Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Undertones - "Positive Touch"

Positive Touch
Originally released in 1981 on EMI; digitally remastered w/extra tracks on Rykodisc 2003 - currently out-of-print

[This is a long-lost post that I meant to publish last December 2010; as you can see, it slipped what remains of my mind.]

Every generation thinks the bands of its time are the greatest ever - and I'm no different. My "time" was college during the Punk-New Wave era of the late '70s and early '80s and my idols, from across the The Pond, were Manchester's Buzzcocks and Derry's Undertones - the latter my fave Irish band of all time (sorry, Bono). I can still remember - as vividly as I recall the day JFK was shot - the first time I heard my twin faves: the black-shirted Buzzcocks were on the Brit music video show Rock World lip-synching "What Do I Get?," while I was introduced to the Undertones when the sonic onslaught "Jump Boys" blasted out of the Marble Bar's sound system one night in 1978.

I've been revisiting the wonder of the Undertones lately because of my friend Dave Cawley's renewed interest (or rather fanaticism) in them. On Christmas day, pop music fanatic Dave was at a party where he talked to an Irishman and, of course, began talking about Irish rock music. (Not U2, of course, because they're no longer an Irish rock band but a global, "stadium rock" phenomenon now.) No, like Bushmill vs. Jameson, the only real Irish Question is: Undertones or Stiff Little Fingers? Dave's Irishman was an Undertones fan and Dave started talking about how great the 'tones first album was. It is! From opening seminal single "Teenage Kicks" through primal rock closer "Casbah Rock," it's the proof that they were the Irish Ramones - or the Irish Clash (though that analogy would anger Dave, especially since the Undertones at this point were so happy-go-lucky and unpolitical.)

The Undertones (1979)

So I burned Dave the singles compilation True Confessions: Singles = A's + B's, while his youthful protege Jason "The Scorcher" burned him the 'tones second Sire Records release, Hypnotized (1980).

True Confession: Singles = A's + B's (2000)

Hypnotized (1980)

But much as I love the fast and furious early Undertones songs about chocolate ("Mars Bar") and girls (virtually every other song - including the Chocolate Watch Band's "Let's Talk About About Girls" and the 'tones own "More Songs About Chocolate and Girls"!) - and the youthful punky energy that infused their three-minute pop paens to rock 'n' roll and its elders (like the Gary Glitter-flavored "Hard Luck" and Glam Rock-tinged "Top Twenty") - I remember always thinking that their 1981 record Positive Touch, with its elaborate production values and more mature songwriting, represented their progression from "Teenage Kicks" into full-blown adulthood. It's basically the 'tones Sgt. Pepper's or (since that's my least fave Beatles record), better yet, their Rubber Soul. Fans of the earlier Undertones style say getting old got the better of the boys, but despite the O'Neill brothers indulging in making a "studio" album (like the Beatles on Revolver), the hooks are still there, as witnessed on "Boy Wonder," "It's Going To Happen," "His Good-Looking Girlfriend," "Hannah Doot," and (of course) the title song "Positive Touch."

Yes, the Undertones had matured, leaving their old label Sire Records (unhappy with their promotion, especially in the US) to form their own Ardeck label (the name came from "A record deck" – simple as that!), and also getting more cynical in their worldview, with a number of songs now tackling, albeit tangentially, the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland such as "Crisis of Mine" ,"You're Welcome" and the single "It's Going To Happen!", which preceded the release of the LP and was allegedly inspired by Bobby Sands and the Hunger Strikes.

And Feargal! Was he ever more warble-y? (No doubt anticipating the overeach that would define the 'tones foray into Motown and R & B on 1982's The Sin of Pride - the last album to be released by the original 'tones line-up - and Feargal's subsequent later career.)

And though their attempt at pop-soul crossover on The Sin of Pride would ultimately prove to be a misstep (though I love "Valentine's Treatment"!), everything on Positive Touch had the Midas Touch.

Not only that, but the "look" - in terms of typography and graphics - of the Positive Touch album and related singles was top drawer, reminding me of the product solidarity of sound/image/concept the Buzzcocks enjoyed on their Linder Sterling- and Malcolm Garrett-designed releases. Kudos to art director/designer Alwyn Clayden.

OK, 'tones fans, herein is the track-by-track breakdown of the record (voted #28 in the 1981 NME Albums of the Year polling) that gets my vote as best-ever Undertones album - watch, listen, and learn!:

1. "Fascination"

2. "Julie Ocean"

Watch "Julie Ocean" (Live)

3. "Life's Too Easy"

"'Sodomy!' my girlfriend started screaming/This had never happened to me before"

4. "Crisis of Mine"
Watch "Crisis of Mine/Julie Ocean" (Live)

5. "You're Welcome"

6. "His Good Looking Girlfriend"

"Everybody wants to know his good looking girlfriend..."

Watch "His Goodlooking Girlfriend"

7. "Positive Touch" (Live, Germany 1981)

"You can't slow down manic depression!"

8. "When Saturday Comes"

"Any day of the week's when Saturday comes"

I'm sure the boys didn't mind that "When Saturday Comes" was later borrowed for the title of a UK football fanzine, WSC ("The Half Decent Football Magazine").

Watch "When Saturday Comes" (Live)

9. "It's Gonna Happen!"

The single reached #18 in the UK charts.

Watch "It's Gonna Happen!"

10. "Sigh & Explode"

11. "I Don't Know" (B-side of "It's Going To Happen!" single)

Watch "I Don't Know"

12. "Hannah Doot"

13. "Boy Wonder"

14. "Forever Paradise"

*** CD Bonus Tracks ***

15. "Kiss in the Dark" (B-side of "Julie Ocean")

16. "Beautiful Friend" (non-LP single)

Watch "Beautiful Friend" (Live)

17. "Life's Too Easy" (B-side of the "Beautiful Friend" single)

Stop complaining boy - your life's too easy!

This alternate B-side version from the 1981 "Beautiful Friend" single on Ardeck is much heavier on the horns.

18. "Fairly in the Money Now" (B-side of the "It's Going To Happen" single)

Credited to "Tommy Tate & The Torpedoes" (aka Damien O'Neill)

Watch "Fairly in the Money Now"

19. "Julie Ocean" (rerecorded version)

This version from the 1981 Ardeck single (#41 on the UK charts) is different from the album version.

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Blogger bmoretinker said...

Yes, sometimes nostalgia taste good. And the Undertones still sizzle. They can bring me back to specific memories of U of M in College Park in the early 80's. King Kong's anyone? G.

2:26 PM  
Blogger frankenslade said...

I'm in total agreement with you on the wonders of this album relative to those undeniably excellent first two albums.

10:04 AM  

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