THE UNDERTONES SINGLES 77-83 (Part 13)

The final single was released in May 1983 by which point the band were on the road trying promote their fourth LP The Sin of Pride and discovering largely apathetic audiences, most of who only wanted to hear and pogo to the early singles. It was during the tour that Feargal Sharkey indicated he was leaving the band but he hung around long enough to fulfill some contractual obligations concerning live shows. Their last show – and it was known well in advance that it would be such – was to one of the biggest audiences they ever performed in front of – 12,000 at Punchestown Racecourse, some 30 miles outside of Dublin – where they were among the support bands for Dire Straits. It was reported that the band gave it everything and received a huge ovation.

mp3 : The Undertones – Chain Of Love

It begins as a cross between Karma Chameleon and Happy Hour and then bounces along quite merrily for all three of its minutes with a sing-a-long chorus. But as with all the later singles, nobody on radio wanted to play it and nobody wanted to buy it.

The b-side is a bit of an oddity. It was written by John O’Neill but as he and Feargal were hardly on speaking terms come the end of things he asked bassist Michael Bradley to sing lead vocals. It’s quite unlike anything else they ever recorded and not just because of a different singer

mp3 : The Undertones – Window Shopping For Old Clothes

So there you have it. All thirteen 45s released by the band between October 1978 and May 1983, most of which still sound decent enough all these years later.

Tune in next Sunday to see who is next to be put under a similar spotlight.

THE UNDERTONES SINGLES 77-83 (Part 12)

“If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

That would seemed to have been the thinking behind the decision to record a cover version for the next single, released in March 1983.  Pop music with a bit of soul was what was beginning to dominate the charts – Culture Club and ABC had been two of the big breakthrough UK acts in 1982 while Paul Weller was also following the well-trodden path with his new band The Style Council.  Perhaps writing something original was just too difficult, so why not test the waters by taking a song by The Isley Brothers and giving it a go?

mp3 : The Undertones – Got To Have You Back

You can tell that a great deal of energy and hard work went into this 45 with Feargal Sharkey delivering a strong vocal performance while the rest of the band willingly gave up the sound that they had become best known for in an effort to appease the record label and to re-engage with the record buying public.

It didn’t work as the single stalled outside the main charts at #82.

Looking back, this is not that bad a record, but nobody could take it seriously as an Undertones record; indeed it seemed that unless they were prepared to go back and come up with a variation on Teenage Kicks then nobody was going to give the band the time of day.  The writing really was on the wall….

This was the b-side:-

mp3 : The Undertones – Turning Blue

Written by John O’Neill, it is again a million miles removed from the earlier material; it’s a decent enough song for a b-side or as an album filler but not all that memorable

The single came out in 7″ and 12″ format but only difference on the latter was the inclusion of this additional b-side, again written by John with the help of Michael Bradley:-

mp3 : The Undertones – Bye Bye Baby Blue

Two songs with the word ‘blue’ in the title – maybe it was a subliminal message as to the overall mood the band were finding themselves in.  This is actually a decent sounding track featuring some very fine harmonies and backing vocals and it certainly is stronger and more accessible than the sole track on the 7″. It is also one of the few tracks on any of their singles that ever went over three minutes in length.

Enjoy.

THE UNDERTONES SINGLES 77-83 (Part 11)

The Undertones, by 1982, were at a crossroads.  They had grown tired of making the fast, spiky post-punk music that had brought them chart success and led to the the lucrative deal with EMI.  The problem however, was that the sort of music they were now leaning towards was not what the label bosses were looking for.

There was also the fact that the band, having gigged extensively from the outset, had spent much of the year back home in Derry trying to find the magic formula that would provide more hit singles and critically acclaimed albums, and their absence in the live setting created a bit of a void among many of their fans.  It took a full eight months after the flop of Beautiful Friend before the next single was released in October 1982:-

mp3 : The Undertones – The Love Parade

Again, it was a million miles away from the sound with which they were most associated but unlike the previous single this had something going for it.  There was a real sense of it sounding as if it had been made with radio play in mind with all sorts of ooh-ooh backing vocals over a soulful, almost Motown, type of tune.  The problem though, was that the record label more or less disowned it and didn’t put any real effort into promoting it and so, like its predecessor, it sunk without trace, stalling at #97 in the charts, despite, in what was a first for the band, it also being released in an extended 12″ format with an extra 90 seconds of music:-

mp3 : The Undertones – The Love Parade (12 inch version)

The b-side is, sorry to say, a rather unremarkable bit of music which sounds as if it never got much beyond its demo version:-

mp3 : The Undertones – Like That

Just two more weeks left in this particular series.  Does anyone have a band or singer they particularly want featured  next? But please bear in mind that I’ll need to have the majority of singles already in the collection with what I don’t have being easy enough to get my hands on.

Or indeed, does anybody want to take on the mantle of doing the next series themselves?

I’m in your hands.

 

THE UNDERTONES SINGLES 77-83 (Part 10)

The next single was released in February 1982.  I’ll hand over to Michael Bradley from the band to offer his take on it:-

“A strange one : probably the first song we didn’t have live. We hadn’t properly played it before going into the studio. There’s a sort of sequencer or synthesiser type thing going on there. It was a big departure for us. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea. But it came at a time when, commercially, we were down. We were very vulnerable to someone saying ‘This is shite.’ Our confidence had been weakened because Julie Ocean didn’t get into the Top 40, Positive Touch wasn’t as successful as Hypnotised and It’s Going To Happen! was a bit of a disappointment, too. Beautiful Friend was a good song, and we enjoyed it as a development, but it was never going to set the charts on fire, as they say.  The whole new romantic thing was happening, suddenly we were passe. People weren’t interested in boys from Derry playing guitars.”

mp3 : The Undertones – Beautiful Friend

To say it bombed would be an understatement.  It didn’t sell enough copies to scrape into the Top 100, this from a band who less than two years previous had enjoyed a run of Top 20 singles.

It was the first of their singles I didn’t buy.  I thought it was dull and uninspired and I haven’t changed my mind all these years later.

The b-side was a reworking of Life’s Too Easy, a song on Positive Touch.  Here’s Michael’s take on it:-

“Another strange one.  It was contrived. Again, it was us doing something different, possibly for the sake of doing something different. I wasn’t happy with that one.”

mp3 : The Undertones – Life’s Too Easy

(apologies for the poor quality of this track – I had to source it from somewhere else on t’internet – it’s not worth paying 99p for via i-tunes).  Worth mentioning too that Michael was a co-writer of Life’s Too Easy so his criticism of the new version has to be seen as very valid.

The band, on a new label with bosses having high expectations, were at a crossroads.  The new material for the fourth LP was going to be crucial….

 

THE UNDERTONES SINGLES 77-83 (Part 9)

The next single was released in July 1981 and became the first since Jimmy Jimmy not to crack the Top 40.

The band’s third album Positive Touch had been released a couple of months previously, their first for EMI, but it hadn’t sold nearly as many copies as the previous records.  Critics had been a bit bemused by it – while they were keen to praise what was a marked departure in sound with comparisons now to The Velvet Underground instead of Buzzcocks, there was a sense that the band were missing what many felt they were best at – fast and furious post-punk guitar led music. The use of piano and trumpet, combined with an increasing reliance on acoustic guitars, certainly divided fans and there was a marked reluctance from them to embrace much of the new material in the live setting as you couldn’t really dance to it.

It also created a problem for the label bosses as there was no real obvious single to follow-up It’s Going To Happen! and so the decision was taken to take a fabulous ballad and re-record it. Here’s the LP version:-

mp3 : The Undertones – Julie Ocean (original version)

The Velvet Underground influence can easily be discerned across its less than two minutes of magnificence.

Here’s the outcome of asking Dave Balfe and Hugh Jones to come in and work their brand of magic on it:-

mp3 : The Undertones – Julie Ocean (single version)

At almost three and a half minutes, it’s way longer than the album version – it also sees Feargal deliver a different vocal with a change in tempo and use of echo taking away from the simplicity and fragility of the original. It also has a long fade-out which seems to indicate that the producers weren’t quite sure what to do with it.

I don’t think I’m alone in preferring the album version but at the same time I can see what the new version was trying to achieve in terms of creating a more radio-friendly sound. They did a decent enough job in that regard and the song certainly deserved to do better than #41 in the charts.

The b-side was a new song, and again came via the time in the studio with Balfe and Jones:-

mp3 : The Undertones – Kiss In The Dark

Again, it marked the new more mature sounding Undertones. I remember being a bit disappointed with it at the time but as my tastes have developed and matured over the years I’ve grown to like it a bit more. But it’s no True Confessions or Mars Bar…..

THE UNDERTONES SINGLES 77-83 (Part 8)

Those of you who are observant will notice the word ‘Ardeck’ on the front of the sleeve for the eighth single from The Undertones.

The band took advantage of a successful 1980 sales-wise to put out the feelers for a new label as they were unhappy with Sire Records unwillingness to promote them to any great extent in the USA.  They ended up on EMI who agreed to a licensing deal with all material to be released on Ardeck Records, a label which has since only ever issued singles, albums, compilations and re-releases by The Undertones.

It’s Going To Happen! was a Damian O’Neill/Michael Bradley composition, in all likelihood chosen by some mogul at EMI on the basis that they had been the duo responsible for the band’s only Top Ten single. It was released in May 1981 and reached #18 in the charts, an excellent achievement given it was by far their weakest 45 to date, with many bemused by the inclusion of horns within the song.

Also worth noting that the band managed to skilfully avoid the fact that the song, while on the surface sounding as if it was just another innocent sounding pop song, possibly about a failing relationship, was in fact an attack on the intransigence of the UK government to find a solution to the political hunger strikes that were taking place at the Maze Prison in Belfast.  If the real intention behind the song had been revealed then a radio and TV ban was inevitable and it’s likely that the band, and their families, would have run into real issues around personal safety back home.

mp3 : The Undertones – It’s Going To Happen!

The b-side is one of the most peculiar sounding things the band ever recorded.  The info on the single would indicate that it’s a cover of a song by an unknown band called Tommy Tate & The Torpedoes,

but it was later revealed that this was a name adopted by Damian O’Neill and was intended as a wee bit of a joke, but in a semi-serious way, at his bandmates’ expense whom he felt were sailing in choppy waters, beginning to moan and whine about their lot when the fact was they were enjoying success and earning more than they had ever dare dreamed of.

mp3 : The Undertones – Fairly In The Money Now

Enjoy.

THE UNDERTONES SINGLES 77-83 (Part 7)

The next single maintained the momentum reaching #11 in July 1980.

But it was a 45 which caught a lot of people out as, for the first time in the singles format, the band showed there was more to them than 1-2-3-4 post-punk pop.

mp3 : The Undertones – Wednesday Week

It was also a nightmare for daytime radio DJs in that it gave absolutely no opportunity to talk over the intro.  It’s another John O’Neill composition and is very much a nod to the 60s, akin to the mellower sounds of The Beatles and The Kinks.  I’ll own up by admitting it wasn’t one that I fell for right away but as my tastes have developed and become a bit more refined over the years I can fully appreciate it.

The b-side is another of John’s songs.  It was seemingly originally intended as a free flexidisc give away with Smash Hits magazine but when that fell through the band decided to make it available on the b-side.  It’s another song that seems to have its roots elsewhere – to my ears it’s always sounded like a speeded-up version of something that might have been recorded Johnny Cash….with extra guitar.

mp3 : The Undertones – I Told You So *

The A and B-sides come to a combined running time of under four and a half minutes.

Enjoy

* now with proper link

 

 

 

 

Enjoy.

THE UNDERTONES SINGLES 77-83 (Part 6)

The first five singles, now readily accepted as bona-fide classics which have more than stood the test of time, were all the work of principal songwriter in the band, guitarist John O’Neill.  None of them, as we have seen, quite made the Top 10.

It was all so different with the next single, released at the very end of March 1980.

My Perfect Cousin spent a total of ten weeks in the UK singles charts.  By week five, it had reached #11.  The following week it climbed one space to give the band its first, and is turned out, only Top 10 hit.  It actually went up another notch to #9 before plummeting all the way down to #29 the following week by which time the band’s second LP, Hypnotised, a record which took up exactly where the debut had ended (albeit we should all draw a veil over the pointless cover of Under The Boardwalk.)

The hit single was written by Damian O’Neill and Michael Bradley, with the latter coming up with most of the lyric which, unlike Jimmy Jimmy, was actually based on someone real. And with the lyrics being reproduced on the rear of the sleeve (which itself is a nod to the Subbuteo table football game referenced in the song), it became a manic favourite in the live setting.

mp3 : The Undertones – My Perfect Cousin

Two more b-sides for you to enjoy, albeit blink and you’ll miss one of them

Hard Luck (Again) is a four-minute plus effort and so is one of the longest songs the band ever recorded.  It starts off with a very glam-rock beat before metamorphosing into something Buzzcocks would be very proud of.  I Don’t Wanna See You Again, at just 46 seconds long, has a tune that the early Clash would be very proud of.

mp3 : The Undertones – Hard Luck (Again)
mp3 : The Undertones  – I Don’t Want To See You Again

Happy New Year. I’ll be around all week with more covers.

Enjoy.

THE UNDERTONES SINGLES 77-83 (Part 5)

Next up is, what I reckon, is a hugely underrated 45 thanks to it having a fabulous hook and cracking sing-a-long chorus.

It was released in October 1979 and was a brand-new song not having featured on the debut LP.   I’m not claiming it’s a bona-fide all-time classic but it deserved to do better than three weeks in the Top 4o with a peak position of #32.

mp3 : The Undertones – You’ve Got My Number (Why Don’t You Use It)

The b-side, unusually, was a cover version.  It was of a song by The Chocolate Watch Band, an American garage rock band, with The Undertones picking it up as it had been included on the Nuggets compilation LP which they regarded as essential listening.  Mind you, this particular song title is something they could have come up quite easily themselves:-

mp3 : The Undertones – Let’s Talk About Girls

Merry Christmas Everyone. Here’s the long-standing tradition of the day:-

mp3 : Sultans Of Ping  – Xmas Bubblegum Machine

I’m going to be here all week…..so feel free to drop in any time you like.

 

 

 

Enjoy.

THE UNDERTONES SINGLES 77-83 (Vol 4)

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Having cracked the higher echelons of the charts last time out, the band took the decision to re-record a well-liked song from their debut LP, speed it up so that it wasn’t a million miles away from the tempo of The Ramones, and make it their fourth single:-

mp3 : The Undertones – Here Comes The Summer

Only 1 minute and 45 seconds in length and one which got a load of favourable reviews yet stalled at #34 at the height of the summer of 1979.

There were two new songs recorded for the b-side:-

mp3 : The Undertones – One Way Love
mp3 : The Undertones – Top Twenty

The former has been described by the band as their homage to Last Train To Clarkesville, albeit via a one-note special. Interesting to learn that all the members of The Undertones, like so many kids in Britain who grew up in the last 60s and 70s, got hooked on The Monkees thanks to their TV shows being on constant repeat during the 90 minutes or so that were devoted to children’s TV on the BBC.

The latter is akin to Scottish punksters The Rezillos, with its ‘hey hey hey’ backing vocal.

All in all, three hugely enjoyable songs with a combined running time of a little over six minutes.

Enjoy.

THE UNDERTONES SINGLES 77-83 (Vol 3)

In which the band finally, and deservedly, hit the Top 20.

Jimmy Jimmy is one of the finest of all the post-punk singles. It was written by John O’Neill although many folk probably thought it was all down to singer Feargal Sharkey as he is the one pictured on the front of the sleeve holding a trophy he had won a teenager.

mp3 : The Undertones – Jimmy Jimmy

Seemingly, the song, with its sad ending, wasn’t based on anyone or on any sort of true story.

The b-side is just one of the most fun records ever made:-

mp3 : The Undertones – Mars Bars

Composed by Damien O’Neill and Michael Bradley, it’s an ode to the band’s staple diet of that era…with the chorus and some other of thre lyrics drawing inspiration from the TV ads which promoted the chocolate confectionary.

The single spent ten weeks in the chart from the end of April 1979, including a four-week run in the Top 20 without managing to climb any higher than #16.

Enjoy

THE UNDERTONES SINGLES 77-83 (Part 2)

I don’t think I can do any better than cut’n’paste from a post on this very blog back in August 2014:-

It was back in 1978 that The Undertones released their debut single and the best ever 45 of all time in the opinion of the late John Peel.

But it was in February 1979 that I reckon the band released their best ever single…..the flop-follow up to the debut.

Teenage Kicks was not an out-an-out chart success, reaching the relatively low position of #31 in the UK charts. Get Over You however, was a bit of a disaster as far as the band was concerned, hitting only #57.

In sleeve notes to a compilation CD released back in 1999, the band’s Michael Bradley said:-

“We were very disappointed by the chart position. We thought it was all over and our career was finished.”

They weren’t the only ones bitterly disappointed. I remember hearing this on Radio 1 one morning and making sure that on the way home from school later in the day that I bought the single. I also remember putting it on the turntable and being really disappointed in the first few seconds as I thought either my needle was damaged or my speaker was broken (it was still an old-fashioned Dansette record player in those days). Thankfully, it was just the opening riff that blasts away in the background before giving way to a short wolf-whistle clearly delivered by someone who had ambitions to get on a building site…..and then the opening riff comes in at full tilt. It’s Status Quo on speed……

mp3 : The Undertones – Get Over You

At this point in my life, I had yet to have my heartbroken by a member of the opposite sex…..but I instinctively knew, on hearing this record, that when that particular day came, as inevitably it had to, this was a song I would play, again and again and again until the pain went away.

There were two songs on the b-side, and they also dealt with girls:-

mp3 : The Undertones – Really Really
mp3 : The Undertones – She Can Only Say No

The latter of these is only around 40 seconds long, and the biggest tribute I can possibly pay it is that it’s the greatest song that Pete Shelley of Buzzcocks never wrote.

2016 update.  Here’s some songs that were in the chart the same week Get Over You peaked at #57:-

HEART OF GLASS : BLONDIE : #1
HIT ME WITH YOUR RHYTHM STICK : IAN AND THE BLOCKHEADS : #8
MILK AND ALCOHOL : DR. FEELGOOD : #9
KING ROCKER : GENERATION X : #11
OLIVER’S ARMY : ELVIS COSTELLO AND THE ATTRACTIONS : #13
THE SOUND OF THE SUBURBS : THE MEMBERS : #25
STOP YOUR SOBBING : THE PRETENDERS : #46
INTO THE VALLEY : THE SKIDS : #50

So it’s not as if there wasn’t an appetite or market for the song, which makes it all the more bemusing that it failed as a 45.

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.

GET OVER YOU

the-undertones-get-over-you-98874

It was back in 1978 that The Undertones released their debut single and the best ever 45 of all time in the opinion of the late John Peel.

But it was in February 1979 that I reckon the band released their best ever single…..the flop-follow up to the debut.

Teenage Kicks was not an out-an-out chart success, reaching the relatively low position of #31 in the UK charts. Get Over You however, was a bit of a disaster as far as the band was concerned, hitting only #57.

In sleeve notes to a compilation CD released back in 1999, the band’s Michael Bradley said:-

“We were very disappointed by the chart position. We thought it was all over and our career was finished.”

They weren’t the only ones bitterly disappointed. I remember hearing this on Radio 1 one morning and making sure that on the way home from school later in the day that I bought the single. I also remember putting it on the turntable and being really disappointed in the first few seconds as I thought either my needle was damaged or my speaker was broken (it was still an old-fashioned Dansette record player in those days). Thankfully, it was just the opening riff that blasts away in the background before giving way to a short wolf-whistle clearly delivered by someone who had ambitions to get on a building site…..and then the opening riff comes in at full tilt. It’s Status Quo on speed……

mp3 : The Undertones – Get Over You

At this point in my life, I had yet to have my heartbroken by a member of the opposite sex…..but I instinctively knew, on hearing this record, that when that particular day came, as inevitably it had to, this was a song I would play, again and again and again until the pain went away.

There were two songs on the b-side, and they also dealt with girls:-

mp3 : The Undertones – Really Really
mp3 : The Undertones – She Can Only Say No

The latter of these is only around 40 seconds long, and the biggest tribute I can possibly pay it is that it’s the greatest song that Pete Shelley of Buzzcocks never wrote.

Happy Listening.