The Plimsouls found a place in my vinyl collection decades ago. And they've been with me ever since. Recently, I chatted with Peter Case, the bespectacled, gruff-voiced frontman from legendary L.A. rock band. Case and his reunited Plimsouls released their latest album, Live! Beg, Borrow & Steal, last week.
"Some people assumed The Plimsouls were like The Knack, or just some L.A. power-pop band, but The Plimsouls were a rock 'n' roll band that could really rock the house live, " Case said. The mop-topped frontman and main songwriter of the group sounds as hip and enthusiastic as he did the early '80s. "We also had good songwriting."
My first glimpse of The Plimsouls was in the 1983 teen flick Valley Girl. On screen, they were in character as the cool, punkish rock band in the Hollywood club where punk dude Randy (played by Nicolas Cage) and valley chick Julie (played by Deborah Foreman) first connected. Case and his bandmates — Louie Ramirez (drums), Dave Pahoa (bass), and Eddie Muñoz (lead guitar) — looked like The Byrds, strummed like The Kinks, and sang like the coolest jangle-rock bands of the early '80s. In the background of the scene, they played "Everywhere at Once" and "Million Miles Away" — two of the band's biggest college radio hits.
Case dismisses the band's experience with Valley Girl as simply "a day's work," and says he and the bandmates never thought much more about it after the movie came and went: "That movie wasn't very big when it came out, and it didn't become the classic that it is now for a number of years," he said. "We were more focused on our own albums and what we were trying to achieve."
My first real head-dive into the music of the Plimsouls came shortly after Valley Girl by way of a vinyl copy of the band's one and only full-length, Everywhere at Once. Packed with melodic guitar-pop gems and perfect song arrangements, it remains one of my favorite studio albums of the era.
Live! Beg, Borrow & Steal hit the street last week by way of Alive Records. It's a live album of previously unreleased tracks from an early-era gig, showcasing the band in their early Sunset Strip heyday. Recorded at L.A.'s Whisky a Go Go in 1981, the 18-song collection features a pile of Plimsouls classics, plus some tasty covers of old R&B and Mod gems.
From the uptempo romper "Hush, Hush" (from the band's 1980 debut EP Zero Hour) to the zany versions of The Beatles' "Dizzy Miss Lizzie and The Who's "Run Run Run," Live! Beg, Borrow & Steal dashes through a hot set of guitar-driven rock, replete with wild crowd response between tracks.
"The Plimsouls were influenced by The Who," Case confirmed. "They used to say they played maximum R&B, so we felt like we played maximum rock 'n' roll — the best blend of rock 'n' roll and pop music. The soul and blues and rock side of the Beatles and the Stones were influences, too."
Case sounded genuinely proud of the new record. "The first 12 songs are our own originals, then we go into Little Richard, Easybeats, and The Who, and stuff like that," he said. "The gig was probably right around the time 'Oldest Story in the World' and 'Everywhere at Once' were getting worked up. It was a period when we were developing the songs for that album [Everywhere at Once]."
One late-set highlight — a rendition of "Jump, Jive, and Harmonize," a deep cut by Thee Midniters, a 1960s Chicano rock band out of East L.A. — pays homage to the band's roots in that part of the scene.
"It was a real exciting scene, and all the bands were good," Case remembered. "They were all completely different, and they were all friends, like The Blasters, X, The Go-Go's ... these were all the top bands in L.A. We thought we were going to break through."
Unfortunately, The Plimsouls never achieved mainstream acceptance. While college radio played them, they couldn't quite get on commercial rock radio at that time. Their music and style deserved more. That was a bitter pill for Case.
"We thought we had the goods to get on radio," he says. "We were up against a lot of different things. It's possible that the band was a bit misunderstood by people who'd never experienced us live. That's why this live album shows all of the sides."
Hopefully, the release of Live! Beg, Borrow & Steal will clear some of the smog and propel The Plimsouls to higher regard. The power-pop and jive rocks as hard as any jangly disc in anyone's collection.