Roy Wood of the band 'The Move' got together with a friend named Jeff Lynne in Birmingham, England in the late sixties. The two of them decided to form a band that blended rock and roll with classical overtones. The resulting melange of electric rock with violins and cellos became the Electric Light Orchestra in 1970. The group recorded a couple of songs that became b-sides for The Move, but didn't produce their first eponymous album until 1971. The actual founders of the band are considered to be Wood, Lynne, and drummer Bev Bevan. Wood left the band after the first album and after that Lynne directed most of the band's production and songwriting.
Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne were heavily influenced by the Beatles and in many ways, they considered ELO to be an extension of the direction the Beatles were headed when they broke up.
Main Creative Force
While Roy Wood was really the driving force in the group's original founding, Jeff Lynne took that over when Wood left and he has to be considered the principle creative force in the band. He is the producer, primary songwriter, and lead vocalist for the band as well as playing guitar.
Most Likely To Be A Mainstream Rocker
Lynne also has to be considered the most likely mainstream artist as he has enjoyed the most success outside the world of prog. As one of the members of the power-quintet - The Traveling Wilburys - he joined with music legends Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, George Harrison, and Tom Petty to make three albums.
First Hint of Prog Brilliance
ELO was prog from day one, incorporating strings and horns into their first self-titled LP.
The fourth album by ELO was "Eldorado, a Symphony". The album was a concept piece about a daydreamer who foolishly whiles away his time with romantic fantasies steeped in English legends. It spawned one of the bands first big hits "I Can't Get it Out of My Head". It was also their first gold album. Subsequent albums "Face the Music" and "Out of The Blue" were also strong commercial successes and even surpassed Eldorado in sales, but they were also a lot less progressive and more commercial in nature. The peak of their truly progressive/symphonic nature has to be considered Eldorado.
Influenced By Them
While a number of rock performers have included strings over the years, it's really hard to spot any of them that used the stylized orchestration of ELO. Their music was pervasive beyond the world of rock, showing up as theme music behind TV sports shows, in movies, and in commercials. But it is difficult to spot a band anywhere that really resembles ELO or an attempt to sound like them. That said, Jeff Lynne himself is a very successful producer and his influence as a producer is much wider spread. Elements of ELO's sound inevitably find their way into Lynne's production which includes artists like George Harrison, Ringo Starr, and Tom Petty who have used Lynne as a producer.
The legacy of ELO is that of a progressive band that became significantly less progressive and more commerical as time passed. While disco influenced most artists in the 70s to some extent, many fans of ELO were disgusted by the 1979 album "Discovery" which many of them renamed "Disco? Very!" due to the extremely disco-oriented nature of the record. This was a trend for ELO in the latter 70s and into the 80s as their use of strings became much more subtle and tended to support very pop-flavored, commercial tunes rather than representing symphonic elements in progressive rock, which is how ELO began.
My Personal Take
I was never the kind of person to give up on a band just because they had a top 40 hit. ELO, however, was pretty extreme in their movement in that direction. Between my high school graduation in 1975 and my college graduation in 1979, ELO went from being a truly prog band that was barely heard on radio to being a disco band that was cranking out dance hits. That kind of transformation was appalling my friends and me back then. Being a native of El Dorado, Kansas and a student at El Dorado High School in 1975, the album "Eldorado" was a big hit with me and my friends. In fact, that album sort of became the theme music to our 1975 state championship debate squad. We even re-wrote the words to "Laredo Tornado" into "Laurino Bambino" in honor of our debate coach, Frederick Joseph Laurino. While I was not thrilled with ELO's direction after that album, I was always impressed with Jeff Lynne's career. His resume as a producer, his participation in the Traveling Wilburys, and his common presence on stage at the RRHOF induction ceremonies are an impressive list of accomplishments.