Thursday, July 5, 2018

GIVE ME ANOTHER CHANCE: Fate And The Undervalued Band


Freddie Mark Linkous- guitar, background vocals
Don Short- drums
Bob Bortnick- lead vocals, guitar
Eric Williams- lead vocals, bass

Formed in the early '80s in and around Long Island, New York, the Dancing Hoods' fate was most likely sealed by various stressful internal forces. The most prominent being the loss of songwriter and co-lead singer Eric Williams in 1986.  Williams was the band's pure-pop linchpin and the main reason their debut LP (1985's 12 Jealous Roses) remains a bonafide lost classic this far down the line.

It was during the band's move out west to the city of Angels when things got bumpy.  Williams didn't stay for the duration which saw the release of one more album, 1988's Hallelujah Anyway.  Bob Bortnick took over as main frontman and prevailed with a solid effort (and a bigger push from their record label) but things weren't as musically serendipitous as the first LP.

Alas, in 1985, 12 Jealous Roses was the proverbial tree falling in the forest.  Kindered spirits like The Hoodoo Gurus, The Smithereens, R.E.M. and The Replacements were slowly gaining momentum, but overall, guitar-based pop struggled as it was being marginalized amongst the likes New Order and Depeche Mode.  Being on a fledgling record label didn't help matters, either. Relativity Records was still getting its feet wet and wasn't at full power until 1987.

The genius of 12 Jealous Roses falls basically on the strength of the songs, but is immortalized by the ephemeral rush of a band's first crack at the bigtime.  They were also headstrong enough to produce themselves. Mind you, band members Bob Bortnick and Freddy Mark Linkous would go on to bigger claims of fame; Bortnick would end up as an A&R guy for Almo Records (he signed Garbage) and Linkous would be the brains and voice behind Sparklehorse.  So, these guys were no dummies.

Bortnick and Linkous had a sharp and cool guitar interplay reminiscent to The Plimsouls and Hoodoo Gurus, where classic '60s garage influences mixed with surf and '70s glam and punk like the New York Dolls. The album was a little coy regarding its softer pop side. Both side one and side two open with straight ahead rockers ("Pleasure" and "Bye Bye Jim") with Bortnick singing lead. Going deeper into each side exposed a vein of pop classicism that rose above your run of the mill '80s indie band who dug the '60s.

This was stuff on par with the best of The Plimsouls, Marshall Crenshaw and Hoodoo Gurus.  The slower tunes ("Build A House," "Blue Letter" and "Watching  You Sleep") are the LP's heart and soul. There is also a gorgeous cover of the Left Banke's "She May Call You Up Tonight" which bassist/vocalist Eric Williams took liberties with and added a bridge.

The rest of the album is rounded out mostly with tunes from Eric Williams. There's classic power pop ("Take My Chances and "Girl Problems") and the closing tracks of side one and side two: "Surfing All Over The World" and "Wild & The Lonely."

Years later, fans of 12 Jealous Roses, including myself, asked Bob Bortnick about the chances of it being reissued on CD. Bortnick never seemed to think it deserved to be reissued.  The conspiracy theorist in me believes that there was (and still is) bad energy remaining.  

Last time I communicated with Eric Williams, he had not spoken to Bortnick since leaving the band in 1986.  As of today, 12 Jealous Roses is still unavailable for digital download, but Hallelujah Anyway is online.

Dwight Twilley sang "Looking For The Magic," and in retrospect lost the most magical element of his musical life when bandmate Phil Seymour left to pursue a solo career. For some of the greatest bands in power pop, the balance of talent, ego and success is way too precarious and complicated.  It's all-too apparent in the story of Big Star and the exit of Chris Bell and with Eric Carmen and the demise of the Raspberries.  

The Dancing Hoods never got the chance to reach those heights.  After Eric Williams left (he was replaced by Mike Garacino), they kept much of their sound intact. "Baby's Got Rockets" was a classic "last" moment that had the magic of the debut but the balance of Williams' pop sense was missing. Hallelujah Anyway got the band a little more attention but it was short lived and they split by the end of 1988.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

GIVE ME ANOTHER CHANCE: Fate And The Undervalued Band

David Paton
Ian Bairnson
Stuart Tosh
William Lyall

For those of us growing up in the USA in the 1970s, Pilot's hyper-pop smash, "Magic," slammed smack dab in the center of the decade.  It definitely was a cool blast of energized pop in the summer of 1975. Beyond that, I never caught wind of the band's other work, until--like most lovable pop geeks--I went searching for their albums in used record shops in the 1980s.

Pilot created smart wistful pop that connected to the McCartney fan in all of us, but had this sense of style all their own.  It was slick, but not in a crass tacky late '70s kinda way. This was something more in line with those respectable UK studio pop/rock bands like 10cc and Stackridge and far less disposable than where they started out; struggling with the nascent Bay City Rollers.

All four of their studio LPs (From the Album of the Same Name [aka Pilot], Second Flight [aka January], Morin Heights, Two's a Crowd) are very close to equal standing.  Each containing at least one bonafide classic "Pilot" pop single whilst the rest of the material expanded on their musical chops.  It wasn't by chance that these guys ended up with Alan Parsons behind the board as producer. The band dabbled slightly in prog (mostly as a default due to their technical skills and the surrounding success of current UK bands like Genesis and Supertramp). But their hearts were firmly rooted in Beatlesque pop.

From the Album of the Same Name [aka Pilot]
EMI 1974
Easily the best starting point and their strongest LP. Includes the ace singles "Magic" and "Just A Smile." The standout album cuts ("Lucky For Some" and "Lovely Lady Smile") prove they ain't no singles band. Both "Sky Blue" and "Over The Moon" go toe-to-toe with McCartney's best from that era.
Guitarist Ian Bairnson is not listed as band member yet, but appears on some tracks.

Second Flight [aka January]
EMI 1975
Second Flight isn't a sophomore slump, but it doesn't quite hit as deep as the debut.  It still has two killer singles ("January" and "Call Me Round") and some key albums cuts like "Do Me Good" and "Dear Artist." And Ian Bairnson is now a full-fledged member.  It would be their last LP with Billy Lyall.

Morin Heights
EMI 1976 (UK only)
This album was a departure for Pilot.  Instead of working with Alan Parsons, they opted to record with Roy Thomas Baker as producer.  They also decided to go to Canada (Morin Heights, specifically) to cut LP #3.  And in the dead of winter.  That maybe part of the reason why they decided to print "No Handclaps" on their LP credits.
Another key player in the making of this album was engineer Ed Stasium (who also took the LP cover pic). Shortly after working on this LP, Ed would begin his legendary tenure with the Ramones.
With all that said, there's still the trademark Pilot pop tunes afloat. Oddly, they chose not to release the most natural pop-worthy track, "Lies And  Lies" as a single.  That choice was given to "Penny In My Pocket." This album saw a progression with cooler introspective rock tracks like, "Running Water," "Steps," "First After Me" and the brilliant "Too Many Hopes."

Two's A Crowd
Arista 1977 (UK only)
Pilot's fourth album was a major turning point. The "band" was now down to Ian Bairnson and David Paton (Stuart Tosh exited to join 10cc). Ian and David were now working more with Alan Parsons doing session work for Kate Bush (it's Ian's classic guitar work appears on the classic "Wuthering Heights") and becoming more integral to the Alan Parsons Project. Between January and June of 1977 they cut Two's A Crowd.
The album includes their greatest single, "Get Up And Go" which is pretty much THE quintessential 70s AM radio pop classic. Sadly, it didn't become a hit, which is why the LP never got released stateside. After the single failed to chart, Clive Davis decided to only release the album in the UK.
The album has a little more Alan Parsons Project flavor on a couple of tracks, but where it shines most are the ballads. Tracks like "Library Door," "One Good Reason Why," "Monday Tuesday" and "The Other Side" are deep classics that make this album as stunning as their debut.