13
May 08

The Top 100 Tracks Of All Time: 45. The Undertones – Teenage Kicks

FT/34 comments • 7,916 views

underteenbel.jpgOf 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.

Comments

  1. 1
    Tom on 13 May 2008 #

    What makes TK great are the big dumb glam chords – doing Popular and coming out of the Rollers/Osmonds era now it’s struck me that the 70s boy band generation seemed to lack a really stomping upbeat anthem – and that’s what this is. I wonder if Peel would have loved it so much if it had been by the Rollers :)

    (It’s SO MUCH the best Undertones record too)

  2. 2
    and everybody elses Mark G on 13 May 2008 #

    I remember loving “Get Over You”, the very next single, just because it proved that the Undertones would have life after the best single ever made.

  3. 3
    lex on 13 May 2008 #

    And it is odd that we all know his favourite single and favourite album and that NEVER CHANGED in almost twenty years

    i think this is entirely apt for john bloody peel!

    i don’t like ‘teenage kicks’ much, it’s a bit too messy.

  4. 4
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 13 May 2008 #

    there’s a quote somewhere from simon frith — another rockwriter quoting him, i mean, except i can’t recall who — where frith sez (freestyle remix): “yay i love SCHOOL’S OUT and i’ve been out of school for TEN YEARS”

    anyway, obv there’s something wonky — as well as endearing — abt old father peel’s embrace of a record called “teenage kicks”, which i assume is partly in a similar Knowingly Idealised vein: viz that part of the pleasure is yr awareness that actually when a teen this wasn’t how you were or what you liked, it’s more “i *wish* i had been kind of teen when i was a teen (and then be that kind of teen RIGHT NOW)”

    (peel actually stopped being a teen in 1958 — so it’s not as if this record could have reminded him of songs being made when he was a teen)

  5. 5
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 13 May 2008 #

    (haha actually that frith quote — my guess is it’s from g.marcus — looks really quaint now doesn’t it? omigod rock critics in being-in-their-late-20s shockah)

  6. 6
    jeff w on 13 May 2008 #

    D’oh! For months I’ve assumed it was “Doop” you were stuck on and have been eagerly awaiting same. Have now caught up with Carsmile’s elegant tribute.

    As to Undertones:
    You’ve Got My Number (Why Don’t You Use It?) > Get Over You > Teenage Kicks

  7. 7
    Matt DC on 13 May 2008 #

    There’s a sort of mass chumminess between the Great British Public and Teenage Kicks these days. For those who weren’t there at the time, the record is pretty much entirely viewed through a Peel prism and his personality is projected onto the record in ways no one ever intended. This never happens with Fall records!

    I don’t know why I like it more than anything off an Ash best of – there’s a fullness to the sound that I don’t detect in many other records of this era (or subsequent ones).

  8. 8
    lex on 13 May 2008 #

    There’s a sort of mass chumminess between the Great British Public and Teenage Kicks these days.

    DENIED

    I don’t know why I like it more than anything off an Ash best of

    erm the clue is in the phrase “Ash best of” surely

  9. 9
    Andrew Farrell on 13 May 2008 #

    Possibly quite important question regarding it’s longevity in Peel’s heart: is it the first record he ‘broke’?

  10. 10
    Tom on 13 May 2008 #

    Gawd no I’m sure he broke a lot of rub back in the Perfumed Garden days. He gave a big leg-up to T Rex, didn’t he?

    And he’d “broken” a lot of punk stuff before Teenage Kicks.

  11. 11
    Billy Smart on 13 May 2008 #

    ‘Spinning Rock Boogie’ by Hank C Burnett is a classic early example of a Peel hit. And I think that ‘Ire Feelings’ and ‘Uptown Top Ranking’ are also supposed to owe a lot to his support.

  12. 12
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 13 May 2008 #

    depends a bit what you mean by broke: uptown top ranking was a massive charting hit, which i don’t think anything from his perfumed garden days was (TRex went on to chart lots obv but really only after they’d rather escaped the lothlorien children’s-hour folky-bongo thing they had goin which peel pushed)

  13. 13
    SteveM on 13 May 2008 #

    ‘doing Popular and coming out of the Rollers/Osmonds era now it’s struck me that the 70s boy band generation seemed to lack a really stomping upbeat anthem’

    surely ‘Crazy Horses’ must’ve come close

  14. 14
    koganbot on 13 May 2008 #

    Don’t recall if I’d ever heard this. Sounds like Blondie’s “One Way Or Another” without Moroder (or Blondie). Or “One Way Or Another” sounds like this.

  15. 15
    byebyepride on 13 May 2008 #

    yawn, basically. It’s an ok tune for a shit indie disco, but it’s never moved me.

  16. 16
    DJ Punctum on 14 May 2008 #

    Question: if so many people loved “Teenage Kicks” (and if they’re not just pretending that they loved it) how come it only managed #31 in the charts back in ’78, far behind such titans as Boney M, the Smurfs and Smokie?

  17. 17
    Tom on 14 May 2008 #

    Most of the people on the thread saying they love it (note the tense) wouldn’t have been listening in 1978 for reasons of age or non-existence.

  18. 18
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 14 May 2008 #

    “reasons of non-existence” <– lightweights!

    a reason why there’s often a sense of injustice about hits-that-weren’t is that they amass their supprot and affection across time (fancy word: diachronically) rather than in the necessary instant (synchronically)

    bcz there’s obviously a “stands the test of time” element to diachronic fandom, it gets bumped up as a counter to the (allegedly) travesty of the synchronic hit (er also known as the “hit”)

    but what’s actually usually valuable about diachronic hits (also known as “number 77 without a bullet”) is that they’ve evidently gathered to themselves some kind of a “test of space” to pass, where the value accrues as a result of the social context you bring to the situation

  19. 19
    DJ Punctum on 14 May 2008 #

    It’s just that there’s a sort of quasi-amnesiac/quasi-deliberate attempt by those ’78 kids who Now Control The Media to pretend that TK was a super smash hit which isn’t the same thing as and may indeed be diametrically/diatribally opposed to one’s personal notion of the music and how it combines with and enriches/despoils one’s own air.

    (my schoolboy solution back then, and I’m sure many here could say the same, was to compile my OWN weekly charts which were righteous and true (MY truth), totally biased and ruthless and inclusive and generous, until the actual charts started to resemble my charts and there was therefore no further need)

    Some might view this as an eventual victory – i.e. “our” story turned out to be the correct one, not DLT’s or the BMRB’s – but this in turn creates an oppressive layer which keeps “today” out. I think that this week’s Scooter triumph may represent a potential turning point for private universes miraculously all coming up with the same answer because it would be nice to have some new history instead of Jeremy Vine telling us that there’ll never be another Teenage Kicks just as in ’78 JY reckoned there’d never be another I Want To Hold Your Hand.

  20. 20
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 14 May 2008 #

    yes that’s what i was getting at in my no-coffee-yet-so-will-abuse-crit-theory-jargon way: that there’s a kind of revenge-of-the-silent-majority aspect to the emergence of these slowburn popular favourites — in this case mixed in with genuine affection for a figure who played a large role in the quiet and private times of loads of shy clever people — which actually (as it emerges in conventional wisdom) suppresses the aspect of it that was the value, in favour of a highly conventionalised and pre-approved model of where value lies

  21. 21
    Ben on 14 May 2008 #

    I’ve always loved TK, would probably say it’s my second favourite song of all time. My abiding memories of Glastonbury 2005 are the Thursday night torrential downpour (with subsequent Friday flooding), and the many, many different versions of ‘Teenage Kicks’ I heard that weekend. Possibly 5 or 6 different covers… certainly Ash, Soulwax amongst them. And all in tribute to a man who did more for new bands than most.

    I wonder if there’s any song in history as closely associated with an individual that didn’t write or perform said song, as ‘Teenage Kicks’ is with Sir John of Peel?

    What’s so great about it? I don’t really know. I love that intro, it’s joyous without being overly jaunty. And the lyrics, whilst simple, just resonate with meaning. Which of us can honestly say that we were never a teenage dreamer?

  22. 22
    DJ Punctum on 14 May 2008 #

    Kenny Everett and “Bo Rhap”?

  23. 23
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 14 May 2008 #

    i don’t think i’ve *ever* associated BoRhap with kenny everett!

    is teenage kicks at all known outside the UK? (koganbot’s response suggests possibly not)

  24. 24
    DJ Punctum on 14 May 2008 #

    Next door neighbour Freddie played Ken the finished acetate and he went bonkers about it, playing it about ten times a day on his Capital show weeks if not months before the album was due to be released (to the accompaniment of much Mercurial “grrr!”s) and demanding that it be put out as a single and in the end both Queen and EMI had to relent.

  25. 25
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 14 May 2008 #

    yes i (sort of) know that story, but it never comes to mind when BoRhap is in mind, is what i meant: and i somewhat doubt that kenny’s role is built into the general global BR fondness tho, whereas peelie’s love of TK is surely like fact no.1 that everyone knows, possibly a lot closer to everyone’s sense of the song’s identity than actual anecdotage abt the undertones, then or since?

  26. 26
    DJ Punctum on 14 May 2008 #

    But then again, has TK also helped devalue the currency of Peel in that both slip into this cuddly good bloke(s) slipcase while totally ignoring what either was attempting to do (see also general ISIHAC >>>>>>>> actual jazz stuff attitude towards posthumous Humph) so that again Radio 1 burbles on about NEW MUSIC practically every second but will now not play any actual new music as in changing the listener’s world?

  27. 27
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 14 May 2008 #

    humph is a good comparison bcz his “lovely bloke who everyone loved”-ness was ALWAYS there somewhat setting off the oddity of his passions: just as peel liked WEIRD SKRONKY MUSIC AND LOTS OF IT, but was (to the not-very thoughtful onlooker) “refreshingly unlike” the twerps One Might Expect to like such horriblenoise, so humph yes yes loved jazz ew ew but was humorous and non-nerdy and thus “refreshingly unlike” the twerps One Might Expect to like such horriblenoise blah blah

    so in both cases they were a portal to some, but to others more like a kind of indicator of openmindedness never actually acted on (?)

  28. 28
    Drucius on 14 May 2008 #

    DJ Punctum: “It’s just that there’s a sort of quasi-amnesiac/quasi-deliberate attempt by those ‘78 kids who Now Control The Media to pretend that TK was a super smash hit which isn’t the same thing as and may indeed be diametrically/diatribally opposed to one’s personal notion of the music and how it combines with and enriches/despoils one’s own air.”

    While I’m aware of a willingness amongst “media folk” to laud Teenage Kicks, I’m not aware of any push to describe it as a big smash hit. Can you give an example of this?

  29. 29
    Drucius on 14 May 2008 #

    Ben: “Which of us can honestly say that we were never a teenage dreamer?”

    Or a teenage wanker, eh?

  30. 30
    DJ Punctum on 14 May 2008 #

    Turn on Radio 2 practically any day of the week for an example, pal.

  31. 31
    vinylscot on 16 May 2008 #

    IMO (and I have always thought this) “TK” was the second-best song on the EP – “True Confessions” (not the LP version though) struck me as more fresh, original, and just plain good.

    “TK” always seemed to me to be rather deriviative of T.Rex (well, Bolan at least). In the p**k discussions which are emerging on Popular now, some state p**k was a logical follow-on from glam-rock, i.e. a development rather than a new phenomenon, and this song (while not overly p**k, rather part of the acceptable face of p**k) illustrates that theory well. (I believe the Undertones acknowledged this, and even included a little bit of “Solid Gold Easy Action” on one of their early B-Sides. They also did a pretty good Glitter Band pastiche on “Hard Luck” on their second album.)

    I’ve no idea why Peel had such a “safe” fave ditty; the idea always seemed a little odd to me.

    In response to another point – perhaps Mike Read’s connection to “Unilaterally Censored by Spoiler Bunny” is almost as universally known and referenced.

  32. 32

    VS maybe it’s like that announcement on the first faust LP: “we like the beach boys” — it’s a way of saying (to themselves as much as anything) “no no we’re not JUST pop-hating noiseniks, not at all, we are normal like you (nearly)”

  33. 33
    DJ Punctum on 16 May 2008 #

    Innate popism of Faust of course confirmed by subsequent “Don’t Take Roots.”

  34. 34
    Doctor Mod on 19 May 2008 #

    Always liked Feargal’s quavery vibrato, though I never actually heard him until “A Good Heart” circa 85 or so. I heard TK for the first time several months ago, actually–“I recognize that voice!–when a found a couple of Undertones CD on sale at ONE DOLLAR each at a local bookstore. Ergo, the only way for me to listen to it is completely divorced from its original context and thus free from the accumulated prejudices others have–just as Tom suggested one might attempt to do.

    So my first impression of the song was indeed that of “generic teenage energy crystalised perfectly,” albeit a bit sardonically so.

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