The Plimsouls occupied a curious place in the annals of ’80s power-pop. Not as quirky or influential as the dBs, not as lovable as Redd Kross, not as commercially accessible as the Bangles, they were a cult band admired more for what they hinted at than what they actually achieved.
When the band called it quits in 1984 (they’ve since reformed, minus original drummer Lou Ramirez), they left behind a thin, spotty catalog (two albums and an EP), one cathartic classic (“A Million Miles Away”) and a brief appearance in the 1983 guilty pleasure teen flick, Valley Girl.
One Night in America was first issued in 1988, but it’s currently available for the first time on CD, with punched-up remastering. On this disc, the Plimsouls don’t sound like a quaint curiosity from a bygone era. They hit with such force and authority that you feel like you’re hearing the great lost rock band of the early MTV era. On vinyl, the Jam-like “How Long Will It Take” conveyed a simulated passion, a slick, stereo-separated approximation of intensity, but on this collection (recorded at an unknown locale in 1981) it carries a wild momentum that the band itself can barely harness. Even “A Million Miles Away,” one of the few tracks the band nailed in the studio, benefits from this no-holds-barred treatment, so much so that you hardly miss the familiar, chiming guitar solo they had yet to concoct for the intro.
The Plimsouls’ songs were all about impatience and frustration, and Peter Case’s melodic rasp perfectly conveyed their angst. Both the Plimsouls and the Go-Gos had songs about L.A. entitled “This Town,” but while the Go-Gos celebrated the glamour of Hollywood, the Plimsouls found themselves driving around wondering when things were going to start happening. Even with covers such as The Outsiders’ “Time Won’t Let Me” and the Kinks’ “Come On Now,” these guys sound like they’re in a big hurry.
These days, Case is quick to argue that the Plimsouls went beyond power-pop, because they also incorporated blues, soul, and garage-rock, among other things. But for aficionados of the form, it simply proves that this band, at its live best, played a richer brand of tuneful ferocity than the competition. •