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Interview: Jeff Lynne

“Mr. Blue Sky” . . . “Evil Woman” . . . “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head” . . . “Handle With Care” . . . “Free Fallin’” . . . “Runnin’ Down A Dream” . . . “You Got It” . . . “Got My Mind Set On You” . . . “Free As A Bird” . . . The list goes on and on.

The songs that Jeff Lynne has written, co-written, produced, and/or recorded (as a member of both Electric Light Orchestra and the Traveling Wilburys supergroup and with the likes of Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, and George Harrison) have become staples in the songbook of popular music. You hear them everywhere. It is safe to say, in any city around the world, a Jeff Lynne song is playing on some radio station every single day.

“It is a wonderful thing that I got to work with all my heroes in this business,” Lynne says over the phone while relaxing in his expansive Los Angeles home/studio complex. “I am always recording, whether you know about it or not.”

Lynne, who cut his musical teeth during the British Invasion of the mid-’60s with both The Idle Race and later, The Move, became a household name when the latter group morphed into Electric Light Orchestra in 1971. When his co-leader in ELO, Roy Wood, left to pursue a solo career, Lynne took the reins of the band and drove it straight to the top of the world pop charts, culminating in over 50 million records sold.

Now, two decades after he walked away from ELO at the height of its career and with a wall of trophies behind him as one of rock’s most in-demand writer/producers, Lynne has reentered the musical spotlight with two new albums, released simultaneously on Frontiers Records/EMI: Long Wave (a collection of reinterpreted rock classics and standards) and Mr. Blue Sky: The Very Best Of Electric Light Orchestra (the hits completely re-recorded with Lynne singlehandedly performing all the music and vocals and doing all production).

Taking two current music industry trends – recording an album of standards and re-cutting your own previous hits – Lynne delivers two albums that are likely to keep him at the top of his game.

Although a curious and quirky collection ranging from Rodgers & Hammerstein to Chuck Berry, Long Wave provides a completely different take on songs etched in our collective musical memory. From “If I Loved You” (from the musical Carousel) to “Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered” to “Beyond The Sea,” the album journeys back to the music Lynne often heard as a child.

“Well, these are songs that I heard millions of times growing up. I never thought in a million years I would record these. I used to hate them as a kid, but I have come to love them now. The arrangements were too complicated, too flowery, and frankly, had put me off from learning them,” Lynne admits. “It’s only been in the last few years that I have recorded these songs. I just dove in and learned the basic song and tried to understand them and see if I could make it work.”

Time changes all things, and eventually Lynne grew fond of his father’s favorite tunes.

“I had it in my mind to do songs like ‘If I Loved You.’ Prior to this, I never dreamed I would sing a song like that because it was so far removed from what I had done in my career. At the time, when I first used to hear it as a kid, my dad used to love it and he would say, ‘Ah, now that’s some good stuff . . . ‘ And I would say I really didn’t get it and I would say, ‘What are you talking about?’ So, to get it and sing it now . . . is like . . .” Lynne pauses to reflect, “now, I love it and now I get it.”

A dip into the rock ‘n’ roll well for a funky remake of the R&B classic “Mercy, Mercy,” and a bouncy take of “Let It Rock,” fail to match the most compelling songs on Long Wave: the melancholy standards, especially “Smile” where Lynne interprets the uplifting lyrics with profound sadness.

“Yeah, it is full of that,” Lynne concedes. “People say, ‘All your music is so literate,’ and I actually don’t aim for that. I try to make it as well as I can. I am not trying to make [it] happy or sad, I am just trying to do it as good as I can. People always have very different ideas as to whether it is happy or sad.”

– Bruce Pilato

For the full feature, click on the issue cover or grab a copy of Illinois Entertainer, available free throughout Chicagoland.

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