Sunday, August 16, 2009

Children, Behave: under the covers with "I Think We're Alone Now"

"I think we're alone now...": pop

"Teenage Kicks" : punk?

I'll go ahead and say it. "I Think We're Alone Now" is one of the most prodigious and catchy teen crush or even "hidden crush" anthems of our modern times. It seems like every time our appreciation of Ritchie Cordell's masterpiece is lost in the tides of generation-shift, a new and popular group (or at least one that is marketable to popular culture) covers the song and charts shortly after. We, as a culture, love that freakin' song...whether y'all are going to admit to your secret obsession with it or not.

For me, "I Think We're Alone Now" and it's expression of excited, dreamy, innocent and yet intensely sexual energy of a new "thing" is eclipsed only by The Undertones' "Teenage Kicks," recorded in 1978. It has often been referred to as the best all-time rock single. There have been several covers of "Teenage Kicks": Snow Patrol (to be played at John Peel's memorial service, R.I. P.), Razorlight, Ash, Skunk Anansie, The Pink Spiders, Busted, Groovie Ghoulies, Sahara Hotnights, The Saw Doctors, Therapy?, Buzzcocks, Dža ili Bu, Nouvelle Vague, Green Day, Boom Boom Kid, Thee Headcoatees, Franz Ferdinand, Supergrass, The Young Fresh Fellows, KT Tunstall, The Coral, The Raconteurs, Violent Delight, Criminal Mischief, The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, Beatsteaks, Seabear, Maroon, Every Dirty Street, Pelucas Rosas, mittelfit and Pretendo.

"Teenage dreams, so hard to beat." indeed. For the record, Irish radio listeners and I agree that Prison Love's bluegrass cover is our fave.

In contrast to the myriad covers of "Teenage Kicks" that have been recorded, but never really popularized, there have only been a handful of groups that have covered "I think we're alone now." Yet, when I hold conversations with friends, aqcuaintences, etc, there seems to be less confusion about who recorded the original version of "Teenage Kicks" simply because only The Undertones' version of the song charted. It seems like every band who ventures to cover of "I Think We're Alone Now" that appeals to popular music culture finds success. It becomes clear this song is epic when one considers that Weird Al has spoofed it, and both the Chippettes and a pre-Black Eyed Pea's/less 40th century version of Fergie have done it. What more can a song ask for, really?

On the Radar: the original

Ritchie Cordell

"I Think We're Alone Now" was written by Brooklyn song-writer Ritchie Cordell, who was responsible for several other bubble-gum hits like "Mony Mony" and co-producing the Joan Jett and the Blackhearts hit "I Love Rock'n'Roll. "ITWAN" was initially a 1967 success for Tommy James & the Shondells (who also released Crimson and Clover!) that stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 for 17 weeks, topping out at #4. I am presently addicted to this version of the song, and claim not responsibility for it. Thanks a lot, Cordell.

I wasn’t born in the 60s, but this song makes me want to write a note to my high school crush on a piece of composition note-book paper regarding whether or not he likes the new history teacher (aren't his glasses ace?). It makes me think of stealing kisses on the cheek when parents leave the room, tree-houses, and better yet, vintage knee length skirts (I am sporting one now, for the occasion).

Cordell's Gem Goes #1: 20 Years Later

Though the original of this song was, by my standards, perfect, the song didn't make it to a #1 slot until 1987, the twenty-year anniversary of its original release. It is hard to find someone in the United States between the ages of 18 and 70 that doesn't recognize (and obviously, secretly love) this song. Whether your memories take you back to the spill you took behind your best friend at the roller-rink in 1990 or, if you were my mother, buying a hot dog for your child at the roller-rink while s/he was taking a spill.... in 1990, listening to this song is sure to bring you back.

This was the first version of the song I heard, and as my good friend Tom Jones pointed out to me, the popularity of this version and its release during our formative years obscured the existance of the original, and arguably perfect, version. It is, thus, a frame of reference: the version of the song to which all covers we hear are compared. Had my father not made it a point to remind me that Tiffany's "bouncing bippy recording" was not the original during my junior year in high school, I would probably remain unaware of the timeless nature of this song today. Tragedy. I will admit not giving it a chance precisely because my father was so pushy about it until I was well into my college era.

Tiffany- I Think We're Alone Now (1987)
Tiffany Rene Darwish, teen representative of mall love, feathered hair, and acid wash, brought herself to fame with this "hot dance track." Cheesy? Overproduced? Absolutely. Nevertheless, Tiffany's win has served as a dare to adventurous cover-lovin' recording artists ever since.

The Ninties

(published before it is done for the benefit of TOM JONES!!)