I was originally going to write a standard review of the Record Store Day re-release of Teenage Head’s self titled first LP, but then I realized that I own all three pressings variations of this, so I should listen to each and give you, the faithful reader, a full on comparison.
I should say off the hop that Teenage Head are as important to Hamilton music history as the Ramones are to New York City music history: they are essentially Canada’s answer to the Ramones and while the Ramones were laser focused on 2 minute rock songs with hooks; Teenage Head were focused on the songs themselves. Both bands didn’t fear to play a melody or a love song, albeit within their own band’s constraints. While Teenage Head were way more focused on 50’s rock n roll, the Ramones brought 50’s rock n roll to the then modern era. As important were the Ramones to punk worldwide, Teenage Head were similarly important to punk in Ontario, and all of Canada. Now the band themselves situate themselves as a bridge between the glam influenced sounds of the New York Dolls and The Dictators and The Ramones – but heavily influenced by The Stooges. And you can hear that, and a lot more on their first record.
So visually, each of the pressings’ front covers are similar. Each have Teenage Head emblazoned across the top of the cover. Slight but easy to spot changes between the three if you look for it: the first pressing on InterGlobal Music and Epic has a darker light purple outline, the second pressing on Other People’s Music, shifts the tones to more pink with the recent official Warner Brothers repress shifting closer to the orginal, but the purple is more vibrant (which may be a function of age rather than a printing difference). The cropping on the second pressing is slightly tighter (you can notice this on the pocket placement on Frankie’s coat on the right hand side of the cover, as well as Nicks elbow on the left).
Flip them over and you get an immediate tell which version you have – the second pressing has a black boundary with the text moved into the black space around the picture. Well, that and the label is printed on the back. On the second pressing, you’ve got much of the credits moved to the insert. You’ll also note that the songs are in another order. More on that in a moment. Comparing the recent reissue, well there’s a barcode taking up the space where the InterGlobal Music logo was on the first press, as well as the 2019 Warner Brothers logo taking up space where the Epic Records logo did on the 1979 original. The 1981 second pressing has no labelling.
On the first pressing, they are just black background, silver/white text, generic InterGlobal Music labels, song listings for each side. With the second pressing, they morph to a pink background, full colour label with the LP cover as the b-side label. Songs for both a and b side are listed on the a-side. Third pressing is full colour label, but with Teenage Head logo and song listings.
In the first pressing, it’s a jacket style sleeve, with lyrics and pictures on both sides. On the second, they substituted a generic plastic dust sleeve, with a two-sided single sheet with lyrics and pictures on one side, and merchandise and fan club information on the other. The third pressing does the most by having a gatefold insert, with the outer sides representing the original insert, and the inside filled with more information about the band and the times.
I’ll compare each of the three pressings song for song, in their original order. The second pressing resequenced the songs into a less effective running order I think. The first pressing starts with the punchy Top Down, whereas the second makes it the middle song on the second side, replacing it with Tearin’ Me Apart. I understand the rationale, but Top Down is a much higher octane cut, faster and punchier. Definitely better.
Comparing Top Down
First: muted overall sound, quiet mix. This is mixed like a lot of classic rock. The leads are as if they were a muted french horn. There’s also an imperceptable sound that is maybe an acoustic guitar? Song length is 2:01
Second: rougher, dare I say punker version. Guitar leads punch you in the face. Backup vocals are more prominent, guitars are rougher, maybe a function of being louder. Shorter song: 1:57
Third: back to the original sound, but with a better balanced mix, bringing back the leads. Back to the original song length: 2:01
Comparing Ain’t Got No Sense
First: Frankie’s voice is mixed further back, bass is quite forward and punchy. Almost as if you were hearing a live mix with the bass pushed forward. The vocals are very flat sounding, quite lifeless.
Second: Retains some of the bass forwardness of the original. Leads come rippin’ in, almost too unbalanced (think Stooges-Raw Power on some of those early mixes). Vocals are livelier – there’s more mid-range sound in the mix overall.
Third: Bass forward during the second verse and through the end of the song (almost obscuring the guitars entirely). Exit fade seems to happen in steps.
First: Nothing more remarkable about the mix per se. Still bass forward, over the guitars in fact. While the bass runs are expertly done, the song really suffers without some guitars.
Second: This is the perfect mix, the guitars sound full and roaring. The bass sticks nicely in the mix. Kick and snare have punch and snarl respectively. Frankie’s voice has a touch of snarl in the mix.
Third: Return to the slightly underwhelming mix, but Frankie is more prominent as well as the guitars. I’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the first and this one except for some additional brightness.
Comparing Picture My Face
First: With this mix it sounds like there’s a lightly distorted guitar and a fuzzed out lead. The lightly distorted guitar is up front, with the fuzzed track playing a supporting role.
Second: The thing that sticks out is the tambourine at the beginning of the song, and the picking in the lightly distorted guitar is more distinct. Brighter than the original, with Frankie’s voice taking centre stage fully. Otherwise, similar mix.
Third: Very similar to the first, except slightly brighter.
Comparing Lucy Potato
First: muted overall sound, slightly quieter. Prominent kick drum, and bass, guitar seems to fade into the background towards the end of the song.
Second: Guitar is much more prominent, especially when the leads cut in, vocals cut through, a much better mix.
Third: bass seems to be in the forefront, guitar is still a little underwhelming for my tastes, and should be much more up front. The kick drum is less punchy, which actually is better in this mix because it was too far back. I’d prefer more snare – especially for the rat-a-tat part.
Comparing Curtain Jumper
First: Guitars feel like they’re fighting to be heard in the mix. There’s some staccato punches that serve as a lead track that pops intrusively into the song midway through. Frankie’s voice sounds like it’s across the hall. Hi-hats are inexplicably prominent in the back half of the song. Cymbal crashes are played but unheard. Absolutely a horrible mix.
Second: The hi-hat forward mix is still there, but the guitars come in and crash into the party and blanket everyone in their sound. If the guitars were nacho cheese, and the song was nacho chips; it’s as if someone took the nacho cheese pump at 7-11 and coated the whole plate with cheese (may not be made with real cheese). The hit-hats in the back half are tamed, maybe by sheer overpowering of the guitar, which are really too much here.
Third: Not even a remastering will save this mix.
Comparing You’re Tearing Me Apart
First: Same muted mix, at least the guitars are cutting through this mix. Everything’s sitting well, the handclaps are crisp and feel in the right place. Of course, I’ve heard this song a million times, and will probably be heard a million times more.
Second: The guitar forward mix is actually a bit too much for this. The handclaps are louder than Frankie’s vocals. The call-outs are louder. Maybe it’s overall louder? Even though it doesn’t feel like it. The drum rolls are crisper too. Some guitar hum as well – the run into the next song (Ain’t Got No Sense) flows so well, I wonder if this song order is based on how the band recorded the songs.
Third: The mix is less wild than the second pressing, I think I prefer the first mix, as there’s a little less punch on the bass, which may have been a strategic case of EQ, but this one has the guitar leads in the right place, as well as the handclaps. The snare rolls are not quite as snappy. The end callouts are gone.
Comparing Little Boxes (Alimony)
First: Similar to other first pressing songs, muted, kind of squashed, but at least everything is in it’s place with the bass being slightly too far forward.
Second: The song listing labels this song as “Little Boxes” without “(Alimony)” part. Snare is a bit obtrusive in the middle. Frankie’s ooohs and unghs are more pronounced. The guitar solo before the bass only section is louder. Backup vocals in this mix are a deeper voiced “Alimony” (which are not on the first pressing) which goes through the fade out to end the song.
Third: Similar to the first pressing mix, but perhaps a bit louder. Still underplays the guitar leads, except for the explicit solo. Pretty perfect version. Not a ton of complaints.
Comparing Get Off Of My Back
First: Frankie forward with some reverb that I didn’t really notice on other songs. Guitars are buried deep on this one. The toms also stick out fairly noticeably on the first roll through. Again the hi-hats are probably louder than the guitars.
Second: Guitars are, as expected more forward, which end up burying Frankie a bit. The reverb is still noticeable. With the remix, the bass gets pushed down a bit, to the detriment of the song, because the walking bass lines are really a key element to propel the song along.
Third: In this version they’ve pulled the guitars up to where they should be, without obscuring Frankie’s place in the mix. The basslines that were missing from the second mix are back. The hi-hats have been tamed to a reasonable level. The only improvement would be to add EQ to deal with the underwhelming cymbal crashes.
Comparing Kissin’ The Carpet
First: A riff reminiscent of Fortunate Son by CCR, Kissin’ The Carpet has harmonica and an acoustic guitar introduction, with honkytonk style piano interspersed throughout the song.
Second: The big difference is that the piano is throughout the song – rather than just jumping in at the end. There’s also a backup vocal track with Frankie doing the backups for himself. The piano is a real distraction from the two key pieces of Teenage Head – guitars and vocals. No offense to the drums and bass, they make up the backbone of the songs, but it’s not the tree trunk I’m looking at when I look at a tree. Different fade out ending too, less anthematic.
Third: Almost the same as the first, with a good balanced mix.
Well, to be honest, if you have any of the versions you’re in good hands. Personally, coming from a hardcore punk perspective – which brought expectations of the 70’s punk bands that would never match the ferocity and fury of hardcore – a thing that took me a long while to understand – I like the more blown out, raw, Stooges-esque mix of the second pressing. The master tapes of which had to be stolen back from the illegitimate owner. Of course. Any of the versions will appeal, and if the reissue is your only option, then grab it. With it, you get a Picture My Face 7″ which is well worth the money and time.