The Undertones The Undertones, 1979, Sire
Girls Don’t Like It
I Gotta Getta
Here Comes the Summer
She’s a Runaround
I Knew a Girl
After covering Stiff Little Fingers last week, it’s only fair to look at their contemporaries, The Undertones. Formed in Derry, Northern Ireland in 1974, Fergal Sharkey on vocals, John O’Neill on rhythm guitar, Damian O’Neill on guitar and keyboard, Michael Bradley on bass and Billy Doherty on drums chose not to focus on NI politics and criticised SLF for doing so. Instead they wrote songs about universal teenage themes and relationships. Their early inspirations were the Beatles and the Small Faces and later The Ramones. Their style was much more similar to what we would now recognise as pop-punk than the pure punk of SLF.
The Undertones debut album, released in May 1979 starts with a lovely little song about incest though, so they clearly do still want to have a foot in the punk camp. Girls Don’t Like It has much more of a poppy vibe, it’s a bit of an unrequited love song. Male Model is pure angry teenager. I Gotta Getta continues this vibe with a glam rock element thrown in. Wrong Way has a great upbeat rhythm with a really pure sounding vocal. Here Comes The Summer is a strong, fun track about chasing girls, it’s one of the highlights of the album and the obvious choice for a single, the guitars are great and there’s even a bit of synth to broaden their appeal. Billy’s Third is a sadder song lyrically but is fast paced with a strong beat. Jimmy Jimmy keeps the fast beat (the rhythm section does a great job throughout the album) but with darker subject matter. This was also released as a single. True Confessions is guitar driven, it’s a nice track, probably the nearest thing to pure punk on the album. She’s a Runaround is another strong, poppy track, probably the most obviously Ramone influenced along with Listening In which has a nice intro and guitars throughout. The brief Casbah Rock ends the album, it’s got a 1950s vibe in terms of the guitar and the vocal.
If you’re already an Undertones fan you might be wondering where their most famous song and breakout single Teenage Kicks has disappeared to. It was released as a standalone EP and was not included on the original pressing of the album although it did appear on all later re-issues, including one that was bought out at the end of 1979. This was the song that got them noticed, in no small part because it led to them being championed by John Peel who always said Teenage Kicks was his favourite song ever.
After the release of this album, they supported The Clash on their US tour at the end of the year. They went on to release three more successful albums, breaking up in 1983.
While this certainly doesn’t have the gravitas of a number of the other albums released this year, 30 minutes of fun music with relatable lyrics and catchy choruses was probably welcomed by teenagers living in the bleak Britain of 1979. The Undertones’ success shows that there is room for everyone on the alternative music scene, not just people earnestly trying to change the world or start revolutions
On the opening track of their second album Hypnotised, the brilliantly titled More Songs About Chocolate and Girls they tell us; “It’s never too late to enjoy dumb entertainment” and that’s exactly what their first album was. Cheers to The Undertones for reminding us that being a teenager in a rock band was and surely still is the best thing in the world.