Classic Album Review: The Electric Light Orchestra – “The Night The Light Went On (In Long Beach)” (1974)

ELO Long Beach

For years, “The Night The Light Went On (In Long Beach)” was the only officially released live album available from The Electric Light Orchestra. Naturally, like any other popular band, there were (and still are) unofficial albums and bootlegs available, but, rather strangely, despite a hugely successful concert captured on film and subsequently released on video (“Live At Wembley 1978”), Jeff shied away from any further live releases. This gig, recorded in Long Beach, California, USA on 12th May, 1974 (not long after the band had started to record their fourth studio album, “Eldorado”), received an initial, limited release at the time in Germany and a few other countries, but the poor sound, which came from an unfinished rough mix being used on the master, meant that a wider release was shelved for a number of years. It was only in 1985 when Epic were looking at re-releasing the long-deleted album on vinyl and cassette did they discover and use the originally intended mix and a version worthy of the original performance finally saw the light of day. Subsequently, when it was remastered for CD for a 1998 release, ELO fans were finally able to own a great-sounding digital representation of that electrifying night in Long Beach. The re-issues also saw a more professional looking, brighter cover replacing a rather ugly design which wouldn’t have seemed out of place advertising a horror B-movie.

The original Long Beach gig showcased ELO’s third studio album, “On The Third Day”, but the concert was heavily edited for the live record. Whether this was done for running time, sound quality, technical or performance issues really isn’t clear, but, with the exception of “Dreaming Of 4000”, their entire third album was played that evening and, sadly, many of those live versions are missing from “The Night The Light Went On”. However, I think it is important to concentrate on what is on the record, rather than what isn’t. Long Beach is the sound of a young, creative, energised band playing completely live (without the backing tapes which became a controversial feature of their gigs in the late seventies), having fun with arrangements, incorporating their classical leanings and coming across as the kind of flamboyant ELO it would have been an absolute pleasure to catch live. The lively prog-rock instrumental, “Daybreaker”, opens the show, followed by their, then, recent hit single, “Showdown” which ends up melding into a long improvised instrumental. A storming sub-seven minute version of The Beatles’ “Daytripper” sees Lynne finally complete the “prick teaser” lyric The Beatles only hinted at.

“Long Beach” boasts a lively rendition of début single “10538 Overture” which also sees a cameo of the distinctive chord riff from The Move’s “Do Ya” (at that point still yet to be re-recorded by The Electric Light Orchestra) incorporated into the ending. Mik gets to take the spotlight for a couple of minutes, performing “Mik’s Solo/Orange Blossom Special”, a fiddle hoe-down with which the rest of the band enthusiastically join in, before a full band performance of Grieg’s “In The Hall Of The Mountain King” which, bizarrely, turns into Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls Of Fire”. The finale of the show is “Roll Over Beethoven” and it’s a rip-roaring rendition, with a blistering solo by Lynne on guitar. The band sound completely on form during this whole (albeing edited) performance. Richard Tandy’s piano and keyboard work, including his Handel and Mozart classical interludes in “Daytripper”, makes him one of the stars of the show, Bev Bevan’s powerful drumming and de Alberquerque’s unfussy bass-work are the formidable backbone of the band and Jeff Lynne proves himself to not only be a thoroughly convincing frontman, but a superb lead guitarist. The string section (Mik Kaminski, Mike Edwards and Hugh McDowell) sounds beautifully vibrant, with their amplified violin and cellos a very strong presence, fleshing out the live sound superbly.

Despite not knowing exactly why the particular track listing was chosen, it is a little frustrating having live versions of “In The Hall Of The Mountain King” as well as Mik’s solo instead of some of the other songs which were performed on that night in Long Beach. As enjoyable as all of the tracks are, when you look at the original set list from the gig, there aren’t going to be many ELO fans who would choose such songs over live renditions of, for example, the four song opening suite from “On The Third Day” which were part of the show that evening, as well as “Ma Ma Ma Belle”, one of Lynne’s rawest rockers. There were documented recording problems as well as the aforementioned production errors, so perhaps good enough quality versions of other songs weren’t captured, but it would have been good to have this album re-released along with all of the other ELO titles in the early 21st Century, together with the missing material, warts and all. Ultimately, “The Night The Light Went On (In Long Beach)” is an excellent snapshot of The Electric Light Orchestra during a highly creative period of their career and a time during their history when they were still playfully mixing things up and mischievously tinkering with arrangements; quite a profound contrast to their more measured, orchestrated live character which revealed itself just a few years later. Whilst I have slight reservations regarding the choice of material that ended up on “Long Beach”, there is no denying just how enjoyable it is to listen to and will delight any ELO fan, especially those who enjoy the early era of the band.

ELO Long Beach Original

Track listing:

1. Daybreaker
2. Showdown
3. Daytripper
4. 10538 Overture
5. Mik’s Solo/Orange Blossom Special
6. In The Hall Of The Mountain King/Great Balls Of Fire
7. Roll Over Beethoven

Original set list from 12th May, 1974 (source: http://www.setlist.fm, verified by http://www.jefflynnesongs.com):

1. Daybreaker
2. Showdown
3. Daytripper
4. Ocean Breakup/King Of The Universe
5. Bluebird Is Dead
6. Oh No, Not Susan
7. New World Rising/Ocean Breakup (reprise)
8. 10538 Overture
9. Mik’s Solo/Orange Blossom Special
10. Ma Ma Ma Belle
11. In The Hall Of The Mountain King/Great Balls Of Fire
12. Roll Over Beethoven

****

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About A.D.S.

You are reading the musings of a music-obsessed forty-something who was brought up on The Beatles, lived through Britpop and now spends his time in pursuit of the best music around. This 'blog gives me an outlet to write about the huge number of albums I buy and the many gigs I go to. All of the opinions expressed are my own and if you don't agree with me, then I understand - music is a very personal thing. I like to receive comments, especially if they're nice ones.
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