Almanac Music: ‘Ma-Ma Ma Belle’ – Electric Light Orchestra




I first heard the Electric Light Orchestra playing when I walked into Biba’s on High St Kensington UK in 1974.






Biba’s was the place to buy all the latest trendy clothes in London, and the place for the hip people to be seen. So a couple of likely lads from Melbourne decided to check the place out, and what an experience it proved to be.


The first thing you notice as you walk in the shop, besides all the ‘dedicated followers of fashion’ is the music, and boy was it loud, as loud as anything I’d heard at a concert. It was a completely new world of over the top displays of retail selling and it was mind blowing. I bought two very trendy jumpers with unreal designs on them unlike anything you would see in Melbourne let alone buy there. I felt very groovy when I returned home wearing those jumpers.



On this particular day the music playing as we walked in was Ma-Ma-Ma Belle by the Electric Light Orchestra and  it sounded absolutely sensational. I could not get over how fantastic it was. The sound really pulsated through your body it was that loud, but what a great song I remember thinking to myself. I needed to find out who it was. Eventually I asked one of the hip attendants, one of the many who looked down their noses at their customers, especially those from the Antipodes for the name of the song. In a rather condescending manner she told me the name of the song, and even the name of the band!


ELO played in Melbourne in 1978 at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl and I was fortunate to see the show. As I remember the sound was incredible, a very full sound, in fact a ‘Spector wall of sound’ feel expanded by the electric cello, and violins to wash over the audience.


More from Col Ritchie can be read Here.


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About Colin Ritchie

Retired teacher who enjoys following the Bombers, listening to music especially Bob Dylan, reading, and swimming.


  1. Such a distinctive sound. I would have been about ten when my dads sister used to play that album on cassette in her surround sound system in her car..I recall the album cover as distinctly as I fo the music too. Do you still have the very trendy jumpers Col? Your London days sound like a lot of fun.

  2. Colin Ritchie says

    Thanks Kate, London days were a lot of fun. I kept the jumpers for awhile but I lost them along the way, but I still have a velvet jacket I also bought in London which I can still fit into. I liked to keep those type of things as keepsakes and memories but unfortunately many are now lost.

  3. Liam Hauser says

    ELO has been my favourite band for as long as I can remember. As for what makes ELO so exceptional, the name of one of their songs sums it up: Strange Magic.
    Discovery, Time, and a Very Best of compilation were played a lot (on cassette) in the car when I was a youngster. Telephone Line, Livin’ Thing, and Don’t Bring Me Down were the main songs I remember from early on. When I formed my CD collection many years later, it was inevitable that I would buy a copy of all of ELO’s albums (excluding live albums and compilations). My three favourite albums are A New World Record, Out of the Blue, and Time. I think it’s gravely unjust that ELO never had a monstrous selling album like Sgt Pepper (Beatles), Bat Out of Hell (Meatloaf), Back in Black (AC/DC), Rumours (Fleetwood Mac), Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd), Hotel California (The Eagles), and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Elton John). I also think it’s gravely unjust that ELO isn’t recognised in the same way as the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. At least ELO finally made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017.
    Following the recent Footy Almanac forum on people’s favourite Beatles songs, I wondered if the same could be done for ELO. The trouble is, I could never pick one song. Any song from my favourite three albums would be eligible, as would Showdown, and 10538 Overture. I think the latter song may have influenced the Supergrass song In it for the Money, while 10538 Overture is also heavily sampled on Paul Weller’s song The Changingman.
    I can’t help but wonder what might have been had Roy Wood (the brainchild of ELO) stayed with the group, rather than leave after one album (to form Wizzard). Would Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne have been a duo of the calibre of Lennon and McCartney, or was it for the best that Jeff virtually took control of ELO?
    I don’t think it’s fair to attribute all of ELO’s success to one person. Bev Bevan, Kelly Groucutt, Richard Tandy, Mik Kaminski, Hugh McDowell, Melvyn Gale and plenty of others also made decisive contributions.

  4. Jeff Lynne is a genius. Totally under-rated and under-appreciated.
    Quite apart from his ELO legacy, the number of artists he has produced, co-produced, or influenced is quite extraordinary: McCartney, Lennon, Starr, Brian Wilson, Petty, Travelling Wilburys, Dave Edmunds, Bryan Adams, Orbison, Regina Spektor etc etc

  5. Tony Forbes says

    I was at Monash in the late 70’s when I first heard ELO and their rich sound certainly resonated with my mates.
    I bought one of their albums which I still have.They copped a bit of criticism for their richly orchestrated sound and commercialism, ( and allegedly use of prerecorded tapes on their live performances) but they sure new how to craft a catchy tune with great harmonies. Jeff Lynne went on produce a few acts including a Tom Petty solo record. He is often criticised for over producing his clients recordings, which I tend to agree with (as does music guru Brian wise). Jeff was part of the star studded backing band assembled for the George Harrison tribute concert and he sang and played superbly on that. I still have a scratchy copy of ‘flowers in the rain’ by the Move!

  6. Great stuff, Col. Until They Might Be Giants came along, ELO was my all-time favourite. (I am a serial monogamist when it comes to favourite bands.) Smokie is right about Jeff Lynne being a genius. If you like a music deep-dive, check out Jeff’s earlier work with The Move and even earlier work with the Idle Race. More whimsical than his later efforts and just brilliant.

    When ‘ELO’s Greatest Hits’ was released in 1979, 3XY featured it over a weekend, during which they played a track from the album each hour. There was one track from the album they didn’t play — Ma-Ma-Ma Belle! I was so annoyed! I still am today!

    A little-known fact about Ma-Ma-Ma-Belle is that Marc Bolan shares (originally uncredited) lead guitar duties with Jeff on the song. Recalling the recording of the song in 2000, Jeff Lynne wrote, “This one features two lead guitarists, me & Marc Bolan, playing the main riff together.”

    No wonder it sounds so good!

  7. Liam Hauser says

    A tribute to Jeff Lynne’s music can be found on the album Lynne Me Your Ears, which features an array of bands and singers.

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