“It was inspired by the fact that I’d been in this little cuckoo-clock house in Switzerland trying to write Out Of The Blue, when suddenly the sun came out and everything looked beautiful.”
Mr Blue Sky – Electric Light Orchestra (ELO)
Jet UP 36342 (UK) / Jet 5050 (USA)
Recorded at Musicland Studios, Munich
Released January 1978
Writer Jeff Lynne
Producer Jeff Lynne
UK #6 2/78 USA #35 8/78
Quotes from personal interview with Jeff Lynne
The Electric Light Orchestra was originally conceived as, “a band with strings”, in the late 1960s by fellow Birmingham musicians Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne. Wood was at the time a member of successful group the Move, while Lynne was with the somewhat less successful Idle Race. The inspiration for the ELO sound can be traced back to George Martin’s violin and cello arrangements on the Beatles songs ‘I Am The Walrus’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ in 1967, while the Move were not adverse to dabbling with the classics. Their debut hit ‘Night Of Fear’ in 1967 was really just a rearrangement of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Jeff Lynne was an ardent Beatles fan, his later work with ELO often sounding Beatlesque, and his voice, treated with numerous vocal effects, not unlike that of John Lennon. Other Lynne influences included Roy Orbison and Del Shannon, both of whom he later produced, and the Searchers. In 1970 Jeff Lynne left the Idle Race to join the Move, with the express intention of developing the ELO concept together with Roy Wood.
Many arduous hours of studio time and endless overdubbing of cellos resulted in the first ELO album in 1971, and the group’s first hit single, ‘10538 Overture’ in 1972. These recordings were financed by keeping the Move going at the same time and turning out pop hits such as 1972’s ‘California Man’. (Managed by the notorious Don Arden, Jeff Lynne must be one of the few artists who didn’t fall out with the so-called ‘Godfather of Rock’, a tempestuous and often violent man.) ELO’s self-titled first album was re-titled in the States under somewhat amusing circumstances. Trying to ascertain the title from Arden over the phone, a US record company secretary received no reply and left a message for her superior, “No Answer” – and that became the album’s title! Somewhat surprisingly, and despite some initial success, it was at this point that Roy Wood lost interest in the band, took half the members, and left to form Wizzard, leaving Lynne to build a new ELO. However, Lynne rose to the challenge, at first combining Beethoven’s 5th Symphony with Chuck Berry’s ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ before following up with a barely disguised re-working of ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ which he called, ‘Showdown’
The formula found, ELO began having hits on both sides of the Atlantic throughout the mid-1970s with ‘Evil Woman’, ‘Strange Magic’, ‘Livin’ Thing’ and ‘Telephone Line’, while ELO albums were selling by the wagon-load. One of Lynne’s major problems was recording all his string overdubs with studio orchestras, particularly in Britain where archaic Musicians Union rules continued to frustrate him. Lynne recalls: “We’d be coming to the end of a song and the clock would be going just over the minute and they’d just stop. Unless you booked them for another 3 hours to play this extra minute they were gone.” Lynne eventually discovered Musicland studios in Munich, and took his business there; “Orchestras in Munich were totally different. They’d all crowd into the control room and go, ‘Wow that’s good. Let’s try it again. Maybe we can make it better’!”
Jeff Lynne was the sole writer, singer, guitarist and producer of all the ELO’s records, and in 1977 he began preparations for the next album. Booking the studio, he gave himself six weeks up-front to write all the material, and rented himself a chalet in the Swiss Alps for the purpose. “I’d been there three weeks and I hadn’t come up with a thing! I was running up and down the mountains, and going down the pub every night! All the other people were really worried at the time – ‘He hasn’t thought of anything – he’s got nothing – three weeks and he’s still done nothing!’ Anyway as luck would have it about the third week I started to come up with some tunes!”
Lynne says he wrote 10 songs in 3 days, and one of those “tunes” was ‘Mr Blue Sky’, which formed part of his ‘Concerto For A Rainy Day’ that took up one whole side of the double album Out Of The Blue. Lynne recalls, “When I wrote (the) song, it was inspired by the fact that I’d been in this little cuckoo-clock house in Switzerland trying to write Out Of The Blue, when suddenly the sun came out and everything looked beautiful.” Lynne often finds it hard to hide his Beatle influences, and the piano introduction to ‘Mr Blue Sky’ would certainly seem to have been inspired by the middle section of ‘A Day In The Life’ from Sgt Pepper. No matter, Jeff Lynne was on a roll and Mr Blue Sky was one of the highlights of the group’s most successful album that soon sold over 5 million copies.
By no means wishing to be detrimental to the talented Mr Lynne, he often resorts to the “kitchen sink” method of production, a trait he freely admits. Describing the construction of the juggernaut ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ from 1979’s Discovery album Lynne says, “I looped two bars of drumming taken from a different song on Discovery and then I overdubbed eight grand pianos, a cement mixer, and two crates of Newcastle Brown ale and that got the ball rolling.” Lynne, who later became a member of the star-studded Traveling Wilburys and also got to produce his Beatle heroes on the Anthology additions, ‘Free As A Bird’ and ‘Real Love’, always preferred studio work over the rigours of touring and says; “It’s the most thrilling thing in the world to go into a recording studio, see a blank reel of tape, fill it up with all these things, mix it down, and it comes out on a bit of vinyl. It’s magic!”
Having not played live for 25 years, Lynne in association with BBC Radio 2 presented a ‘Jeff Lynne’s ELO’ concert at Hyde Park, London on September 14th 2014 and also performed at the Grammy Awards in February 2015 playing ‘Evil Woman’ and ‘Mr Blue Sky’ with Ed Sheeran. The success of the Hyde Park gig where 50,000 tickets were sold within 15 minutes has led to speculation that a world tour by Lynne may be in the offing though no details have so far been forthcoming, though a brand new album, Alone In The Universe (with a cool 3D cover), his first new ELO material for 14 years, was released in November 2015 – unsurprisingly, Mr Lynne, now aged 67, plays just about every instrument on the album as well as writing and producing the 10 tracks at his home studio. Classic Rock calls the new collection, “A triumph of songcraft and studio invention.” (An ELO tour, Lynne’s first for 30 years, is scheduled for April 2016) Let me just add to close that Alone In The Universe is an excellent album, Jeff plays just about everything, it’s full of potential hits, and Jeff doesn’t miss a trick. It’s like he’s never been away!
Copyright © 2001/2015 SongStories/Tony Burton
Originally published by Tony Burton, Stavanger bibliotek og kulturhus.