Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by peterpyser, Feb 24, 2015.
By DAVID POGUE CBS NEWS November 3, 2019, 10:11 AM
Reporter's Notebook: David Pogue on interviewing a musical idol
A privilege OF being a "Sunday Morning" correspondent is getting to meet songwriter/singer/producer Jeff Lynne, co-founder of the rock band Electric Light Orchestra. CBS NEWS
I'm not gonna lie: Being a "CBS Sunday Morning" correspondent has its privileges. Like getting to meet your musical idol.
As a teenager, I was obsessed with the British band ELO, the Electric Light Orchestra. I was a budding composer myself, and the stuff ELO did with harmonies, chord sequences, and string arrangements blew my mind.
ELO disbanded in 1986. Its songwriter/lead singer/producer, Jeff Lynne, moved on to other, off-stage projects, like writing and producing songs for George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Brian Wilson, and even the surviving Beatles. ELO fans thought, "Well, that's it. No more ELO."
So, when I learned last year that ELO was touring again for the first time since 1981, I thought: "Now this would make a great 'Sunday Morning' profile. And I know just the correspondent for the job!"
The tour isn't the only part of the band's resurgence, either; there's a new album form Jeff Lynne's ELO, "From Out of Nowhere," released on Nov. 1; there's Lynne's 2015 Hollywood Walk of Fame dedication; and his 2017 induction into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.
His music, meanwhile, has seen a resurgence in popular culture. His biggest hit, "Mr. Blue Sky," starred in the opening scene of "Guardians of the Galaxy II"
It's also been featured in "Megamind," "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," half a dozen TV series, TV ads, and the 2012 Summer Olympics.
TV is a fantastic medium for stories with a lot of visuals and music, but network time is limited. So here, for the benefit of ELO fans, is a kind of reporter's notebook: a little more about our Jeff Lynne profile, behind the scenes.
Meeting Jeff Lynne
My Lyft pulled up to a big, wooden house, way up in the hills of Los Angeles. As I approached the front door, I took a deep breath: After admiring him for 40 years, I was about to meet Jeff Lynne, and there's nothing worse than finding out that one of your idols is an abrasive jerk.
Lynne, 71, turns out to be the complete opposite of abrasive. For a man who's been called a genius over and over again, he's astonishingly shy and self-effacing.
Consider: His photo rarely appears on his album covers. He's worn sunglasses in public for almost his entire professional life, no matter the lighting. He's said often that he'd much rather labor for hours in his studio than take the stage. And when, before we started shooting, I told him how much his music had influenced me as a young man, he seemed almost sheepishly grateful.
He's also hilarious.
"I went to your Madison Square Garden concert with my family," I told him. "And the place was packed. And people were screaming and singing along and dancing."
His response: "I know, I know. I was there as well!"
He kept cracking us up like that throughout the interview. At one point, he totally got me:
POGUE: "Do you ever take the sunglasses off?"
POGUE: "Really? Is it a signature look? Or is it because the light bothers you, or …?"
LYNNE: "I just like myself better with them on. I'm less shy with 'em on, probably."
POGUE: "Are you a shy guy?"
LYNNE: "I am a shy guy, yeah."
POGUE: "That's funny, for a rock star. You wouldn't expect that."
LYNNE: "No, you don't. Nobody ever does."
POGUE: "Do you have a yacht?"
LYNNE: "Yes, I do actually."
POGUE: (trying not to judge) "Okay."
LYNNE: "No, I don't!"
POGUE: (laughs) "You don't?"
LYNNE: "No, of course not!"
POGUE: "I was about to buy into it!"
LYNNE: "I'm from Birmingham, England. The nearest seaside was 85 miles away or something!"
POGUE: "All right. Private jet?"
LYNNE: "Oh, I've got a few of them too. (laughs) No, I haven't got anything. I've got a nice car, but it's 16 years old."
For many years, Jeff Lynne assumed that his ELO years were over. He immersed himself in producing, and returned to performing only briefly, in 1988, when he joined George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison to form The Traveling Wilburys. They did not, in fact, travel, or even perform in concert, but they did record two albums, and promptly won a Grammy.
Then, in 2014, the organizers of a Children in Need charity concert asked if ELO would perform one song to close the show.
"So, we did 'Mr. Blue Sky,'" Lynne said. "We finished it, and then, 'More! More!' They're all going, 'More!'"
But the newly-constructed band (called Jeff Lynne's ELO) had no other songs to play. "Nothing at all, 'cause we hadn't been together but a few days." So, they played "Mr. Blue Sky" again.
"We played that twice, which was kind of embarrassing. But it made me realize that actually, I could do this again."
And he did – later that year, at Hyde Park with the BBC Concert Orchestra. Once again, Jeff Lynne's ELO was to be the last act of the festival, and he was nervous.
"What I was worried about was that there wouldn't be anybody left," he said. "I kept goin', 'Well, what if they've all gone home?' But it was packed, all the way through the park. I think it was 50,000. And that was the first big gig back, you know?"
In our interview, Lynne confirmed that he doesn't read or write music. "But you are known for these incredible arrangements – the choirs, the string orchestra – I mean, some complex chords," I said. "So, how do you write the songs without writing the notes?"
"Well, you just play the chords, and you go, 'Oh, that's a nice one.' And then I'll just lay it down onto my iPhone," he said. "What I am is a chord hound, I suppose. I just love chords, and I love chord changes, and the way they can send all your hair standing on end on the back of your neck, if it's a great chord change. And then all we gotta do is think of a song and another five minutes of music."
I pointed out that his greatest songs aren't just famous for chord changes, but also section changes. At the end of "Mr. Blue Sky," for example, there's a 1.5-minute pure orchestral section, in a different key and tempo from the main song:
Or, in "Turn to Stone," the song interrupts itself for a rapid-fire triplet section
Or there's the Spanish violin solo that breaks up the middle of "Livin' Thing"
Lynne says that he puts those sections in from "the fear of getting boring."
"We used to call 'em 'whizzits.' Like, 'Oh, I need a whizzit in here, to take your mind off this tune that's been goin' on for a day.' Just something that just turns left all of a sudden, you know what I mean, mate?"
According to Lynne, his rock-musician ambitions go back a long, long way.
"I used to have a clothes cupboard in my house," he said. "I got an older brother, and I had two older sisters, and I used to make everybody go in this clothes cupboard and be a band with me. And I'd be about probably four or five. I mean, I didn't know what I was doing. Obviously, I didn't know about music. But I knew I wanted to have a band."
Soon thereafter, he was at a buddy's house, poking around his cabinets, and found a plastic Elvis Presley guitar in the cupboard with one string.
"I borrowed it," Lynne said. "And on that one string, I learned every song in the charts, on one finger and one string.
"Oh wow," I said. "Imagine what you could do with five more! I think you're limiting yourself!"
"Oh, I am, that. Yeah, I must try harder," he said with a laugh.
The idea for ELO, from the beginning, was rock band + string section. I asked Lynne where that idea came from. "My dad was a mad, classical person," he said. "He knew all these highfalutin classical numbers, and he knew what key they were in, and who was playing the lead fiddle and all that. And I wondered how he knew. Because my dad was, like, a laborer! He used to lay the pavement stones on the paths of Birmingham streets."
As a result, Lynne grew up surrounded by that improbable classical influence. "The whole weekend, it was just classical. So, I used to get it rammed down my throat, basically."
The irony was, of course, that neither Lynne's mother nor father thought much of his own music. "The only time he said, like, a compliment, was, he said, 'Blimey, you wrote that for me, didn't ya?' 'Cause it was on an album called 'Eldorado,' and it had all these strings going, and a lot of interludes of classical style.' And I said, 'Yeah, I suppose so.' I suppose I was just trying to prove I knew just a little bit of something."
On his last two albums, Lynne has played almost all the instruments himself. He recorded them entirely in the studio, one instrument at a time. He is, by his own admission, something of a perfectionist.
In fact, in 2012, he went back and re-recorded 12 of the most famous ELO songs, just for the sake of polishing things that had always bugged him about the recordings. "Used to drive me mad when on the radio. I'd go, 'Oh, I hate that bit,'" he said. "Just things that were out of balance or out of tune maybe slightly."
I'm no psychologist, but after experiencing Lynne's humility, his deadpan humor, and his intense shyness, I think it's safe to say he's an introvert. Which isn't something you might expect in a pop musician.
"Are you a reluctant rock star?" I asked him.
"I suppose so," he said. "You know, going out and being flashy and dancing around and all that stuff? I don't do any of that. I just love music so much that it's just a pleasure to be doing it, you know? Especially if you got a nice tune on the go. And that makes you cheerful, you know, to think, 'Oh, I've got that to work on tonight.'
"I've heard you say that you could just spend 14 hours a day in the studio and you'd be totally happy," I said.
"I would," he said. "I'd be asleep most of it, but—"
And he laughed.
"No, I would love to."
He talks my language. I can relate to that.
I do love this song.
New FOON picture disc incoming:
Here's hoping it sounds better than the Gold Vinyl version I got!
Inferior audio and visuals for what surely must be the worst (i.e. least imaginative) ELO cover yet. At least Time and Balance Of Power had something different to offer. This one is just an inferior version of something that's been done multiple times before. Any image from the booklet would've been better! The lenticular edition at least manages to hide the cover almost completely - it's basically just a black hole, I suppose that's where all the remaining creativity went - no wonder then, that Waterloo Records here in Austin decided to not display that one on the rack of new releases.
The cover looks fine to me and I have black vinyl, sound fine to me. I think people have poor hearing, less than 14 khz.
....I’m glad FOON is at number 1, it used to give me such a thrill watching ELO records climb up the charts, and hopefully hitting number 1! Like many I know every word to every song, up to Zoom. I don’t like the new album, but interestingly have a new ear worm with the title track. It took me a while to figure out what it was. It is the best track on FOON by a long way, and Very ELO sounding, could have gone on any album from ANWR. there’s life in the old dog yet!
Indeed, from the 'Time' era.
Casey Kasem's American Top 40 - The 70's from November 17th, 1979, is on this weekend...
This is Casey Kasem on American Top 40 in Hollywood, well now, I have the hit by the group who perform on the most expensive stage set in the history of rock, a sixty foot wide spaceship that cost them more than three hundred thousand dollars, picture this if you will, you're sitting in a concert hall, the lights are out, and suddenly there's a sound of space music starting softly, but building louder and louder into an exciting crescendo, and as you look toward the, dimly lit stage, you can just barely make out something that looks like a space vehicle, the top of it begins to rise, and inside being lifted up on a huge platform, is the group you came to see, the lights on the bottom and the top of the spaceship, go on, the lasers begin to shoot out in all directions from the ship, lighting up the entire hall, fire is shooting from the back of the ship, and a rear screen projector is filled with laser lights, spelling out messages to the crowd, and this is how the Electric Light Orchestra begins their concert, the cost, three hundred thousand dollars just to build the set, the most expensive set for a rock group, we know of, and now, here is ELO, at #37 in the countdown, The Electric Light Orchestra debut with, Confusion...
This question has already been answered - four and a half years ago.
More like 12.7 years ago according to an email in my archive where RC answers that very question.
Speaking about the 40th Anniversary of Discovery and "Confusion"...
"Thinner, younger (18 ugh) Got me my first agent. Jews had to play Arabs back then. Ahhhh, simpler times. #ELO #1978" Twitter
In one of his earliest jobs, comedian/actor Brad Garrett, dressed in Middle Eastern clothes and turban, appears on the back cover as the menacing palace guard who is drawing his scimitar.
The model seen on the cover of the Discovery album is the actor/comedian Brad Garrett, well before he became famous as an actor (famous for his role in the Everybody Loves Raymond series). Brad himself confirmed this via a Twitter post, although he did not confirm which picture(s) were of him. Jim Shea was the photographer and confirmed that it is Brad on the album's back cover, standing menacingly in a doorway holding a sword. An alternate shot was also used for the Confusion single advertisement. It is not Brad on the album's front cover, nor on the inside cover holding the ELO spaceship treasure and running across the desert. Brad would have been about 19 at the time the images were shot and it was done well before Brad's comedy and acting career.
The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn, February 2000
The Bob & Tom Show, January 2000
Jeff Lynne Song Database - Exposing the Secrets!
I see on CD Japan scheduled for release on November 27, yes today!
Secret Messages 35th Anniversary Edition [Blu-spec CD2] [Limited Release] [Cardboard Sleeve (mini LP)] Electric Light Orchestra CD Album
Yup - I got a message this morning from CDJapan telling me that my copy is on it's merry way from Japan. Should be nice.
It'll be nice for the collection. Actually quite surprised they did a physical compact for this. I had my doubts!
Think anyone who's interested in this should grab one now. Stuff like this usually goes OOP quite quickly.
We're such suckers!
Unlike the Blu-spec CD2 edition launching today, here's one you won't find on Discogs any time soon:
Isn't this just beautiful? A perfect recreation of what Jeff originally intended* all the way back in April '83.
I should probably get back to working on my book now... November has almost come and gone already!
*Fine, so I added a hype sticker. Who needs historical accuracy when you're creating a dream item?
Beautiful Shard, but that hype sticker looks out of place for a late 80's early 90's manufactured disc
Speaking of details that aren't quite historically accurate, I'd also planned on creating a Digipak-style case featuring the original inner gatefold artwork, but that's now spread over the middle two pages of a booklet that borrows heavily from my upcoming book, where the original would have surely contained little more than song lyrics and album credits.
Separate names with a comma.