It's interesting how Electric Light Orchestra make many think of their unapologetically disco-pop anthems like “Mr. Blue Sky”, rather than incredibly written and arranged orchestral compositions such as “In the Hall of the Mountain King”, the marvellous closing track to 1973's On the third Day
. Strangely enough, ELO's third album is perhaps the first record to combine some of the band's most intricate, wondrous melodies with a penchant for simplistic yet global audience-grabbing songwriting. Do you think ELO would be here today if they had stuck solely to the sound their debut album? A hard question for those who haven't heard every single ELO album such as myself, but one thing is still clear: Albums like On the third Day
were just as important to ELO's ongoing musical career as the anthems from their chart-topping years.
Despite failing to enter the UK charts at the time of its release, ELO's third record effectively combines the two best things about the band. Some songs are almost overblown with symphonic, electronic and orchestral arrangements which could easily be mistaken for the soundtrack to a space chase, and others are written purely to get the audience moving and possibly grooving. The former aspect of the band's sound is what was worked on closely and in a thoroughly focused manner with ELO's majestic debut album, and less so on ELO 2
, yet the pomp is bumped up a notch or two with On the third Day
. Swirling melodies are in spades throughout the likes of “Ocean Breakup/King of the Universe” and “Dreaming of 4000”, and the quirkiness of synthesisers is used to produce a multitude of emotions, explored yo dramatic effect via the less prominent albeit just as memorable use of violins. Closing track “Hall of the Mountain King”, which had several working titles (proving a little more ridiculous just because of the names themselves), is unsurprisingly enough the pinnacle of ELO's more progressive sound, and more importantly of the band's third album. Yet despite these melodies being sometimes overblown or indeed too self-indulgent for their own good, you can still appreciate the amount of effort being put into the production.
On the third Day
does have its fair share of more simplistic songs, and even the first instance of disco-influenced melodies. A prime example is “Showdown”, which today proves to be one of the most memorable ELO songs of all time. The symphonic elements are most prominent here, breaking through that hesitancy and consequently winning audiences over, and despite the brief emergence of more complex guitar rhythms midway, it makes for a song which to this day doesn't really sound that dated. The vocal delivery attempts a more serious, groovy style and succeeds, though this softer, smoother sound could be cast aside by those who favour complex musicianship over simplistic melodies. “Bluebird is Dead” and “Ma-Ma-Ma-Belle” also follow the same way, though the latter has a very prominent guitar sound throughout. “Bluebird is Dead” has a lovely symphonic flourish which never oversteps the mark, and thankfully its placement is perfect between one of the album's more complex, overblown songs and a more ballad-like tune. “Ma-Ma-Ma-Belle” is straightforward rock, and suddenly the complex musicianship and progressive songwriting seems eschewed, along with any orchestral or symphonic elements trying to creep in. Yet none of the momentum is ever lost, and it's hard not to get into these songs, whatever your stance on progressive music is.
On the third Day
is probably a more transitional album than it is a career-defining one, and so the following years would see ELO emerge as a globally successful group of musicians, winning many particular fan-bases over as a result. That said, there's something for everyone here. The songs have the right length and balance of complex musicianship and intricate melodies, proving just how effective ELO's music became throughout the 70s. Despite being overshadowed by future releases, ELO's third album rarely fails to interest the listener, whether they are new to the band or not.