The Essentials: Nikki & the Corvettes

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

My brief flirtation with Nikki Corvette receded into the mists of time, totally forgotten, until this past Tuesday, when I discovered the Feb. 23rd, 1981, edition of People magazine buried beside a few other treasures at the bottom of a desk drawer. I bought the issue at the time because of the cover story on Ringo Starr and promised updates on how he, Paul, George and Yoko were faring in the aftermath of John Lennon’s recent death; I was 15, a big Beatles fan, and hungry for news about them. In any event, the find was serendipitous, given that Tuesday was Feb. 23rd – 40 years to the day.

I snapped a picture of the cover and posted it to Instagram, as one does, then flipped to the review section to check what albums were spotlighted. The second entry offered this glowing take on the debut LP by Nikki and the Corvettes:

People, I hasten to add, wasn’t a magazine that I regularly read. In those days, I flipped through Creem, Rolling Stone, Trouser Press and the other music-oriented magazines at the newsstand, usually skimming the articles and devouring the reviews – at least in my parts, radio had begun the retrenchment to the tried-and-true, so I often bought albums based solely on the written word.

That said, I can’t be sure say for sure if the above review is what spurred me to buy the album, which was released in 1980. Trouser Press slammed it in its January 1981 edition; along with every other Trouser Press issue, it can be browsed right here. The reviewer called them “an utterly amateur female trio” that “offers a variant on early Ramones, only without comparable drive,” but that criticism could well have heightened my interest. Did Creem review it? Rolling Stone? Musician? No idea. I’m not even sure where or or when I bought it – though, given my slice of suburbia, it was likely Wee Three Records at the Village Mall, as it stocked more esoterica than the small mom-and-pop shop I generally frequented.

The moment the stylus first navigated through the LP’s grooves, I knew it was great. The opening track, “He’s a Mover,” recycles riffs and rhythms from elsewhere – as do the other 11 songs. No matter. It’s pure adrenalin, somewhat akin to the Shangri-Las fronting the Ramones – that’s what some folks have said in the decades since, at any rate. I’d toss the Go-Go’s into that sonic mix, as the music rocks, rolls and crashes with abandon. They’re punk in spirit, but pop in practice.

Listening to it all these years later, I can hear how this album primed me for both the Go-Go’s and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, whose Beauty and the Beat and I Love Rock ’n Roll were released later in 1981, not to mention Joan’s former band, the Runaways, who I got into the following year. The main difference: Nikki and the Corvettes consisted of Nikki, Lori and Krysti Corvette up front, a la the Shangri-Las, with Pete James and Bob Mulrooney (formerly of the Ramrods) on guitar and drums, and Skid Marx (of Flirt) on bass. Nikki and James co-wrote the songs, which end almost as soon as they begin – most tracks hover around two minutes in length. 

Two more highlights:

The album, which – from what Nikki says in this insightful interview on the Please Kill Me site – never went out of print, was issued on CD in 2000 with two singles and their b-sides added as bonus cuts, though their debut 45, a cover of Wanda Jackson’s “Honey Bop” was left off. (A true shame, that, though it can be heard via YouTube.) Interestingly, the original album art came as a shock to Nikki and the band – they expected to see the picture on the back on the front. This short Wikipedia entry on Nikki fills in more details, as does this 2010 interview.

Why I left the album behind is a mystery to me. After those first frenetic weeks with it, I set it aside, probably assuming I’d pick up where I left off once they released their second album…which never came. When I began moving from vinyl to CD in the late 1980s, and needed cash, it was one of many albums – alongside LPs by Mi-Sex and others – that I sold without a second thought. The CD release passed me by, too.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a pick-me-up, you can do a lot worse. It’s fun and – even in its extended form – short. (The original album clocks in at about 24 minutes; with the four bonus cuts, it’s now 32 minutes.) Not the greatest album of all time, but one well worth many listens – until yesterday, I had it on repeat for most of the week. It’ll leave you with a smile, guaranteed.

The track list:

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