Electric Light Orchestra Credit: courtesy the artist

I realize that to some, Electric Light Orchestra epitomize the overblown excess of the 70s; in their heyday they delved into disco, synthesizers, huge anthems, giant prop spaceships, and yes, white-boy Afros. Personally, I find this all very charming—and much more fun and stylish than today’s meaningless and overindulgent pop—but once you get down to the nuts and bolts of ELO, it all really comes down the songs. ELO svengali Jeff Lynne learned the songwriting trade in the 60s by hashing it out in R&B bands in his industrial hometown of Birmingham, England, before joining forces with the Nightriders in 1966. The group soon changed its name to the Idle Race and had chart success in the UK; their polished, psychedelic baroque pop even influenced a young Marc Bolan of T. Rex. In 1970 Lynne joined the flamboyant proto-power popsters the Move, who had put out catchy worldwide hit singles including 1967’s “Night of Fear” and “Flowers in the Rain” while the Beatles were off recording extravagant concept LPs. That same year, bandleader Roy Wood decided he needed a change of pace and the Move transformed into Electric Light Orchestra. When Wood left in 1972 to pursue his strange roots-rock/glam fantasies in Wizzard, Lynne was left piloting the ELO ship. All of his years of pop practice began to pay off, blossoming into beautiful ballads such as “Can’t Get It Out of my Head” and “Strange Magic”; pummeling riff rockers like “Do Ya” and “Don’t Bring Me Down”; groovers like “Evil Woman”; and the updated, colorful Beatle-esque pop of “Mr. Blue Sky” and “Livin’ Thing.” Lynne’s writing and smooth, rich pop constructions made him an in-demand producer for the likes of Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Roger McGuinn, and (following the murder of John Lennon in 1980) all of the remaining Beatles, with whom he helped finish left-behind Lennon tracks such as the 1996 release “Real Love.” By the mid-80s, Lynne’s production work had essentially caused ELO to stop recording and playing live, but the group shocked their fans with a new LP, Zoom, in 2001, and shocked them even more in 2014 when they began performing in the UK as Jeff Lynne’s ELO. The following year they released a classic-sounding new LP, Alone in the Universe, which they supported in 2016 with their first U.S. dates (California and New York only), which seemed to sell out within seconds. ELO was rightfully inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year, and this summer my prayers are being answered; a full U.S. tour is happening after 30 years. I’m going to be at the Chicago stop tonight, pumping my fists hard.   v