The Three O’Clock: The Hidden World Revealed

ThreeOClock_TheHiddenWorldRevealedRare and previously unissued tracks from the Paisley Underground

The Three O’Clock was a pillar of a rich mid-80s scene (“The Paisley Underground”) that included the Rain Parade, Dream Syndicate, Bangs, Green on Red, Long Ryders and others. Having started out as the Salvation Army, the renamed and expanded lineup of the Three O’Clock lowered their punk-rock buzz and heightened their flower-power pop chime for an EP (Baroque Hoedown) and LP (Sixteen Tambourines) produced by Earle Mankey for the Frontier label. Their first LP for I.R.S., Arrive Without Travelling edged away from the more overt psychedlia, and garnered MTV spins with the up-tempo “Her Head’s Revolving.” A second album (Ever After) and one for Prince’s Paisley Park (Vermillion) continued to polish the group’s sound, and, ironically, sound more dated than these more retro early works.

In celebration of the band’s recent reunion (which included shows at Coachella, an appearance on Conan and a short tour), the group’s drummer, Danny Benair, has put together this collection of odds and sods. The track list spans the band’s early years, from their inception as The Salvation Army, through their two albums on Frontier and their first release  for I.R.S. Although there are a few original EP and album sides, the track list focuses mostly on alternate versions, demos, lost session tracks, fan club singles and compilation appearances. Even if you’ve collected the previously released material (including the Radio Tokyo appearance of “All in Good Time,” the fan club original “In Love in Too,” covers of “Lucifer Sam” and “Feel a Whole Lot Better,” and a beautiful Michael Quercio arrangement of the Latin hymn “Regina Cæli”), the alternates give insight as to how material developed into its final form, and the demos and session tracks broaden the picture of the band’s progress.

A prime example of how tracks grew in the studio is an early mix of “When Lightening Starts” that’s still in need of the final version’s horns and higher-energy organ riffs. Similarly, the alternate take of “A Day in Erotica” has a harsher feel, with a harder guitar and without the vocal overlay that softens the song’s mood. In contrast, the raw version of “In My Own Time” sounds tougher without the brass added to the final mix, and stands interestingly on its own. Other changes show the band fixing problems and stretching their imaginations. The original version of “On My Own” features strings that were deemed off-pitch and replaced by keyboards, and a finished alternate take of “I Go Wild” reels in the signature bass line and uses guitar solos in place of keyboards.

Less familiar will be the early “Why Cream Curdles in Orange Tea,” recorded with Ethan James at Radio Tokyo in between the debut EP and subsequent LP. This is an early version of “In Love in Too,” with different lyrics and a Michael Quercio vocal that isn’t yet entirely confident with the melody. Throughout the collection, the choices made for the finished versions feel right, though it’s hard to understand how the superb Sixteen Tambourines-era “Around the World” could have been left in the vault. Perhaps it was just a surplus of riches. The rarities in this set are an unexpected gift to Three O’Clock fans (as is Burger Record’s recently released 1983 live set), and a superb supplement to the standard reissues. Novices should start with Baroque Hoedown and Sixteen Tambourines, and explore backward and forward from there. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

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