YOU'RE MISSING: Teenage Fanclub
- Article by: Casey Stohrer
- Posted: 08/02/2012
My first boyfriend in high school was a horn-rimmed glasses-wearing hipster by the name of Brian. He came from a long line of hipster men. His dad knew everything there was to know about every band that ever existed, which he learned from his father, and so on and so forth. It was enough to make any jaded adult sick. But I was seventeen, and Brian was a very bright kid with an encyclopedic knowledge of every musician from the 1950s to the present. This was probably his one redeeming quality, because his vast knowledge didn't leave much room in his brain for basic human feelings. If anything, Brian was responsible for quite a lot of my music taste. Thank you Brian.
One day we drove to our neighborhood record shop to pick up an album Brian's dad had told him about. The record store was run by a cranky old Liverpudlian man who regularly told people to get the hell out of his store -- (he didn't stay in business for very long). I was skeptical, but Brian told me that he knew this guy had the CD, and we just had to endure his verbal abuse because the record was worth it. The old man grumbled as we walked in, but we spotted the album cover from the doorway. It was an awfully pixelated, two-dimensional picture of a yellow bag with a dollar sign on it against a solid hot pink background. The words “Teenage Fanclub Bandwagonesque” were printed in black across the top. It was ugly as hell, and Brian made me pay for it, that asshole.
Teenage Fanclub began in Glasgow in the late ‘80s and consisted of Norman Blake, Raymond McGinley, Gerard Love and Francis McDonald, although they went through a few drummers over the years. Their sound is borrowed directly from ‘70s power pop group Big Star -- as well as Neil Young and the Byrds -- but updated and with a grungier feel. Once they grew out of their experimental noise phase, they soon found themselves crafting memorable pop songs with a distorted edge. Bandwagonesque, released in 1991, contained the single “Star Sign,” which went to #4 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. Two other songs, “What You Do To Me” and “The Concept,” also made it to the Top 20. The record was named Album of the Year by Spin Magazine, beating out Nirvana's Nevermind. Kurt Cobain was not bothered by this – he regularly said that Teenage Fanclub was “the best band in the world.” If that's not street cred, then I don't know what is.
Bandwagonesque's album cover, if not the prettiest, was at least controversial. Little did the band know that KISS's Gene Simmons had trademarked “the moneybag with the dollar sign.” Of course Gene Simmons would trademark a moneybag with a dollar sign! He sent a letter to Geffen Records and demanded a check, which they gave him, according to Simmons' book Sex Money Kiss. But this seemed like a small price to pay for such a quality album. In 1995, they released the record Grand Prix which was a big hit in the UK, perhaps partly due to the rise of Britpop. Liam Gallagher supposedly called Teenage Fanclub “the second best band in the world,” second only to Oasis, (of course).
With all that critical acclaim and rock star name-dropping, Teenage Fanclub should be up there with Blur, Oasis and Nirvana as one of the top rock bands of the ‘90s. But sadly, they seemed to fade into obscurity, although they continued to release albums and work with such folks as Jad Fair and John McEntire (Tortoise).
I briefly forgave Brian for being a jerk. We wallowed in the teenage bliss of driving around, doing nothing and listening to warm, fuzzy guitar lines. It was an album where every song was good from start to finish; there was no skipping any one-off filler tracks, and we were excited by this. Those kinds of albums rarely appear anymore. That album could have been about us, or anybody else, and that's what makes a good album. The records that were around to keep your first loves and fights in check are the ones that tend to stick around for a long time.