Electric Light Orchestra – On the Third Day – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

This White Hot Stamper Side Two is proof positive that the master tape used to cut the album back in 1973 was right here in the good old U. S. of A. The sound is positively JUMPING out of the speakers, like nothing you’ve ever heard before from this band — especially if you have a British pressing of the album. The sound has real life to it, unlike the sound on the import pressings of the album. Once you’ve played a good domestic pressing such as this one, it’s obvious that the Brit vinyl is made from sub-generation copy tapes. The imports sound like someone threw a blanket over your speakers.

We know this because we had a bunch of them cleaned up for our shootout and they all sucked. We always buy Electric Light Orchestra records on import vinyl; those are the ones that sound the best, the domestic pressings time and again sounding as though they were mastered from dub tapes. But On The Third Day is proof that this is not always the case, just as Siren proves that the best Roxy Music albums are not always British. Live and learn I guess. 

Key Qualities

For On the Third Day they’re pretty much the ones we look for on any good rock album: energy, clarity, presence, whomp factor, dynamics, etc., with one important quality moving higher up the list than would normally be the case: texture. If the strings are smeary and too smooth, lacking texture and harmonics, most of what’s fun about this music goes right out the window.

Sides One and Two

Side two is A+++! No copy in our shootout could touch it. Ma-Ma-Ma Belle is on side two and it ROCKS.

Side one is much more typical of what we heard in our shootout, with some smear on the strings and an overall compressed quality. We certainly heard much worse, but the best we can give this side one is an A+, two big steps down from the best. When you hear side two you will see what we mean.

Stitches

Almost every copy we played had stitches in the right channel at the beginning of side one. United Artists’ department of Quality Control was never very good; here they live up to their reputation. Play any Traffic album from the period and you’ll hear pretty much the same kinds of problems.



Further Reading

We have a number of entries in our new Import Versus Domestic series, in which we debunk the conventional wisdom concerning which country’s records are the best sounding for specific artists and titles.

Here are some commentaries on a subject near and dear to all of us, namely Record Collecting.

The entries linked here may help you gain a better understanding of the issues surrounding Hot Stampers.

And finally we’ll throw in this old warhorse discussing How to Become an Expert Listener, subtitled Hard Work and Challenges Can Really Pay Off.

Because in audio, much like the rest of life, hard work and challenges really do pay off.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Ocean Breakup 
– King of the Universe 
Bluebird Is Dead 
Oh No Not Susan 
New World Rising 
– Ocean Breakup Reprise 
Showdown

Side Two

Daybreaker 
Ma-Ma-Ma Belle
Dreaming of 4000 
In the Hall of the Mountain King

AMG Review

Electric Light Orchestra’s third album showed a marked advancement, with a fuller, more cohesive sound from the band as a whole and major improvements in Jeff Lynne’s singing and songwriting. This is where the band took on its familiar sound, Lynne’s voice suddenly showing an attractive expressiveness reminiscent of John Lennon in his early solo years, and also sporting a convincing white British soulful quality that was utterly lacking earlier.

Billboard

The ELO’s blending of rock drums, pop violins, a semiclassical feel in the sweep of these same violins, the midrange colors of the cello, and a vocal blend that reminds one of the Beatles in their sophisticated studio days, makes up all the key elements in their music.

Take “New World Rising”; it’s got strumming strings in tempo with the snare drum, swirling Moog effects, and a plunking cello that leads into the voices. There are sudden stops and other enervating keys to the arrangement. It’s spectacular listening. There is a cogent blending of what sounds like classical oriented strings with the contemporary rhythm patterns.

“Dreaming of 4000” is spectacular with its echo-framed vocal effect — a gimmick that blends with the pizzicato and swirling strings. The musicianship is vastly superior to the vocals.

Rolling Stone

If you liked ELO II for its weavings of familiar classical motifs through lengthy songs, On the Third Day will both please and disappoint you. If, on the other hand, you loved “Roll Over Beethoven” but thought the LP’s other four songs overblown, you’ll find about the same measure of pleasure here (if not more).

Although leader Jeff Lynne has said he doesn’t consider ELO a singles group, their singles have outsold their albums and, like “Roll Over Beethoven,” the strongest material on Third Day consists of the current single “Showdown” and the probable follow-up, “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle.”

“Showdown” applies their formula of thematic eclectism to pop music (instead of classical), pulling riffs from “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” an early John Mayall song called “All Your Love,” and even Del Shannon’s “Stranger In Town.” It’s a heavily produced, commerical record on a par with Stories’ “Brother Louie,” and the extra effort shows. It stands out here, like a refugee from some apocryphal ELO album containing ten such blockbuster tracks. It’s approached only by “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle,” a rather blatant plagiarism of Mott the Hoople’s “Jerkin’ Crocus” of recent vintage. Its pounding chords and heavy-metal blaze are somewhat out of character for ELO, although they come close to the power of the original. But they fall short, in both lyrics and delivery, in their total lack of humor about themselves and the music, a fault that may one day prove their downfall.

On the classical side, while we are spared the long minutes of exploratory riff-rock that made up more than half of ELO II, what we have is only arguably an improvement. Six-plus minutes of “In the Hall of the Mountain King” do little more to enliven side two than the song does for their live act. It’s no more than the well-known Grieg theme, which has been no stranger to rock before.

“Dreaming of 4000” is, to my mind, the most effective fusion of rock and classics on the album, with a fine melody and plenty of instrumental finesse that could be trimmed to make a decent single.

The conceptual bulk of Third Day is found on side one where four songs are linked into a loose suite whose main source of inspiration seems to have been the Beatles’ White Album. Beyond even the obvious resemblance of “Bluebird Is Dead” to “Dear Prudence,” and “Oh No Not Susan” to “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” this entire set of songs has that same mood of wide-ranging introspective repose that characterized the latter album, and features the closest thing to delicate vocal harmonies we’ve heard from Jeff Lynne since his days with the Idle Race. That aside, however, we still have only a tenuously connected group of songs, as opposed to anything on the order of “Kuiama,” on the last album, which used its length and the group’s unique approach to music to achieve real emotional impact.

– Greg Shaw, Rolling Stone, 1-31-74.