“I’m caught between hideous and forgotten,” bemoan Mary’s Danish in one of the finer tunes from the lamentably forgotten band’s far-from-hideous and impossibly eclectic catalog — a catalog whose eclecticism is especially notable considering its relatively small volume. Mary’s Danish, which came together in Los Angeles in the late ’80s, was itself a diverse lot — in personality and background — that served up funk, pop, punk and country. The blending of the last two genres clearly betrays the influence of X, from whom lead singers Gretchen Seager and Julie Ritter also inherited intricately woven harmony vocals. They were joined in Mary’s Danish by bassist Chris “Wag” Wagner, drummer James Bradley Jr., guitarist David A. King and second guitarist Louis Gutierrez, who had played in the Three O’Clock. All were accomplished musicians with an uncanny pliability, but their secret weapon was frequent sax sideman Michael Barbera, who added jazz and R&B flavor to the mix. Mary’s Danish were as varied thematically as they were sonically, with religion, domestic violence, social criticism and biting self-analysis all receiving narrative attention.
There Goes the Wondertruck ably introduces the band’s offbeat stylistic fusion. The bizarre narrative of “Mary Had a Bar” does not seem to be a band theme song, and “What to Do” is not a Stones cover. It’s not revealed what “BVD” stands for, but “It’ll Probably Make Me Cry” does just that. The catchy college rock favorite “Don’t Crash the Car Tonight” impressed some in the West Coast music biz, including Peter Asher, who became the band’s manager.
Five of the six live tracks on Experience are more fully realized versions of songs from There Goes the Wondertruck, particularly a frenzied, beefier “Blue Stockings” and the high lonesome croon of “It’ll Probably Make Me Cry.” The disc’s studio track, a riotous take on Hendrix’s “Foxey Lady,” slyly recasts the classic rock staple with a letter-perfect Led Zeppelin quote inserted into the bridge.
With funding from pseudo-indie Morgan’s Creek, Mary’s Danish beefed up the production values to adequately match their expanded palette of musical ideas. A veritable omnibus of musical styles, Circa encircles just about every genre imaginable. The metallic crunch of “Mr. Floosack” leads into the introspective back-porch southern rock of “Hoof.” The folky instrumental jam “Down” begets the Devo dada of “These Are All the Shapes Nevada Could Have Been.” It’s easy to get lost within the stylistic shifts of Circa, where “Julie’s Blanket (pigsheadsnakeface)” is the only straight-ahead rocker. As few of the 17 tunes exceed three minutes, the five-minute “7 Deadly Sins” seems positively epic. Despite its attention deficit, the presence of songs as clever as “Beat Me Up” and “Cover Your Face” helped make this label debut a promise of big things to come.
American Standard marked a shift to a more standardized, classic rock sound, thanks to longtime Linda Ronstadt/James Taylor supervisor Asher, who’d taken on the role of Mary’s producer. The album’s consistency makes it more listenable, if less adventurous, with an immediacy and urgency missing from prior work. Sure, there are pensive meditations on death and dying, but there’s also an emphasis on muscle, evidenced by the ferocious rocker “Killjoy” and the terse pneumatic punch of the single “Leave It Alone.” Chops are still evident, but there is less of an agenda to impress. Wag’s slap-happy bass style is distilled to a booming low-end vibe that fits more snugly in the depth of “Underwater,” the spiky beat of “Porcupine” and the eight-minute Crazy Horse exercise of “Sister Shade.” It’s a bulldozer of an album, a veracious testament to the strength and endurance of femininity in rock. “I Fought the Law,” featuring Chili Pepper pal Chad Smith sitting in on drums, appeared as an unlisted track and also wound up on that same year’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer soundtrack.
In 1993, Mary’s Danish backed Neil Diamond on his Asher-produced album Up on the Roof: Songs From the Brill Building. Following a series of contractual disagreements with their label, the frustrated band became inactive in 1994 and broke up a year later.
Bradley and King, with some help from Wag, formed Rob Rule with Robbie Allen, Edward Anisko and Steven Ossana. Their album is tepid southern rock whose low point is an uninspired replication of the Allman Brothers’ “Melissa.” Allen would later record as Thermadore, once again enlisting the Mary’s Danish rhythm section, along with guests Smith and Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam.
From the ashes of Mary’s Danish rose Battery Acid, comprised of Gutierrez and Seager (who had married), with Wag on bass and David Harte on drums. Rita picks up where American Standard left off, and at times is even more fun than the Mary’s Danish swan song, since the subject matter is not as heavy. Not so the music, which is heavier, punkier and spunkier. The highlight, however, is the closer. The great power pop of “Sunday Dress” rocks with a chunky swagger, but also features a majestic mellotron bridge. Battery Acid was clearly onto something, and even flirted with a major label contract before going the way of Mary’s Danish.
Julie Ritter released a spoken-word album of her poetry and then made Songs of Love and Empire with a new band but the old one’s categorical catch-all ethic. She injects a singer-songwriter sensibility into smart pop tunes with a slant toward the bluesy country folk side of things. Of note is a pretty cover of The Beatles’ “Cry Baby Cry.”
In June 1999, Mary’s Danish reunited for a show at LA’s House of Blues.