ELO's 10 greatest songs ever, ranked

28 December 2022, 14:29

Electric Light Orchestra
Electric Light Orchestra. Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

There isn't anyone else quite like the Electric Light Orchestra.

The Birmingham band were formed in 1970, led by musicians Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood, with drummer Bev Bevan.

They had a unique mix of pop, classical music and futurism. After Roy Wood left for Wizzard in 1972, Jeff Lynne became the band's leader. Ever since, he arranged and produced all their albums, while also writing most of all of their songs.

ELO wanted to create a modern rock and pop sound using classical techniques. In the 1970s and 1980s, ELO released several big hits and top 10 albums, with their most successful being 1977's Out of the Blue.

Here are just 10 of the band's greatest-ever songs for the perfect ELO playlist:

  1. Last Train to London

    Another top 10 hit from Discovery, this catchy disco tune was a double-A side with 'Confusion'.

    It was later used in the chorus of Atomic Kitten's 'Be With You'.

  2. Xanadu (with Olivia Newton-John)

    The Xanadu musical film was a box office flop in 1980, but the soundtrack was a big success.

    This was largely helped by the film's title track, where Olivia Newton-John teamed up with Jeff Lynne's ELO, who scored their only UK number one with it.

  3. The Diary of Horace Wimp

    Probably the best song title by the band, this was a top 10 hit from their Discovery album.

    The Beatles-style lyrics describe a week in the life of a repressed man who wants to show his affection towards a woman he meets. Horace overcomes his shyness with the help of "a voice from above."

    If you're wondering why the day Saturday is not included in the song, – this is because, as explained by Jeff Lynne: "The football match is played on a Saturday".

  4. Turn to Stone

    This was the opening track to ELO's seminal double album Out of the Blue.

    The song was written in Switzerland during Jeff Lynne's two-week writing marathon for the double album.

  5. Shine a Little Love

    The first track from the Discovery album, and another top 10 hit. Jeff Lynne said: "A bit of a disco beat on this one, and quite a lot of things going on, forty piece string section and all. It's very jolly and bouncy and I must have been in a very good mood when I wrote it!"

    It was later sampled in the 2005 dance top 10 hit 'Shine' by Lovefreekz.

  6. Livin' Thing

    This catchy track from ELO's 1976 album A New World Record reached number 4 in the UK charts.

    It featured backing vocals from Patti Quatro, the sister of glam rock legend Suzi Quatro.

  7. Telephone Line

    This ballad sees Jeff trying to talk to a telephone operator, to connect him to the person he loves who isn't answering.

    To make the song, Jeff explained: "To get the sound on the beginning, you know, the American telephone sound, we phoned from England to America to a number that we know nobody would be at, to just listen to it for a while.

    "On the Moog, we recreated the sound exactly by tuning the oscillators to the same notes as the ringing of the phone."

  8. Evil Woman

    This song from 1975 was the band's first worldwide hit. According to Lynne, this song was the quickest he had ever written, in half an hour, originally as "filler" for the group's Face the Music album.

    It was later sampled in Daft Punk's 'Face to Face' track from their album Discovery, interestingly also the title of one of ELO's albums.

  9. Don't Bring Me Down

    ELO’s biggest hit in the US was written for their album Discovery late in the day. Jeff Lynne said: “It’s a great big galloping ball of distortion. I wrote it at the last minute, ‘cos I felt there weren’t enough loud ones on the album. This was just what I was after.”

    The drum track is in fact a tape loop, coming from the track ‘On the Run’ slowed down. A common misheard lyric is Lynne shouting ‘Bruce!’. He later explained that he is singing a made-up word, ‘Grooss’. Lynne has actually sung the word as ‘Bruce’ for fun at live shows.

  10. Mr Blue Sky

    It had to be this at number one.

    This pop rock song forms the fourth and final track of the ‘Concerto for a Rainy Day’ suite, on side three of the original double album Out of the Blue.

    Perhaps ELO’s most famous song, it was written by Lynne after locking himself away in a Swiss chalet: “It was dark and misty for two weeks, and I didn’t come up with a thing. Suddenly the sun shone and it was, ‘Wow, look at those beautiful Alps’. I wrote ‘Mr Blue Sky’ and 13 other songs in the next two weeks”.

    The arrangement makes prominent use of a cowbell sound, although this is credited on the album to percussionist Bev Bevan, as that of a ‘fire extinguisher’. A second vocoded segment at the end of the song is often interpreted as ‘Mister Blue Sky’, but is actually ‘Please turn me over’ as it is the end of side three.

    The song was played as a wake-up call to astronaut Christopher Ferguson on Day 3 of STS-135, the final mission of Space Shuttle Atlantis.