This is an mp3 blog attempting to document the gross amount of music I listen to. About once a day, I'll post something I like. If you're a copyright holder on anything I host, get in touch, and we'll settle things in a steel cage instead of a courtroom.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

"I don't wanna get over you" - The Undertones

I think it goes without saying that the Buzzcocks are the godfathers of pop-punk. Sure, some people may argue otherwise, but it's generally agreed upon that those four Mancunians with bad haircuts are the cornerstone of the genre. Of course, this doesn't do much to explain away the waves of endless pop-punk groups seemingly stuck in eternal adolesence, hung up on fickle girlfriends, black-and-white emotions, and wishing to God that just for one day you could be beautiful and have a nice car, just to see what it was like. For all their torch-bearing romanticism, the Buzzcocks were still a very adult band. They were sophisticated in their feelings and prone to using pessimism and cynical detachment as a tool to keep from again falling prey to the crushing defeats of youth. They were definitely not Pete Wentz sleeping on his girlfriend's porch like a histrionic dork or the dudes in Hawthorne Heights hanging outside your window with their radios because they take 80's teen movies a tad too seriously.

While most modern pop-punk bands who sing about girls would point to bands like their 90's forebears Green Day and Screeching Weasel and primary influences, in reality they are filtering the two primary influences on snotty teenagers in pop-punk bands: the Descendents (more on them some other day) and a group of goofy Irish kids called the Undertones, who were more concerned with girls than the IRA, unlike almost all of their more strident contemporaries in the first wave of UK punk.

Like pretty much every single band formed in the first wave of punk, the Undertones started off as Ramones fanatics who would quickly incorporate other styles to create something that still sounds distinctive. Hell, by the time their first (and only) indie single came out, they had taken the Ramonesy buzzsaw guitars and velocity and added an icing of ridiculously catchy pop melodies. Said first single, the immortal "Teenage Kicks," makes quavering singer Feagal Sharkey sound like he's yearning/begging for sex in the way only a frustrated teenage boy could. (I'm not going to post the song, because everyone and their mother has heard it, so there's no point in going to the effort.)

Initially a chart failure, it was saved by John Peel, probably the most well-regarded DJ of the last 40 years. In a story told so many time it's become boring (like the story of the first Christmas), Peel announced that it was his favorite pop record of all time, and played it frequently on his show, resulting in a quick signing by Sire and the recording of a classic LP in 1979.

The Undertones is one of the single best pop records, well, ever. It perfectly captures the petulance, longing, sarcasm, and defiant emotionalism of the teenage experience in the western world. The Buzzcocks recognized it when they fell "in love with someone you shouldn't have fallen in love with" and understood that it was for the best that it was ended, time to move on. The Undertones? "I don't wanna get over you/It doesn't matter what you do." The difference between the two groups is all in the "wanna." The album has so many classics that it would be pointless to list highlights. The first three tracks offered here are from this record.

Even with the spate of recent (and even somewhat decent) reunions abounding in the world of fringe rock lovers, I've always said the Undertones were a band that needed to die, or at least break up and stay broken up. A group that so represents youth needs to stay young forever. An old man with jowls singing about teenage kicks is painful to imagine. I mean, I know Roger Daltrey still goes on every night and belts out "My Generation," but that doesn't make it right.

Of course, the boys had a few more albums in 'em. 1980's Hypnotized was by and large an attempt to ape the first record, but it lacked the wound-up livewire sound of the debut, and as a result, ended up sounding tired. It still had some cool numbers (like the title track and "See That Girl"), but it was obvious that primary songwriters the O'Neill brothers were straining against what now seemed like restraints on their sound. Their next LP, the ambitious Positive Touch, wasn't that bad (all things considered), but it wasn't very inspired.

The Undertones bowed out with the incredible single "The Sin of Pride" (the version posted here is from their final Peel session, which I thought was an approriate circle), which is the title track of their last album. Sharkey went on to a career as a middling pop vocalist, and the group called it quits in 1983, barring a 2003 reunion minus the aforementioned singer. The resulting album, Get What You Need, was better than it should have been, but really, stick to the albums done by the original line-up.

Blaming the Undertones for the simpering groups of emotionally damaged teens that formed groups in their wake would be like blaming Nirvana for Nickelback or 3 Doors Down. Accurate, but not really fair. As lways, just let the music speak for itself.


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