In this nostalgia-mad music era, when seemingly everything worthwhile has already been ruthlessly exhumed, rediscovered and fully explained, it's more than a little ironic that a band called the Quick had to wait three decades for a vinyl reissue of their debut (and only) album, Mondo Deco, on Radio Heartbeat. It's even more surprising because Mondo Deco, originally released by Mercury Records in 1976, is more than just a great lost rock album. It's a great rock album, period — and certainly the most perversely intelligent power-pop record from the Los Angeles scene in the 1970s.
Despite the Quick's long, slow slide into semi-oblivion following their 1978 breakup, the quintet's initial rise to legitimate near-stardom was, indeed, quick. Not long after forming in late 1974, San Fernando Valley teenagers Steven Hufsteter, Danny Wilde, Danny Benair, Ian Ainsworth and Billy Bizeau drew the attention of Runaways manager Kim Fowley. At the time, in the dead zone between the end of glitter and the start of punk, there were only a few nightclubs — mainly for cover bands like Van Halen — so the Quick had to literally create their own scene from scratch.
Their short, snappy name — tame compared with the flashier, bloodier names of the punk groups that would soon follow them — was clearly an homage to such influences as the Move and the Kinks. But not even Ray Davies had a worldview as wickedly sarcastic as the Teutonic-obsessed Hufsteter, who was penning Randy Newman–type satires like “Master Race” and “Hi Lo,” where the hero tries to seduce his girlfriend with lines like “We can pretend that you're Miss Braun,” cleverly conflating fascism and romance several years before Elvis Costello did much the same thing in “Two Little Hitlers.”
The son of the legendary jazz trumpeter Steve Huffsteter (whose last name is spelled slightly differently), Hufsteter was the Quick's answer to Pete Townshend, playing slashing guitar and writing most of the songs. The angelic-voiced Wilde, who'd go on to more fame with the Rembrandts, singing the perky theme to Friends, was the front man. Hufsteter was so prolific that most of his best songs didn't even end up on Mondo Deco. He had at least two albums' worth of brilliant, unreleased demos by the time the Quick broke up, only about half of which was issued in 2003 on the similarly essential collection Untold Rock Stories (on the British label Rev-Ola).
In fact, the Quick's closest thing to a hit song, “Pretty Please,” was never officially released during the band's existence. Available only on a 1978 fan-club single — and, much later, on Untold Rock Stories and the early-'90s Rhino Records compilation D.I.Y.: We're Desperate: The L.A. Scene (1976–79) — the relentlessly compelling “Pretty Please” received heavy airplay on Rodney on the Roq and was later covered by Redd Kross and the Dickies (the latter of whom started out as the Quick's friends and roadies, borrowed some of their songs, sped them up to hard-core tempos and became much more popular).
With Fowley's help, the Quick were signed to Mercury by A&R man Denny Rosencrantz, who'd previously inked the Runaways. Mondo Deco was recorded at the Beach Boys' Brother Studios by producer Earle Mankey, the founding guitarist of Sparks, one of the Quick's early influences. Perhaps out of sheer chutzpah, Mondo Deco starts with an astonishing, supersugary and superglittery remake of the Beatles' “It Won't Be Long,” where Wilde's insanely high vocals make Lennon and McCartney come off like Barry White.
In the next song, “No No Girl,” we meet the first of several of Hufsteter's cracked paramours and disturbed/disturbing lost little girls. “She tries to be shocking, but nobody cares/She tries to be dangerous, but no one's aware,” Wilde declares, as keyboardist Bizeau taps out an idiotically repetitive nursery rhyme–like pattern. “She's still after her lost relation/A classic case of father fixation.” Then Hufsteter launches several loud, open-ended Who-like power chords, and the poppy chorus harmonies come back teasingly, chidingly, like a playground taunt.
The subject of “Hillary” appears to be closer to Hufsteter's ideal, a perfect blond German vixen who's as “strong as a Valkyrie.” But, on further inspection, this sunny goddess turns out to be a cruel dominatrix: “You show me that there must be bad with good/Salt and sugar, pain and pleasure/Old tricks, well as new.” Meanwhile, “In My Room”–style backing vocals hover in the reverb mist like a celestial choir, Hufsteter twists up the song's uncanny repeating guitar figure, dishes break and records are scratched, while Benair stomps through the flower bed with a loud, jackbooted beat.
For all of the foppish, elegantly melodic frilliness of songs like “Playtime,” “Hi Lo” and a decidedly unhip (for the time), caffeinated remake of the Four Seasons' “Rag Doll,” the Quick were ultimately a hard-hitting rock band. The throbbing six-minute cry-for-love “Anybody” could, theoretically, have crossed over to classic-rock radio, with its surging, menacing guitars and pulverizingly hypnotic drums. Mankey makes Benair's snare drum crack so wise and loud that it booms with its own internal melodic drive during the song's momentous rave-up, a thing of beauty when combined with the humming overtones from Hufsteter's vibrantly muffled ax harmonics. “Anybody” presages the controlled chaos of the Quick's exhilarating masterpiece, “Pretty Please,” recorded two years later with David Campbell (Beck's dad), after the band had moved away from the Sparks-style poppiness of Mondo Deco into a harder-rocking, more musically versatile direction.
Mondo Deco's emotional peak is “My Purgatory Years,” a punky San Fernando Valley equivalent to Quadrophenia, boiled down into one magnificent multipart glam-rock epic told from the point of view of an especially bored and cynical teenager who can't stand his high school: “Give me an answer,” Wilde cries out into the canyon roar of Hufsteter's guitar. “I think I've been institutionalized … I used to belong to the scholastic society/But now I'm busy with my notoriety … I'm not prepared for the real world/All I know is school and girls.” The guitars don't care and continue crashing like waves against Wilde's pleas.
Unlike the demo of “My Purgatory Years” on Untold Rock Stories, the Mondo Deco version features an extended coda, which is unexpectedly beautiful. The song appears to end, with one of Hufsteter's power chords fading away. There's a moment of silence, followed by a brief, distant scraping sound, like a large metal door sliding shut or a massive power system being switched on. The sound is ominous, inexplicable, scary, foreboding — it could be anything. Then, Hufsteter and bassist Ainsworth begin to slowly exchange thunderous, doomy chords that tower like rows of massive columns over Wilde's ethereal hallelujahs, which flutter downward like leaves cycling airily in the wind. It's seriously one of the grandest, most majestic rock & roll fade-outs of all time.
Naturally, Mondo Deco was a commercial flop. The Quick may have been on a major label, but they were only on Mercury, which probably didn't know what to do with a band like them. The Quick were too ahead of their time for their own good, breaking up before they could fully take advantage of the power-pop resurgence that was just beginning. Ainsworth and Wilde would go on to some success with the Great Buildings, with Wilde eventually hitting pay dirt with the Rembrandts. Bizeau wrote tunes for the Runaways, including the title track of their second album, Queens of Noise. The ridiculously talented Hufsteter was either so burnt out or bitter about the whole Quick experience, he went in a somewhat different direction with his next group, the rootsy R&B band the Falcons (which included Benair). Later, Hufsteter composed several particularly bewitching spaghetti Western–style instrumentals on the Repo Man soundtrack, and he had stints with the Cruzados, the Dickies and the hard funk-rock '80s band Shrine. These days, he splits his time between L.A. and Europe, frequently touring with Tito & Tarantula.
There's not much real proof that the Quick ever existed, beyond their direct influence on the Dickies and '80s glam-punk bands like Redd Kross and, especially, Celebrity Skin, whose entire oeuvre sounds like it's based on just one Quick song, “Teacher's Pet.” (Not that that's a bad thing.)
Perhaps the new reissue of Mondo Deco on vinyl (along with an upcoming version on CD with bonus tracks planned by Radio Heartbeat) will stir up some long-overdue interest in this unfairly overlooked and weirdly wonderful band. Not that there's any hurry or anything.
(Radio Heartbeat Records)