For my next answer to Ask Roger Anything, our contestant once again is Kelly Sedinger, the fine Buffalo-area blogger at ForgottenStars.net.
I read somewhere that ELO did the kind of music that The Beatles WOULD have done had they remained together into the 70s. Agree? Disagree? (I’m not really equipped to assess the claim, but it kind of feels right to me, at least in part.)
First, I have to note that you wouldn’t have gotten this question from Kelly two decades ago because he wasn’t a fan of the Beatles at all and likely was unfamiliar with the Electric Light Orchestra. For some reason, I remember what I believe was his first Beatles song of the week, Don’t Let Me Down, a B-side.
In 2010, I asked him: “OK. How the heck could you dislike the entire oeuvre of The Beatles for so long? I can see if one doesn’t like the more avant-garde stuff or thought the early material wasn’t as good as the later tunes. But to reject the whole eclectic eight years? And how did you finally become enlightened?”
His reply: “The flip answer is, ‘Tastes change.’ The more serious answer is… ‘Tastes change.'”
Anyway, I started obsessing with this. I found a list of bands with three or more songwriters. Eh. The Band, the Eagles. Nah, not the right vibe.
Reddit has a list of Beatlesque bands, but of a later period. The only one I even considered was the Christine McVie/Buckingham/Nicks version of Fleetwood Mac, which is unrecognizable from the Peter Green Days. Heck, they even have their own white album, Tusk.
I thought the snake-bitten band Badfinger could have been it. The group was on Apple Records; their first hit, Come and Get It, was written by Paul McCartney. Day After Day has a lovely guitar line by George Harrison. And No Matter What is definitely of the Beatles genre.
I began fixating on When The Beatles Hit America by John Wesley Harding, the very strange song in which “John, Paul, George and Ringo are going to be reforming as The Beatles in 1993.” Which was, of course, impossible.
But it has this section, “And for anyone who didn’t realize or know, it sounded a lot like ELO, or ELP, or XTC, ABC, YMO, BTO. But it didn’t sound much like P.S., I Love You.”
Well, not much like Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, though the Billy Preston organ, especially on I Want You (She’s So Heavy), is very nice. Bachman- Turner Overdrive? Not really.
ABC is an interesting consideration. Wikipedia notes, “Their early-1980s success in the US saw them associated with the Second British Invasion.”
Yellow Magic Orchestra, I’ll admit I don’t know musically. It’s a “Japanese electronic music band formed in Tokyo in 1978… The group is considered influential and innovative in the field of popular electronic music… and effectively anticipated the “electropop boom” of the 1980s. They are credited with playing a key role in the development of several electronic genres, including synthpop, J-pop, electro, and techno while exploring subversive sociopolitical themes throughout their career.”
XTC was actually the band I first considered. “The band gained popularity during the rise of punk and new wave in the 1970s, later playing in a variety of styles that ranged from angular guitar riffs to elaborately arranged pop.” Eclectic, like the Beatles.
And, in the end
But Electric Light Orchestra is a reasonable choice. The group formed in 1970, the year the Beatles officially broke up. They were more commercially successful than many of the other candidates, selling “over 50 million records worldwide, making them one of the best-selling music groups of all time.” They made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
John Lennon remarked that ELO were the “Sons of the Beatles.” George and Ringo played with ELO. Jeff Lynne played with Paul McCartney. And of course, Jeff shows up in the Traveling Wilburys with George and produced an album of his and the 1995 Beatles songs. This is a bit ironic because “In an article from the 1970s, when the writer described an ELO song coming on the radio, [George] said, almost dismissively, ‘Sounds like the Beatles.'”
Check out the 2008 article in The Guardian. ELO: The band the Beatles could have been. “Critics called them ‘dull’ and laughed at the spaceships. Did they not realise Jeff Lynne was a songwriter to rival Lennon and McCartney?” And Lynne visited the Abbey Road studios while the Beatles worked on the white album.
So, sure, ELO can claim the title. How are Jeff Lynne, ELO, and The Beatles connected?