Formed in 1975, THE UNDERTONES are the greatest 70’s pop punk band ever (ok, the Buzzcocks give em’ a run for their money) and their single “Teenage Kicks” is a bonafide anthem. Covering the band’s celebrated single is practically a right if passage for pop punk artists these days and has been remade dozens of times. So, how did The Undertones go from a just a bunch of kids jamming in Derry, Northern Ireland to one of the most well-known pop punk bands to this day? Let’s take a look at the facts.
Original members of the Undertones were Damien O’Neill (guitar), John O’Neill (guitar), Feargal Sharkey (lead vocals), Michael Bradley (bass) and Billy Doherty (drums).
The band emerged from Derry in Northern Ireland during the punk new wave boom of 1977, 1978 alongside others like Rudi and the Outcasts.
The original line-up released four studio albums including The Undertones (1979), Hypnotised (1980), Positive Touch (1981) and The Sin of Pride (1983) before disbanding in 1983.
The Undertones drew early inspiration from the Ramones, Buzzcocks and Sex Pistols among others.
The band began practising and playing cover versions of punk rock songs at schools and scout huts under the name "The Hot Rods."
The name “The Undertones” was chosen by one of the band members who discovered the word in a history book.
By 1977 the band was performing their own pop punk material, and in 1978 they released their debut four-song EP Teenage Kicks.
The Undertones single “Teenage Kicks” was the late BBC Radio One DJ John Peel’s favourite single. Thanks to Peel’s love of the song, companies in London became interested in signing the group.
John Peel (pictured with the band below) famously said in an interview, "Teenage Kicks came on the radio, and I had to pull the car over to the side of the road. There’s nothing you could add to it or subtract from it that would improve it." It is reportably about the joys of masturbation!
According to John O’Neill, the song “was to be our epitaph for all those years…we were the first band in Derry to bring out a record of all our own songs and we were gonna leave it at that.”
Bassist Mickey Bradley recently admitted to the BBC that the band’s most cherished single almost never got made due to Sharkey’s lack of commitment to the group.
Over 40 artists have covered “Teenage Kicks,” including Razorlight, Snow Patrol, Green Day and Dave Grohl.
Allmusic stated that guitarists John and Damian O’Neill "mated infectious guitar hooks to ’60s garage, ’70s glam rock, and Feargal Sharkey’s signature vocal quaver."
In December 1980, the group made a shock announcement that they were leaving Sire Records due to “irreconcilable differences.” The band was not happy with Sire’s lack of promotion, especially in America.
Then in April 1981, the Undertones announced that they were starting their own label called Ardeck.
Tension within in the band, namely with lead vocalist Sharkey, led to the band’s split in 1983.
The group played their last headlining show at London’s Lyceum.
After breaking up, the band ended up trying to auction off their equipment to pay off their debts.
Of being in the original band, Michael Bradley has said, “It was great being in The Undertones. It was about the best thing that could happen to us at that age. Mind you, it would have been better being in The Beatles”.
Sharkey pursued a solo career that achieved commercial success in the mid to late 1980s, and two of the other band members (John and Damian O’Neill) formed That Petrol Emotion with Raymond Gorman.
The Undertones reformed in 1999 to play concerts in Derry, replacing singer Feargal Sharkey with Paul McLoone.
The band released a critically acclaimed album of original material with McLoone in 2003 titled Get What You Need.
In 2004, the band was the subject of a 2004 documentary, The Undertones: Teenage Kicks, which features the band visiting their old hang outs with John Peel and charting their history.
The band toured North America and also performed at the Glastonbury Festival in 2005.
On 15 October 2007, they released the critically aclaimed studio album, Dig Yourself Deep.
The Undertones have left their mark in the pop punk world, influencing bands such as Green Day and Sum 41.
The Undertones ROCK!!!!!
The Undertones ‘An Anthology’ double album, which not only includes the band’s hits but also rare and unreleased songs from their early days in the studio is out now on Salvo records.