Electric Light Orchestra
On the Third Day
First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2006, Volume 13, #9
Written by John Metzger
Formed from the ashes of The Move and reuniting its core line-up of Jeff Lynne, Roy Wood, Rick Price, and Bev Bevan, Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) initially struggled to get off the ground. Its self-titled debut was a gutsy but utterly dysfunctional attempt to blend chamber music with hard rock, and it proved to be a false start when the turmoil within the ensemble became so burdensome that it caused the quick departure of Wood and Price. Although the group scored a moderate hit with an abbreviated version of its furiously driving, symphonic take on Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven, the rest of its sophomore effort Electric Light Orchestra II highlighted the notion that the group had yet to develop its own voice or chemistry.
By the time that ELO issued On the Third Day in late 1973, however, the pieces were beginning to fall into place. With the progressive rock movement at a fevered pitch, it’s not surprising that Lynne was focused upon sculpting a conceptual work, and the first side of the album featured a convoluted four-song suite that used classical-style interludes to connect its pop and rock components. Likewise, the swirling Moog synthesizers that graced songs like New World Rising/Ocean Breakup Reprise and Daybreaker befitted the era. Pushing in multiple directions at once, the entirety of the affair wasn’t particularly cohesive, but buried within the effort’s grandiose gestures lay the roadmap that eventually would lead the band to far greater commercial achievements.
In effect, On the Third Day contained a wealth of ideas that linked together the past, present, and future — not only of Electric Light Orchestra but also of pop music. Hints of The Beach Boys surfaced within King of the Universe, while both Bluebird Is Dead and Oh No Not Susan draped their psychedelic string arrangements around melodies that sounded as if they were drawn directly from John Lennon’s solo canon. Elsewhere, the disco groove of Showdown provided the template for The Bee Gees’ transformation on Mr. Natural and Main Course; the crunchy guitars of Ma-Ma-Ma Belle connected Grand Funk Railroad with Foreigner; and the introduction to Daybreaker provided the basis for some of the musical themes that ELO explored on its 1975 effort Face the Music. On the Third Day also featured an eerie reworking of Edvard Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King, which sufficiently closed the book on the ensemble’s interpretations of classical fare.
Remastered and reissued, the latest incarnation of On the Third Day includes a quintet of bonus tracks, though only the forgettable symphonic composite Interludes is previously unreleased. The remaining four tracks — Everyone’s Born to Die, an alternate mix of Dreaming of 4000 that originally was christened Mambo, and two early versions of Ma-Ma-Ma Belle that initially were dubbed Auntie — are, at least, making their U.S. debut. Each of them features T. Rex’s Marc Bolan, who had made uncredited appearances on the final versions of Ma-Ma-Ma Belle and Dreaming of 4000. Both Mambo and the second rendition of Auntie are refreshingly raw, while Everyone’s Born to Die curiously merged Bob Dylan and George Harrison. None of it is essential, of course, and On the Third Day remains more intriguing than functional. After all, it was Electric Light Orchestra’s subsequent endeavor Eldorado that served as the culmination of its journey.
On the Third Day is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box