The Undertones – The Undertones

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

The best ever Irish band is found in the “U” section of my (and anyone’s) collection. That band is the Undertones. Formed in Derry, Northern Ireland, in 1974, the band revolved around the Brothers O’Neill (John and Damian) and vibrato-master Feargal Sharkey on vocals, and specialized in fizzy punk-pop, though they expanded their sound on future albums. Upon breaking up in 1983, the O’Neills formed That Petrol Emotion. A reformed but Sharkey-less Undertones released two more albums in the 2000s.

What I Think of This Album

This may be the most fun album I own. Its vibrant, energetic, catchy as fuck, and perfectly, utterly, fundamentally teenage. The band infused their fast, three chord songs with joy, but somehow avoided being either a novelty or cutesy; their teenage outlook was more Ramones than Violent Femmes, avoiding raw angst or moody brooding and focusing on the dual rush of hormones and junk food. Admittedly, their music was not at all threatening and arguably less interesting for it, but by leaning into speed, melody, and light crunch, the band brought jubilation and ebullience to a punk scene that was (understandably and righteously) angrier and more confrontational. Honestly, if you can listen to any five songs chosen at random from this album and not smile, you are a pod person.

“Teenage Kicks” is an obvious classic, with Buzzcocks guitars, timelessly relatable lyrics about lustful urges, and a simple but effective melody. Many other songs are basically just as good. “Get Over You” is an odd but irresistible song of devotion, with rampaging drums and sweet harmonies. The Beach Boys via the Ramones are the inspiration for the speedy “Here Comes the Summer,” with a delightful keyboard line, and while “Girls Don’t Like It” may have a confused set of lyrics (though the meaning of “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?” is clear enough), the music is a blast.

The band never runs out of energy or ideas, whether its the questionable rush of “Family Entertainment” (is this about incest?); the spiky “True Confessions,” the almost-girl-group “(She’s A) Runaround,” or the suicide song “Jimmy Jimmy,” as drummer Billy Doherty pounds away and the O’Neills frantically strum, and Sharkey billy-goats his way through each song.

John O’Neill was the primary songwriter, but Doherty contributed two tracks while Damian O’Neill provided one, and a few were collaborations between the O’Neills and bassist Michael Bradley.

The album’s release history is complicated. It was first released in May, 1979, and rereleased about five months later. The rerelease not only added the singles “Teenage Kicks” and “Get Over You,” but also swapped in a single version of “Here Comes the Summer” for the album version (at the time of original release, the single version did not yet exist), and also added “Casbah Rock.” The cover art was also redone.

Complicated, but it gets worse. I have the Rykodisc reissue from 1994, which appends seven bonus tracks. It also, apparently, replaces the rerecorded version of “True Confessions” used on the original release and rerelease with the very first version of the song from the pre-album Teenage Kicks EP. The word is that the two versions are very different. I have no way of knowing if this is true (well, I could do the research, but short of that, I mean). One of the extra tracks, the silly “Mars Bar” contains a sly reference to Bowie and his song “Life On Mars.” Most of the bonus material is strong, with “One Way Love,” “Emergency Cases,” and “Top Twenty” being standouts.

Roger Béchirian (Trash Can Sinatras, Nick Lowe) produced.

The Best Thing About This Album

The sheer exuberance of the music.

Release Date

May, 1979 (original); October, 1979 (reissue); 1994 (Rykodisc reissue)

The Cover Art

So much work with this album. The reissue album cover is an elevated shot of the band and some Buzzcocks-like graphics and colors (it reminds me of “A Different Kind of Tension,” released one month earlier). It’s pretty boring. The original was a muted shot of the band sitting on a stone wall, with a bizarre but interesting composition and a nice green color for the font.

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