The Undertones emerged from Derry, Northern Ireland, in 1977, as part of the U.K. punk and new wave scene. Inspired by radio, records and the Ramones, five Derry teens (Feargal Sharkey, brothers John and Damian O’Neill, Billy Doherty and Mickey Bradley) had never been in bands before. Straight out of a local pub, The Casbah, the band recorded Teenage Kicks, their debut EP, which caught fire on John Peel’s BBC Radio One show and got them signed to Sire Records in the U.S. “Less interested in fashion, anarchy, or politics than in the heady joys of a great pop song, they fused irresistible, hooky tunes with the fierce passion of teenage rock & roll believers, and came up with a handful of instant classics,” observed All Movie Guide’s Mark Deming.
On June 28, 2010, Union Square Music will make the Undertones’ four albums available digitally. Included will be The Undertones (1979), Hypnotised (1980), Positive Touch (1981) and The Sin of Pride (1983), the Teenage Kicks EP, as well as a never-before-released Best of the Undertones compilation.
The digital-only reissues will be available at iTunes.
• The Undertones: Appearing in both the Q magazine list of the “100 Greatest British Albums Ever” and the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, The Undertones' debut LP is a bone fide pop-punk classic. The lead track “Teenage Kicks” has long been regarded as one of the purest expressions of teenage punk pop and has been covered by everyone from KT Tunstall to Green Day. It was also famously U.K. DJ John Peel's favorite record ever. Signed to Seymour Stein’s Sire records in 1978, the band had not originally planned to make an album but after seeing many of their contemporaries —The Sex Pistols, The Clash etc. — make successful albums, they decamped to Eden Studios in West London to record the songs they had been playing in their legendary Friday night gigs at the Casbah. As the bassist Michael Bradley says, there was “No plot, no theme, no parodies of any genre.” The Undertones’ 1979 debut is an off-the-cuff collection from five Londonderry kids with nothing to lose.
• Hypnotised: As critically acclaimed and as commercially successful as the Undertones debut LP, Hypnotised featured both the classic three-minute pop punk of its predecessor (check “My Perfect Cousin,” “There Goes Norman” and “Whizz Kids”) while highlighting a newfound maturity and sensitivity with tracks like the plaintive “Wednesday Week” and stately “The Way Girls Talk.” Recording in the tranquil surroundings of the Wisseloord Studios in Hilversum in the Netherlands (three band members would cycle to the studios every day) so relaxed the band that they weren’t overly concerned that they didn’t have enough songs for the album until the producer Roger Bechirian suggested that “I can ask that chap from the Rumour to write some for you.” Back in Londonderry, the O'Neill brothers came up with three more songs — “Wednesday Week,” “Tearproof” and “More Songs About Chocolate and Girls,” an homage to the Talking Heads’ More Songs About Buildings and Food. “More Songs . . .” would open the album and define the appeal of the band with its much-quoted line: “Sit down relax and cancel all other engagements, it's never too late to enjoy dumb entertainment.”
• Positive Touch: Bassist Michael Bradley admits that despite the commercial success of Hypnotised, the Undertones were bored musically by the time they reconvened in the Wisseloord studios in Netherlands to record Positive Touch. Freed from their contract with Sire, they started recording without a record deal, enabling them to experiment without any executives breathing down their necks. If the band’s debut album was influenced by what they’d been listening to in O’Neill’s front room, then Positive Touch came out of what they’d been listening to since, with influences as diverse as the Stones, Motown, Orange Juice and Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Melody Maker declared the resulting 14 songs to be “one of the truly classic pop albums of all time.”
• The Sin of Pride: For the Undertones’ fourth and final album the band demoed the songs in a home-built studio in Londonderry. As bassist Michael Bradley recalls, “When I say ‘build,’ I mean we went out and bought the wood, and the nails, and cobbled together a small hut. Then we sent away to HHB for a Fostex 8-track and a bunch of microphones. Feargal, being the most technically minded, looked after the recording.” The band weren’t happy with the results and neither were their label EMI with the final album produced by Mike Hedges (of Cure and Wah fame). Lacking the pop punk of the band’s debut album, The Sin of Pride has its merits: NME described it as “an immaculate conception of pop” but the album was not a commercial success and tensions with Feargal soon lead him to leaving the band.
• Best of the Undertones: This never-before-released compilation contains the songs for which the Undertones are best noted: “Teenage Kicks,” “Get Over You,” “Here Comes the Summer,” “”You’ve Got My Number (Why Don’t You Use It),” “My Perfect Cousin,” “Wednesday Week,” “It’s Going to Happen,” “Julie Ocean,” “Beautiful Friend” and “The Love Parade.”
• Teenage Kicks EP: In a move to bring back the EP, quintessential to the development of punk and new wave, Union Square will offer the original Teenage Kicks EP from 1978 featuring the hit “Teenage Kicks” along with “Smarter Than U,” “True Confessions” and “Emergency Cases.”