Read Hard’s Pop Punk Picks #15: The Undertones- S/T

Posted: November 8, 2014 in Read Hard's Classic Pop Punk Picks

Like the Dickies, and of course the Buzzcocks, the Undertones are one of the bands from the late 70’s that really fit in the pop punk genre, even at a time when punk rock itself was poppy and even mainstream. The first album, which is the pop punk pick this article, was a perfect mix of punk rock, classic pop music and the R&b music from the British invasion. About a year ago I saw the movie “Good Vibrations” for the first time. The movie is about the record store named “Good vibrations” in Belfast. When I went to Belfast in 2011, the store was closed, which was a bummer. The store was also a record label and the label that released the Undertones’ first single “Teenage Kicks” and made the band a hit and got them to sign with Sire records and they became label mates with the Ramones. The second album Hypnotized continued in the same sound, but didn’t show the same quality of songwriting like its predecessor, in spite of having one of their best songs “Wednesday Week” that seemed more inspired by the Velvet underground than any punk bands or British invasion bands. Their next album Positive Touch went into a more dance-y sixties pop sound and was a step up from Hypnotized. The Sin of Pride from 1982 went even weirder and was way more inspired by soul and post punk. They later went back to the pop punk song without vocalist Fergal Sharkey. The band was started by John and Vinnie O’Neil (Vinnie was replaced by their brother Damian” and Bill Doherty and Mike Bradley in Derry in the mid 70’s). Sharkey joined later.

Contrary to their countrymen Stiff little fingers the Undertones weren’t that much of a political band and if you’ll compare the lyrics on this album and Pop punk pick #3 Go For It, you’ll see a huge contrast. In spite of being from one of the towns in Northern Ireland that was most effected by the troubles, Derry, the album could easily have been made by kids from Southern California and reflect on some of the lighter things in life such as love, cars, being a model and rock clubs. This could be seen as a form of escapism as well as passive resistance. Answering to a shitty political climate with turning away and singing songs about getting teenage kicks to show that this is someone else’s problem. We didn’t get to hear political undertones until “It’s Going to Happen” from Positive Touch, which isn’t necessarily a political song, as it could mostly be interpreted as a song about a relationship, but there definitely a political message there. The hunger strike of 1981 and death of Patsy O’hara, could have been too close to home and something the band just couldn’t leave alone; the song also became one of their biggest hits and is one of their greatest songs.

The album was released in May 1979 on Sire records. The album cover is the lads standing around much like the Ramones. There are a lot of similarities between the Ramones and the Undertones, their names rhyme for one. And they were both on Sire. I bought the album in 2007, I think it was the day before I went to the Pulpit rock (a famous landmark in Norway) and the same day I embarrassed myself buying ice cream at the mall.
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1. “Family Entertainment”: I remember the excitement I felt hearing this album for the first time in the car, 17 and full of teenage feelings. I thought it was a great start of the album and I couldn’t believe I had sat that long on this album (not literally of course, if I sat on the album it would probably break) I loved the guitars and I loved Fergey Sharkey’s voice that seemed very special to be in a pop punk band. Sharkey later went solo and has a huge hit with “Good Heart”. The lyrics to “Family Entertainment” seem to be quite sexual; I would even go as far as to say that they seem a bit incestuous.

2. “The Girls Don’t Like It”: Starts off with a car engine running and girls asking “Wasn’t Eddy driving that car?” and turns into a story about Eddy and his car and asks the questions “What else can you do if the girls don’t like it?”. This song is catchy as fuck! Not only because the main character is named Eddie, but the song really reminds me of Eddie and the Hot Rods.

3. “Male Model”: This song describes the life of a model and the life story that has gotten this particular model into that profession. The title is very gender specific and saying this model is a dude, which of course nowadays would’ve seemed kind of weird. The song is maybe the most punk song on the album. I’ve always been unsure whether the song is satirical and a critique on the fashion industry or if the song actually exchanges a longing to become a model. Pansy division did a great cover of this song!

4. “I Gotta Getta”: I think this is where the band show their more Beach boys side with its nice guitar solo, rock n roll riffs and catchy choruses. The song tells the story of two people, a boy named Jamie and a girl named Jackie Trainer. She never wants to be at home, because she always gets in trouble with her parents and Jamie starts a car without knowing how to drive, which is a huge mistake!

5. “Teenage Kicks”: One of my favorite scenes in “Good Vibrations” is when John Peel plays “Teenage Kicks” twice on his radio show. That place in time just seems so timeless, just like the song. Everything is perfect about this song. The drum intro, the guitar riff and the cute lyrics about teenage dreams and the new girl in the neighborhood all fit the song so perfectly. When Terri and Ruth dance, I feel like dancing myself. The first version I heard of this song was a live cover from a bootleg by the Norwegian band Jokke & Valentinerne, but it has also been covered by bands like Busted and fucking One direction. I always heard a huge similarity between this song and the Misfits’ “Some Kinda Hate” and I always loved both songs. I think “Teenage Kicks” is a strong contender for “The perfect pop punk song”.

6 “Wrong Way”: This is a fast little ditty and also the song where the organ is introduced. The chorus, like most Undertones songs, is super catchy and contagious. The song is about a guy who claims the way his girl is acting is the wrong way and he wants her to change.

7. “Jump Boys”: “Jump Boys” is the anthem of the troublemakers on the album. With an intro that sounds inspired by either The Clash or early Who, the song about the slick and the sorry who have more energy than most and who try to sleep with girls that aren’t allowed to come to their rooms.

8. “Here Comes the Summer”: Few songs spell “Summer” as much as “Here Comes the Summer”: the catchiness and happiness of the song and the organ in the chorus fits the season perfectly. I can’t imagine another song to blast late in the month of May when summer is on the way. It’s also hard to imagine with the joyful music and theme that this song was written by a band from one of the most terror-afflicted places in the world at the time.

9. “Get Over You”: I feel like this is the first love song about “the punk rock girl”; maybe the Ramones had songs like that (“Sheena is a punk rocker”, “Judy is a punk” and so on), but those songs weren’t really love songs. This song is about a girl who is different and dresses differently, which she, just like Jackie Trainer, gets shit from her parents for and she also gets shit from her co-workers and gets in trouble with biker boys, but she doesn’t seem to care. The Queers covered it on their “Surf goddess” EP!

10. “Billy’s Third”: Maybe one of the most straight up punk songs on the album and with the least memorable lyrics. It’s still a pretty good and catchy song. I have no idea if the song refers to Billy having is third something or if Billy is third. Most likely this is Billy’s third song, as he was the one who wrote it.

11. “Jimmy Jimmy”: One of the hit singles from the album and also the only sort of sad song on the album. The song is about a mummy’s boy named Jimmy, who feels ignored and alone and he always did what he was told. We never really what hear what happens to him, but in the end there’s an ambulance. My interpretation of it is that Jimmy got in trouble and ended up dead or he ran away from home and ended up in the hospital. For some reason I can’t listen to this song without thinking of Shaun from “This is England”.

12. “True Confessions”: Maybe the most different song on the album, and more of what we would hear as late as Positive Touch. The song has a very new wave sound and could also pass as an 80’s Pop song if it had more synthesizer and cheesier vocals. I said cheesier, because the vocals are already pretty cheesy. There’s a punker version of the song as a bonus track on the re-release.

13. “(She’s a) Runaround”: The title makes this sound like a girl and her promiscuousness, but rather it’s like “Get Over You”, about a girl who has struggles fitting in and wants to leave and find a place where no one knows her and start over. The song could also symbolize the escapism from horrors that the bands stood for. It also comes closest to the ideas SLF expressed on Go For It. This was the first song on the album that really caught my attention sitting in the car home from the mall in 2007. It’s still one of my favorite songs on the album.

14. “I Know a Girl”:
Maybe the song on the album with the catchiest riff and also the song with the most repetitive lyrics. The Queers were really inspired by this song in songs like “I Won’t Be” and “Hi Mom, It’s Me!” it seems!

“I know a girl
See her everyday of the week
She makes me feel
I’m in love every time that we meet
I know a girl
I know a girl”

15. “Listening In”: The song also like “I Know a Girl” has a super catchy lead guitar intro and the song also has way more interesting lyrics than “I Know a Girl” and more interesting that I had first realized. The song has a meta aspect and seems to be about how nice music is and reminds me a bit of “Thank You” by the Descendents. And I think there’s an ambiguous meaning where “listening in” can mean paying attention to something as well as enjoying music or talking on the phone. The line “On the carpet you’re so small/Who had you covered wall to wall” I interpret as a reference to having posters on the wall of a band, but like the rest of the song it could also be seen as a love song.

16. “Casbah Rock”: The shortest song and the outro to the album. The song is about the Casbah, a club in Derry. The Casbah was the first venue the band ever played. They describe it as a place you’ll never get pop.

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Bonus track: “Mars bars”: Not only is this album perfect from start to end, on the deluxe edition(s) there are also bonus tracks that are mostly awesome! The tracks are the great “Really Really”(also very similar to stuff the Descendents would do later) and “She Can Only Say No”, as well as “Top Twenty”, “One Way ;ove” and the “Teenage Kicks!” b-side “Smarter Than You”. “Mars Bars” is maybe the funniest one of them, praising the chocolate bar and mocking David Bowie and Twix lovers. Mars bars supposedly make you wanna work rest and play!
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So this album should be blasted at a loud volume! (Though watch your ears! No need to use a perfect albums as an excuse for ruining your ears, if you ruin them you can never hear this delight again, so watch out you boys and girls!). The next pop punk pick is a newer one again, it’s also another Self titled, it’s from Masked intruder!

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