The Three O'Clock - Biography
The Three O'Clock are often considered to be the greatest band to ever be associated with the Los Angeles paisley underground scene of the 80's. The group's first two releases, an EP followed by an LP, are gems of neo-psychedelia, superbly written, played, and produced. Their last three veered away from paisley pop into lovely power pop and synth-happy bubblegum. Lead singer and bassist Michael Quercio will forever be tied to the paisley underground because he coined that very term in an early 80's interview. While there were many paisley bands who played psychedelic pop throughout their entire careers, the Three O'Clock grew sick of the sound all too quickly.
The band actually called themselves the Salvation Army when Quercio got together with guitarist Louis Gutierrez and drummer Troy Howell in the very early 80's. Under that moniker, they released a self-titled full-length on the Frontier label in 1982. When their music began to spread throughout LA and draw attention to the band, the real Salvation Army wasn't happy and ordered the band to changed the name. The group then became the Three O'Clock, added keyboardist Mickey Mariano, and replaced Howell with drummer Danny Benair. In 1983, the Three O'Clock released the EP, Baroque Hoedown (Frontier). The full-length, Sixteen Tambourines (Frontier), followed later that year. Those two releases were then reissued on one LP by the end of '83. The songs “Jet Fighter” and “With a Cantaloupe Girlfriend” became college radio favorites.
Now an up-and-coming band, they were signed by IRS, where they released Arrive Without Travelling (IRS) in 1985. The psychedelic touches that the Three O'Clock had become known for were already missing in action, more or less, on the LP. Where this might come as a disappointment to fans of their very early work, Arrive Without Travelling (the title taken from a George Harrison lyric in “The Inner Light”) is just as good as Sixteen Tambourines, but it's much more power pop than psych-pop. Whether it was the paisley fad that had swarmed throughout America for a brief moment or the strength of great singles like “Her Head's Revolving,” Arrive Without Travelling made its way into the Billboard 200, reaching number 125.
Unfortunately, next album Ever After (1986, IRS) did not. Gutierrez departed from the band following Arrive Without Travelling, with temporary replacement guitarist Steven Altenberg stepping in. Produced by Ian Broudie, future frontman of the Lightning Seeds, Quercio's creative strengths had not been tapped out by any means. Broudie's production emphasized Mariano's keyboards over Quercio's voice or Altenberg's guitar. Following this release, the Three O'Clock were dropped by IRS.
Oddly enough, R&B/funk sensation Prince claimed to be a big fan of the Three O'Clock, and showed a major vote of confidence by signing them to his label, Paisley Park (owned by Warner Bros). The rumor, though, was that Prince had never heard any of their music and signed them based solely on their friendship with the Bangles, the top-tier paisley band for whom Prince wrote “Manic Monday.” But a contract is a contract. With full-time guitarist Jason Falkner now a member, the band headed back into the studio for the recording of their next album. Vermillion (1988, Paisley Park/Warner Bros) Production was thanks to Ian Ritchie. Throughout the album, 80's synthesizers reign supreme- over produced, commercialized- who would have guessed that it could happen to the Three O'Clock? The songwriting is bubblegum pop, and even includes a Prince composition, “Neon Telephone.” For a group that was once considered the greatest of the paisley bands, there is not a drop of psychedelia to be found on Vermillion. The more commercial sound did not equal commercial success, and the album did not produce a hit single or break into the charts.
It is truly a shame that this is where the Three O'Clock's story comes to an end. Terrific though it would have been for them to bounce back with the greatest album of their career, they broke up after Vermillion proved a failure. Quercio was apparently fed up with the attempts made by his label to decide his musical identity. After the band's demise, Quercio joined another band of paisley pioneers, Game Theory. Preferring not to commit full-time to the band and move out of LA, Quercio quit and formed Permanent Green Light. He changed the name to the Jupiter Affect in 1997.