The original intention of this blog was to write to my 14-year old self, the boy who had only recently discovered the incredible wonders offered by decades of rock ‘n’ roll, and pop, and soul, and everything else, but had few resources at the time to satiate the hunger for more information, more artists, more EVERYTHING. Sometimes I must remind myself how my heart once went thumpity-thump, all those years ago. But now, on with the show …
John Peel, the most influential UK radio DJ ever to lay needle to groove, godfather to countless up and coming unknowns, voice-giver to the underground, provided chances to hundreds, if not thousands, of bands who wouldn’t otherwise have risen up from the murky, crowded depths of the UK music scene. If he liked your song, you broke the surface and tasted sunshine. One song made such a strong impression that decades later Peel requested its first line be carved on his gravestone. And so it was: “Teenage dreams, so hard to beat.”
In 1978, the scrappy Irish youngsters known as The Undertones had already split up when the offer came to record a few of their songs for a tiny indie label. They had to coax their lead singer back with the argument that a record would at least serve as a historical document that a punk band from Derry called The Undertones had once existed. He finally relented, and the boys went into the studio, quickly recorded four songs in a day, and that was that.
A couple of weeks later, freshly pressed EP in hand, The Undertones mailed a copy to DJ Peel in London, who promptly played “Teenage Kicks” twice in a row, an unprecedented move by Peel, who explained himself by stating, “It doesn’t get much better than this.” (Peel had an asterisk system for rating songs from 1 to 5. He gave “Teenage Kicks” 28.)
No one in The Undertones actually thought all that much of “Teenage Kicks” initially, tagging another track as the likely single, but it did break into the UK Top 40 in the fall of 1978 and allowed them to quit their day jobs. The simple song of longing quickly became their signature. The group had bigger hits over the next few years, but none so indelible as to make a man choose their lyrics as his eternal last words.
So listen to The Undertones lay down some truth, and remember to remember the dreams of youth.