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.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a little background on them. 12 Jealous Roses is one of my favorite albums of all time and should be reissued on CD. Had Hallelujah Anyway on vinyl years ago and thought it was a step down and ended up selling it after some time. Funny though......I just found the CD in the used bin at the Princeton Record Exchange for $1.99 a few weeks ago, and after all these years later it sounds really good to me!