Classic Album Review: The Electric Light Orchestra – “On The Third Day” (1973)

ELO On The Third Day UK

“On The Third Day”, Jeff Lynne’s first album as the sole songwriter and leader of the Electric Light Orchestra, is one of my very favourite records in the ELO catalogue. The influence of The Beatles is extremely heavy, especially during the first four tracks which are arranged and sequenced to make a continuous suite of songs. That said, it is a slightly uneven record, feeling like an album of two halves with the newer material at the start of the album (the first four tracks feature their then new violinist, Mik Kaminski) with some remaining material from the “ELO 2” sessions being used to fill side two. The the single “Showdown” was slotted in at the end of side one on the US release (and then on subsequent UK re-releases) and, thanks to repeated plays and familiarity, has become as much part of the album as the rest of the songs. In fact, my original copy of this album, bought when in was in my mid-teens, was a US import which featured both “Showdown” and the infamous “bellybutton” cover. Thankfully, the quality throughout is excellent, so even though there may be a slightly different feel to the two halves of the album, it works very well as a whole, with the only questionable inclusion being the slightly superfluous version of Grieg’s “In The Hall Of The Mountain King”.

Compositionally, “On The Third Day” is extremely strong. The four concurrent songs which were, as a whole, a continuous piece of music filling side one of the original LP entirely, were, arguably, Jeff Lynne’s most accomplished piece of work right up until that point in time and they still sounds rather brilliant several decades later. There is so much bombast and drama in the astonishing first piece, “Ocean Breakup/King Of The Universe” that it immediately grabs the listener’s attention before the music effortlessly segues into the gorgeous Beatlesque “Bluebird Is Dead”, a song featuring a chorus that builds so beautifully, the release is close to orgasmic, and a fantastic backwards guitar solo. “Oh No, Not Susan” is a sublime, melodic piece of melancholia, describing the life of a rich, but lonely and alienated, woman and the final piece in the four song suite is the magnificent “New World Rising/Ocean Breakup (reprise)”, which boasts breathtaking tumbling and cascading instrumental interludes as well as a wonderful Mik Kaminski violin solo. One of ELO’s classic singles, “Showdown” proves an added bonus sandwiched in between what was side one and two on the original record and is one of those magical, timeless Jeff Lynne songs it is extremely difficult to tire of listening to.

On The Third Day US

The instrumental “Daybreaker” kicks off what used to be side two of the record and, boy, what a fantastic piece of music it is. Exciting and exhilarating, it utilised Richard Tandy’s sparkling synthesisers alongside Wilf Gibson’s terrific violin work and a brilliant Bev Bevan drumming performance. “Ma Ma Ma Belle” is one of the most convincing rockers in Jeff’s repertoire and the (uncredited) addition of Marc Bolan on guitar and has that incredible full sound that made the rock/orchestra fusion such a thrilling combination. Also recorded with Bolan, the sensational “Dreaming Of 4000”, with all the splendour of its driving strings and paranoid lyrics, is probably the most overlooked track on the album and certainly has one of the most remarkable crescendos and climaxes of any song Jeff has written. Finishing the album is the aforementioned “In The Hall Of The Mountain King” which, admittedly, is the most dispensable track on the album, but is really quite enjoyable to listen to, especially when Bev’s drums announce their presence with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. It’s certainly not bad, but it simply doesn’t fit in to an album with, otherwise, such a brilliantly creative programme of songs.

ELO’s third album heralds the beginning of the Electric Light Orchestra sound as most mainstream fans would come to subsequently recognise them. Although the sheen and polish isn’t quite there on this release, the shorter, classical-influenced pop songs are far more recognisable as being similar to the style of Lynne’s later output than the prog-rock aspirations of the first two studio albums. The compositions are still extremely ambitious and the arrangements shine with their exuberance and flamboyance, but the baroque experimentations of the first two albums are well and truly left behind on this pivotal moment in the band’s history. The sawing cellos, slightly scratchy live strings sound and, as great as the vocal performances are, the slight harshness of the vocal track all suggest that Jeff was still honing his craft as producer. That said, I absolutely love the way this album sounds; the performances have so much life and character to them and the strings play such a major part in the vitality and appeal of “On The Third Day”, I wouldn’t want to hear it any other way.


About A.D.S.

You are reading the musings of a music-obsessed forty-something who was brought up on The Beatles, lived through Britpop and now spends his time in pursuit of the best music around. This 'blog gives me an outlet to write about the huge number of albums I buy and the many gigs I go to. All of the opinions expressed are my own and if you don't agree with me, then I understand - music is a very personal thing. I like to receive comments, especially if they're nice ones.
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