The Nerves “One Way Ticket”
Just when you think you’ve heard every little yellow pill of power pop, every filthy pebble of over-amplified teenage angst from the past, and every nugget of garage-rock glory that’s come back from the grave, you stumble onto something that stands a cut above the rest, that stands the test of time, that sticks in your brain like flies on sherbet–you come across The Nerves.
The Nerves were formed in San Francisco in 1974 by Peter Case, Paul Collins, and Jack Lee. By this time the hippy-dippy Haight Street magic of the late 60s had given way to a neurotic street scene in a nervous, anxious city by the Bay. Specializing in raw rock n’roll tunes with perfect pop hooks, the band played with a frenetic frenzy that, in hindsight, very accurately predicated the official arrival of punk rock that would hit the air in just a few years, and quite arguably created the template for the power-pop scene that was yet to come. Appropriately named as they were, the band made music that was perfect for the time. However, after failing to hit the big time from the surprisingly insular scene in San Francisco, the band headed south to Los Angeles. In Los Angeles they fell in with the burgeoning punk scene, playing gigs with bands such as The Avengers and X at the Masque, the Whiskey, and other fabled Hollywood venues of the time.
Eventually, in 1976, the band made it into the studio to record a self-titled 4 song EP. This EP, which was distributed by the infamous Bomp! Records, ended up being the band’s only official release, as the band split nearly a year later without any time to deliver a follow up. After time this self titled 4 song EP became the stuff of legend, gaining a reputation amongst musicians in-the-know and record collectors as an irresistible slice of wax, a definite must own for fans of power-pop, punk, and garage rock. Copies always sell for a pretty penny and seem to practically never show up on Ebay, as if they are silently being passed down, from hand to hand by fanatics the world round. Fortunately for us, in 2008 Alive Records released One Way Ticket, which includes the self titled 4 song EP along with a handful of unreleased tracks, including live cuts, demos, and two songs that the band recorded for Bomp! that were intended to comprise a second release. Every studio recording made by The Nerves is included on this release.
Simply worth the price of admission alone for the fabled four song EP, “One Way Ticket” is almost too good to be true. The two cuts that were intended for the follow up release on Bomp! are incredible. “One Way Ticket” is an up-beat rocker to be reckoned with that recalls the early sound of The Beatles and showcases the singing and songwriting of bassist Peter Case (who had written and sung only one of the four songs on the initial EP), while “Paper Dolls” is yet another catchy tune delivered by guitarist Jack Lee that sounds like some lost Flamin’ Groovies outtake, only better! Both songs practically leap from the speakers with their infectious amphetamine energy, sounding more punk than most punk rock ever manages while showcasing pure golden California pop hooks. Case sounds practically frantic on the title-track, lamenting the insane urban environment of the time. When he sings “Get me outta here! “at the end of the hook he sounds fed up, like he’s had enough of the crazy narcotic, neurotic urban streets of post-war America.
Other standout tracks include, of course, the original version of “Hanging On The Telephone,” which reaches deep and just destroys Blondie’s later remake. The Nerves’ version seems to come from an altogether different place, with singer Jack Lee sounding desperate, pathetically pleading not to be left behind and forgotten–a (young) man at the end of his rope. Similarly, Case’s “When You Find Out” is a phenomenal slice of garage-rock glory that features an exceptionally smokin’ vocal performance from Case. Case sings it like he means it for real, and it’s the ultimate kiss-off when, amidst the minor chord jingle jangle of Rickenbackers and the thump and thud of Paul Collins’ drums, he sings “When you find out I was the one/It’s gonna be pretty hard on you”. On the other end of the spectrum is the upbeat pop tune “Working Too Hard.” With a sound influenced by The Kinks this tune shows a lighter side of the band and foreshadows the arrival of The Knack on the power-pop scene. The only complaint about this release is that some of the unreleased tracks suffer from the audio quality being a bit muddy, obviously due to the fact that most of these recordings were never intended to be released. The demo version of “Many Roads To Follow”, while interesting and catchy, definitely sounds like a demo–that is, not a completely finished song, and eventually has the affect of leaving one wishing for a proper studio version of the tune. Who knows, maybe more tapes will start being discovered in old suitcases.
This review couldn’t possibly be complete without mentioning the live tracks. This band delivers the goods, and then some. You can imagine them playing, peeling the paint off the walls of some bombed out North Beach dive to a bunch of burned out ex-flower-children assuredly watching in amazement, mouths agape and beers in hand or a bunch of jaded Angelino punks at a scuzzy Hollywood bar. These live tracks, which feature mostly guitarist Jack Lee on vocals, reek of beer and sweat and are valuable for the glimpse they provide of The Nerves’ live sound, which, after having become the stuff legends are made of, sounds to be markedly more punk sounding than any of the studio recorded material. All in all, the live tidbits really add to the overall package, providing a fuller view of the band.
Anyway you slice it One Way Ticket is a killer album, with the first six songs being practically perfect lost pop masterpieces. If you’re a fan of power-pop, garage rock, or punk this album is a must own and will surely became a new favorite within a matter a moments. If you’re a fan of rock music, period, you need this album. In the end, what’s so fascinating about The Nerves isn’t just their early input into power-pop, their involvement with the burgeoning Los Angeles punk scene, or the direct link they provide between garage rock and punk–but the fact that the first six tracks on this album sound like they could have been recorded yesterday by a handful of 22 year olds in a garage in San Francisco (ie. Girls, The Fresh and Only’s, etc…) or even at the turn of the century by a handful of 22 year olds in a basement in New York City.
“Hanging On The Telephone”