As the young auteur behind Electric Light Orchestra, Jeff Lynne hardly made his admiration for the Beatles a secret, with his distinctive take on Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound engineering, multitracked studio wizardry and soaring multipart vocal harmonies owing a clear debt to “Abbey Road” and “Magical Mystery Tour.”
So it made sense that Lynne would go on to become the defining producer for the group’s post-1960s diaspora.
Not only has he produced solo work for Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison, Lynne was behind the boards for the Beatles’ final “new” hit records: “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love,” painstakingly recorded around existing Lennon demo tracks in honor of the Beatles’ massive “Anthology” releases in the 1990s. (The singles reached No. 6 and No. 11 on the Billboard singles chart, respectively.)
Lynne went on to produce McCartney’s “Flaming Pie” in 1997, netting Macca his highest album chart position (No. 2) since 1982. After producing a one-off remake of “I Call Your Name” with Starr in 1990, Lynne also produced three tracks intended for Ringo’s 1992 comeback album, “Time Takes Time.”
Yet Lynne’s most fruitful Fab Four collaborator proved to be his Traveling Wilburys bandmate Harrison. Teaming with the Quiet Beatle for 1987’s “Cloud Nine,” Lynne oversaw a complete renovation of Harrison’s sound, modernizing it with keyboards and prominent percussion, without ever losing track of its auteur’s signature sound. As Rolling Stone reviewer David Wild put it in his rave review of the record, “If somewhere along the line the Beatle George forgot how to shape a pop record, Lynne … obviously has not.”
Nowhere were those pop instincts keener than on the album’s cover of Rudy Clark’s “Got My Mind Set on You.” Perhaps the simplest song Harrison had cut since “Roll Over Beethoven,” the effortlessly catchy number rose to the summit of the pop singles chart, making Harrison the last Beatle to do so.
The next time Lynne would man the mixing boards for a Harrison album, it would be under far different circumstances. “Brainwashed,” Harrison’s 12th album, had been in production for over a decade, complicated by Harrison’s cancer diagnosis and knife attack in 1999. When Harrison died in 2001, the album was still unfinished; Lynne and Harrison’s son, Dhani, completed it by following the late Beatle’s detailed instructions, releasing it almost a year after his death.
The album, full of often disarmingly gentle meditations on mortality and the transience of life, proved to be a worthy epilogue to Harrison’s career.
“It’s a fitting way to say goodbye,” wrote AllMusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine, “every bit as good as (John Lennon’s) ‘Double Fantasy’ and, in some respects, even sweeter.”
The album won Harrison his last Grammy the following year.