggie, 'The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway' ('74). Another concept album was 'The Butterfly Ball' by Deep Purple member Roger Glover (with the hit single 'Love is All). More orchestrated material was to be found on Caravan's live album, and of course Rick Wakeman recorded his 'Journey to The Centre Of The Earth' (with choir and orchestra).
ELO's pre-Eldorado albums
In 1973, ELO were still struggling to find their way to a large audience. The band had recorded three studio albums "No Answer" ('71), "ELO 2" ('72) and "On The Third Day" ('73). They probably were a bit too experimental for large scale success. Still, the band had some minor successes with singles like '10538 Overture', 'Roll Over Beethoven' and 'Showdown'. But their big ambition was a break through in the USA.
In the summer of 1973, prior to the recording of the third album, ELO did their USA debut tour, followed by another tour in 1974 (recorded on the live album "The Night The Lights Went On"). The band found an enthusiastic response, and with their unusual line-up with the cellos and violin, they got a lot of attention.
Although the band were promoted as 'the English guys with the big fiddles', Jeff Lynne stated:
"We're not so much using classical music, as the instruments it's played on. We're not into experimental classical stuff. The main object of the band is to be an entertainment. The string players have started to rock at last; they are much more free now, leaping about stabbing people with cello spikes. In America they really love it when Mike Edwards, our cello player does the 'Dying Swan.' It's all silly, but we love it".
ELO's leader Jeff Lynne never was too keen on touring. He'd rather be in the studio, recording and producing his music. For Eldorado, Lynne tried a different musical approach. It seemed that the band's sound, in order to reach a bigger audience, had to become less experimental. Before that time, Lynne recalls, the band were being 'clever' for the purpose of being clever, making the songs long on purpose because that was the fashion.
So for the new album, Lynne wanted to put more emphasis on songs and melody. He started writing music with his father in mind, who had always been quite critical towards Jeff's makings. Jeff Lynne: "Me father said to me: your bloody tunes are no good, because they've got no tune!" I said: I'll show you a tune. So I made Eldorado, which I did to try and make him love it. And he did love it."
It soon became clear that Eldorado was to become a concept album. Lynne: "I had the whole concept before I started writing it. It's all about the goings on in a dream world". Lynne usually completes his songs in stages, starting with the basic melodies, and saving the exact tune and lyrics for the last moment. As he explains: "I'd record the orchestra, the choir, and do all the backing, having everything finished, but no tune and no words. That's when I'd go home and write the entire song in one go. I operated on the theory that all that great backing would inspire me to come up with a really great tune and lyric. That's living on the edge, I suppose."
ELO with their own 3 piece string section.
As for the musical arrangements on Eldorado, Lynne wanted a bigger orchestral sound than before. The sound he had in mind couldn't be realised with just ELO's own three string players. Therefore, he decided to use a real 30 piece orchestra and a 20 piece choir. The orchestral arrangements were written by Lynne and keyboardist Richard Tandy, with the help of conductor Louis Clark (also known from his works with Renaissance).
Eldorado was recorded between February - August 1974, at the De Lane Studios in London. "It was the first time I'd ever used a big orchestra on a record" Lynne recalls. "It was a bit nerve wrecking, wondering what all these classically trained musicians would make of it. I was thrilled when the 30 piece struck up on the big intro on the 'Eldorado Overture', and it blew me away!"
Still, working with the orchestra sometimes proved to be an unpleasant experience. According to drummer Bev Bevan, the hired orchestra had no real enthusiasm for the music. If the band wanted to record for a few minutes longer than the planned time, there would be slamming of violin cases in protest, and they would even stop playing halfway through a song because it was six o'clock, just telling the band to book another session. This 'trade-union attitude' towards music sickened ELO, and the albums that were to come, were recorded in Musicland Germany, with a more enthusiastic orchestra.
After Eldorado was recorded, the band was shown the design for the album cover. The band's first reaction was disbelief: "What a load of crap! This has to be stopped immediately". Then they were told that the cover actually was a snapshot from the movie 'Wizard of Oz'.
The cover pictures the green handed witch, trying to take away Dorothy's magic shoes. Don Arden, the band's manager, thought it would be good ELO promotion, as it was quite recognisable for American audiences. And afterwards, when the band got a lots of compliments for the artwork, they decided it was indeed a 'marvellous cover', Bevan recalls.
The original album had 10 tracks, including an instrumental overture and finale. The album is heavily orchestrated with warm sounding strings, trumpets and choir. The full orchestra was used on: Eldorado Overture; Can't Get It Out Of My Head; Eldorado and Eldorado Finale. The orchestra also plays parts of: Boy Blue, Poor Boy (The Greenwood) and Nobody's Child. The latter tracks also have ELO's own small string section, which also adds classic flavours to Laredo Tornado, Mister Kingdom and Illusions in G Major.
In 2001, a re-mastered version of Eldorado was released. Two bonus tracks were added: Dark City (a 46 second demo), and a beautiful Eldorado Instrumental Medley (a 6 minute medley of the best orchestral moments on the album).
Some Eldorado-related material.
Eldorado was very well received by both the international public and press. The album became Gold, supported by the hit single "Can't Get It Out Of My Head". It proved to be the intended break through, and marked the era for ELO as a "supergroup".
There was this incident when some religious fanatics said that Eldorado contained some "satanic messages" (around the title track's line that went: "On a voyage of no return to see"). When played backwards - they claimed - this sounded something like: "He is the nasty one - Christ you're infernal - It is said we're dead men").
Jeff Lynne called this absolute nonsense (well he actually called it "skcollob"), but the accusations inspired him to put some real - but innocent - secret messages on later albums, like "Music is reversible, but time? Turn back, turn back!" (Fire On High, on the Face the Music album). The funny and sad thing is that some people found this to be proof of the fact that ELO's music did have hidden satanic messages...
Looking back, it seems ELO was one of the first bands that managed to translate the 'progrock' idiom into music that seem to appeal to a more 'mainstream' audience. Other bands that did the same were, The Moody Blues, Supertramp and The Alan Parsons Project.
After Eldorado, ELO came up with some very good albums that kept ELO on top of the bill: "Face The Music" ('75), "A New World Record" ('76) and "Out Of The Blue" ('77). They more or less had the same musical formula as Eldorado: orchestrated pop songs with catchy, often Beatles-esk melodies. Important factor to their success was the fact that the band also had a string of highly successful hit-singles, without selling out in an artistic way. The band also became known for their spectacular stage shows, especially when they introduced their giant spaceship and lasershow (after some less successful experiments with exploding cellos).
The ELO albums after their peak period 1974-1977 are of little relevance for progrockers (with the exception of the string-less, but powerful "Time" concept album in '81). Commercial pressure forced the band into the direction of disco and more light hearted pop. ELO's later albums sound less and less inspired, as Jeff Lynne gradually lost interest in the band. And after their 1986 album, Lynne declared: "ELO is past now. It is over."
Lynne started a new successful career as a producer for other artists (some Beatles included), while other band members regrouped under the name of ELO Part 2 and Orchestra.
But surprisingly, in 2001 a new Lynne-led ELO album saw the light, "Zoom". The great DVD-registration of the Zoom tour, and the re-release of the ELO back catalogue, prove that Jeff Lynne's music is of a timeless quality, which still has relevance for today.
Written by Rob Michel, August 2002
For this article I used several sources, like Bev Bevan's book "The Electric Light Orchestra Story" (1980), the booklet to ELO's 3CD boxset "Flashback" (2000), Jeff Lynne's liner notes to the 2001-reissue of the "Eldorado" album, and some interviews and other sources found on the Web.