The band, formed by Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne, and Bev Bevan in 1971 (the remaining members of The Move), used cellos and violins to give their music a "classical" sound. Roy Wood left ELO shortly after the release of their eponymously-titled first album (which produced the UK hit "10538 Overture") and Jeff Lynne stepped up to lead the band. (The first album was released with the mistaken title of No Answer in the USA).
The band went through a lineup change (as Wood took some musicians with him to form Wizzard), including a new keyboardist, Richard Tandy, and released ELO II in 1973, from which came their first U.S. Top 40 hit, "Roll Over Beethoven". They also released On The Third Day in 1973, and Eldorado in 1974, scoring another U.S. Top 40 hit with "I Can't Get It Out Of My Head".
In 1975, bassist and vocalist Kelly Groucutt joined, and Face The Music was released, from which the major singles were "Evil Woman" and "Strange Magic", marking a shift to a more "radio friendly" sound. The multi-platinum album A New World Record was released in 1976 (with "Livin' Thing", a re-release of The Move's "Do Ya", and "Telephone Line").
That was followed by the double album Out Of The Blue, featuring the singles "Turn To Stone", "Sweet Talkin' Woman" and "Mr. Blue Sky". The band then set out on a world tour, with an enormous (and hugely expensive) space ship set in tow.
In 1979, Lynne set out to capitalize on the growing popularity of disco with the album Discovery (or "Disco very" as he has been quoted). The album generated their biggest hit "Don't Bring Me Down", along with "Shine A Little Love" and "Last Train To London". Not long after this album, the violinist Mik Kaminski and the two cellists Hugh McDowell and Melvyn Gale were considered surplus to requirements and were dismissed.
Soon after, ELO was enlisted to provide half of the soundtrack for the musical film Xanadu, the other half provided by Olivia Newton-John, who starred in the movie along with Gene Kelly. The movie bombed but the soundtrack did very well, with hit singles from both Newton-John ("Magic") and ELO ("I'm Alive") as well as the title track to the movie, performed by Newton-John with ELO which reached No 1 in the UK's single charts.
Secret Messages was released in 1983 which had a guest appearance by former ELO violinist Mik Kaminski on the track Rock 'n' Roll Is King which was the only hit single taken from this album. Secret Messages was originally recorded as a double album, however the record company had different ideas citing that it'd be too expensive. Some of the songs that didn't survive the hatchet job cropped up as single b-sides and on later box sets, however the tribute song Beatles Forever is still unavailable and it has been reported that Jeff Lynne is embarrassed by this song hence its unavailability! Shortly after this album Kelly Groucutt was dismissed from the band, who subsequently sued the band for royalty fees.
In 1986, ELO, now a three piece band released their final album Balance Of Power which was all synths and no strings, before going their separate ways.
With Lynne's agreement, another version of the band (without him) was formed in 1990 by drummer Bev Bevan, when "Electric Light Orchestra, Part II" was put together, releasing an album that went straight to the bargain bins. A second album was released in 1994 (Power of a million lights).
Jeff Lynne's comeback with ELO started in 2001 when reformed the band with completely new members and released the album Zoom. Former ELO member, Richard Tandy, rejoined the band a short time afterwards for a tour which was unfortunately cut short due to poor ticket sales.