Jeff Lynne must have been thrilled when John Lennon confessed his love for one of Electric Light Orchestra’s forgotten classics. When Lynne and Roy Wood set up the project in the early 1970s, they made no attempt to conceal their raison d’etre: to “pick up where The Beatles left off.” And, according to Lennon himself, they succeeded in that mission. He even went so far as to name ELO the “son of The Beatles.”
The importance of The Beatles only became fully apparent in their absence. After the Fab Four parted ways in 1970, they left a huge gap in the musical map, which Bands like Badfinger and Big Star rushed to fill. Both were a dab hand at replicating The Beatle’s sound, but, it wasn’t until ELO that the world was introduced to a group that recaptured the progressive ethos of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr.
Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon contains an interview John took part in on a radio station in ’74. During the conversation, John chooses some songs he’d like the station to play: “We’re going to play Electric Light Orchestra, from last year,” he begins. “‘Showdown,’ which I thought was a great record, and I was expecting it to be Number One, but I don’t think UA [United Artists] got their fingers out and pushed it.”
Lennon then revealed his admiration for Electric Light Orchestra: “And it’s a nice group,” he continued. “I call them Son of Beatles, although they’re doing things that we never did, obviously.” He also compared ‘Showdown’ to one of The Beatles’ most beloved tracks: “I remember the statement they made when they first formed was to carry on from where The Beatles left off with ‘[I Am the] Walrus,’ and they certainly did.”
The Beatle added: “Now, for those people who would like to know where licks and things come from, like I do, because I’m always nicking little things myself,” he said. “This is a beautiful combination of ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ by Marvin Gaye and ‘[Lightnin’] Strikes’… Lou Christie, and it’s a beautiful job with a little ‘Walrus’ underneath.”
Initially recorded under the working title ‘Bev’s Trousers No. 7,’ ‘Showdown’ marked a change in tone for ELO. Inspired by the soul music coming out of America at the time, they dived into the groovier territory while also managing to find a place for their beloved string arrangments. Interestingly, Marc Bolan was also in the studio while Lynne and company were recording the track and ended up featuring on the record. Bolan, who was an old friend of Lynne’s, performs the guitar solo towards the end of the song using the songwriter’s 1953 Gibson Firebird. Despite being one of ELO’s least remembered singles, ‘Showdown’ is undoubtedly one of the most revealing.