Danny Benair Reflects on The Quick’s Hot ‘n’ Bothered Bubbleglam Power-Pop
“There’s something exciting about failure as well as success,” says Danny Benair, and that’s a classic rock axiom for fans of the obscure.
It’s also a fortunate thing for the former drummer of The Quick, since he’s back as the band’s unofficial historian with the first CD release of 1976’s Mondo Deco. Benair previously helped out with a 2009 vinyl reissue, and The Quick’s Untold Rock Stories demo compilation from 2003 – where his liner notes detailed how the quirky band fell apart just as all the other quirky bands in L.A. were signed in the wake of The Knack’s “My Sharona.”
And now it’s time to relive that misery all over again, as the Real Gone label reissues Mondo Deco as producer Kim Fowley’s second big misfire on Mercury Records in the 1970s. Not that The Quick were much like The Runaways.
“Kim knew that he was getting a band that already existed,” notes Benair. “I’d known [main songwriter] Steve Hufsteter since junior high.” By the time they met Fowley, the two teens had settled in with frontman Danny Wilde (usually in a sailor suit), bassist Ian Ainsworth, and Billy Bizeau on keyboards because Leonard Phillips was too prog-rock (“We never imagined he’d end up in a band like The Dickies.”).
The Quick still made for a natural pairing with Fowley. They were adolescent, cute, and helplessly naïve. They were even gullible enough to think they could save glam rock from extinction by spiking the bubblegum with lots of adolescent fever dreams.
“But we were all young,“ notes Benair, “and we didn’t really have any idea of what we were in for.”
And what they were in for was a sharp album that couldn’t find an audience and sunk without a trace. That kind of makes sense. Mondo Deco was released into a world where normal guys like The Raspberries had floundered and Dwight Twilley was struggling. The Hudson Brothers were lucky to be hosting a kiddie show.
The Quick sounded like they wanted to host a Berlin cabaret show circa 1942 – although Fowley wisely didn’t let Mercury hear a song they had called “Master Race.” They still got away with an S&M ode to “Hillary,” and the rest of the album was just as obsessed with pleasure and pain. That’s mostly in the context of skewed tunes where they’re lusting after good times while bemoaning the hard lives of the groupies who provide them.
That’s still timeless stuff that holds up today. Maybe Mondo Deco’s “My Purgatory Years” won’t mean much now as a whining epic about the misery of high school – but even that one has sentimental value if a high school dropout you knew called you up on the morning of the first day of 12th grade and played it over the phone when you picked up the receiver.
But, as has been rehashed for decades among Quick fans, Mondo Deco fell between the cracks and straight into the cutout bins. The Quick didn’t even have a chance to go out on the road with a kindred act. They weren’t heavy enough to open for Aerosmith, KISS or Alice Cooper. Sparks hadn’t found an audience for their own bizarre AOR, and Cheap Trick was just getting started with saving the day.
And yet The Quick almost got a second Mercury album. A&R guy Denny Rosencrantz, recalls Benair, “was always hoping that we could be the American version of 10cc.” But that big vision (with Fowley’s support) meant going back to the studio to record a cover of “Somewhere Under the Rainbow.”
“We played the song live,” says Benair, “but Steve was against it. Mercury had already picked our cover of The Four Seasons’ ‘Rag Doll’ for Mondo Deco’s first single, and we didn’t even intend to put that on the record. Steve’s idea was to get back out there and re-promote Mondo Deco.”
Then, recalls Benair, “the day came when it became clear that none of those options were going to happen. Kim was ready to move on. We got our paperwork together to get out of our deal. Being the kids we were, we went to the Mercury offices and tore up our contracts in front of the building.”
But the band wasn’t ready to give up – and things certainly should have gone better for the band by 1977. Punk had begotten new wave, which gave The Quick a niche they’d never had before. Their music got less fey and more brash. Wilde even ditched the sailor suit.
The Quick wouldn’t follow any new wave template, though. Some of the lost tunes caught on Untold Rock Stories – mostly developed with Elektra footing the bill – show the band getting closer to a classic rock sound.
The show where they opened for Van Halen was a pretty smart booking. That was too early for anyone to appreciate, though. That left The Quick, as Benair explains, opening “for The Damned, The Ramones, The Runaways, Television. I don’t know if we were ever savvy enough to take a stand about it. It just felt like the world we were in.”
At least it was a world of major-label acts. Tensions were developing within The Quick, however. Other band members were writing songs and getting anxious to be heard. Steven had a great tune called “Pretty Please,” but that wasn’t enough to keep the band from finally falling apart in 1978 – right before quirky L.A. power pop became The Next Big Thing.
“Every bad band in town was getting signed,” says Benair, “and we were gone. We’d even gotten to where if people saw us live, they’d probably like us better than they liked Mondo Deco. But I guess with The Quick, you either get it or you don’t. That’s not a harsh thing to say. A lot of people don’t get Led Zeppelin, but enough people do to make a difference.”
And so The Motels and The Knack found stardom while Danny Benair found himself running around England with a demo of “Pretty Please” as The Quick’s last true believer. There was label interest overseas, but no band back home – and a lot of copies of Mondo Deco waiting to be rediscovered over the years.
From there, the aftermath is kind of interesting. Hufsteter took “Pretty Please” over to The Dickies, and sat in for a while before staying busy with other bands. Bizeau got back with Kim Fowley and wrote some great songs for The Runaways.
Ainsworth became film critic Ian Grey after joining Wilde for more brilliantly offbeat AOR in Great Buildings. Wilde would later go solo with some fine mainstream AOR. Then he’d find fame with The Rembrandts and a theme from a sitcom that keeps us from worrying about how he’s doing nowadays.
Benair’s had a long career in music publishing and licensing – but first, he had to fall between the cracks again with an ambitious act called Choir Invisible. Then he bounced back to major labels with The Three O’Clock, who’ve been back in the studio with their own new secret project.
“When it comes out,” Benair hints, “people will say, ‘This is different.’ But before I joined The Three O’Clock, I didn’t think I’d ever be in another group. It was kind of funny to be, like, the old-timer. Nobody in The Quick even knew what it was like to be in a band. We just knew what it was like to be in a garage.”