The 10 best albums produced by Jeff Lynne

The 10 best albums produced by Jeff Lynne

Every rock star will have one or two artists on whom they can hang their hat whenever they reference their material. As much as people try to innovate whenever they step to the microphone, there are only so many times that you can rewrite history before acts like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones start creeping back in. It’s impossible not to be a child of your influences, but Jeff Lynne has made a career out of making the kind of songs that made people love classic rock.

Before he even started his work behind the desk, Lynne was already known as one of the fixtures of ELO. While certainly not the most high-profile artist on the charts, Lynne knew what made records sound like they did, whether that meant putting together lavish string arrangements in the background of his classic tunes or transposing riffs that would have been great lead lines into a cello part.

Despite a handful of Lynne’s greatest productions coming from his old band, there are just as many fine pieces that he made for other people. When he wasn’t turning the knobs in his old band, Lynne made records for his famous friends, many of which would become classics of their catalogue or managed to revive some of their careers in the process.

He could be considered a rock legend, but Lynne felt much better behind the board than the microphone, electing to become one of the greatest unsung heroes of some of rock’s favourite records. If the hits to his name are any indication, there’s more than a little bit of genius hiding behind those blacked-out shades.

Jeff Lynne’s best-produced albums:

10. Mystery Girl – Roy Orbison

Every artist tends to have those few “pinch me” moments that seem like they can’t be based in reality. Although most of us would be happy to get at least one or two of those in our lifetime, Lynne seemed to be getting one every other month in the late 1980s. He had decided to put ELO on the back burner for a while, so why not try his hand at making something for Roy Orbison?

Whereas most of Mystery Girl features a hodgepodge of different producers, the lion’s share of its classic tunes belong to Lynne. Outside of working with people like Bono, Orbison got his first solo hit in decades on the charts with ‘You Got It’, featuring that signature layer of vocals that sounded like Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound with a little bit of a technical edge to it.

Given the personnel that worked on this, there may have also been something more than just making the record on Lynne’s mind when he was in the studio. Tom Petty, Mike Campbell, Roy Orbison and him in the same studio? Yeah, this could have easily been part of the Traveling Wilburys catalogue, but why not give one of the greatest voices in rock a solo hit to go out on?

9. Analog Man – Joe Walsh

The Eagles and ELO have never been that far apart. While one sings about the wonders of California and the other about the world beyond our stars, their knowledge of harmony and bulletproof choruses transcends any celestial distance they have between each other. Even for a band as crystal clear as the Eagles, how the hell are you supposed to reign in someone like Joe Walsh?

As it turns out, Lynne didn’t really have much of a problem when turning the knobs for Analog Man. Despite only sticking around for a handful of tracks on the record, it sticks out like a sore thumb whenever you get to one of his tracks, featuring that great swell of harmony and somehow making Walsh’s guitar sound even bigger than it already was. But the bond between Walsh and Lynne always went deeper than that.

Since this was one of the latest full projects that Lynne had a hand in, Walsh wanted to get back to the roots of playing everything to tape and working with the equipment that made him want to make records back in the day. It’s not easy trying to recapture that old magic, but Analog Man is the sound of two rock giants trying to adapt to the digital world and getting the most out of their old-school approach.

8. Far – Regina Spektor

By the end of the 1990s, it didn’t look like Lynne needed to concern himself with any new talent anymore. When you have a rap sheet that includes some of the biggest names in music, there’s no real need for you to stretch out anymore. It was time to enjoy the sunshine and bask in the glory of your classics, but sometimes, the biggest stars in the world don’t need to shout so loud to get your attention.

Then again, Regina Spektor always felt lost in her own time. Despite starting in the 2000s, her music has always been indebted to the storytelling of everyone from Bob Dylan to Joni Mitchell, which Lynne knew all too well. Whereas most of his other records saw him putting his sheen on top of someone else’s project, Far is a Regina Spektor record first with Lynne operating as the last piece of sonic coating.

While there are elements of the mix that pop out as Lynne’s handiwork, the songs are the sturdiest piece of the puzzle, whether it’s the tearjerkers or Spektor taking you for a ride for those few minutes to weave together an intricate story. It’s not always the easiest thing to figure out, but once it clicks, few songwriters can match what Spektor could do.

7. Brian Wilson – Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson didn’t really need any hotshot producer telling him what to do. He had been known for sculpting records from the ground up every time he played with The Beach Boys, so him making a solo record should have been a slam dunk in theory. The Brian Wilson of the 1980s was much different than the genius of the 1960s, though, and Lynne helped guide him along throughout his first major solo venture.

Outside of being under the watchful eye of Eugene Landy, Brian Wilson is actually a fairly compelling listen. Regardless of the involvement of his therapist and subsequent revocation of his name in the album’s credits, Lynne is the perfect person to bring his ideas to life, especially when he tries to get vulnerable on half the track listing.

Are the songs as good as what you heard on Pet Sounds? Absolutely not, but when you’re listening to a song like ‘Love and Mercy’, there’s no doubt that you’re hearing the real Brian underneath everything else. Finally free from his brothers and entering another dark phase of his life, Brian Wilson captured the sound of one of rock’s most acclaimed writers grappling with his own personality as an artist.

6. Flaming Pie – Paul McCartney

For all the great things Lynne had done with The Beatles, Paul McCartney was originally sceptical about working with him in the first place. Sure, he may have been George Harrison’s friend, but would the reunion of one of the greatest bands on Earth end up sounding closer to an ELO record than a Beatles record? Of course, McCartney didn’t need to worry, and considering he decided to work with Lynne afterwards, he must have hit it off once the Fab moments ended.

Despite Lynne not having as much to do with the writing of Flaming Pie, many of the songs are among the sturdiest McCartney had made in years. Outside of the slump he had in the Press to Play era, songs like ‘Calico Skies’ and ‘Beautiful Night’ hearken all the way back to his Beatles days with how catchy they are, especially towards the penultimate track when you hear Ringo Starr in the background contributing vocals.

While this would sadly be the last time people would hear Linda McCartney on one of his albums, Flaming Pie still sounds like McCartney figuring out what made him sound fun all those years ago. After years of making rock and roll for dads, that doe-eyed heartthrob from back in the day seemed to start his resurrection once again.

5. Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 – Traveling Wilburys

Everyone has those bunch of dads who always talk about putting a band together in your hometown. They might not have had the best rock and roll chops, but they had a ton of heart for the music, happy to be playing for no one but themselves and their kids still playing in the yard. That logic doesn’t stop when hitting the big time, and Lynne was more than happy to put together the greatest nostalgia act in the world with The Traveling Wilburys.

After coming together by pure coincidence when making a George Harrison B-side, bringing Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, and Bob Dylan along for the ride was the kind of homespun album that anyone could love. Even though some artists were clearly saving their best moments for their own masterpieces, there are more than enough classic tracks to keep people satisfied, including the immortal ‘Handle With Care’.

If anything, this album should be applauded as the model for every great supergroup that came afterwards, utilising everyone at their full potential and ensuring everyone gets their time in the spotlight. There are only a handful of Wilburys still left with us, but when all of them reach the other side of reality, you know that they will still be jamming away singing ‘End of the Line’ for as long as they want to.

4. Cloud Nine – George Harrison

Jeff Lynne could justifiably be credited for giving George Harrison a solo career again. After he was jerked around by his label one too many times, Harrison had fallen out of love with playing the industry game anymore, thinking that all they wanted was disposable pop instead of the sage wisdom he had to impart. Lynne was a great negotiator, though, and once he convinced Harrison to re-emerge from the shadows, another classic was born.

While Harrison’s previous albums tended to be hit or miss with fans and critics, it’s impossible not to get swept up in Cloud Nine. Outside of the millions of guest spots from everyone from Ringo Starr to Eric Clapton to Elton John, this feels more like a pet project between Lynne and Harrison, especially with the chocolate/peanut butter combination of their sensibilities on songs like ‘This is Love’ and ‘Fish on the Sand’.

Out of all the songs on the album, Lynne was probably especially proud of ‘When We Was Fab,’ practically creating his answer to a song like ‘I Am the Walrus’ with one of the members that made him love music in the first place. No one gets this kind of opportunity, but Lynne didn’t even know that he was testing the waters of what he could really do.

3. A New World Record – Electric Light Orchestra

For all the great music he’s made for other people, so many rock fans also gloss over Lynne’s little arena rock juggernaut. In fact, there’s a good chance that ELO would have been one of the biggest names in rock history had they only had the technology to recreate their songs more effectively in a live setting. If they couldn’t get their sound live, Lynne would have to become a production hermit, and A New World Record was about as close to perfection as he ever came.

Despite many fans having love for everything from Face the Music to Out of the Blue, A New World Record has everything that you can think of when looking at a grandiose rock album. When you’re not kicking back listening to the great singles like ‘Telephone Line’ and ‘Do Ya’, deep cuts like ‘Rockaria’ and ‘Shangri-La’ are the closest that Lynne ever got to making melodies that Lennon and McCartney would have been proud to have called their own.

And let’s not forget ‘Tightrope’, which holds the title of one of the most epic openings of any 1970s rock album, complete with soaring violins opening us up to a grand overture of sound once everything starts. Rock and roll had finally gotten into classical territory, and now that Lynne had a grasp on the medium, he turned his band into something that Beethoven would have sounded like had he been born centuries later.

2. Full Moon Fever – Tom Petty

In the aftermath of the Traveling Wilburys coming together, Tom Petty was in a difficult spot. He had the biggest singles anyone could have asked for to his name, yet Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) was one of the most poorly received records of his career. Once he ran into Lynne while driving through LA, he knew he had found the man who would give him his second wind.

While the Heartbreakers were always a tight-knit group, Petty and Lynne clicked like Lennon and McCartney half the time, usually finishing each other’s songs on Full Moon Fever. Only recorded in a few weeks before Lynne went back to England, this is the kind of carefree rock album that sounds like it could have been recorded on a whim, taking the soaring sounds of ‘Free Fallin’ and putting them right alongside the fun heartland rockers like ‘Runnin’ Down a Dream’.

The sessions went so well that Lynne released a whole separate album of the leftovers for his solo album, Armchair Theatre, which could easily snag an honourable mention on this list. Petty would eventually venture back to his old band with Lynne in tow and return for the album Highway Companion, but when you make something as timeless as ‘I Won’t Back Down,’ you don’t need another hit for the rest of your life.

1. The Beatles Anthology – The Beatles

There’s no other artist that has meant more to Lynne than The Beatles. Before he had even become friends with the group, Lynne had already gotten the reputation of the rock star who may have rifled through his old Fab records a little bit too much when working with ELO. Any kid can dream of being anywhere near as successful as The Beatles, but Lynne was one of the few who actually got to rub elbows with the Threetles in the studio.

After getting a cassette of unreleased John Lennon songs, the decision to turn them into the first new Beatles tracks for the Anthology project made too much sense. Despite having a few touches of that ELO magic in the final mix, there’s no disputing that this is a Beatles project through and through, especially when listening to Lennon and McCartney harmonise through time and space on ‘Free as a Bird’ and ‘Real Love’.

While ‘Now and Then’ had to wait a few more decades for McCartney and Starr to finish it off, that hasn’t stopped these two songs from becoming classics in the meantime. Lynne could have called the shots on anyone else in the studio, but he was always a servant to the song, and with something as delicate as The Beatles, he walked away with something that made him and every Fab fan around the world proud.

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