The Best Band You’ve Never Heard Of: Teenage Fanclub

#3 Teenage Fanclub

What do you  get when you mix the jangling guitars and vocal harmonies of the Byrds, the tight songwriting of the early Beatles and Big Star’s general sound?

You get Teenage Fanclub.

Teenage Fanclub.

Surprisingly, I was introduced to Teenage Fanclub via Pandora. Instantly, I became hooked on their harmonious, upbeat songs. They remind me of a 60s-era, west-coast band like the Zombies, which is a sound that you don’t really hear anymore. After some research, I was surprised to learn that they’re from Scotland. You would never guess that after listening to them.

Teenage Fanclub came out of the C86 scene in Scotland and England during the late 80s and early 90s. C86 was a compilation tape that the British magazine NME put out. It often featured alternative rock bands that had same jangly sound as Teenage Fanclub. Because of that, C86 became shorthand for that style of rock.

The origins of Teenage Fanclub started with the short-lived, Glasgow band Boy Hairdressers. Guitarists Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley played in the band with bassist Gerard Love. In 1989 they added drummer Francis McDonald and became Teenage Fanclub. However, McDonald was replaced by Brendan O’Hare shortly after. And just like the running gag in Spinal Tap, their drummer was replaced again in 1994. That’s when Paul Quinn took over the band’s percussional duties.

Their first album, A Catholic Education, was released in 1990 on the Matador label in the U.S. (Creation in Europe). It doesn’t really resemble the band’s later work, though. It’s loud, disjointed and lacks their recognizable power-pop sound.  The fannies quickly followed up Education with The King. It consists of some instrumentals and a “Like a Virgin” cover. King was put out mainly to get out of the band’s deal with Matador so they could sign with Geffen.

Their next album, Bandwagonesque, marked the start of some moderate mainstream success and the band’s signature, retro sound. It definitely owes a lot to Big Star, the original power-pop act. Upbeat, sincere songs such as “What You Do To Me,” “Metal Baby” and “Star Signs” will take a hold on your brain until you aren’t capable of humming anything else in the shower. And the saccharine “Sidewinder” will make you wish tape decks were still en vogue so you could put it on a mix tape and drop it in some lucky lady’s locker.

I dig the cover art.

Spin named Bandwagonesque the top album of 1991, which is shocking to me considering the other albums (Nirvana’s Nevermind for example) that came out that year. The fannies cashed in on that press with an appearance on Saturday Night Live. I actually remember seeing that performance on reruns of SNL that Comedy Central played endlessly in the late 90s.

However, the band’s next album, Thirteen, bombed with critics and was a financial wreck. It’s hard to follow up something like Bandwagonesque, but looking back, the criticism of Thirteen seems unfair. It’s a good album. A really good album.

Next came Grand Prix, which is my favorite album and, in my opinion, their best album.

It epitomizes their sound and is probably the best album to start with if you’re looking to get into the fannies. The great thing about their songs is the variety of sound and subject. Blake, McGinley and Love share songwriting, composing and lead vocal duties. It keeps the album fresh. It’s not like some punk albums where songs just kind of blend together toward the middle of the album. You’re actually aware when one song ends and another begins.

You get a  mellow trippy song such as “Sparky’s Dream” about shooting stars, a love dimension and a magic eye, you know, to read between the lines. But you also get “Neil Jung,” which is about a guy with a girlfriend that’s clearly wrong for him. That song really resonated with me because it basically expressed my feelings about my college roommate and his girlfriend. Of course there’s the minimal “Verisimilitude,” which is just awesome solely on the basis of the title.

What makes that variety work, and what makes the fannies so good, is that there’s cohesiveness to it. There are upbeat songs and mellow songs. There are serious songs and trippy songs. There are loud electric songs and quiet acoustic songs. But no matter which song you get you know you’re listening to Teenage Fanclub. That’s the mark of a good band, which is to say, a band that has a defined sound but enough variety so that each song is unique.

Anyway…

Despite Grand Prix being near power-pop perfection, the album sold terribly on both sides of the Atlantic and most of their fans had checked out by then. They released a couple more albums that, apparently, no one but me has heard. Don’t lose hope, though. Upon a quick Ticketmaster search, I learned that the fannies are touring in the states with Superchunk. Superchunk! I know that means nothing to you, but it soon will when I do a post on them.

See.

I wish A. that I lived in place that those two bands would play and B. had enough money to go to a place that they are playing. I also wish more people would listen to them. So do me a favor and download a couple of their songs.

And here are some possible future The Best Band You’ve Never Heard Of entries: The Apples in Stereo, Superchunk, Dinosaur Jr., The Ergs and The Getup Kids.

Peace.

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2 thoughts on “The Best Band You’ve Never Heard Of: Teenage Fanclub

  1. Katie says:

    This harkened back to my days as a power pop-loving indie kid, and has inspired me to revisit both the Fanclub and the Apples in Stereo. Thank you!

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