Revisiting the Paisley Underground sounds of the Three O'Clock | Bleader

Revisiting the Paisley Underground sounds of the Three O'Clock


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One of the first musical scenes that I felt belonged only to me—as a high school student growing up in a Philadelphia suburb in the early 80s—was the Paisley Underground, a silly neo-psychedelic community in Los Angeles. It didn't matter that I didn't know much about the original wave of 60s psych-rock (my family had a copy of Incense and Peppermints by the absurd psychedelic cash-in band Strawberry Alarm Clock)—this was something that my classmates knew nothing about. Eventually I started listening to the original stuff, but before that happened I tracked down records by the Long Ryders, Green on Red, Rain Parade, the Dream Syndicate, the Bangles, and the Three O'Clock.

I owned a single vintage paisley shirt, and I proudly wore it when I went to a concert in Philadelphia to catch LA's the Three O'Clock one night in 1983, where audience members were given a small paper cup containing a single sugar cube. The whole evening was mocked by the triple bill's first act, Boston's Del Fuegos, who were still a few years from morphing into a band writing soundtracks to beer commercials. The Three O'Clock were the wimpiest and most fashion-oriented members of the Paisley Underground, and within a couple of years they became one of the first rock bands signed to Prince's Paisley Park label, but pop crossover ambitions had already neutered them beyond the pale. Still, there are songs from the first couple of records, originally released on Frontier, that still hold up as I was reminded recently by The Hidden World Revealed (Omnivore), a 20-track anthology released in conjunction with—what else—the band's recent reunion, which included a performance at Coachella this past spring.

The Three OClock
  • Chris Haston
  • The Three O'Clock
Front man and primary songwriter Michael Quercio had a sweetly feminine voice and his pop instincts were decidedly sugary, but early on that sweetness was leavened by some mildly rocking energy on songs like "With a Cantaloupe Girlfriend" and "Jet Fighter." They also did a credible if conservative version of the early Pink Floyd classic "Lucifer Sam" and covered the jangly Byrds gem "Feel a Whole Lot Better," where their harmony singing shone brightly. The new collection focuses on songs from their 1982 debut EP Baroque Hoedown and the 1983 album Sixteen Tambourines, with lots of B-sides, alternate takes, and demos; it's impossible not to hear the rip-offs in glaring clarity 30 years later, whether it's the way "Around the World" stole its opening lick from the Monkees hit "Pleasant Valley Sunday" or how they appropriated the ringing Rickenbacker arpeggios of the Byrds on more tunes than I can count.

Below you check out one of their best songs, "In Love in Too," originally released as a fan club seven-inch in 1983.

Today's playlist:

Yair Yona, World Behind Curtain (Strange Attractors Audio House)
Laura Toxvaerd/Jacob Anderskov, Phone Book (ILK)
Dezron Douglas, Live at Smalls (Smalls Live)
Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Now Here's My Plan (Drag City)
Simone White, Silver Silver (Honest Jon's)

This post has been edited to correct the erroneous categorization of "Lucifer Sam" as an instrumental.

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