Long before joining Roy Wood and Bev Bevan in The Move, a young hopeful named Jeff Lynne became a member of a Midlands beat group named The Nightriders. Soon after Lynne’s arrival, The Nightriders mutated into The Idle Race, a move reflecting a gradual shift from 60s beat group sounds to the burgeoning psychedelic scene. Despite releasing two albums and a handful of singles, The Idle Race failed to make much of a commercial impact in the 60s, but due to Jeff’s later megastar status as the leader of Electric Light Orchestra and part time Wilbury, their work has built a cult following.
Looking back, the three years between the disco and pop oriented sounds of 1976 and the majestic jumble of influences that fill 1979 are a huge gulf. By 1979, disco was on it’s last legs, punk had firmly given airtime to what we now think of as new wave and the pop music of the day was about as strong as it had been since 1975.
When you’ve topped the singles chart for a record breaking sixteen weeks, career-wise, there’s nowhere to go but down. For Bryan Adams, this was certainly the case. None of the albums he released in the wake of ‘Waking Up The Neighbours’ and its world dominating Robin Hood single in the early 90s were a patch on most of their predecessors. There were glimmers of goodness, of course: his collaborative single with ex-Spice Girl Melanie C remains a career highlight and 1999’s parent album ‘On a Day Like Today’ was pleasant enough, but generally speaking, it’s just a few tracks here and there which impress from then on in. Most of his twenty first century output possibly doesn’t resonate with anyone but the more hardcore fan. 2014’s ‘Tracks of My Years‘ was especially grim; aside from a few examples, the covers album represents either a spent force or contractual obligation and for Adams, it was a genuine nadir.
At an unspecific point in 1979, my dad arrived home from work carrying a long playing record. It turned out to be the new Police album. At this point, ‘Message In a Bottle’ had been all over the radio and I knew I liked this new music. My mum, on the other hand did not have quite the same enthusiasm; she’s a bit put out that this does not have ‘Roxanne’ on it. Presumably, the album – like others – had been purchased at Barnaby’s, a record shop (no longer there) very near my dad’s then place of employment; a giant tin shed in which he worked with dangerous acidic chemicals and little regard for health and safety. That Police album (‘Reggatta De Blanc’) got played a lot. If I think hard, I can still see Dad sitting by his Fidelity stereo system lifting the needle onto the record and playing the title track over and over and I remember thinking how fitting it was that the word emblazoned on the front looked a bit like the word fiddle. That piece of music must have spoken to him: decades later, he would still attract my attention by calling my name to the tune of that track.
The sight of my dad coming home with new music in this way was not entirely uncommon.
Fifteen years after their last major hit (‘Calling America’) and subsequent break-up, Jeff Lynne revived Electric Light Orchestra. The move seemed to come from necessity, since his own recording in the interim (‘Armchair Theatre’) was not as successful as many predicted it would be. It was by no means a flop – and Lynne, too, achieved critical and commercial success as a member of Traveling Wilburys in the wake of his former band – but it seemed that any recordings made with the bespectacled and bearded Brummie at the helm (supergroups notwithstanding) stood a far better chance of acceptance if the ELO moniker came attached.