The California group took its place alongside the likes of The Bangles and Dream Syndicate as part of the “Paisley Underground” movement of eighties rockers who looked to the sixties’ psychedelic pop and folk-rock scenes for inspiration. In fact, the band’s bassist/lead vocalist Michael Quercio is said to have even coined that evocative name. Between 1982 and 1988, The Three O’Clock recorded one LP for Frontier Records, two for I.R.S., and one for Prince’s Paisley Park label. The group broke up following the release of 1988’s Vermillion, and 25 years later, all but one of those albums is currently out-of-print. But something remarkable happened when Quercio, drummer Danny Benair, and guitarist/vocalist Louis Gutierrez – three-fourths of the band’s “classic” line-up – reformed earlier this year to play their first dates in decades. Longtime fans, of course, rejoiced…but where could potential fans discover their music? Omnivore Recordings has come to the rescue with The Hidden World Revealed (OVCD-64), a new 20-track anthology that’s one part introductory “best-of,” one part a rarities collection, and altogether a celebratory set.
The Hidden World reveals 20 bright, guitar-driven power pop nuggets, ten of which are previously unreleased. Mostly written by Quercio and Gutierrez, these tracks aren’t pastiches of late-sixties styles. Rather, the band used their influences – a diverse group, from The Bee Gees to Pink Floyd – as a jumping-off point. Shiny, “modern” keyboards coexist with blasts of chiming, jangly guitar reminiscent here of The Beatles, there of The Byrds, with propulsive drums and well-blended bass as anchor. Quercio, Benair and Gutierrez are joined on most tracks by Mike (Mickey) Mariano on keyboards. One track (“Regina Caeli”) features Mike Altenberg, who joined The Three O’Clock in 1986, on guitar, while “Jennifer Only” from pre-Three O’Clock band The Salvation Army features Quercio with Troy Howell on drums and John Blazing on guitar. This compilation could have been subtitled The Frontier Years, as all tracks hail from the period of the band’s earliest label association. Most tracks are circa 1982-1983; the most recent dates from 1986.
We’ll take a deeper look after the jump!
Though there’s a touch of new wave in many of these bright tracks, the music of The Three O’Clock was far-removed from the Top 40 of the day. (Just dig the trippy titles like “With a Cantaloupe Girlfriend” and “Why Cream Curdles in Orange Tea,” for starters.) Even the bandmates’ hair was comparatively short! Three tracks appear from their only full-length LP for Frontier Records, 1983’s Sixteen Tambourines, and another four songs from that album appear in alternate versions. One song has been lifted from the 1982 Frontier EP Baroque Hoedown, joining an alternate version of another Baroque track and one from a French pressing. Other tracks (like the sprightly opener “All in Good Time,” with its affected vocals, tinkling piano and synthesized bagpipes!) have been selected from various sources including 1983’s various-artists compilation Radio Tokyo Tapes.
The band’s most well-known song, college radio hit “Jet Fighter,” appears in its original version from Sixteen Tambourines. It’s not hard to see why the track stood out to the young and musically rebellious, especially with Quercio’s distinctive, pinched vocals sounding as if they were infused with helium. The kinship to The Bangles – the most commercially successful artists to emerge from the Paisley Underground – is also apparent on “Jet Fighter.” Its gleaming keyboard part is very much of its time while the stomping beat, guitar and harmonies recall the sixties pop that inspired both bands. “Seeing is Believing,” a song that Benair recalls as never having been performed live, is one of the many delightful tracks from Sixteen, but it’s one that might have benefited from a more expansive arrangement or the addition of an orchestration. (There’s little on these tracks in the way of horns or strings which might have enhanced the raw power of the foursome’s muscular yet melodic performances.)
“When Lightening Starts,” heard in an alternate from its album version, blends tough guitar with a keyboard part recalling Dexys Midnight Runners’ 1982 hit “Come On, Eileen.” Of the other Sixteen variants, the punk-ish energy level rarely flags on “Around the World,” which boasts a swirling organ riff. The experimental “A Day in Erotica,” with its freak-out sound collage, has a different lead vocal on the version here. “On My Own” shows a smoother, mellower side of the band. A cover of Barry and Robin Gibb’s “In My Own Time” rocks thanks to its “Taxman”-style guitar. (The same George Harrison influence was evident on the Bee Gees’ own version from Bee Gees’ 1st.) Producer Earle Mankey would add horns to the finished release, but the stripped-down version packs a punch, too.
In addition to the Bee Gees song, two other covers are part of The Hidden World. James Bond-esque guitar and sound effects enliven Syd Barrett’s “Lucifer Sam,” taken from the B-side of a rare fan club single. Another stellar choice is Gene Clark’s “Feel a Whole Lot Better.” David Roback of Mazzy Star and Rain Parade sits in on guitar for a high-octane rendition of the 1965 single for The Byrds. Though it’s an original composition, the bouncy, carnival-esque demo of “Sound Surrounds” is a sharp, vaudeville-with-an-edge throwback. One of the most timeless songs here is the wonderful “The Girl with the Guitar (Says Oh Yeah),” heard in a spare demo with Quercio’s voice at the forefront. The tender track might leave you wanting more from Quercio in a simple, acoustic vein. On the other end of the spectrum is “Jennifer Only,” a demo by The Salvation Army. It’s the most punk-like recording here, but its diminished sound quality is a substantial drop-off on an otherwise-impeccable release.
The Hidden World Reveals, indeed, touches all bases. Room has even been found for a psychedelic, scorching take on the traditional Latin hymn “Regina Caeli,” and a brief, goofy radio jingle for the inimitable Mayor the Sunset Strip, Rodney Bingenheimer. Credit for the superb sound goes to producer Pat Thomas and remastering engineers Bill Inglot and Dave Schultz, and the entire package assembled by Thomas lives up to Omnivore’s usual high standards. Greg Allen has supplied another impressive design, and there’s copious annotation: essays from Quercio and Gutierrez, and track-by-track notes by Benair.
Fans familiar with the original recordings will likely appreciate the alternate versions here most. But The Hidden World Reveals also scores as an introduction to a group that stood against the grain of the mainstream with its joyful, offbeat stylings. You, too, might just say “Oh, yeah!”
You can order The Three O’Clock’s The Hidden World Revealed here!