An important early figure on the Los Angeles power pop scene, Paul Collins was a key member of two bands that anticipated the "skinny tie band" explosion of the late '70s and early '80s, the Nerves and the Beat. Born in New York City, Collins' father was a civilian who worked with the U.S. military, a job that kept his family on the move, and young Paul spent time in Greece, Vietnam, and Europe before ending up back in Manhattan at the age of 14. After graduating from high school, Collins studied composition at the Julliard School of Music, but listening to AM radio and seeing shows at the Fillmore East had a greater impact on him, and in the early '70s he moved to California to pursue his musical vision of short, punchy rock songs with copious hooks.
In 1974, Collins met like-minded songwriters Peter Case and Jack Lee, and they formed a pioneering power pop band called the Nerves. Playing fast, ear-catching pop songs while wearing matching pink suits, the Nerves had more than a bit of the street energy that would later manifest in Los Angeles's early punk movement, and like the punks, the Nerves made their own opportunities when L.A. clubs didn't know what to make of them. The Nerves booked their own shows, did a nationwide tour of small venues on their own dime, and in 1976 put out a four-song 7" EP on their own label.
While Blondie would have an early hit with a Nerves cover, "Hanging on the Telephone," the band broke up in 1978, and not long afterward Collins set out to form a new band. Hooking up with bassist Steve Huff, former Milk 'n' Cookies drummer Mike Ruiz, and guitarist Larry Whitman, Collins formed the Beat, whose tight, wiry hard-rockin' pop tunes picked up where the Nerves left off. Championed by Eddie Money, the Beat landed a management deal with West Coast rock powerhouse Bill Graham and a record contract with Columbia, releasing their first album (simply called The Beat) in 1979. While reviews were positive, for the most part American radio was still closed to "new wave" bands, and when the Knack broke through later the same year, it didn't help that the Knack sounded more than a little bit like the Beat -- leading some to believe Collins was copying a style he had helped to invent.
It wasn't until 1982 that Collins was able to release a follow-up, and thanks to the burgeoning popularity of the British ska band the Beat, The Kids Are the Same was credited to Paul Collins' Beat. Despite extensive touring, the album fared poorly with record buyers, and Columbia dropped the band; their next record, 1983's To Beat or Not to Beat, was an EP for the independent Passport label. The disc also featured a new lineup of the band, with only Steve Huff remaining with Collins from the first album, and another indie EP with a new version of the band, Long Time Gone, appeared in 1985.
After a final studio album credited to Paul Collins & the Beat, 1989's One Night, Collins struck out on his own and released a pair of fine country-rock albums, 1992's Paul Collins and 1993's From Town to Town. By this time, Collins' work (especially his recordings with the Beat) had earned him a sizable fan following in Spain, and a live album from a Spanish tour came out in 1997 (a Spanish Beat gig was also given the live LP treatment in 1986). In 2000, Collins released a new album in Spain, and a new edition of the Beat toured the country in 2005, with a live album from the jaunt in the works. The full-length album Ribbon of Gold followed in 2008. In 2010, Collins returned with the tongue-in-cheek titled King of Powerpop!. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi