The Infinite Jukebox: The Undertones ‘Get Over You’

Sitting in my local pub in Nottingham, talking to a guy who lived on one of the other floors of Alexandra House, I started expounding on one of the, to me, great virtues of punk/new wave. Which was, for want of a better word, it’s ephemerality.
This was December 1978, still part of a decade in which, outside the rarefied castles of the ProgRock titans and their wannabes, the trope was that bands had to pay their dues before they could be taken seriously. Yes, in order to achieve success and build careers, bands had to have done a minimum of three years gigging in appalling conditions, living on the road, playing in every crappy place under the sun for impossibly small fees before they could be considered fit to progress to making worthy albums of worthy music. And they had to have beards.
But why did you have to spend three years of your life wasting your time on repetitive rituals? Why can you only achieve success by ‘honing your chops’ in every small town you could think of? Why, if you’ve got the ability, can’t you get down to it whilst you’re fresh?
And, I argued, some bands don’t have a career in them. Some bands maybe only have three minutes of genius in them, one song that lights up the universe, tears at hearts and feet, fills you up with its wonderfulness.
That was the glory of punk/new wave for me, with the tiny independent labels, the rushed out releases: the chance to get that three minutes of glory out there for us to hear, instead of drowning it in practiced rote and a dull adherence to the rules.
I quoted examples. There was The Tours’ ‘Language School’, a brilliant, pulsing, thrashing guitar and pumping bass with a one-note riff that buoyed the whole thing up, and nobody ever heard anything else from them that sounded remotely as good, but so what? We had that song and we were better off for it, and would it make a difference to ‘Language School’s charms if there was never an album’s worth of songs slapped around it?
Or, I said, take The Undertones. I explained about them being from Derry, and getting in touch with John Peel, and getting ‘Teenage Kicks’ not only onto his show but into the Top 40 and on Top of the Pops (by this time the song had had a three-week chart career, peaking at 31). They’ll probably never make a record remotely as good as that again, hell, they might not ever make another record at all, but we’ve got this one, and it’s brilliant, and that’s because they could go into a local studio and record it and release it, without any thought of having to do anything but bring us this song.
That’s what’s so great about punk/new wave.
Probably never make a record remotely as good as that again. Might not ever make another record at all.
I went home to Manchester over Xmas, lugging my hi-fi home because I was going to be gone for ten days. It was the Winter of Discontent, snow choking Britain on New Year’s Eve and, in order to be back at work for January 2, I had to travel by train with only what I could carry. No hi-fi for over half the month, until the roads were safe for my mother to drive over and deliver it. I had nothing for entertainment but the TV lounges and my transistor radio.
And then Peely played the second Undertones single…

The Infinite Jukebox – Teenage Kicks

Some records never age. The Undertones’ ‘Teenage Kicks’ was released in the summer of 1978 as the title track of a four track EP released on the local Derry label, Good Vibrations. The ‘Tones, John O’Neill and his brother Damien, Micky Bradley, Billy Doherty and Feargal Sharkey, sent a copy to John Peel, at the BBC in England, and followed it up with phone calls, badgering him to play it. He did. He fell in love with the record, and it’s opening lines decorate his gravestone.
He played it on his show one night that summer. I don’t remember when, but I listened to his show every night, and it was still every night because they hadn’t yet taken Friday off him and given it to Tommy Vance, and I heard it and I fell for it too.
That was thirty seven years ago this summer, by one, outmoded and illogical method of calculation, which is more than half my lifetime ago, and that’s simply not true, and not possible, because every time I hear Doherty’s two-beat drum intro, I hear a song that I only heard for the first time Thursday last week. The Infinite Jukebox is blessed by such a record.
There are better Undertones songs, ones with clearer and more distinct melodies, with a better production than the thick wodge of sound that goes into ‘Teenage Kicks’. But there is nothing that so distils the Undertones into two and a half minutes of pure bliss, teenage hormones furiously throbbing, the line between nervous innocence and rampant lust so finely straddled.
A teenage dream’s so hard to beat. What other dreams are so powerful, balanced between desire and fear? Another girl in the neighbourhood, wish she was mine, she looks so good. I’m gonna call her on the telephone, have her over cos I’m all alone. The every day, the utterly mundane turns into moments of shining gold and the music reflects that directness, the raw power of the dream.
I wanna hold her, wanna hold her tight, get Teenage Kicks right through the night…
And this came from a quintet of teenagers in a troubled city in Northern Ireland, a city whose own name symbolised the conflict raging on its streets, a conflict that gave the Undertones’ home the nickname of Stroke City, and they ignore all this and focus on the one thing on their minds. John O’Neil’s words and music are simple and direct, and they have never lost their meaning, because they speak of yearning, and the music churns and roars, Billy Doherty’s drums keeping it anchored to earth.
It has the raucousness of punk, and something of the attention to melody re-introduced by the Buzzcocks, but not quite yet unleashed. It’s about being sixteen, sixteen forever, forever drowned in wanting, in finding a focus that underneath isn’t focused at all, because if she’s not the answer to the dream, someone else will be, but for here and now, at the heart of this urging music, she is the only one there is in the world.
And there’s even a guitar solo, twiddly, plangent, constructed out of just a few notes, and gloriously it’s not where you expect it to be, two verses, middle eight, solo, third verse, but it comes right at the very end, when there’s nothing left to say, and only an impression to create, as jangling as your nerves.
I wanna hold her, wanna hold her tight, get Teenage Kicks right through the night…
All right.