Oct 082012

If you ask me, the world “blew it” in generally ignoring The Undertones. Actually, I’m not sure I can condemn the UK, which has seen fit to produce 2 documentaries on this little band that could, but my fellow countrymen can bite me for leaving proper appreciation for this band to what seems like a few dozen scattered Americans of my generation and the slightly younger Townsman Berlyant, who once bravely saw fit to defend the band’s lone demi-turd of an album, The Sin of Pride, at our first (and as-yet only) live Rock Town Hall symposium. Among the slightly younger generation of folks who should know better, not even Townsman Oats digs The Undertones. For shame! More power to Berlyant for his brave stance! More power to The Undertones!

Please note: the clips I’ve included are not necessarily what I consider the band’s “best” songs or available live video performances. In fact, they’re from the period that even most Undertones fans consider the end of the line, from 1980’s overlooked gem Positive Touch (their most important contribution to humanity, in my opinion) to the aforementioned swan song by the original line-up. (They’ve since re-formed with an adequate replacement lead singer for the proud Feargal Sharkey, allowing folks like myself to celebrate and pay homage to the band’s past glories.) What these clips do show and what I have valued so much since stumbling across their unbelievably energetic and creative first album is a combination of rock ‘n roll smarts, energy, and idiosyncrasy that was unmatched among a generation of bands understandably influenced by the The Ramones and Nuggets records. With no “ace” musicians, nothing more distinctive than a unique singer and an endless supply of peppy riffs, they always relied on each other as a band. There was never a song that was clearly the tertiary songwriter’s bone or an excuse for the lead guitarist to wank off. The Undertones made my music, the way me and my friends could imagine ourselves making music. I am disappointed in you, world, for not seeing things my way.

The point of this thread, however, is not to focus on The Undertones but to share what other ways the world blew it. What artist that failed to capture a larger audience and better sprinkle their magic pixie dust through the land makes you shake your head and feel the world blew a once-in-a-generation opportunity?


  18 Responses to “World, You Blew It!”

  1. misterioso

    I hate to contribute to your disillusionment with the world, Mod, the most I’ve ever been able to muster for the Undertones is “yeah, they’re not bad.” I think this falls a bit short of what you were hoping for.

    Most the examples I can think of in my own experience are probably by now cliches–Big Star, the first iteration of The Modern Lovers, Emitt Rhodes, etc. In my older age I’ve lost the outrage of thinking that Everything Might Have Been Different if only, say, “In the Street” had hit the top 10. Let’s face it, in the long run it was probably better this way.

  2. Suburban kid

    I’m not going to embarrass myself my saying something like “The Cramps could have been huge!”, and I don’t feel like writing essays about the obscure bands I love. I know they are obscure for a reason, and it’s usually not just due to lack of promotion or the public’s poor taste.

    I will say that my understanding of Fergal’s stance (and I haven’t seen the first documentary since it came out and I haven’t yet seen the second one) was that he was finished with this pop stuff because he’s grown up now. Between the lines, I have to assume he also lost interest in singing/performing (even, for example, in a more grown-up fashion). And perhaps he still just didn’t like the other guys.

    Also, I saw the Undertones play one of their last concerts with Fergal Sharkey, and considering we know that they had been very unhappy as a band for a long time at that point and didn’t get along, he was a FANTASTIC front man who gave 200% effort and seemed to love entertaining. The band also seemed to be having a blast. So I was pretty surprised when they split back then.

  3. To be clear, I’m not asking for “coulda been contendahs” replies but your personal takes on what the world missed out on by ignoring a certain band. My hopes for the Undertones as expressed here, for instance, weren’t motivated by a desire to see them traveling in their own private jets and snorting coke off the nipples of supermodels. They weren’t motivated by a desire to decorate my bedroom with glossy posters of the band. They weren’t even motivated by the chance to get laid in return for turning a girl onto one of their songs through a mix tape. I sincerely thought a broader acceptance and enjoyment of their music would have enlivened the party that is everyday life, much like you might feel when you invite a certain friend to your party and look forward to his or her vibe sparking the room.

  4. diskojoe

    Although I scratch my head on some of the things you write about, ie., your opinion of Forever Changes, the fact that you dig the Undertones means that you’re all right by me in rock terms, Mr. Mod. It’s too bad they were not popular here in the States, especially since they had the boy-next-door vibe about them. Heck, they looked like they could have gone to the same high school as me here in the Witch City.

    Anyway, here’s my opinion on how the world blew it musically:

    1. In not making “Shake Some Action” by the Flamin’ Groovies the Top 40 hit it should had been in 1976, especially considering the dreck that did make it;

    2. In ignoring the best song of the 1980s, “Help You Ann” by the Lyres; and

    3. In not releasing “It’s Alive” by the Ramones in the US in 1979, which could have been the mutant version of “Frampton Comes Alive”

  5. misterioso

    Mod, I understand the distinction you are making, but your notion is predicated on the idea that the band (any band) could have retained the things that you cherish most about them while still attaining broader acceptance. Which, let’s face it, is doubtful. I love the Flying Burrito Brothers but the fact that they never attained the popularity of (the) Eagles may have spared us their becoming, well, (the) Eagles.

  6. misterioso

    High five for #1, at least, though a 1976 in which Shake Some Action was a hit requires so much rethinking as to be almost unimaginable. On the other hand, Twilley’s “I’m on Fire” went Top 20 in ’76.

  7. misterioso

    Wait, it was ’75, not ’76. The single came out in ’75, the lp in ’76. Anyway.

  8. My notion is predicated on the idea that plenty of good things have hit on a broader level than my little obsessions and retained more than enough of what’s great. Plenty of ’60s and ’70s bands, for instance, even ’80s bands. The Smiths, for instance, suck just as bad are as great at their fairly high level of achievement and acceptance as they would have had they been as obscure as the sort of bands I would like to hear about. Allow yourselves the opportunity to discuss the values implicit in these wishes; this is not the time to accept your band’s lot and pretend like their obscurity actually helped them be better.

  9. ladymisskirroyale

    Mod, you definitely know which band I would propose. And I just bought the first album (long out of print) of this wonder group which I will discuss just as soon as you guess who they are.

    I’ll be watching those Undertones videos and waiting for your response.

  10. ladymisskirroyale

    I’m on team Undertones. I’ve liked most things I’ve heard by them, but for me, they’re a singles band; I think I would enjoy an entire album but wouldn’t necessarily search it out.

    I liked the tracks you posted, especially “Crisis of Mine.” I think Feargal IS the key to the Undertones; without him, they sound a lot like an Electric Prunes cover band.

    But Mod, I think we need to explore your eye-catching comment on the overlooked gem link about the “dawn of 80’s synth pop and the atrocities to follow .” The Undertones were the thin edge of the wedge: floppy hair, electric organ, poppy sound.

  11. 2000 Man

    I’ll probably try to get into The Undertones again some time this year, but I doubt it will stick. It never does. I just don’t seem to like them.

    I never understood how The Flamin’ Groovies didn’t make it huge with Teenage Head. I’ve called it “The best album you don’t have” to people for years, and when they finally hear it, they’re blown away and ask me what it is. I suppose if it had made it big, Shake Some Action never would have happened, but I think I could have lived with the band that did Teenage Head making more records.

    I wish more people had liked The Replacements. I wish more people had liked how The Kings of Leon sounded when they started out, so they maybe wouldn’t have tried to become some quasi U2 band. I wish Lucero and Ladyhawk were noticed more. I wish people knew who The Buffalo Killers are, and probably most of all, I wish The Dexateens were popular enough to make Rock N Roll their jobs.

    Oh, and I wish everybody else thought Greg Cartwright was as completely awesome as I do.

  12. I’m guessing it’s the Go-Betweens!

  13. I think Greg’s pretty great.

  14. Terry & The Idiots, man…I just don’t get why they weren’t looked upon as punk rock deities.

  15. ladymisskirroyale

    Correct! The Go-Betweens are my #1 desert island band – I never tire of them. I originally became entranced with a Jem records compilation called “Metal and Shells” which included selections of their second and third albums. Their mid-period stuff is enjoyable, and their late comeback material has a place in my heart in it’s bare-bones simplicity and autobiographical detail.

    The Go-Betweens were jangle pop galore with incredibly witty and profound lyrics. McLennan and Forster have been compared to McCartney and Lennon in their point/counter point stylings. They used a lot of literary references to muse about their (typically failed) love affairs – even their band name is a literary homage.

    I just found a copy of their first album, “Send Me A Lullaby” and convinced Mr. Royale to listen to it tonight. He dubbed it “Talking Heads ’77” recorded in Hoboken. Very raw and stripped down, the band was just 3 members; you could hear the seeds of the music of that became the later Go-Betweens soft vs. angular pop.

  16. machinery

    Probably obvious in my circle: Big Dipper/Embarrassment. Never ever even hear these guys on college radio. You missed it world.

  17. diskojoe

    I also like the Go-Betweens, although I only have their 1978-1990 compilation. “Streets of Your Town” sounds like a great hit single.

  18. bostonhistorian

    Are you still in the Witch City? I just moved there.

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