One Direction brings an obscure punk classic to the charts



At the beginning of their allegedly self-made video for "One Way or Another (Teenage Kicks)" the members of globally dominant British boy band phenomenon One Direction explain that the song was recorded to benefit the British charity Comic Relief. Which is great. Charity work is laudable, and honestly there should be benefit singles from ridiculously massive pop acts being released on a regular basis. But their brief explanation doesn't even come close to touching on the biggest question that the song raises, which is why there is a One Direction version of the "Teenage Kicks" that now exists in our world.

Actually, it's primarily a cover of Blondie's "One Way or Another"—which the group has given a predictably energetic and likable rendition—with "Teenage Kicks" interpolated into the song's booming, Joan Jett-style arena rock breakdown. Which somehow makes even less sense.

After seeing that "One Way or Another (Teenage Kicks)" had debuted at number 45 on the Hot 100 this week and confirming that it was indeed what the title suggests, I assumed that it was one of those instances of a punk song that's never been anything but an obscurity in the States but was a chart-topping smash in the UK. But "Teenage Kicks" only ever reached number 31 on the British charts, which is better than its performance here but not exactly an earth-tilting success.

But John Peel, one of the most influential figures in British pop music history, called "Teenage Kicks" his all-time favorite song, and it was probably his advocacy that's made it what seems to be a standard part of British pop groups' repertoires. According to its Wikipedia entry the song's previously been covered by a wide range of UK acts including Coldplay-ish mope-rockers Snow Patrol and the difficult-to-explain entity known as Jedward.

So to Brits, One Direction's adoption of "Teenage Kicks" probably makes some kind of sense. For those of us in the US who are used to it being a kind of secret handshake for garage rockers and punks to establish their street cred it's baffling. But Peel was right about how it's one of the most perfect pop songs of all time. While One Direction's cover has probably provoked the ire of the kind of underground rock fans who prefer to keep their favorite stuff underground, I think it's a better song than that. If it can find a space in the American pop canon it'll be well deserved.

Miles Raymer writes about what's on the charts on Tuesday.

Add a comment