How ELO Finally Broke Through With ‘New World Record’
Jeff Lynne and the Electric Light Orchestra had been building toward the breakthrough success of A New World Record for some time. But first there was some housecleaning to do.
Released on Sept. 11, 1976, the album offered Lynne a chance to reclaim a piece of his legacy with the Move, ELO's predecessor band, with a muscular remake of "Do Ya." (Roy Wood and Lynne left the Move to form the Electric Light Orchestra in 1969, along with drummer Bev Bevan.) They also took a moment to mock ELO's early Wood-dominated experiments with orchestral music on the decidedly operatic "Rockaria."
“I’m really pleased with 'Rockaria,'" Lynne told Melody Maker in 1977. "It’s a tongue-in-cheek look at classical rock, but it is a rocker, and I think it’s the best in the rock tradition that we’ve done. It’s a new-style rocker.”
In fact, the Electric Light Orchestra had been moving toward that new style – and away from over-the-top songs like "First Movement" – since the departure of Wood, who led the group on its debut album. “When we first started ELO, there was a lot of pretentiousness with the music," Lynne admitted in the 1977 interview. "I was doing stuff that I didn’t really want to do but doing it all the same. I thought I should do it because it was cool, man. It was experimental, but there was no direction to it."
Four albums followed over the next three years, as the Electric Light Orchestra searched for the right musical mixture of Lynne's love of early rock 'n' roll and the Beatles with his interest in strings. Lynne finally came to a simple realization: "It had this grandiose name, the Orchestra," he later acknowledged. "And really it was just this group with a cello in it." That breakthrough of simplification, along with a shifted lineup and the maturation of Lynne's songwriting voice, made all the difference.
Watch ELO's 'Livin' Thing' Video
By 1975's Face the Music, they cracked the Top 10 in the U.S., but were still being roundly ignored back home in the U.K. A New World Record, which boasted three Top 20 Billboard hits -- including ELO's first-ever gold-selling U.S. hit, "Telephone Line" – changed all that. "Livin' Thing," powered along by one of Lynne's most inventive choruses, became the band's highest-charting U.K. single to date.
“I wrote so many songs so quickly in that 1974-78 period, and it was like a conveyor belt, really," Lynne told Jon Kutner. "I was just banging them out. But I’m particularly pleased with 'Livin’ Thing,' because I like the chorus, it’s really interesting. I think it’s interesting because there is one chord change [just before 'higher and higher, baby'] that makes the whole thing work – and if I hadn’t found that it would never be a song."
Lynne finally had his first platinum U.S. smash, as A New World Record rose to the Top 5, but – more important to the band's Birmingham-born leader – his first-ever U.K. Top 10 million-seller. “I’m just pleased that it’s happened at home,” Lynne told Melody Maker. “I’m just chuffed. It’s suddenly happened and I accept that. I don’t look any deeper than that."