Rhythm & Views

The Last

Long before Robert Pollard tried on his British accent for size, Joe Nolte began his ascent to being one of the most unknown, yet greatest American songwriters.

In fact, it was in 1976 that Nolte formed his band The Last in Los Angeles with brothers Mike and David. Frustrated with the state of rock in the late '70s, Nolte began looking back to the early '60s for influence. Rather than merely trying to sound like his predecessors, as Pollard did with Guided By Voices (and became a hero for it, perhaps deservedly so), Nolte aimed to get into their heads and write songs as if he were a young John and Paul. The synthesis of his efforts materialized into The Last's first and greatest album.

Though L.A. Explosion didn't move a lot of units in 1979 when it was first released, it did showcase Nolte's knack for writing over-the-top pop songs with a punk-rock edge and ethic. The band held a special place among the L.A. scene, because they could share a stage just as easily with the likes of Black Flag and The Avengers as well as pop groups like The Go-Go's; they're even credited with helping to influence the bands that eventually formed the Paisley Underground scene (think Bangles, Dream Syndicate and Plimsouls). After all these years of being way out of print, their original label decided it's as good a time as any to re-release this nugget of underground music history.

Unlike their early singles (provided on the reissued CD as bonus tracks), which more resembled their gritty and abrasive live set, Explosion is overproduced and cleaner. Nonetheless, one need look no further than the first three songs for a peek inside their brilliance. "She Don't Know Why I'm Here" (along with the scathing "I Don't Wanna Be In Love") shows just why bands like the Descendents were so influenced by The Last, with its pop-punk assault into chapter one of "How To Browbeat Women" in song form. These days it's even a staple in punk rock vet Mike Watt's set, as well as their own.

The textbook love-pop of "This Kind of Feeling" follows, complete with "Oh oh/It looks like I'm in love with you" bubblegum antics that make it irresistibly catchy. And, to showcase their punk energy, they follow with "Bombing of London," a nod to their affection for The Clash; while the equally energized "Slavedriver" is a dead-ringer for something local favorites The Okmoniks might conjure up in their garage.

And to make sure you know where they're coming from, Nolte and Co. offer up "Every Summer Day," an homage to Southern California circa 1963, or the time before the Beatles landed and the Beach Boys were king. (They came this close to getting Brian Wilson and Dean Torrance to sing back-ups on the song, if it weren't for conflicting schedules.)

So, there you have it: a lesson in a band that was all but forgotten in the annals of American music history, but whose influence is even more apparent today. In a time when "garage" bands like the White Stripes and Hives play stadiums, and pop-punk bands clutter the airwaves with stale biscuits of regurgitated crap, it's about time we found out who the originators and instigators of this music really were.

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