Jeff Lynne stopped making music in 1986 after releasing 12 albums with the Electric Light Orchestra. His break didn’t continue as long as he had anticipated, though, for Lynne had to reconsider his intentions for retirement after receiving a call from George Harrison.
Even though Lynne was just 39 years old at the time and probably didn’t think his retirement would continue forever, there was no pressing need for him to start recording songs right away. The band split up after an ELO concert in Germany that backed Rod Stewart, and Lynne gave no indication that she wanted to go back on the moving stage.
Lynne honestly had no idea what he wanted to accomplish with the next phase of his career and didn’t leave the band in order to launch a solo career. When Harrison made the offer to work on his upcoming solo album, Cloud Nine, after six months of recuperation, Lynne couldn’t refuse. There was no way Lynne was going to turn down a Beatle, even though it was a sooner comeback than he would have preferred.
“I decided to pack it in in 1986,” when asked about his favorite songs he’s worked on, Lynne mentioned Harrison’s “When We Was Fab” in an interview with Rolling Stone.“About six months later, George Harrison got in touch with me to ask me to work on his new album. A few days after he met me, he said, ‘Let’s go on holiday. I’m going to Australia for a while’. He took me to the Grand Prix in Adelaide, which was amazing.”
He continued: “It felt like an adventure, since I used to just bang out tunes in my little studio. It was now on an international scale. George came up with the words for ‘When I Was Fab.’ It was magical for me, since it was supposed to sound like a Beatles song, even though we didn’t exactly use Beatles sounds. The album was a tremendous success and sold about 5 million copies. I was just so touched he wanted to work with me.”
According to Lynne, the song featured Harrison reflecting on his time as a member of the Fab Four. Harrison stated that his goal in writing the song was “to write a song that’s reminiscent of that period of ’67.”
In the song “When We Were Fab,” Harrison laments: “Back then long time ago when grass was green, Woke up in a daze, Arrived like strangers in the night, Fab – long time ago when we was fab, Fab – back when income tax was all we had.”
Harrison said that getting used to Lynne’s ways was a “odd experience for me.” However, the guitarist made it apparent that he understood how the ELO founder operated when he urged him to join Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, and Bob Dylan in the Traveling Wilburys project.