Day-Glo pop. That phrase sums up the Three O’Clock, one of the merry pranksters of L.A.’s ‘80s-era Paisley Underground scene, where they shared stages with such bands as the Bangles, Dream Syndicate, Green on Red, Long Ryders and Rain Parade. As a whole, the groups took their musical cues not from the New Wave or nascent MTV, but the mid- and late 1960s. In the case of the Three O’Clock, that meant the Beatles, Byrds and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, with the best of the Monkees mixed in for good measure.
The band first stepped onto L.A.-area stages as the Salvation Army and even released a self-titled album on Frontier Records in 1982, but legal threats from the charitable organization of the same name led them to rechristen themselves after a passage from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Crack-Up: “But at three o’clock in the morning, a forgotten package has the same tragic importance as a death sentence, and the cure doesn’t work – and in a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.” As the Three O’Clock, they released the Baroque Hoedown EP (1982) and Sixteen Tambourines LP (1983) on Frontier, garnered a fair bit of praise and press, and then signed with I.R.S. Records.
In a preview of a May 10th, 1985, concert at the Palace in L.A., Terry Atkinson of the Los Angeles Times captures the yin-yang reactions the band engendered when he described their sound as thus: “Dreamy, charming pop to some. Psychedelic wimpiness to others.” I’m in the former camp, obviously. To my ears, their songs are whimsical rollercoasters that skirt the sky while never hurtling too fast to the ground.
Arrive Without Travelling, released on IRS Records in May 1985, is my favorite of their recordings – perhaps due to it being the first album of theirs that I bought. It’s a true spacetime anomaly, simultaneously of its time and timeless, full of shimmering melodies and hooks galore. That it’s no longer in print is a true crime against music. Lead singer/bassist Michael Quercio’s vocals, which some dislike due to their helium-like quality, are upfront; for me, however, they add to the glimmering goings-on. Meanwhile, guitarist Louis (formerly Gregg) Gutierrez – who cowrote five of the songs – accents the songs with aplomb, keyboardist Mike Mariano’s riffs run rampant, and drummer Danny Benair keeps a steady beat throughout. The opening track, “Her Head’s Revolving,” is a good example of their barrelhouse dexterity:
Other highlights include “Half the Way There” and “Another World”…
…as well as a song inspired by Susanna Hoffs, “The Girl With the Guitar (Says Oh Yeah).” As evidenced by the above unofficial clips, the album isn’t available on YouTube – but there is this, another unofficial clip from when they appeared on MTV’s The Cutting Edge in ’85.
When I created my list of favorite albums from 1985 a few years back, Arrive Without Travelling fell just outside of my Top 5. It’s a fantastical platter that I pull out every so often to remind myself that, indeed, there was a time when the future looked bright. (Too often, these days, it seems like the light is fading.)
And just as they were influenced by those who came before, so it has been with those who followed in their jet trails. It’s said, for instance, that the Stone Roses had Arrive Without Travelling on repeat while recording their eponymous – and classic – 1989 album. (Small surprise, but that’s another album not everybody gets.)
The track list:
And, finally, here’s another cool clipping, this time from L.A. Weekly in 1983: