Monday, January 14, 2008

Hanging on the Telephone — The Nerves (1976)

According to rock lore, Jack Lee knew he had written an enduring classic that would catapult his L.A.-based power-pop trio, The Nerves, to stardom as soon as he finished writing Hanging On The Telephone. If this story is true, he was only half right.

Hanging on the Telephone appeared on The Nerves' self-titled, self-released 1976 EP and, well, neither fame nor fortune ensued. By 1978, the band had split, with Lee going solo, bassist Peter Case forming the Plimsouls and drummer Paul Collins establishing The Beat (and forcing a certain Birmingham ska group to change its name to The English Beat in North America. But I digress.)

Of course, the song did turn out to be an enduring classic, thanks to Blondie, whose note-for-note cover (right down to the ringing telephone at the start of the record) kicked off its 1978 breakthrough LP Parallel Lines. Heart of Glass, One Way or Another and Sunday Girl may have been that album's hit singles but Hanging on the Telephone and another Lee composition, Will Anything Happen?, were the album's best songs.

In fact, one could easily argue Blondie's version of Telephone is definitive, thanks to its killer guitar solo, Clem Burke's hyperkinetic drumming and Mike Chapman's shiny production, all of which are missing from the original. The Nerves' version is rickety and the production strictly demo-quality; that said, the record does have a lo-fi charm all of its own. And, you know what: Listening to the original, you gotta think: This is the sort of song that makes a band famous.

Hanging on the Telephone, original Nerves version (link expired)

Buy it here


Edwin Mundt said...

I really like this song too. Power Popcraft at its finest. The bands formed in the wake of the Nerves continued in the same vein, but sadly Lee seemed to reach his peak early.

Blondie certainly had an ear for the underground coulda-shoulda-been-a-hit in those days.

DVeitch said...

I have a huge soft spot for so-called power-pop. Rhino's DIY compilations that came out in 1993 -- two volumes of UK power pop, two volumes of US power pop -- are absolutely essential. Do you have them?

Edwin Mundt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Edwin Mundt said...

Not those two specifically, but a few songs from them. Chris Bell's I Am the Cosmos is one. has a great Power Pop "station" I listen to from time to time.

Sorry about gumming up the above post. I guess users can't edit their posts.

DVeitch said...

I'll definitely try to post some of the better, more obscure tracks from these comps in the next few weeks. Thanks for reading!