ELO leader Jeff Lynne recalled spending half an hour in Abbey Road Studios in London watching the Beatles work on their White Album in 1968, long before he got the opportunity to work with Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
Lynne – who’d been a fan of the Fab Four since “Please Please Me” – was a member of the Idle Race at the time, and they were at work on their self-titled LP in the same city. “A friend of our engineer phoned the studio to say he was working on a Beatles session at Abbey Road,” Lynne told Classic Rock in a recent interview. “He told us we could go down there to have a look if we wanted.
“Maybe it was only me who went in the end, but I saw Paul and Ringo in Studio 3, doing a piano and vocal. Then I got invited into Studio 2, where John [Lennon] and George were in the control room. Down below, in the actual studio, George Martin was hurling himself around this pedestal, conducting the string section for ‘Glass Onion.’”
He said he was “blown away” by the work in progress. “Nobody had heard it yet, but there I was in Abbey Road, actually listening to it being made,” Lynne noted. “I stayed for maybe half an hour, then I thought it would be polite to leave, because you feel a bit of a dick in that company. So I went back to where the Idle Race were recording and, of course, it didn’t sound quite so good.”
Lynne went on to produce Harrison’s 1987 solo album Cloud Nine, which led to the creation of the Traveling Wilburys. Then in 1995 Lynne co-produced “new” Beatles tracks “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love” for the band’s Anthology project.
“Because George and I had already worked together, I think Paul was a bit wary of me,” he said. “He might have thought that I’d be in George’s camp and that I would favor whatever he said. But it was never going to be like that. They’re all Beatles to me, and I wanted to do my best to make it a record that they were all pleased with.”
He recalled he was “staying in a cottage in Paul’s grounds during the recording of ‘Free as a Bird’ and ‘Real Love,’ with George in another part of the house. Every morning he’d shout up: ‘C’mon, ya lazy bugger! Your porridge is ready!’ Then it was off to work on the new Beatles record. It was surreal.”
Even though he didn’t get the chance to work with Lennon, Lynne said he was proud that the late icon once remarked that the Beatles would have sounded like ELO if they had continued. “I was shocked when he said it,” Lynne noted. “I’ve actually got a recording of him saying that. He was a guest DJ on an American radio show in New York, and he said, ‘Nice little group, these. I love this group.’ He got talking about [1974’s] Showdown, and said, ‘I thought this would be No. 1, but [label] United Artists never got their fingers out.’ It was fantastic.”