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Revisiting Old Work For Jeff Lynne

08:01 AM Friday 10/19/12 | |

Far be it for us to call Jeff Lynne obsessive.

But the man did just spend countless hours in a recording studio painstakingly remaking his 1970s era hits with the Electric Light Orchestra so they sound, to amateur ears ... exactly the same as they did when they were in the Top 40.

  • Jeff Lynne

    Undated image released by Frontiers Records.

    (Frontiers Records, Martyn Atkins/AP)

    | 

Ah, but his aren’t amateur ears. And every time Lynne would hear songs like “Mr. Blue Sky,” ‘‘Evil Woman” or “Telephone Line” on the radio, it would drive him a little nuts. He’d hear something he wished was done differently, a vocal that sounded muddy or an instrument lost in the mix, and remember how it was usually recorded hurriedly.

So Lynne, who built a successful post-ELO career as a producer to members of the Beatles and Tom Petty and has a state-of-the-art studio in his California home, set about recreating history.

His just-released Mr. Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra CD is a take two of 12 of ELO’s most popular songs, by a one-man orchestra. It is paired with another release, Long Wave, where Lynne interprets some youthful favorites and standards like “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” and “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing.”

The English musician spent three years on the projects, working six days a week.

There are virtually no differences in the ELO arrangements on “Mr. Blue Sky” and the instruments that are played. Lynne had no interest in reinterpreting material that he wrote. His voice sounds slightly deeper in spots, but that’s barely noticeable. Only when you play old and new versions back-to-back do you notice the much clearer vocal on “Evil Woman” and the way the violin jumps out at you on “Strange Magic.”

“It may be technical, but it is vastly different,” Lynne said in a recent interview. “The sound of it is totally different. It’s much more powerful. It’s much better sounding.”

In the old days, band members would play the basic tracks and Lynne would overdub extra instruments. This time Lynne did everything, often starting with rhythm guitar and adding bass, drum, keyboards, voice and other instruments one by one.

“It was a lot of work, but it was a total pleasure,” he said. “To me, making records isn’t work.”

There were no business reasons for remaking the songs; Lynne owns the rights to his music. Squeeze recently made an album of faithful reinterpretations of their old songs, primarily to have control over their placement in ads and soundtracks.

No, it’s simply so that the next time he hears an old recording and thinks to himself “that bit there isn’t very good,” he knows he did something about it. An interesting test will be if fans prefer the versions they grew to love, imperfections and all, or ones that are sonically more correct.

Lynne remade the songs on Long Wave in his own musical style. But his approach was just as thorough.

“I really studied them very meticulously,” he said. “I learned every note and every nuance. I probably listened 100 times to the songs before I recorded them, to learn everything perfectly, as it should be. I didn’t want it to be wrong.”

He had such fun, and learned so much, “that I felt like I’d been to university when I finished,” he said.


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