Boston, MA's remarkable history of great independent music. This week's featured NW4NW band is another example, who had a bit of an unfortunate twist in their tale.
Nervous Eaters had been playing around Boston's club scene under various names and permutations for a couple of years when their debut single, "Loretta," was released on the very indy Rat label in 1976. Among their more popular live numbers, "Loretta" clearly captures the sound of a one-time hard rock band who's direction was more influenced by The Stooges than The Stones, and who had heard and loved The Ramones a few times. With its lazy beat, monotone back-up vocals, and in-your-face simplicity, it's a Boston proto-punk classic, and very fitting for scene they shared with bands like DMZ and The Real Kids (with whom they also interchanged members at various times in the early days).
It would be two and a half years before their next single, but during that time they were a hard-working band developing not only a huge local following but also quite a reputation among the music press, especially in the Northeast. Their sound evolved into harder, punkier territory, and that second single, 1979's "Just Head," showed it, adding a bit of the Pistols/Damned/UK Punk flavor to the mix. The two singles and the glowing reviews brought them to the attention of Elektra Records, who had recently scored big with another Boston band, The Cars.
Unfortunately for the band, Elektra's concept was to make Nervous Eaters into the next Cars. They removed the rough edges, changed their outfits from black t-shirts and blue jeans to colorful neon, and over-produced everything into radio-friendly mush. As a result, their long-awaited national bow, 1980's Nervous Eaters, appalled the band's fan base, dumbfounded the critics who had been writing about a very different band, and did not sell. To demonstrate how out of step with the scene Elektra really was, they thought it clever to house the record in a sleeve die-cut to look like a bite had been taken out of it. (Get it? Nervous Eaters? Is this thing on?) Only a re-recording of the classic "Loretta" came out of the fiasco relatively unscathed, but then it would take a lot of doing to ruin a song that good.
The damage was done, though, and Nervous Eaters disappeared until a revived version of the band issued the much, much better Hot Steel and Acid in 1986. A six-song EP on the independent Ace of Hearts label, the record hewed much closer to the gritty, raw sounds of the band's early days. Their moment had passed, though, and the record fell out of print without making that much of a splash.
An all-new Nervous Eaters album, Eat This!, suddenly appeared in 2003, followed a few years later by Eaterville, Vol. 1, which compiled some of the band's earliest demos and recordings (as far back as 1973!) and serves as strong evidence that the rest of the world really missed out on a great band. There are those who say that if you go back and listen to the infamous Elektra album nowadays for what it was and not in the context of Nervous Eaters' true sound, it's not that awful of an album. If you'd like to take that chance, go right ahead. I've tried, but can't sit through it.
I'd rather remember Nervous Eaters right with their debut single, "Loretta," from 1976. Then, for your comparison shopping convenience (and because it remains the only palatable thing from that Elektra LP), listen to the re-recorded version from 1980, and decide for yourself. [Note, for some reason the clip of the second version continues on for almost three minutes of silence after the song ends - don't feel you have to sit through that, you won't be missing anything.] Enjoy!