THE UNDERTONES SINGLES 77-83 (Part 1)

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I don’t feature The Undertones too often on this blog, mainly as I have a huge dislike for Feargal Sharkey in his latter-day role in the music industry when he was the bulldog who attacked bloggers.

But it does make sense to have them follow on from Buzzcocks in this slot given that they too have reformed and enjoyed success in the live setting many years after first bursting onto the scene. I was actually due to go and see them in Glasgow just over two weeks past, but a bout of ill-health confined me to the house (it also prevented me seeing Trash Can Sinatras a few days prior).  I’m told I missed two unforgettable evenings by those who were there.

It’s worth using suff from wiki to get an idea of how The Undertones came into being:-

The Undertones formed in Derry, Northern Ireland in 1974. The band members were five friends from Creggan and the Bogside, who originally drew inspiration from such artists as the Beatles, Small Faces and Lindisfarne. The band initially rehearsed cover versions at the home of the guitarists, brothers John and Vincent O’Neill, and in the shed of a neighbour. In early 1976, before the band had played gigs at any venues, Vincent O’Neill left the band being replaced by his younger brother Damian.

Beginning in February 1976 the group began playing at various minor local venues, including schools, parish halls and scout huts, where the band’s lead singer, Feargal Sharkey, was a local scout leader. With the arrival of punk rock in late 1976, the artistic focus of the band changed. Artists such as the Adverts, Sex Pistols, the Buzzcocks and, particularly, the Ramones became major influences on the Undertones.

By 1977 the band were performing their own three-chord pop punk material alongside cover versions at concerts. By mid-year they performed concerts outside Derry for the first time. In March 1978, the Undertones recorded a demo tape at Magee University in Derry and sent copies of the tape to various record companies in the hope of securing a record deal, but only received official letters of rejection.

The band had also sent a copy of their recordings to influential BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel, requesting he play the songs on his radio programme. Peel replied to the band, offering to pay for a recording session in Belfast. On 16 June 1978, the band recorded their debut four-song EP “Teenage Kicks” on a budget of only £200. The EP was engineered by Davy Shannon at Wizard Sound Studios, Belfast – and was released on Belfast’s Good Vibrations record label. The title song became a hit with support from John Peel, who considered Teenage Kicks his all-time favourite song, an opinion he held until his death in 2004.

In June 1978, these were the ages of the band members:-

Feargal Sharkey (vocalist) : 19
John O’Neill (rhythm guitar/vocals) : 20
Damian O’Neill (lead guitar/vocals) : 17
Michael Bradley (bass) : 18
Billy Doherty (drums) : 19

It’s genuinely scary that five blokes as young as that could come up something as unforgettable as this:-

mp3 : The Undertones – Teenage Kicks

The song dated back some 12 months prior to its recording and so its writer, John O’Neill was still in his teens at the time. Within a month of it being released on Good Vibrations the band had been snapped by Sire Records who re-released it on 14 October 1977. Three weeks later, it peaked at #31 in the UK singles charts.

A copy of the single on Good Vibrations is worth a small fortune nowadays.  Sire had the decency to include all four tracks when they released it.

mp3 : The Undertones – Smarter Than U
mp3 : The Undertones – True Confessions
mp3 : The Undertones – Emergency Cases

Four songs with a combined running time of under 8 minutes. An EP completely of its time and yet timeless. Oh and the use of the letter ‘U’ instead of the word predates that very practice by Prince by quite a few years. Maybe the purple one had picked up a copy while browsing through the record stores of Minneapolis….

Oh and if True Confessions had been released on its own as a 45, it would be surely been a massive hit and almost as fondly regarded as the lead song.

Enjoy.

10 thoughts on “THE UNDERTONES SINGLES 77-83 (Part 1)

  1. Since that BBC2 John Peel night in 1999 when they played bits of Teenage Kicks over and over and over and over and over and over, I never ever want to hear it again, and will never forgive Lorraine Kelly for causing me to.

  2. Only surpassed by ‘White Man In Hammersmith Palais’ and that’s a fact!

    But don’t worry too much about the prices on discogs, JC, they’re totally wrong! If you delve a bit deeper and look at already sold first pressings (w/ white sleeve and titles printed upside down), you’ll see that € 500,- or even € 200,- are nonsense. Someone is currently selling a first press on eBay, will be ending in a few hours, bids are now at GBP 102,-, he won’t get much more, I’m sure! If someone would ever offer me € 500,-, I’d sell my EX/VG copy as well! Hell, I’d even do it for way less, I think …

  3. YES! Yes, yes yes! Brilliant choice — I don’t have a single Undertones 7″ and own only the first album — so psyched for this series!

  4. Yup, the natural choice to follow Buzzcocks! The Undertones are a band I followed right to the very end. That they were on Sire made gave them a lot of credibility in the States among New Wave and Punk fans. Teenage Kicks lands right behind Ever Fallen In Love (…) on my all time Top 50.

  5. Just looked up the singles on discogs and see that they have all kinds of non-album tracks as b-sides. That means, like today’s post, there’s gonna be tons of songs I’m hearing for the first time. Now I’m even more psyched! Thanks, JC!

  6. Great choice. My favourite band, apart from the Go-Betweens and Microdisney.
    Some really good B-sides coming up, and different versions to the album (Julie Ocean in particular).
    Saw them half a dozen times BITD, and went to Crystal Palace for their last English gig.
    Saw them again last year in Holmfirth, and they were outstanding. How good are you when you can put Teenage Kicks half way through the set? And everyone stays for the encores anyhow. Brilliant.

  7. I take it that they didn’t like the band 999. I had never heard the song “Emergency Cases”…..hey but I still dig the song “Homicide” by 999.

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