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Roll Over Beethoven: Jeff Lynne's Favourite Albums
Mr Blue Sky works up thirteen of his top LPs
The common complaint from Baker’s Dozen’s many participants is that of the struggle of narrowing down a list of life-long favourite long-players into a relatively compact list of just 13 albums. Not so for Jeff Lynne. Quite the opposite in fact.
“I have had a hard time whittling them up to 13!” he laughs.
Jeff Lynne, singer, songwriter and producer is still best known for his work with ELO, the Beatles-influenced pop monster that gained the approval of the Fab Four. But as Lynne is keen to point out with his choice of albums, there’s so much more to him than the band that truly made his name.
“I’m sorry they’re all by me!” says Lynne by way of apology as he meets the Quietus in the genteel surroundings of a Belgravia hotel.
“Craig, my manager, asked for the list in the car on the way to this hotel and I’m thinking, ‘I don’t know what my favourite albums are off the top of my head right now’ because this is the first time I’ve ever been asked this question,” he says as he explains both his predicament and the rationale behind his final choices.
“I’m going, ‘do you think they’ll mind if I include some of the ones that I’ve produced?’ because I do like those albums and he goes, ‘No, go ahead and do them.’ So I’m sorry about that! But at least I’ve got some stories about them!”
Travelling Wilburys – Volume 1
I’ve chosen this because it was such an amazing thing to happen. It sounds really good and it was such a brand new kind of sound. It really was! Not just because me and George [Harrison] produced it but it was the actual thing of it existing even.
It came about as a whim when I was working with George on Cloud Nine, and he said to me one night after we finished work and we were having a couple of bevies, he said, "you know what? Me and you should have a group." And I said, "well, that’s a good idea. Who would we have in it?"
And he said, "oh, Bob Dylan."
And I said, "oh, Bob Dylan, yeah. How about Roy Orbison?" And I thought we were joking and he says, "yeah, OK. Roy’d be great." And then we both said "Tom Petty". We both loved Tom and we’d met him a couple of times.
Anyway, everybody wanted to join so that was how the Wilburys came about. And so we went to LA, recorded ‘Handle With Care’, at first as a bonus track for George’s single off Cloud Nine, but when [label boss] Mo Ostin heard it he said, "you can’t do that! This is the first track off your new group!" and we all went, "oh yeah! That’s a good idea." ‘Cause we had recorded it in Bob Dylan’s garage, which is pretty amazing. We had a barbeque in his back garden and after that we wrote the words to ‘Handle With Care’, finished the words and George had got the chorus but he hasn’t got the verses so I wrote them at dinner time, sang them in the evening and it was finished. We had to mix it at George’s house later. That’s why it’s interesting to me, how it came about.
The rest of the songs we did in Dave Stewart’s studio and they were all instant songs. Each song only took a day. We gave ourselves one day to write a song so we did ten days and ten songs.
I did have to pinch myself! I got used to it in the end and of course we did another album after Roy had passed but it was a marvellous time and that’s why I chose it.
George Harrison – Cloud Nine
I didn’t know George at that time. I got to know George because of Dave Edmonds. I did a song with Dave Edmonds in Holland because I was doing an album over there – an ELO album – and he rang me up and said, "do you fancy writing a song for me and I’ll come over while you’re there and I can sing it?"
So he came over and we recorded this track together and he played this big six-string bass. We recorded it, finished it and a few weeks later we’re having dinner, finished dinner, went our separate ways and he shouts down the street, "by the way, I forgot to tell you: George Harrison asked me to ask you if you’d like to work on his new album with him!"
I said, "what do you mean, 'by the way'?" [laughs] As if that shouldn’t be the first thing you’d say over dinner! But that’s what happened.
I got invited to George’s and I went there, we got on great and we went to Australia to the Grand Prix together to see if we were going to be pals. And we were. We were great pals and we got on great and we worked together for about 13 years or so.
I love Cloud Nine because it was my first outside production that I’d done; it was a big album. And producing a Beatle wasn’t lost on me. It was like, “fucking hell! This is good, this, innit?”
You know, it was great because I’d just had a year off and playing in my own studio in England and learning to be an engineer, believe it or not. I’d never really mastered engineering; I’d always been a producer and always had to tell the engineer what I wanted because I couldn’t do it myself. I taught myself how to do it myself and I was much more in tune with all the knobs. You know, I knew exactly which little tweak I needed to do because I’d been there doing it in my own studio for about a year.
Tom Petty – Full Moon Fever
This was a bit of a dodgy situation at the time but I didn’t know that. Tom had asked me to work with him and it was a solo record and that was all I knew. It wasn’t with the group. He used Mike [Campbell, Heartbreakers lead guitarist] for guitar and it was Mike’s studio that we recorded in, in his garage in LA.
Tom just stopped me in the street one day in Beverley Hills somewhere and he said, "I’ve just been listening to George Harrison’s new album. I love it. I’m having a barbecue. Do you wanna come?" I couldn’t go so he said, "do you fancy writing some songs together and see what we come up with?" and I said, "yeah, I’d love to!"
So I went round his house the next day and after we wrote one, we then wrote, believe it or not, ‘Freefalling’ which was such a big hit for him. So it worked out great and we carried on doing them in Mike’s garage, which was an amazingly sparse studio. It was a garage full of motorbikes and oil cans and bedsteads and things like that - it was pretty amazing!
Where him and George looking for that panoramic ELO sound? Well, it wasn’t always that panoramic a sound. I was gradually quietening that sound down that ELO had done and there were less strings. In ELO, it used to be a case of, "oooh! String day tomorrow!" and then by about the tenth album it became [adopts dismayed voice] "oh, fucking hell! It’s string day tomorrow." I’d had enough of them. I grew tired of the strings. But that’s not why they asked me. It was more the punch I was doing later on and they just liked the sound that I made, whatever it was. They liked something about it.
Del Shannon – Hats Off To Del Shannon
I’ve always loved Del. He was my first hero when I was young. When 'Runaway’ came out I was only 13 or 14. I had to have my own rock star. Well, they weren’t called ‘rock stars’ then – they were all pop stars. But my sisters had had Elvis – and I loved Elvis of course – but you had to have your own hero, you know? So Del Shannon was my one.
But there’s a great story about Del and ‘Runaway’. He’d made the record and he was on the road and someone had sent him a copy of the record and he put it on his record player, played it and went, "what the fuck?!" It was semitone faster than it should have been! And he phones up his manager and he says, "what the hell have you done to my record?" And the manager said, "oh, we sped it up because we thought it was too slow." And that’s how it is to this day. It’s in B flat minor instead of A minor. Which is amazing and it sounds better when it’s sped up.
I’ve slowed it back down to see what it sounded like when it was originally done and it doesn’t sound as good as the sped-up version. You can tell that his vibrato is really fast and you can tell it’s sped up.
Roy Orbison – Greatest Hits
What a beautiful guy. He was so sweet. I mean, every song he’s done is my favourite. You can’t go wrong with them. Some of the songs aren’t as good as others but most of the ones he wrote with Joe Melson and Bill Dees are great.
I’ve just recorded ‘Running Scared’ for my new album, Longwave, and he once told me that ‘Running Scared’ was his personal favourite of all the songs he’d ever done.
I actually got to work with Roy and be his pal and be his producer and his co-writer on a song called ‘You Got It’ which was a big hit in America and here too. So that was a big thrill for him to have a hit. And it was his first hit in 20 years and we’d done it together and that was a great, marvellous feeling.
In real life, he was actually a very funny guy. And he could do all Monty Python sketches on his own! He did all the parts! When we were doing Wilburys videos, we’d be going in a van to Grand Union Station in LA to film ‘Handle With Care’ and he’d be doing Monty Python sketches. And he’s got this enormous and most infectious giggle you’ve ever heard and we’d all be giggling like schoolgirls after a minute or two and all fucking fall about!
He was a lovely guy and if he was sad he never showed it. When Roy died we did talk about getting someone else in but we thought that nobody could replace Roy Orbison.
Regina Spektor – Far
It’s not an obvious pairing but someone asked me if I wanted to do it and if I’d like to work with her and sent me a couple of her albums. When I heard them I was really blown away with them. I thought, "this girl’s superb"!
She came to my studio and we talked about for a while and she was a lovely girl, very sweet, and her voice is so amazing! So in tune! Beautiful quality and a lovely tone. And a beautiful plumage! [laughs] She was beautiful and I loved her voice and her pitch and her sense of timing was absolutely marvellous, you know? In fact, in her live show, sometimes her drummer is playing his bass drum to her left hand. Her hand’s like a drum machine, almost. Very tight, rhythmically.
And I just love her voice. We laid down four or five tracks with her on piano and sometimes she wanted to do it all at once and I’m going, "hmmm… Don’t do that! Because I’ve got to separate it again and it’s almost impossible to get the separation.’
I wanted to have the complete control that I like; I like total separation and control over the stuff so I can make it sound good. And we did it like that, just one track, and then we did them all separate so she played the piano parts separate and did the vocals separate standing up at a vocal mic and I just really enjoyed it, you know? I still listen back to those songs and I think they’re great.
The Beatles – Revolver
This is pretty amazing. I think this is Geoff Emerick’s first go as engineer. He’d been working there [at Abbey Road studios] but he hadn’t become an engineer yet. When I was working with Paul McCartney on his album, Flaming Pie, Geoff was the engineer as well. He told me what a marvellous thing it was for him because he used this close mic ambience on this album and did some really amazing effects, like on ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. Backwards stuff and all that and this was pretty advanced stuff in them days. It was more experimental than anything they’d done before.
Some of the tunes on there are just great and it was them nearly getting into Sgt Pepper, you know? Probably doing more experimenting and copying tapes and bouncing them across. They hadn’t got the tracks to do it, really, so they had to use two machines and sometime three machines and then mix everything down from four tracks onto one and then start on another and mix that down to another machine. So it was very difficult to make those records, I would imagine.
How did it sound back in ’66? Way better than everything else, I would say. It stood out like a sore thumb really. It was so tight and beautiful and punchy. It was the punchiest thing around. It was, like, powerful and, it seemed to me, majestic.
The Beatles – Please Please Me
Oh, this is brilliant! And the sound George Martin got on it! I love the opening drumbeat and the bleed with all the drums leaking onto the guitar mics and sometimes onto the vocals if they did the whole track live. The sound of it, to me, was real, raw excitement. They were a great group, they really were. From their days in Hamburg, they were so tight and on that record it really shows how brilliant they were.
I think ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ was probably the greatest ever English rock’n’roll song. I would imagine that it’s a good as any old American rock’n’roll song, like the real thing. The real stuff. As good as a Chuck Berry tune or something. It was as solid as anything I’d ever heard or better.
With the rock’n’roll records I’d started playing a bit by then – not bad, but a bit – and this song was nice and simple but don’t let that simplicity fool you. Some of the hardest stuff to do is the simple stuff, to make it effective and make it real and make it worthwhile. I thought it was unbelievable and I still do. Today, I still think, "how the fuck did you do that"? It was like giving it back to the Americans: "'ere y'are – we can do this as well!"
The Who – Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy
I love the sound of ‘I Can’t Explain’. It’s my favourite and I love all those earlier ones. I used do them onstage with a group called The Nightriders and The Idle Race as well. ‘Pictures Of Lily’ and that kind of stuff. I used to love playing all those Who songs. They had something about them, The Who. It was like magic, the sound. And just watching Pete Townshend, he was always amazing.
Did I ever catch them back in the day? Yeah! Not half! The loudest bloody thing I’ve ever heard in my life! I went to this place called Midnight City in Birmingham and it was quite a big room and everyone was waiting for them: "wow! We’re gonna see The Who!" and they struck up and went BLAAANG! and your earholes would go WOOOOM! and you couldn’t hear a fucking thing! Your hearing was gone! You know when your ears go inside out? And it’s like silence and you can’t hear fuck all for the next 10 minutes until your hearing starts coming back! And gradually you could start hearing them again. It was like a compressor, almost. It was really exciting to hear that when you’re a kid. And the tunes they played were so great. It was beautiful. Fantastic!
The Zombies – Odessey and Oracle
My friend, Ian La Frenais, gave me that, a cassette of it. He goes, "bet you haven’t heard this for a few years" because he’d found it in his drawer. And he gave to me and I played it for months, it must have been. I just loved all the songs on it. I love Colin Blunstone’s voice on it. And lovely, crafted songs. Great harmonies, what more could you want? I love The Zombies. This strikes me as lovely all the way through.
The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
Is this the ultimate in production? It’s probably one of them. I think you’ll find The Beatles might say that! They were always in competition at that point. You know, I’ve obviously spoken to The Beatles a lot but I like every track on Pet Sounds; I think they’re all equally as good. I couldn’t even pick one out if it because the arrangements were so unusual at the time. I remember it was ’66 and in some parts it sounds like an old dance band. I’d think, "wow"! That’s so old fashioned yet so brand new at the same time. The arrangements were weird with these big harmonicas and funny, deep saxophones and plain little paper cups and playing the drums on them. What the hell was that? Brilliant!
Brian [Wilson] was absolutely marvellous. Luckily for me, I did get to work with him and we wrote a song together called ‘Let It Shine’ on his album, Brian Wilson, in about ’89 or something. I got to know him quite well and he was a lovely guy and we wrote this tune and it was very nice and I’m really glad that I did.
Don Covay And The Goodtimers – Mercy
I love this album. We used to play these tunes in The Idle Race; about two or three songs off that album. For about a year we did them and they were so good to play. That big, rough r'n'b sound. I’ve actually recorded ‘Mercy, Mercy’ on my new album, Longwave. It’s a version like we used to do it – just two guitars, drums and bass and background shouting. It sounds like the old record, really.
I think that sound was important back then. There was a lot of r'n'b going on. Obviously, you had The Spencer Davis Group with Steve Winwood, who I love – he’s a brilliant guy. He’s one guy I’d like to work with one day. I haven’t seen him for a few years but we used to hang out a bit.
The Marvelettes – Sophisticated Soul
Beautiful drumming and bass playing. And the song I really like is called ‘The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game’. It’s a timeless sound with really wonderful bass parts that are so intriguing. Those kind of soulful bass bits were just wonderful and their voices are so classy. It’s the classiness of it, you know? It’s cool, wonderful rhythm and this is as good as it gets, probably.
It doesn’t take me back, listening to it these days; it just impresses me more. Like, wow! How did they do that? How did they get that sound then? What a beautiful mix. I’m always impressed by the balance of things. I’m blown away by the balance. How they did it, I don’t know. http://thequietus.com/articles/10299-jeff-lynne-favourite-albums-2?fb_action_ids=556089153432&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582&fb_source=aggregation&page=1