Cult Classic: Teenage Fanclub-Bandwagonesque.

Hardly ever does commercial success and critical acclaim come overnight for a band. Instead, it often takes a couple of albums before a band hits their stride. That was the case with the Teenage Fanclub. 

It wasn’t until the Teenage Fanclub released their third album Bandwagonesque in November 1991 that commercial success and critical acclaim came their way. Soon, comparisons were being drawn with the legendary Big Star, and a great future was forecast for the Teenage Fanclub. 

Twenty-five years and six albums later, a lot of water has flown under the bridge for Teenage Fanclub. Sadly, Teenage Fanclub never quite recached the heights the critics forecast. The most successful period of their career was between Thirteen in 1993 through 1995s Grand Prix to Songs From Northern Britain in 1995. The Teenage Fanclub’s melodic, hook-laden brand of power pop proved popular in America, Europe and Australia. However, that was until the new millennia dawned. 

When Teenage Fanclub released their seventh album Howdy in 2000, it stalled at thirty-three in the UK. Little did anyone realise that was as good as it got for Teenage Fanclub. Commercial success eluded their 2002 collaboration with Jad Fair, Words of Wisdom and Hope. After this it was another three years before Teenage Fanclub returned.

2005 saw the Teenage Fanclub return with their first album in five years, Man-Made. However, it reached just thirty-four in the UK. Following Man-Made, another five years passed before Teenage Fanclub returned with Shadows. While the album received mostly favourable reviews, it reached just number thirty in the UK. It was a long way from the period between 1991 and 1997, when Teenage Fanclub were one of the most successful indie bands.

The album that began the most successful period of Teenage Fanclub’s twenty-seven year career, was Bandwagonesque which is now regarded as a genre classic. It was the start of the most successful period of Teenage Fanclub’s career.

That period began in 1991. However, Teenage Fanclub had been formed just two years earlier in Bellshill, Lanarkshire in 1989. Teenage Fanclub had emerged out of Glasgow’s C86. They had been inspired by bands like The Beach Boys, The Byrds and Big Star, who Teenage Fanclub would be later be compared to.

Unlike Big Star, Teenage Fanclub were a five piece band. The original lineup featured guitarist Norman Blake, lead guitarist Raymond McGinley, bassist Gerard Love, drummer and Francis MacDonald. Teenage Fanclub’s three principal songwriters shared lead vocal duties. That was the case on their debut album.

A Catholic Education,

Just a year after the band was founded, Teenage Fanclub released their debut album in 1990. A Catholic Education would later be described as a quite un-Teenage Fanclub album. The music was dark, harsh and peppered with cynicism and controversy. 

Most of the controversy stemmed from Teenage Fanclub’s decision to turn their sights on Catholic church. For a band from a city divided by religion, that was a controversial move, and one that could alienate people. What made the decision to “attack” the Catholic church, was that Teenage Fanclub prided themselves on being apolitical band. The other surprise for a band who admired The Byrds, The Beach Boys and Big Star was the sound of A Catholic Education.

For much of A Catholic Education, Teenage Fanclub unleashed a mixture of grunge and heavy metal. The only hint of what was to come from Teenage Fanclub was the Norman Blake penned Everything Flows. It was a glorious slice of power pop. This was something that Teenage Fanclub would return to later. Before that, A Catholic Education was released on June 11th 1991.

Before that, critics reviewed A Catholic Education. Reviews of the album were mixed, and very few critics forecast the critical acclaim and commercial success that came Teenage Fanclub’s way. When A Catholic Education was released by Matador, the album failed to even trouble the British or American charts. It was an inauspicious debut from Teenage Fanclub.

The King.

Just two months later, and Teenage Fanclub released their sophomore album, The King. However, in reality, The King was a quickly assembled collection of tracks. 

The tracks that became The King had been recorded once Teenage Fanclub had completed what would be their third album, Bandwagonesque. Quickly, Teenage Fanclub recorded nine tracks, including covers of Madonna’s Like A Virgin and Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive. Once The King was recorded, Teenage Fanclub were hoping this would allow them to escape their contractual liability to Matador. This could have backfired. 

Teenage Fanclub owed Matador an album. If they accepted The King, then they had fulfilled their contractual obligations. There was the possibility that the album could be rejected, if Matador didn’t believe the album was of a certain commercial standard,

Fortunately, they didn’t. That’s despite covers of Madonna’s Like A Virgin and Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive. The King wasn’t exactly Teenage Fanclub’s finest hour. Despite this, Matador released in August 1991.

Reviews of The King hadn’t been favourable. Despite this, The King reached fifty-three in the UK charts. It was almost ironic. Very few critics thought that The King would even trouble the charts. Teenage Fanclub had the last laugh. Free from all encumbrances, the Teenage Fanclub signed to Creation Records.


Now signed to Alan McGhee’s Creation Records, Teenage Fanclub like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat, delivered the completed version of Bandwagonesque. 

It featured twelve new songs from Teenage Fanclub. Norman Blake had contributed The Concept, What You Do To Me, Metal Baby and Alcoholiday. Raymond McGinley’s wrote I Don’t Know.

Gerard Love had written December, Star Sign, Pet Rock, Guiding Star and Is This Music? He also cowrote Sidewinder with Brendan O’Hare; while Satan was credited to the four members of Teenage Fanclub. They would record Bandwagonesque in Amazon Studio, in Liverpool.

The Bandwagonesque session began on 9th April 1991. Teenage Fanclub’s rhythm section featured drummer Brendan O’Hare, bassist Norman Blake and guitarist Norman Blake. Raymond McGinley played lead guitar; while the vocal duties were shared between the three songwriters. Augmenting the four members of Teenage Fanclub were Don Fleming on occasional guitar and handclaps while Dave Buchanan also added handclaps. Joseph McAlinden took charge of brass and strings. Producing Bandwagonesque, were Don Fleming, Paul Chisholm and Teenage Fanclub. By 12th May 1991, was recorded and mixed. Six months later, Bandwagonesque became Teenage Fanclub’s Creation Records’ debut.

Before that, critics had their say on Bandwagonesque. Critical acclaim had accompanied Bandwagonesque’s released. It was the first album to feature Teenage Fanclub’s melodic, hook-laden brand of power pop. With their Byrdsian jangling guitars and tight harmonies, Bandwagonesque stood head shoulders above A Catholic Education and The King. Granted, Teenage Fanclub could still rock out, and enjoyed the odd excursion into grunge, however, Bandwagonesque was Teenage Fanclub’s finest moment…by far. Record sales backed this up.

In August 1991, Star Sign was released as a single. Although reached just forty-four in the UK charts, it reached number four in the US Modern Rock charts. When the hard rocking single The Concept was released in October 1991, it reached fifty-one in the UK, and number twelve in US Modern Rock charts. Then came the main course.

On 19th November 1991 Bandwagonesque was released by Alan McGhee’s Creation Records. In Britain, Bandwagonesque reached twenty-two and in America the album reached 137 in the US Billboard 200. Bandwagonesque had introduced Teenage Fanclub to British and American record buyers. It was also the start of a six year period, when Teenage Fanclub released four albums that featured the best music of their career. This started with Bandwagonesque in 1991.

A wail of feedback opens Bandwagonesque, before Teenage Fanclub tame the tiger, and lock into a steady, rocky groove. As rhythm section create the heartbeat, choppy, seeing guitars drive the arrangement along. Atop the arrangement sits the vocal, that delivers those familiar lyrics: “I didn’t want to hurt you.” Then at 3.13 Brian Wilson meets The Byrds as swooning, heartfelt harmonies as jangling and searing guitars combine, and create a symphonic sound that’ll mend any broken heart. 

Satan brings back memories of A Catholic Education, as elements of grunge and heavy metal gallop along. They buzz, beep and squeak before Teenage Fanclub unite for just over twenty seconds of hard rocking music that would make Lemmy proud.

December finds Teenage Fanclub changing direction, as they combine indie rock and pop. The tempo drops on what’s a much more mellow sounding song. Chiming, chirping and bristling guitars sit above the rhythm section as Gerard take’s charge of the vocal. It’s full of emotion and hurt. Later, tight harmonies accompany the vocal, before a false ending introduces strings. They sweep and weep, as guitars buzz and bring this song to a wistful conclusion.

As What You Do To Me unfolds, one can’t help but wonder whether one of the Teenage Fanclub’s guilty pleasures was Status Quo. They dawn their old denims, and with a nod to The Byrds, rock their way through what’s a two minute anthem. Accompanied by sweet Byrdsian harmonies, they don’t spare the hooks during this irresistible anthemic track.

A vortex of distant guitars are joined by the rhythm section on I Don’t Know. Suddenly, it’s all systems go, as the tight rhythm section and choppy, chirping licks and riffs drive the arrangement along. The vocals are unsure as they sing: “I Don’t Know.“ When the vocals drop out, their replaced by bursts of blistering, scorching guitars. At 3.25. Teenage Fanclub kick loose, searing guitars cut through the arrangement. As if realising that something special is unfolding, rolls of drums are added as indie rock and power pop combine to create another memorable and melodic moment from Bellshill’s finest, Teenage Fanclub.

Guitars swirl in the distance, effects transforming their sound. Echo and reverb are the weapons of choice on Star Sign as it begins to take shape. It’s as if Teenage Fanclub are teasing the listener, and it’s not until 1.15 when the song unfolds. Drum pounds and with the bass, underpin the arrangement. It features jangling driving, and scorching guitars. Meanwhile, the vocal is mixed back in the arrangement. This works, and allows a tight and talented band shine, as they literally come of age musically. Twenty-five years later, and this rousing fusion of indie rock and power pop is timeless, and one of the reasons why Bandwagonesque is regarded as a genre classic.

The hooks keep on coming on Metal Baby. Drums pound furiously, before relentlessly driving the hard rocking arrangement along. Meanwhile, jangling, searing and scorching guitars accompany Gerard Love’s vocal. He’s augmented by harmonies and guitar licks. By then, Teenage Fanclub seem to be relishing the opportunity to kick loose, and rock their way through another song rich in poppy hooks. 

Just guitars ring out as Pet Rock unfolds. Soon, the rhythm section join the fray and Teenage Fanclub become one. They’re a tight unit, who when they recorded Bandwagonesque, had only been together since 1991. It’s hard to believe. When the vocal enters, it’s accompanied by harmonies. When they drop out, they’re replaced by bristling, scorching guitars. Meanwhile, horns blaze as the hard rocking rhythm section. Aleready Teenage Fanclub sound like hard rocking musical veterans on this melodic rocker.

Melodic rocker also describes Sidewinder. It’s one of the slower songs, where the vocals intertwine with the West Coast harmonies. Meanwhile, the rhythm section and bristling, chiming guitars create a rocky backdrop. Later, when the vocal drops out, lead guitarist Raymond McGinley dawns the role of guitar hero, and unleashes a scorching solo. As the reaches its crescendo, the guitars have become crunchy as a little bit of the West Coast of America comes to Glasgow.

Shimmering. liquid guitars open Alchoholiday, before the rhythm section lay down the tightest of grooves. The bass bounds as drums pound. Meanwhile, the vocal is heartfelt, needy and emotive. It’s also tinged with confusion as Norman sings: “there are things I want to say, but if they will be to you.” Cooing, soothing harmonies accompany the vocal as the Teenage Fanclub never miss a beat. Guitars chime and chirp, before a blistering solo cuts through the arrangement. By then, Teenage Fanclub are at their tightest, combining elements of Big Star, The Byrds and The Beach Boys, on what’s a classic track.

Stylistically, Guiding Star is quite different from previous tracks. Strings and a guitar accompany the vocal, before the bass picks its way through the arrangement. Harmonies augment the arrangement, as it threatens to kick loose. It never does, and retains what’s by Teenage Fanclub’s standard is an almost a restrained sound.

Bandwagonesque closes with Is This Music? A pulsating bass is joined by chiming, bristling guitars and drums. There’s no vocal, just Teenage Fanclub playing with freedom. The music flows through them, with the searing, scorching guitar and pulsating bass leading the way. Already one knows the question posed by Teenage Fanclub, Is This Music? Definitely, and some of the best released in 1991.

Twenty-eight years have passed since I first heard Bandwagonesque for the first time. From the first time I heard Teenage Fanclub’s third album Bandwagonesque, I realised this was defining moment for Bellshill’s finest. Bandwagonesque stood head and shoulders above A Catholic Education and The King. Teenage Fanclub had released what was without doubt, the best album of their nascent career. Soon, Bandwagonesque was being hailed as a genre classic. That’s still the case over quarter a century later.

Bandwagonesque is a welcome reminder of Teenage Fanclub, as they began what was the most successful period of their career. After Bandwagoneque introduced record buyers on both sides of the Atlantic to Teenage Fanclub, their star was in the ascendancy.

From the release of their fourth album Thirteen in 1993, through to Grand Prix in 1995 to Songs From Northern Britain in 1997, Teenage Fanclub enjoyed the most successful period of their twenty-seven year career. Their unique fusion of indie rock and melodic, hook-laden power pop proved popular in in America, Europe and Australia. Teenage Fanclub were one of the most popular British indie bands of that era, and their music influence a generation of new bands. It looked like Teenage Fanclub’s golden period would last forever. Sadly, it wasn’t to be.

After the release of Songs From Northern Britain in 1997, Teenage Fanclub’s albums never sold in the same quantities and stalled around thirty in the UK album charts. Teenage Fanclub’s golden period was over. Despite this, Teenage Fanclub continue to provide the soundtrack to the lives of a generation of record buyers. 

Many people’s introduction to Teenage Fanclub was their third album Bandwagonesque, a timeless genre classic. It’s an album  that belongs in every record collection. Bandwagonesque is also a record that’s guaranteed to bring back memories, of November 1991, when Teenage Fanclub released their breakthrough album. For many people, this was the start of a lifelong love affair with Teenage Fanclub, who are back on the comeback trail.

Later in 2016, Teenage Fanclub will return with their first album for six years. It’s their much anticipated tenth album Here. By the time Here is released, many of the people who discovered Teenage Fanclub through Bandwagonesque, will be well into middle age. They’ll still enjoy Here, and Teenage Fanclub’s genre classic, where perfect power pop and indie rock combine a hint of grunge to create Bandwagonesque.

Cult Classic: Teenage Fanclub-Bandwagonesque.


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