Posts Tagged ‘The Nerves’

The Beat

The bottom line:
I’m stretching the forgotten-bands rules even further this evening. I originally wanted to nominate only those bands with track records – that is, more than one good album. But not tonight’s guests. Though they produced just one superlative album and one underwhelming reprise (and some forgettable tracks with a different lineup of musicians), they are the only forgotten band I can’t forget because I went to one of their concerts.

Until 1978, when I saw them, my most transformative cultural experiences were seeing Herman’s Hermits (The Who opened), The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Harlan Ellison, and Kurt Vonnegut (Donald Barthelme opened). I thought this LA power pop quartet was playing in the same league as Springsteen et. al. and obviously destined to change the world.

There’s no way to prove that they didn’t, unless you can compare notes with your twins from Earths 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

Vital personnel:
Paul Collins, singer, songwriter, guitarist. Collins came from a band called The Nerves. His Nerves bandmate Peter Case formed The Plimsouls, who had a hit, “A Million Miles Away,” on the Valley Girl soundtrack, which has an odd connection with the next band in this series.

Their story:
Their story is about the same as that of every other grouping of cisgender Caucasian males who formed a band so they could drink, catch and release girls, and avoid gainful employment. They just happened to be better at it (better at the music part, I don’t know how they fared with these other factors) than 85% of the other cisgender Caucasian males who tried the same thing.

Their story is completely uninteresting, except for a comment from a Mr. Jerry Kaufman of Seattle, Washington, who notes that The Beat were, for a brief time in 1979, enough of a force to make a band in the U.K. change their name from The Beat to The English Beat when they toured in North America. In 1982, when The Beat from the USA belatedly returned for their follow-up, The Kids Are the Same (turns out they weren’t), they had fallen so far behind The English Beat that to stake out new territory they called themselves Paul Collins Beat. That didn’t help.

I can think of only one other artist who had a three-year gap between her first and second albums – Cyndi Lauper: She’s So Unusual (1983) and True Colors (1986).

My story:
Once upon a time in 1978 (all I recall about the season was, it was dark), in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I went to a show at a boxy space that may have been called the Box or the Space or the Square Brick Thing. It was near the Central stop on the Red Line, if anyone from that era or any time-travelers among my subscribers can enlighten me. The opening band was a local favorite, The Real Kids.

The Beat came on late, about the time I collapse in bed these days, and they were raw, vulnerable, biting, aggressive, love-sick, and swaggering. They had a dual mission: Force everyone onto the dance floor and say kaddish for all the rock ’n’ roll that had come before them. They lit each song off the last one like a chainsmoker.

As far as I can remember the set list, you can find it all on the one album to own, The Beat. “Different Kind of Girl” and “Rock N Roll Girl” got some play on the nascent alt-rock stations of the day, but not enough to propel either song anywhere near any list kept by Billboard.

The Real Kids were also good, though they complained a lot about the sound. They startled me because they looked to be my age. Until then, guys in the bands I saw were older than me. They played a song called “Just Like Darts,” which in Boston is pronounced “Just Like Dahts.”

Jonathan Richmond of Jonathan Richmond & The Modern Lovers was on the floor with the rest of us. (One of the Kids had played in his band.) Richmond is a New England legend, author of that immortal ode to Boston and teenage drivers, “Road Runner,” which you may know from the Greg Kihn cover. I always thought Richmond was insane (have you ever listened to “Road Runner”?), but in 1978 he had the charisma of Bill Clinton or George Clooney, or Bill Clinton and George Clooney. That night, he was lost in the music. He was also lost in the embrace of my best friend’s girlfriend. That’s how good this show was.

At the end of the show, I walked out of the Square Brick Thing with my ears ringing and the cold air hitting my flushed skin and feeling as if I’d been to the moon and back. I’d like to report that my girlfriend and I had sex in a car in the parking lot (someone else’s car), but while this plan was considered it was also rejected.

Final word:
The Beat were the U.S. version of their Irish contemporaries The Undertones, but nowhere near as funny and with far less success. It’s a compliment to be mentioned in the same sentence as The Undertones. Not bad for a forgotten band.