TERRY GROSS, host:

The Plimsouls were an L.A.-based pop band led by the singer and songwriter Peter Case. They performed extensively during the early '80s, when our rock critic, Ken Tucker, lived in L.A. and reviewed their concerts.

Now a live club performance from October 31, 1981 has been released for the first time. It's called "Live: Beg, Borrow and Steal," and instead of nostalgic, it left Ken feeling freshly enthusiastic about the continued vitality of the Plimsouls' music.

(Soundbite of live recording "Live: Beg, Borrow and Steal")

(Soundbite of cheering)

Unidentified Man: L.A.'s finest. Let's hear it for L.A.'s finest - I refer to none other than the Plimsouls!

THE PLIMSOULS (Music Group): (Singing) Hush, I say, hush. People wanna talk too much.

KEN TUCKER: These days, Peter Case is known as a respected, cult-audience artist who specializes in a thoughtful neo-folk-rock. In 1981, however, Case was the front man for The Plimsouls, a jittery, raucous band that inserted itself into the thick of a newly thriving Los Angeles rock scene.

(Soundbite of song, "Now")

THE PLIMSOULS: (Singing) Yeah, I need your love tonight. I can't wait, I need to know what's on your mind? The same thing's on mine. So why wait any longer? Oh, yeah. Cause I need you now. Right now. Now. Right now. Oh, yeah...

TUCKER: In the early '80s, L.A. was just getting around to reacting to the late-'70s punk rock that had emerged from New York and England. I lived and worked in L.A. during this time, and the reason for the lag was very clear to me: L.A. was very much a music industry town, and the industry of that time still revered Fleetwood Mac - as it should have - and The Eagles - eh - more so than The Sex Pistols and The Ramones.

So when punk hit L.A., it arrived as damaged goods, broken and splintered. What emerged locally were bands like X and The Germs, and power pop as practiced by, among many others, The Plimsouls.

(Soundbite of song, "Inch by Inch")

THE PLIMSOULS: (Singing) Locked in this room, till now is the potion. We dont have to lie, let the world slip away. Before this night is done we'll see what we've become. Day by day, inch by inch, we can take it bit by bit. Inch by inch one day we'll see the love and misery...

TUCKER: The Plimsouls' music consisted of tight little melodies with terse guitar hooks from Eddie Munez and hoarse vocals from Peter Case. Their colleagues and competition range from now almost forgotten bands like The Three O'Clock to the rancid smirk of The Knack, L.A.'s power pop's most commercially successful act. The Plimsouls reside in history somewhere in the middle. Their best songs didn't just sound like potential hit singles; they sounded like anthems, soaring tunes such as "A Million Miles Away."

(Soundbite of song, "A Million Miles Away")

THE PLIMSOULS: (Singing) Friday night, I'd just got back. I had my eyes shut, was dreaming about the past. I thought about you while the radio played, I should have got more, it's the reason I stayed. I started drifting to a different place, trying to hold on to the hand of the past and you. And there was nothing left to bring me back. Im a million miles away. A million miles away...

TUCKER: Peter Case and The Plimsouls avoided the use of the first person in their lyrics and rarely begged for love in the manner of so many romantic pop rockers. They sang about reaching bliss through persistence, aiming for a kind of earthly nirvana - or, as they called it, the zero hour.

(Soundbite of song, "The Zero Hour")

THE PLIMSOULS: (Singing) Bells are ringing cause it's getting late. Train's pulling out, there's no time to waste. Now, you better move fast, yeah, you better move fast. Staple your ticket and on your shoes. Pack up your suitcase, theres no time to lose. Now you better move fast, yeah, you better move fast. Its getting late, now its time to go. Its over the top now, its out of control. Just a matter of time til the zero hour...

TUCKER: The Plimsouls made two studio albums and left behind the memories of tough, brief performance sets, during which the band made its point and then stalked off the stage.

I saw them in all the local clubs, from the Sunset Strip legend the Whiskey A Go-Go, where this album was recorded, to the Starwood off Santa Monica Boulevard, to smaller joints like Madame Wong's and Cathay de Grande. They always presented themselves without arrogance, but also with the confidence of the big pop stars they never became.

I respect Peter Case's latter-day recordings, but I love his work with The Plimsouls.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for "Entertainment Weekly." He reviewed a recording of a 1981 Plimsouls concert called "Live: Beg, Borrow and Steal." You can hear two tracks from it on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. I'm Terry Gross.

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