When I was growing up in Massachusetts in the ’70s, La Peste was the shit. Sure, they only released one 45 rpm single record the whole time they were together, but that was true of a whole lot of Boston bands. Putting out records on your own was expensive, and it wasn’t until the late ’70s and early ’80s that bands in the city might expect to find professional management, let alone a record deal.
La Peste had a bunch of great original songs, the best of which was in fact the A- side of that sole single, “Better Off Dead.” note it seems like prototypical punk, but Boston bands like the Real Kids, Reddy Teddy, Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band and La Peste sounded like that before punk was a genre. It’s just a raw rock and roll sound, more refined than most garage bands but not dulled by studio overproduction.
” Better Off Dead” was an instant classic, one which took the best from the past and looked to the future. It’s got smart riffs and is tightly played, but the rhythm section is louder and more upfront than was allowed in many recording studios at the time, and the lyrics include phrases like “never given head” and, well, “better off dead.”
The song was naturally included in the Boston volume (Mass. Ave.: The Boston Scene 1975-83, compiled by Bret Milano) of a series of punk compilations Rhino Records released in the early ‘90s. Matador Records released a full CD of La Peste recordings later in the ‘90s, nearly two decades after the band had broken up. In 2006, a different grouping of old La Peste material, Better Off La Peste, was released by Bacchus Archives.
This is all wondrous stuff, but the history the band itself wrote, what there was to have when you could actually go see La Peste play live, was that priceless single with its black cover and red logo. I wore out two of those, and gave many as gifts.
That single disk is back. Wharf Cat Records is putting out a limited edition of La Peste’s “Better Off Dead”—a facsmile of the original, with the original red-on-black packaging—on April 19, National Independent Record Store Day. You can badger your local record store, or order direct from Wharf Cat, here.