The ELO mastermind releases two different—yet sonically linked—projects 

In a 1974 radio interview, John Lennon said of Electric Light Orchestra, “I call them the Son of Beatles, but I’m sure they’re doing other things we never did.” It’s a compliment that Jeff Lynne recalls word for word, in Lennon’s Scouse accent, and treasures to this day. “That was a big moment for me,” Lynne recalls. “Almost a benediction.”

Lennon’s words seem to have been a glimpse into Lynne’s future. Fronting ELO, he sent more than 20 singles into the Top 40. Later Lynne joined supergroup the

Traveling Wilburys, wrote songs with Paul McCartney, produced Tom Petty and Roy Orbison, and oversaw two Beatles reunion singles. As he modestly puts it, “I got to work with all me heroes.”

Now, on the first of two new releases, Lynne is turning to a different group of heroes. The gorgeous covers collection Long Wave pays tribute to such pre-rock songwriters as Rodgers & Hammerstein and Charles Aznavour. “The title Long Wave is a visualization of a big wave bouncing into my room as I was listening to the radio as a kid,” Lynne says. “All these songs bring back great memories.” In the rangy melodies and rich harmonies of classics like “She” and “If I Loved You,” it’s easy to detect a link to Lynne’s own songwriting. “Once I learned to play guitar, I would use diminished and augmented chords,” he affirms. “A lot of these older songs are filled with those rich, colorful chords and beautiful melodies. That’s what I went looking for in my own songs.”

And as his second new release proves, he found it with chart-topping regularity. On Mr. Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra, Lynne re-records note-perfect covers of his own hits. “I’d hear the songs on the radio and think, ‘I wish I could’ve done this better,’” he says. “In the 30 years since I made those records, I’ve become a better producer. I found the songs much easier to record this time, because the structures and harmonies were all marked out. I wasn’t writing and recording at once. This time, I had more ammunition to make them sound good.”

Lynne is also halfway through recording a solo album of new material to be released next year. Does that mean he’ll tour for the first time in three decades? “Well, they always say, ‘Never say never,’” he says with a laugh. “But the days of the spaceships and huge groups onstage are over. Maybe I’ll invent a new way of doing it. Something more intimate, say, the Acoustic Light Orchestra.”

–Bill DeMain

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