His insistent ultra-Irish voice was the perfect vehicle for songs about teenage kicks, Mars bars, perfect cousins and wanting to be a male model. Feargal Sharkey was urgent and powerful, a perfect combination of bravado and uncertainty (the former, of course, masking the latter), and an energetic, lantern-jawed frontman for the pride and joy of Derry, Northern Ireland, The Undertones. While it’s possible that the ‘tones would have been successful with another singer, due to the high quality of the songwriting, Sharkey was the spirit that made the songs reach their full potential. Sadly, he has not come along with the boys since the band reunited, and wisely, the band found another Derry singer who sounds a fair amount like Feargal. Let’s pay tribute to Mr. Sharkey by grabbing the ol’ iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 tunes to come up.
Kenickie — Millionaire Sweeper (At The Club): A short-lived British all-female rock band who were named after a character from Grease (I think Jeff Conaway played him in the movie). Kenickie was somewhere in between Voice Of The Beehive and The Primitives, They specialized in wistful mid-tempo observational pop songs like this one. Romance never went very well in their songs, and this tune has a slight girl group vibe with a modern edge, and it comes across as sad but not utterly resigned to the prospects for love in the future. This is worth checking out as it is in dollar bins throughout the country.
The Swingin’ Neckbreakers — Little Miss Copycat (The Return of Rock): The Neckbreakers are an excellent example of why garage rock will never get old. The blues chord progressions are standard, while the playing is spirited and Tom Jorgenson’s rough vocals are full of personality. The Neckbreakers were more than capable of Sonics-like intensity, which they balanced with lighter tunes such as this one.
Glen Mercer — Whatever Happened (Wheels In Motion): The name might not be familiar, but Mercer is one of the main men behind The Feelies. He released his first solo album a few years ago, and it’s exactly what you’d expect from a Feelie. A heavy Velvet Underground influence and a mix of quieter songs with slow burning rock tunes ornamented with percussion fills. This is the best song on the whole album, and it fits in the burner category, creating a droning groove that could last forever as far as I’m concerned. I hope Mercer (or The Feelies) have something in the pipeline, as he is still a creative force.
Steve Forbert — You Cannot Win If You Do Not Play (The Best of Steve Forbert): One of many artists who was unfairly saddled with a Bob Dylan comparison, Forbert was a talented folk-pop songwriter with a raspy voice. His biggest problem wasn’t as prolific a songwriter as he needed to be to put out really top notch albums. But every album had some gems on it. This is an upbeat bluesy folk-rocker. Nothing amazing, but Forbert is fully engaged and this song must have killed live.
Divinyls — Back to the Wall (Essential Divinyls): The Aussie band best known for “I Touch Myself” started out as a ferocious rock act. I saw them open for the Psychedelic Furs in 1983, and they remain one of the loudest bands I ever heard. Saucy singer Christian Amphlett had one of the coolest raspy voices around. The band always had a penchant for hooks and their sound smoothed out as time went on. This is a mid-tempo slice of drama with a bit of ’60s pop influence. Good tune.
Little Richard — Slippin’ and Slidin’ (Peepin’ and Hidin’)(The Georgia Peach): This is one of Richard’s own, but it sure sounds like a Fats Domino song, because of the distinctive voice of the one and only Richard Penniman. He’s not as crazed as on his best known songs, which only allows one to hear what a fabulous singer he was when not pushing the needle in the red. One other thing — his early sides always feature great musicianship, especially the drumming, which really swings.
The Clash — Somebody Got Murdered (Sandinista!): As time marches on, more and more people are appreciating the greatness of Sandinista!. Obviously, over the course of nearly 3 hours of music, not every song works. But so many do. Joe Strummer and Mick Jones were spinning out some of the most amazingly diverse rock ever. This song is almost the flip side of the band’s angry cover of “Police On My Back”, with Jones full of empathy, decrying the taking of a life. The melody is fairly simple and guitar riff that drives the song is anthemic, but played in a toned down fashion.
Sparks — How You Getting Home? (Indiscreet): My iPod is on an Indiscreet kick, apparently. This is Sparks’ take on ’50s rock and roll. You can hear some basic traditional rock, but with loads of extra chords and tempo changes that take traditional song structures and twist them. This song actually has about five or six different sections that mix together so fluidly that they might go by unnoticed. This is a second tier Sparks song, yet it still provides another example of the genius of Ron Mael.
Wondermints — Darling (Wonderful World of Wondermints): The second Wondermints album is chock full of covers. This is a fantastic treatment of a song by The Stories, who are best known for their cover of Hot Chocolate’s “Brother Louie”. “Darling” is much more in the vein of The Left Banke, which is no surprise, since there were two former Left Banke members in The Stories. The Wondermints should do another covers album.
To My Boy — Outerregions (Messages): This British band was a throwback to the ’80s post-punk synth-pop groups. This song sounds like Orchestral Maneouvres In The Dark meets Erasure (or any Vince Clarke project). This song is excellent on many levels, from the big hooks to the layered arrangement to the fine use of dynamics. A shame this didn’t capture the public’s fancy.