Graded on a Curve: MnMs, “I’m Tired” b/w “Knock Knock Knock”

In 1979 the MnMs released a lovely 45, “I’m Tired” b/w “Knock Knock Knock” to a world that largely never knew it existed. Featuring the songwriting talents of Paul Collins (he of The Nerves and the Beat) as sung by passionate vixen front-woman Marcy Marcs, it was a record that should’ve made a much bigger splash. Alas, it didn’t. Instead it serves as yet another superb example of momentary rock ‘n’ roll greatness.

There’s nothing quite like the rush delivered by a top-notch, one-shot single. The music is the meat of the matter of course, but in a world where the discographies of worthy acts are often spread over numerous releases, some frustratingly obscure and expensive, a few even of dubious legality, it’s just a total gas to be able to absorb the entirety of a recorded legacy from the two opposing sides of sole 45. Hold it in hand, take a deep breath, and then exhale with the confidence that it’s all right there in your clutches.

Way back when the one-shot 7-inch was generally accepted and even valued as a natural part of the musical landscape, but as time has marched forward the esteem for these beautiful bits of brevity has declined considerably. The highest merit often gets awarded to those who display longevity through perseverance of inspiration. And there’s really nothing egregious about this tendency; in fact it’s nearly impossible to not fall into it to some extent when determining a hierarchy of personal bests.

Keep in mind the one-shot single isn’t the same thing as the one-hit wonder. A few are indeed one and the same, but a whole lot of acts of one-hit status have a whole lot of recordings under their belts (and many actually possess additional minor chart successes, giving the lie to their backhanded honorific). And the vast majority of bands or individual artists that actually managed to record only one 45 very rarely make it anywhere near chart success.

Instead they’re frequently either the stuff of the musty record shop bargain bin, often one perilous trip away from the dumpster (shivers), or on the other extreme the depressingly expensive prize of some entrepreneurial toad’s internet auction. At least if a record’s second-hand price-tag is all too high, there exist other potential avenues to assist in actually hearing the music. That’s a better situation than an entire pressing of some undiscovered doozy of a single dying under dirt in a landfill somewhere simply because the band broke up and nobody involved had the gumption to get some copies into stores.

But the reality of bands seriously complicates the circumstances of the one-shot single, particularly for listeners who fancy themselves as some form of completist. For it’s all too common to find one or more of the participants involved in the existence of a group’s solitary 7-inch using that platter as a springboard to subsequent and more fruitful success.

And just as often there comes knowledge that the one-and-done outfit actually issued some additional and even more obscure material; maybe it’s the only good song on some previously ignored regional comp, or perhaps the band changed their name and squeezed out one more release. Or they might’ve recorded another 45 that never made beyond the test pressing stage.

And if a one-shot group has gathered a later-day reputation, their unreleased material reliably gets compiled onto a retrospective release. And so a band formerly known for one meager but delectable object gets transformed into a pillar of uncovered obscurantist legwork.

For years the “I’m Tired” b/w “Knock Knock Knock” single from an outfit known as the MnMs has sat at the top of the heap of my favorite one-shot singles. And it claimed this distinction even as it hung on the fringes of power-pop history as an element in the story of Los Angeles group The Beat, with the band’s guitarist Larry Whitman serving as producer and Beat bassist Steve Huff contributing his musicianship to the MnMs fleeting bit of neglected glory.

But the MnMs most important relationship to The Beat came through their leader Paul Collins, one of the cornerstone figures in the whole power-pop shing-a-ling. For prior to the formation of The Beat, Collins also led The Nerves, a simply excellent combo that amongst other achievements waxed the original, superior version of “Hanging on the Telephone” in ‘77, the song becoming a hit for Blondie not long thereafter.

The worthy penmanship of Collins also provided the MnMs with the stuff of their 45, the release issued in ’79 by the Quark label to little fanfare, though the songs also turned up on a handful of compilations issued by Greg Shaw’s hard-striving imprint Bomp! What’s immediately apparent from even a single listen to the MnMs is the savvy invested into the whole short experience, both cuts deliriously blending power-pop’s splendid hookiness with just the right amount of grit gleaned from early melodic punk and then combining that with the inherent disposability found in the best of ‘60s girl-group/bubblegum pop.

If it seems unusual that Collins would give such strong material to a band in which he didn’t actually play, please note that MnMs singer Marcy Marcs was his girlfriend at the time. Both have long since parted ways, though Collins is very much still active. Apparently so is she, having adjusted her name to Marci Marks, though after much searching I was only able to find a Myspace page with three songs, one being the A-side to this single.

Frankly, that tune should’ve been big. And yet befitting the year of its birth, “I’m Tired” is also contentious in a number of ways. First, it’s so laden with hooks that it’ll likely inspire a certain amount of pop-phobic observers to claim it’s “too catchy.” Well, to that I say balderdash. And because it attacks its melodious notions in such a gleeful, single-minded way, many of those same tune-averse naysayers will also accuse it of overstaying its welcome, even though the song clocks in at a mere minute and fifty.

Furthermore, those not holding any grudges against unrestrained catchiness might harbor issues with the sound of Marcs’ voice. Her style is unapologetically kid-like, perhaps similar to Altered Images’ Claire Grogan, with the distinction that Marcs is fueled by the same love of classique ‘60s gal-pop that partly defined The Ramones, a quality that’s greatly enhanced by the toughness of Harlan Hollander’s guitar. The hard-charging rhythm section of Huff and drummer Keith Clark seal the deal.

And even if the sound of Marcs’ voice doesn’t rankle, the general uninhibited nature of the lyrics might. Hell, the first time I played this it brought on a major double take; did she really say “I’ve got hot pants/For his romance/So let’s go”? She couldn’t have. Better play it again to be sure. Oops, she did. But Marcs delivers the line with such a lack of embarrassment and engages her role as front-woman with such relish that any lapses of taste flower instead into positives.

Conversely, flip side “Knock Knock Knock” might cause some to gripe that it’s too short at 1:23, asserting that its trim distillation of a Spector-esque girl wants boy but girl can’t have him (“his mother and his father say it’s just not right”) but girl’s gonna keep on trying theme doesn’t have time to really “develop.” Perhaps if they’d played slower they’d have satisfied these sticklers, but that would ultimately subtract one of the MnMs best attributes, their giddy energy.

Suffice it to say that anybody who digs the pop side of those Ramones, early Blondie, the Go-Go’s, the young Red Kross, Philles Records, and the grand notion of power-pop will very likely enjoy the MnMs. Many will consider them little more than a finely-executed entertainment that fell through the cracks, but to these ears the influences on display are so seamlessly integrated that to call this anything less than an extremely smart and very effective single is doing it a disservice. It’s a record that should be appreciated by far more people.

Sometimes the MnMs are referenced on the World Wide Web as the M&Ms, with spaces and apostrophes occasionally thrown in. Collins has also been cited as producer, though reliable info states that it’s Whitman. The 45 label doesn’t really help; credit is given to the pseudonym Geets Romo (a sly reference I’d rather not spoil. Search under Geets Romo + John Brent if curious). And while it’s a safe bet that the MnMs hailed from Los Angeles, nothing concrete turns up on the net regarding their actual locality, though erroneous info does turn up stating they were from Spain and Delaware.

All of this should reinforce that the MnMs are far from being any kind of retrospectively discovered big deal. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I discovered the German label Line had reissued these tracks on an ‘83 single with a cover of “My Boyfriend’s Back” as the A-side. That might seem like cause for good cheer, but this guy has some mixed emotions.

It’s not that the take of The Angles’ tune isn’t up to snuff. Actually, its execution is quite fine. It’s just rather obvious, somewhat overstating the original single’s tidy erudition, making “Knock Knock Knock” a bit redundant in the process. And it’s kind of a drag how the original’s two-sided combination punch of succinctness gets demoted to the flip where they blend together back-to-back.

But in the end it’s not a big problem; “I’m Tired” b/w “Knock Knock Knock” still feels like a gorgeous one-shot to me. Anyone piqued should snoop around YouTube, for the songs are available there for listening, and the MnMs brief slab of greatness deserves any kind of posthumous boost they can get.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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