First Impressions: Baroque Hoedown by the Three O’Clock

(Ventura Star, 4/10/1983)

By early 1983, the band formerly known as the Salvation Army was on an upswing. The five-song Baroque Hoedown EP, their first Three O’Clock-branded record, earned plaudits—and new fans—along the West Coast following its October 1982 release, with select songs gaining airplay on several L.A. and San Francisco radio stations. Their music was dubbed psychedelic by some and “pop ’n’ roll” by others, while the group itself was labeled “Sixties revivalists” by many. That’s an imperfect history, granted, but incense and peppermint did infuse the grooves of Baroque Hoedown and its antecedent, the Salvation Army’s self-titled LP from early ’82. The result was less a throwback, however, and more something new. I call it Day-Glo pop. It’s fluorescent, bright and whimsical.

The original EP consisted of five tracks: “With a Cantaloupe Girlfriend,” “I Go Wild,” “Marjorie Tells Me,” “Sorry” (an Easybeats cover) and “As Real as Real.” In the San Francisco Examiner at the end of 1982, drummer Danny Benair explained, “We’re not on a nostalgia trip or anything. We wanted to make a 1982 record because it’s 1982 and I think we succeeded.” That’s a good summation of the original Baroque Hoedown, actually; the first four songs are hook-laden affairs, similar in a melodic sense to what Bonnie Hayes and the Wild Combo achieved on their classic (and equally overlooked) Good Clean Fun LP. One difference comes from the Three O’Clock’s occasional tentativeness, which is most evident on “I Go Wild.” It doesn’t quite live up to its title; if attacked in the same way they barrel through the Easybeats’ “Sorry,” well, it really would have been something.

Another difference comes via the lyrical outlook; Hayes is writing upbeat anthems on Good Clean Fun, while lead singer and bassist Michael Quercio digs for something deeper in his songs. In the same Examiner article referenced above, he explained, “I like to substitute code words for personal things, as in ‘Cantaloupe Girlfriend.’ That’s not a song about someone who walks around with a cantaloupe on her head.” The whimsy adds a welcome fifth dimension to the goings-on. It’s eccentric, to be sure, and unique—especially in an age when conformity was king. The piece d’resistance of the set, at least to my ears, is “As Real as Real,” which is a potent slice of psychedelia that foreshadows roads both taken and untaken by the band on its future releases. Quercio’s vocals conjure no less than John Lennon circa “Strawberry Fields Forever,” while guitarist Gregg Gutierrez punctuates the proceedings with short solos that levitate the song a few feet off the ground.

This remastered “40th anniversary” edition adds four singles and rarities from the same time period to flesh out the fun, including a peppy (but decidedly not preppy) cover of Pink Floyd’s “Lucifer Sam” that leans harder into the original’s Peter Gunn riff; the fan club single “In Love in Too”; “All in Good Time” from the Radio Tokyo Tapes compilation of L.A.-area bands; and their fun take on the Byrds’ “Feel a Whole Lot Better,” which was added to Baroque Hoedown for its French release in 1983. If you have the original Aquarius Andromeda compilation or its re-titled CD version, The Hidden World Revealed, you’ve already heard and enjoyed the songs, I hasten to add, but it makes sense to place them where they belong.

One other cool thing about this Yep Roc package: Unlike the Mind Gardens release from last year, the downloads are 24-bit and sound exquisite.

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