Lynne Me Your Ears: Are New ELO Recordings Better Than The Originals?

Mr Blue Sky: The Very Best

Next week will see the release of Mr. Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra. Jeff Lynne has rerecorded many of the band’s most timeless classics and, judging from the music samples on Amazon.com, they sound fantastic.

http://www.amazon.com/Mr-Blue-Sky-Very-Best/dp/B008OJ291W/ref=sr_1_2?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1349401227&sr=1-2&keywords=electric+light+orchestra

As Lynne has said, that was pretty much the goal:

“The idea was to get them to sound better,” Lynne told Rolling Stone about Mr. Blue Sky. “Because I’ve been working for all these years  with these great people and producing records with people, I became a much  better producer. So when I listen to my old ELO songs, I used to think, ‘I wish  I’d done that a bit better.’ And in the end, I drove myself mad. So I decided I  should re-record one. I started with ‘Mr. Blue Sky,’ and re-recorded the whole  thing from scratch. I enjoyed doing that a lot, and when I listened back to it  and compared it to the old one, I really liked it much better. My manager  suggested I do another couple and see how I get on with them, and I did ‘Evil  Woman’ and ‘Strange Magic,’ and they came out really good too. So I just carried  on doing them.”

Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/videos/premiere-jeff-lynne-covers-soul-nugget-mercy-mercy-20120921#ixzz28Ny8KrWm

I’m really conflicted on this one. First, I don’t think this album should be called a Best of Electric Light Orchestra. Most people consider “Best of” to be synonymous with “Greatest Hits”. And these are not the hit versions of these songs, even if you consider them to be superior to the versions that charted decades ago. It’s a misleading album title and cover.

Secondly, I’m a stickler for original hit versions–fanatically so, in fact. And the only example I can think of where an artist rerecorded an entire album’s worth of their classic hits and actually improved on the originals is Roy Orbison’s 1987 In Dreams: The Greatest Hits compilation (also misleadingly titled). The superior recording technology, smoother background vocals, ace studio musicians, and the fact that Orbison’s voice at 51 sounded, miraculously, better than it had at 25 made In Dreams a definitive document of his hits–at least to me.

In Dreams: The Greatest Hits In Dreams: Roy Orbison's Greatest Hits

Two different covers, same album.

By the way, In Dreams is sadly out of print; however, used copies are available at Amazon.com starting at less than a buck and I highly recommend picking one up:

http://www.amazon.com/Dreams-Greatest-Hits-Roy-Orbison/dp/B00008EPZG/ref=sr_1_2?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1349402556&sr=1-2&keywords=roy+orbison+in+dreams

Still, that was Roy Orbison. And if you could expect anyone to revisit sacred music and actually improve on it, it would be someone whose vocal talents were beyond comprehension in the first place.

Jeff Lynne has never been known to be anything more than competent as a vocalist. But he is a masterful (sometimes remasterful) producer. I’m sure the new compilation will have cracking sound, which will leave me with a difficult decision as to which versions of these songs to pledge my allegience to. With any artist not named Orbison, choosing the original versions would be a no-brainer. But back in the 70’s ELO was all about great sound. Lynne went to great pains to make an ELO album a state of the art listening experience. Maybe that’s why he can’t leave it alone–he can’t bear to see (or hear) that sound become dated, when it had been so fresh in its day.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Dave
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 23:19:49

    Good post. Love In Dreams but had forgotten they were re-recordings. All things Roy are religious experiences. He was divine.

    Reply

    • Ed Cyphers
      Oct 04, 2012 @ 23:24:17

      Didn’t know you had In Dreams, that’s great! I’m forever telling people who like Roy about that one. It’ll be a sad day when you can’t buy it anymore.

      Reply

  2. Dave
    Oct 06, 2012 @ 00:14:00

    just got both of them, can’t wait to hear them. I’ll report back….

    Reply

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