Of all the records this admittedly sluggish Top 100 could have stalled on for its longest period, it is odd that it was Teenage Kicks. After all everyone loves Teenage Kicks, right? Tom was toying with writing about it as an adjunct to this Pitchfork article about Peel, but the time came and went (and you can’t begrudge him, he is going great guns on Popular). A few other volunteered, to then realise that they couldn’t quite put into words what they really wanted to say about TK. And so I will attempt it, after being prompted by the reference made by Tom in this Abba – Dancing Queen article. He (rightly in my opinion) sees Teenage Kicks and Dancing Queen as being cut from the same cloth, a glorious celebration of teenaged energy and abandon. Is that why Teenage Kicks is so good though?
Well yes. That’s why it is good. Great even. But SO GOOD? That reason is John Peel. Bear in mind that as the eclectic, all over the place, music loving DJ persona that really crystalised in the 80’s, he would constantly be asked a number of questions about his musical taste. And it is odd that we all know his favourite single and favourite album and that NEVER CHANGED in almost twenty years. Trout Mask Replica, and Teenage Kicks. Which perhaps in 1982 as a pairing would have shown considerable pop/rock breadth, but by 2002 could be from the same album (indeed I am sure you can get a Peel sanctioned comp with Kicks and some Beefheart on it).
None of that is to say that Teenage Kicks isn’t any good. Part of me wanted to write a devils advocate piece, to at least crisp up the comments segment (non-Popular threads often get Popular envy). No, its a terrific little firecracker of a record which has survived being endlessly quoted. But I am pretty sure that even my first listen to it came with the Peel baggage (now i may not have listened to Peel then, but I would have been young enough to consider ANY DJ thinking a track is the best ever as enough of a seal of approval*). But I was aware of power pop, and punk and coming in way after the fact was there still enough in Teenage Kicks to really make it special? I don’t, and can’t know – and as the bargain basement of the Record And Tape Excahnge fills up with more Green Day best ofs, is there anything that will make Teenage Kicks stand out?
If Tom is trying to think about about the context of a single in its time in Popular, I suggest it might be interesting to do the opposite here. Take Teenage Kicks out of its context (which may help it from a Feargal Sharkey perspective). Try to divorce it from Peel, take it away from its period of post-punk greatness. Would it fit on an Ash Greatest Hits album without surprising you? There are other Undertones songs which are much funnier and more distinctive (My Perfect Cousin for one). Teenage Kicks may be generic teenage energy crystalised perfectly, but perhaps its perfection would have made it fade, if it wasn’t for Peel. Watch and see if you agree?
*I am pretty sure my love of Nellie The Eliephant is due to an inappropriate Ed Stewpot Stewart interview in Look-In.