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The Undertones (album) – Classic Music Review

For one thing, for us white kids, the real ’50s was only the latter half of the decade, because we didn’t have rock’n’roll until well into 1955, and in terms of popular culture the decade would hardly be worth mentioning without rock’n’roll. For another, the feel of the time has not only been forgotten but also erased. And there’s no way to grasp the subversive force of this now-innocent-sounding music unless you can feel a little of what it meant to be a kid hearing it as it was played for the first time.

It was music that was made for teenagers and scared the hell out of adults; it was taboo-shattering music about–gasp–sex and racial commingling.  That’s why records were burned, censorship laws were passed, and some lives were ruined.  Because this was the devil’s music, and it was threatening the status quo.

But you couldn’t stop anything this real.  It hit you where you lived.  It belonged to the kids and only the kids.  It set them apart.  It gave them something to believe in.  Rock’n’ roll was their joy.  It was their freedom.  It is still so today.

Michael Ventura, Gary Stewart and Billy Vera, liner notes from Loud, Fast & Out of Control: 104 Great Songs

Rock ‘n’ roll’s musical origins are easily traced to the blues and R&B, but its social, cultural and (dare I say) spiritual origins can be found in the white teenage experience of 1950s America.

The “freedom” referred to in the opening quotation is essentially the “freedom from the conformity our parents, teachers and the larger society try to impose on us.” Ironically, those parents made it possible for teens to develop a degree of independence by making them go to school instead of requiring them to work to help out the family. America’s postwar economic boom permitted some parents to give their teens an allowance in exchange for taking care of a few household chores; if the parents couldn’t afford an allowance, enterprising teenage boys (not the girls) could pick up a few bucks flipping burgers or pumping gas. Those developments gave American teenagers purchasing power, and they spent a good chunk of their dough on music (records, transistor radios, record players) and movies (the balconies were a great place to make out and maybe cop a feel).

Once Blackboard Jungle and Bill Haley emphatically confirmed the existence of a teenage fascination with rock ‘n’ roll, film producers and recording artists sharpened their targeting of this lucrative market. Though relatively few of the artists who capitalized on teen consumerism were teenagers themselves (James Dean was twenty-four when he made Rebel Without a Cause; Chuck Berry had turned thirty by the time “School Days” hit the shelves), those artists managed to encapsulate teenage frustration with conformist pressures—and the desire to rock, rock, rock ’til the broad daylight. Rock songwriters of the era focused their efforts on the teen lifestyle and the topics teens cared about most: girls (the early rockers were invariably men), dancing, parties, fashion, loneliness (you can’t always get the girl), summer vacations (no more teacher’s dirty looks!), square parents who would never understand them and cars (the ultimate expression of freedom in 50s America).

What all this means is that at the time of its birth, rock ‘n’ roll was a genre inextricably entwined with the hedonistic teenage quest for freedom and independence from societal norms. If you grew up listening to rock ‘n’ roll and happen to hear one of your teenage favorites on the radio, it’s a joyful moment that reminds you of the person you were then—yearning for independence and identity, dreaming impossible dreams and spending most of your life feeling horny as hell.

Rock ‘n’ roll lost its revolutionary edge in the late 50s with Elvis going into the army, Little Richard opting for the ministry, Chuck Berry going to prison and Buddy Holly dying in a plane crash. The rock ‘n’ roll of the early 60s was pretty tame except for Eddie Cochran, “Louie Louie” and some of the offerings from the Beach Boys and other surf artists. Fortunately, rock ‘n’ roll had been exported all over the world, and the British Invasion bands would come along to give the genre a life-saving injection of fresh energy.

The Beatles and their compatriots eventually got tired of the same-o, same-o and expanded the breadth of rock ‘n’ roll, opening the way for the progressive rock of the 70s. Eventually, the progressives took things a bit too far and lost touch with the joyous energy and sexuality at the core of rock ‘n’ roll. Action always begets a reaction and the Ramones arrived on the scene to inspire young rockers to return to the essentials.

One of the bands that embraced the ethic introduced by the Ramones came from a place that you would have never associated with joyfulness back in the 70s: the Bogside-Creggan “no-go” areas in Derry, Northern Ireland, one of the epicenters of the decades-long tragedy known as The Troubles. The Undertones built their chops at a place called The Casbah, a club erected over the ruins of an older building blown up by the IRA. The Casbah was even more primitive than Liverpool’s Cavern—if you needed to take a piss, customers pointed you in the direction of the nearest wall, where you might get smacked by a flying empty bottle of Guinness while taking a leak. When the Undertones finished their set, the boys in the band faced the strong possibility that they’d get the shit kicked out of them once they hit the street—a little reminder that they shouldn’t even dream about putting themselves above others or harbor hopes of escaping the Bogside.

Getting roughed up failed to blunt their determination and soon enough the Undertones built sufficient cred to do some gigs outside of Derry, opening for Ireland’s first punk band, The Radiators from Space (later just plain Radiators). Shortly thereafter they recorded a demo that they sent to a few record companies and legendary DJ John Peel. The labels weren’t interested, but Peel offered to pony up the cash for a real studio session to record an EP with the song “Teenage Kicks” as the featured attraction. The EP was released on the Belfast indie label Good Vibrations in July 1978; the “marketing” of the song was left to John Peel, who played the lead song incessantly on his radio program. Seymour Stein of Sire Records heard Peel play “Teenage Kicks” while on his way to another appointment, hollered at the driver to pull over and instructed his minions to head over to Derry and start the process of bringing the Undertones into the fold. Shortly after signing the contract, the boys headed to London for their first appearance on Top of the Pops.

Despite growing up in a place where boundaries were marked by barbed wire, a place filled with the sights of lorries burning in the streets and the sounds of bombs going off at random—and despite all the bullshit they had to put up with simply because they chose to reject the Bogside’s version of conformity and dared to dream of something better—the Undertones persevered and managed to release one of the most joyful rock ‘n’ roll albums of all time.

*****

The band members all acknowledge the Ramones’ influence and you can certainly hear it in the short songs played at breakneck speeds, the rough guitars and the frequent use of unison vocals. But beneath the punk surface, other influences were in play. During the pre-Undertones period when the band was in gestation and punk was still a few years down the road, the unnamed band worked on Lindisfarne, Small Faces and Beatles covers. In a 2010 interview with the now-defunct AU Magazine (AU = Alternative Ulster), rhythm guitarist John O’Neill cited Lenny Kaye’s classic psychedelic-garage collection Nuggets as “our Bible” (the psychedelic influences are more obvious on their later albums). When you compare and contrast their sound to the sound of their punk contemporaries (Ramones, Sex Pistols and the Clash), what stands out is the strength of their melodies—a feature derived from those more melodic influences and the unexpectedly lovely voice of their lead singer, Feargal Sharkey.

I couldn’t figure out how a guy with such classically gorgeous vocal cords could pull off punk until I watched the documentary The Story of the Undertones: Teenage Kicks. The interviews with Sharkey clearly revealed a character marked by strong assertiveness, while the live performances captured his complete confidence in his ability to carry a song and his obvious comfort under the spotlight. Sharkey had developed his singing chops courtesy of the local parish, winning award after award throughout his years in Catholic schools. He had also served as a Scout leader (and had a real full-time job delivering television sets).

Never thought I’d see this equation: Catholic Church + Scouts = Punk Rock Frontman.

Another aspect of the Undertones that imbued their maiden album with exuberance was that they were quite young and didn’t know any better. John O’Neill (rhythm guitar) was the old man at the age of twenty. Feargal was nineteen, John’s brother Damian (lead guitar) was pushing seventeen, bassist Mickey Bradley clocked in at eighteen and drummer Billy Doherty was eighteen-and-a-half. What brought them together was a common love of music and the desire to play it well. By all accounts, they took themselves lightly, and even at the height of their success never considered themselves “rock stars” in the pejorative sense of the word.

The Undertones were also unique within the boundaries of UK Ulster in that they wrote their own songs. Live music was very rare at the peak of The Troubles, and when things calmed down a tiny bit, the few bands who took to the stage were either Top 40 cover bands or what we now call “tribute bands” (yawn). All the band members except Sharkey wrote songs for The Undertones, with the bulk credited to John O’Neill.

Those songs contained none of the in-your-face anger of early UK punk. As journalist and activist Eamonn McCann noted in the above-mentioned documentary, it was just the opposite:

Anybody looking at the situation from the outside probably would have expected a rock band coming from that background to be full of anger with ugly sides, snarling at the world. And the peculiar thing with Derry was that was the general attitude of young people in the Bogside. So, in a way you were revolting against the things around you, revolting against anger in a strange way. It was an oppositional statement to decide to aim for the mainstream.

Although it certainly wasn’t their intent to transform society or attempt to bring peace to a place that hadn’t known peace in centuries, The Undertones is an album that echoes the sentiments of the D. H. Lawrence poem “A Sane Revolution”—a revolution for fun.

The version of the album I chose to review is not the original release but the 1979 re-release that includes the singles “Get Over You” and “Teenage Kicks” (see re-release album cover below). To be honest, I would have found a way to include both those songs, re-release or not. The Undertones may not have believed in revolution, but I do—and I can’t think of a better song to inspire a revolution for fun than “Teenage Kicks.”

Let’s rock!

*****

The Undertones is a relentless album of non-stop action for thirty-five minutes. I’ll try to write fast.

Things get off to a roaring start with “Family Entertainment,” a bit of brotherly advice to a sibling involved in what is likely a “heavy-petting” relationship with an unidentified love interest who is unlikely to receive a warm welcome from mummy.

If you’re trying to play this at home, I’d advise you to spend about an hour doing stretches and drink about a gallon of exceptionally strong espresso before you pick up your gee-tar or drum sticks, as playing at this speed can cause irreversible damage to muscles, tendons and capillaries if you’re not properly warmed up. The potential danger is exacerbated by the Undertones’ ability to stop on a dime and immediately pick up where they left off without a hint of a hitch.

This is one tight fucking band!

The über-tempo of the song is set by John O’Neill on crunchy rhythm guitar; Billy Doherty and Michael Bradley follow his lead on drums and bass respectively. Damian O’Neill fills in the gaps with a tasty lead guitar counterpoint; a second counterpoint later in the song features the jangly sound of the British Invasion, a nice touch that softens the edge a bit. Feargal Sharkey imbues his lead vocal with appropriate force, supported by call-and-response unison vocals from the band. The song itself has a grand total of four chords—the expected E-A-B and an Ab that serves as a transition to the A chord in the chorus. This kind of half-step move appears frequently on the album (even on “Teenage Kicks”), serving to stave off monotony with a bit of a twist. And I love how they avoid ending the song on the root chord but on the fourth (A major), another bit of flair that communicates that the resolution of the illicit affair carried on by the sibling is still pending.

Listen to “Family Entertainment” on YouTube.

“Girls Don’t Like It” opens with the sound of footsteps on a hard, crunchy surface. A car passes by and we hear a snippet of conversation between girls who sound more like members of the Shangri-Las than Northern Irish lasses:

GIRL 1: Hey, wasn’t Eddie driving that car?

GIRL 2: Yeah, I don’t go for him, do you?

We hear the rhythm guitar in deep background then WHAM! Feargal and the band explode in our ears:

Here comes Eddie in a brand new car
Driving like that, he won’t get far
Kissing in the back seat all the way home
You can’t do that if you’re on your own

Say what? He’s driving from the back seat while making out? Must be one long-armed oversexed dude! Oh, well. John O’Neill did make this observation in the documentary—“You listen to some of the words of the first LP, some of the lines don’t make sense”—so there you are. Get over it.

The lyrics get a lot better in the last verse, and when combined with the chorus, make a remarkably insightful statement on one of the greatest challenges in boy-girl relationships:

‘Cause the girls wanna know what we’re gonna do now
Always up to things they’re not supposed to allow
Leading us on, telling us no
Making us stop instead of letting us go

But what else can you do if the girls don’t like it?
But what else can you do if the girls don’t like it?

Wow! Respect for a girl’s right to say no! Oh, I’m sure that word will get around that she’s a dick tease, but it takes a pretty strong conscience and acute observational skills to stop the cries of a throbbing boner if the girl doesn’t like it. Way to go, Eddie! Musically, the song is an all-out bash, and when Feargal packs the line “Making us stop instead of letting us go” with genuine frustration, I sincerely empathize with the agony he must be feeling in his nuts.

Listen to “Girls Don’t Like It” on YouTube.

One of the most charming aspects of daily life I discovered in my study of popular culture in the 20th century was the Sears Catalog and its cousins in the trading stamp business. My dad claims that the Blue Chip stamp catalog was easily the most dog-eared piece of reading in his childhood home and that he had to fight with his siblings to have a peek at its offerings. In the UK, Freemans catalog was the go-to option for mail-order shopping . . . and Feargal Sharkey doesn’t want this shirt or those trousers—he wants it all!

When I was young I never wanted toys
Things like that were for little boys
My mamma got me clothes for her favourite son
Freeman’s item A page 61

I wanna wanna be a male model
I wanna wanna be a male model

Alas, Feargal isn’t going to get his wish to fulfill his clothes-horse fantasies:

Read women’s magazines for fashion scenes
Until you know the prices they’re in pounds and pence
Reminds me that I can’t afford to buy new clothes
I never got a chance to say, “I’ll take those!”

“Male Model” earns the tag as the least-melodic song on the album—its resemblance to early Clash is undeniable, with Feargal seeming to channel Joe Strummer’s edge and the background vocals eerily similar to Mick Jones’ vocal fills. It’s still a damn hot piece of rock ‘n’ roll.

“I Gotta Getta” features more cheery music with a jangly guitar arpeggio and the surprising appearance of a bright organ towards the end of the song. The title hints at unspecific sexual urges, but alas, the song is perfectly sexless: one verse about a girl who stays away from home to avoid putdowns, and a second about a kid who wants to drive a car but when he starts the motor, the jalopy falls apart. Love the feel and the rhythm, but yeah, the lyrics don’t make a whole lotta sense.

I think the best way to introduce “Teenage Kicks” is to share a picture of John Peel’s gravestone:

Upon first hearing “Teenage Kicks” in September 1978, BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel is reported to have burst into tears, and readily admitted to still being moved to tears upon hearing the song in interviews granted to journalists up until his death. To judge songs he had heard for the first time as to worthiness of airplay upon his show, Peel often rated new bands’ songs with a series of asterisks, with each song judged upon a scale of one to five asterisks: Peel was so taken by “Teenage Kicks”, he awarded the song 28 stars. On one occasion, he is known to have played the song twice in a row, with the explanation given to his audience being, “It doesn’t get much better than this.”

—Wikipedia

I remember the first time I heard “Teenage Kicks” vividly. I was at a girlfriend’s house doing homework and shooting the shit while listening to Live 105, the only station that played punk, alternative and Britpop with any regularity. I remember my girlfriend was talking about who-knows-what when I heard the opening chords—nice and rough, just the way I like it—but what caught my ear was the shift to a minor chord, so I immediately assumed “Britpop” and paid closer attention. When Feargal came in a voice reeking with plaintive vulnerability I was knocked for a loop. My girlfriend was still yapping and I shouted, “SHUT THE FUCK UP!” and moved closer to the speakers. I’ll be honest—I couldn’t tell if that was a girl singing or a guy, but gender identification notwithstanding, I was absolutely mesmerized by that voice. I remember getting the chills when the hand-clapping came in, and the lines that knocked me out had nothing to do with “teenage dreams so hard to beat” but Feargal’s second pass at “I need excitement and I need it bad/And it’s the best I ever had,” when he raises his pitch in oh-so-sweet desperation. And that guitar solo—fuck yeah, rip into my fucking soul, baby! I usually hate it when a song like “Teenage Kicks” ends, but they executed the finish so well that all I could say was “Fuck, yeah!”

I apologized to my girlfriend, but she just laughed and shook her head. “You and music—I get it.” I was so excited I missed hearing the name of the song and the name of the band. A trip to Tower Records solved that problem, though I was absolutely crushed to learn that the Undertones had split the scene fifteen years before.

And I was absolutely gobsmacked to learn that the band members really didn’t think much of the song. Mickey Bradley told Mojo, “We didn’t mind it being released, but we didn’t think it was special on its own.” John O’Neill, who wrote the song, told Q, “In 1978 we didn’t think ‘Teenage Kicks’ was the best song. ‘True Confessions’ was the one we thought people would go for and we only named the EP after it because we were teenagers and it seemed appropriate. When John Peel played it twice on his show we were in shock.” In the documentary, John also noted, ” . . . look at the words to ‘Teenage Kicks,’ it’s like a chemistry of everybody else’s song.”

Well, no shit, dude! That’s the whole fucking point! There are few songs that capture the essence of rock ‘n’ roll and its fundamentally teenage-and-fancy-free spirit as well as “Teenage Kicks.” While the band is as tight as ever, the energy they project is off-the-charts—and it’s that energy that makes the song extra special . . . and actually, quite beautiful. Here’s Eammon McCann’s take on the song in Teenage Kicks: The Story of the Undertones:

What a lovely sound. Far from an angry, aggressive sound, it’s actually very sweet . . . When you hear the opening of ‘Teenage Kicks,’ when you hear John and Damian and Mickey and the bass amp and Billy Doherty up on the drums . . .The first thing that strikes me about it is how beautiful it is, I mean, how sweet. When you factor in Feargal’s shimmering voice floating through the instruments, it’s a gorgeous noise .. . this was a band that sounded beautiful, you know, coming from an ugly place.”

I’ll take “I need excitement and I need it bad!” for my gravestone, please. With the exclamation point.

Watch “Teenage Kicks” on YouTube

Billy Doherty’s “Wrong Way” comes next, unsurprisingly opening with Billy on the drums. Lyrically the song shares the stop-fucking-around-girl theme of The Beatles’ “You Can’t Do That” and “What You’re Doing,” though Billy’s a bit nicer about the whole thing. It’s a pleasant little number with a delightfully melodic chorus and a classic garage riff from Damian O’Neill.

The opening to “Jump Boys” is reminiscent of the intro to the Who’s “I Can’t Explain” and I can’t tell if the jump boys are the cops (urban definition) or your typical thugs who beat the shit out of people because they’re too thick and disgusting to get laid. Where the song really gets interesting is when the band quiets down and gives Michael Bradley a shot at a bass solo—I really like Michael’s combination of clean tones and sufficient heft.

Well, it wouldn’t be much of a teenage album if we didn’t have a song about summer, and next up is the single version of “Here Comes the Summer,” clocking in at one minute and thirty-nine seconds . . . which makes sense, since summer for a teen seems never lasts long enough. The verse that drew my attention is the second (repeated for good measure):

Keep looking for the girls with their faces all tanned
Lying on the beaches all covered in sand
Stretching out their long legs lying in the sun
They know they’re beautiful they’re having fun

Though that sounds like Southern California, I did some research and learned that Northern Ireland “is home to some of the best and most spectacular beaches in Europe” (according to the Discover Northern Ireland tourism website) and three of the best are in County Derry-Londonderry. In that AU interview, John O’Neill pointed out that “Despite what was going on, people were still having normal lives, and we chose to reflect that.” The song certainly reflects the joys of checking out the babes as they try to tan their white Irish skins. The addition of a calliope-like organ calls to mind Freddy Cannon’s “Palisades Park,” but Damian O’Neill’s wild ride on the fretboard reminds us that we’re definitely in the 70s.

“Get Over You,” the second single added to the re-release comes next, a fabulous ass-kicker that opens with a line that is in dispute among the various lyric sites. There are two possibilities:

  • “Dressed like Thatcher, you must be living in a different world.”
  • “Dressed like that you must be living in a different world.”

Either way, it appears that the girl is “asking for it.”

If the ambiguous word is “Thatcher,” it certainly makes for a more interesting interpretation. As Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein argued in a Guardian article back in 2013, “for the people of Ireland, and especially the north, the Thatcher years were among some of the worst of the conflict. Her policy decisions entrenched sectarian divisions, handed draconian military powers over to the securocrats, and subverted basic human rights.” Politics aside, Margaret Thatcher projected a memorable image in part due to her fashion choices. A piece in Veranda titled “A Look at Margaret Thatcher’s Most Defining Style Moments” described those choices thusly: “Thatcher’s tailored skirt suits exuded a much-needed air of determination and authority, establishing a sense of power in every room she entered.”

Q: Why on earth would a lass living in the Bogside dress like the Iron Lady?

A: Thatcher-kink!

. . . They stop you in the street
They wanna know your name
To reach you on the phone
‘Cause they know your game . . .

. . . You think you’re such a smacker, but you ain’t so bad
Get what you want
With looks like that

And I don’t wanna get over you
It doesn’t matter what you do
I just can’t get over you, over you

The best argument for “that” is that the Undertones studiously avoided politics at this point in their career. If the word is in fact “that,” we’re left with some confusion as there isn’t a hint anywhere in the song as to what “that” is. Since “the boys with the bikes and the leathers’d like to beat you to hell,” we can assume she hasn’t gone retro-punk, but beyond that, we have no way of knowing what kind of fashion statement set them off. We can only assume it’s some sort of suggestive look that projects defiance of fashion norms.

It’s pretty obvious that the guy in the song carries a huge boner for this power-projecting young wench, which is why he can’t possibly get over her. A woman projecting defiance is irresistibly attractive to most males, especially those who think they have the goods to put the bitch in her place. In most Western societies, bad girls have historically expressed defiance by smoking cigarettes, wearing revealing clothing and peppering their conversations with plenty of sass. In the context of the late 70s Bogside, dressing “out-of-fashion” would represent the ultimate challenge to wannabe dominant males (and a threat to the girls at work who “don’t treat (her) too well”).

Human sexuality is one complicated subject!

The song opens with a faint rhythm guitar that sounds like it’s coming from a niche deep in sub-space. It’s followed by a wolf whistle that triggers a quick bass slide from Mickey Bradley and boom—we’re off to the races. Feargal is in excellent voice throughout, imbuing his vocal with the trembly passion and unbearable frustration of a guy in the throes of desire. The background vocals are excellent in both the chorus and the verses, reminiscent of the sweet sounds of the British Invasion. But I absolutely love Billy Doherty’s choices here—keeping a steady unassuming beat in the verses then shifting to throbbing toms in the chorus to echo Feargal’s nearly uncontrollable passion for the girl. With the strongest lyrics on the album and the energy of the band at “Teenage Kicks” level, “Get Over You” deserves as much attention as that acknowledged classic.

Watch “Get Over You” on YouTube. 

“Billy’s Third” doesn’t excite me all that much; the melody sounds forced and the arrangement feels a bit awkward. I’m puzzled as to how “Jimmy Jimmy” outperformed “Get Over You” on the pop charts, for while the band is tight and the tune kinda catchy, the tale feels incomplete and unsatisfying. We have no idea why this little boy who clung to his mother disappeared—there’s no hint of child abuse, suicidal ideation, nada. Even his mode of departure is puzzling, as “no one saw the ambulance that took little Jim away.” We know that “no one ever listened to a single word he said,” but that’s just a piece of information that doesn’t fit in the larger jigsaw puzzle.

“True Confessions” is the song the band members were sure was going to be the hit, but I’m not sure which of the two versions they were talking about. The original is pure punk with some delightfully nasty guitar and plenty of bash; the keyboard version on the re-release is more musically adventurous, but the overall impression is Devo, not the Undertones. I definitely think the punk version is the better album fit, but I’d to hear a third take that somehow uses the best of both worlds—like what George Martin did with “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

(“She’s a) Runaround” is not about an uncontrollable slut a la “Runaround Sue” but a girl “running around in her head” who can’t figure out what she feels or wants. Welcome to teenage reality, honey! At 172 bpm, the song certainly qualifies as punk but the bright and incredibly catchy melody and call-and-response chorus certainly reveal a 60s influence. The truly inventive part of the song comes in the instrumental bridge where the lead guitar imitates a siren, a piano (?) appears in the upper reaches of both pitch and soundfield to intensify the rhythm, then we hear a downward swooping figure (synth or guitar?) over an octopus-like drum roll from Billy. Seriously fucking cool—but I’d advise listeners not to attempt to turn that snippet into a wake-up alarm ringtone unless you really want to learn what it feels like to have a coronary.

“I Know a Girl” is another catchy little number that could have been a hit in 1964—easy-to-grasp lyrics, a blend of sweet and rough guitar, nice background vocals—very British Invasion. “Listening In” seems to be a tale from back in the days of party lines, but other than the guitar duet, there’s not much there there, so Dave Davies wins the Battle of Party Line Songs.

The album ends with a fragment that sounds like it was recorded in the toilet of the Casbah if they had offered such a convenience. “Casbah Rock” serves as an epitaph of a period in the life of the Undertones that they probably had mixed feelings about—“Yeah, it was a shithole, but it was our shithole.”

Now it won’t take long
Now before you know
If you’re not thrown out
Then you’ll want to go
‘Cause you’ll never get pop at the casbah rock
You’ll never get pop at the casbah rock

The Undertones sold well enough in the UK, but their second album and its singles performed much better. “Teenage Kicks” never cracked the Top 30, an astonishing factoid that makes me think listeners had the heads up their arses when Peel repeatedly played the song.

That said, I understand John O’Neill’s frustration that the listening audience has reduced what the Undertones accomplished during their five years in the spotlight to a single song. “Perhaps we’ve been overshadowed, but it’s not that surprising. We can’t complain! But it would be nice if some of the others were picked up on . . . ”

I’m really bad at predicting the future, but let’s just say that I’m leaving open the possibility of reviewing “some of the others.” The band I hear on The Undertones proved without a doubt that they could play rock ‘n’ roll with the best of them, but the album also contains plenty of hints of greater diversity in the future. Musicians who play with the kind of commitment the Undertones revealed on their maiden album usually have a lot more in the tank.

We’ll see!

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