Aussie rock and roll
[2020 update: I believe this was the first section I created for my site in 1999! It is obviously out of date but this is really about the music I enjoyed when I was young so it hardly matters.]
Before we go any further, I should point out that if I had my time over again, I would not waste my time studying books I never understood, or calculus I never used, but studied electric guitar instead. I can't play any instrument but I wish I had started when I was young when my brain was still developing. It's too late now.
In any case, I think that if you are not famous by age 25, you've missed the boat, or at least you have to be outstandingly good or lucky. To borrow a line from Cold Chisel, "the money I saved can't buy my youth again".
Nevertheless, these bands provided a soundtrack to my youth and a lot of enjoyment. I only saw four of them live. If a band has a home page, I've linked to it but most of them disbanded long ago.
What follows are the bands that I liked and I've written a little of my impressions of each. All opinions are entirely my own and you will probably have different ideas.
If your Australian and in your mid-30s, it's time to reminisce. If not, enjoy the ride.
A bit of history
Let's see how we got here. When I was young in Sydney, there was radio station 2SM and CountDown. Who could forget?
2SM was the radio station that played all the Top 40 hits and since there were so few stations in the 70s, it was youth radio. It was decimated when FM arrived around 1980 offering far better sound but the licensing arrangements didn't allow them to transfer to the new band at the time.
CountDown was the TV music show of its day and made Molly Meldrum a household name in Australia. It was on the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission, roughly the equivalent of PBS and NPR rolled into one). Since it had national reach, none of the commercial stations could effectively compete and it was the launch pad for many bands. The show ended almost every week with a countdown of the top 10 (hence the name) culminating in playing the film clip for number 1 I say "almost" because Abba's "Fernando" was #1 for so long that everyone got sick of it and they stopped playing it! Did you see the 20th anniversary show in 1993? It was a blast!
ABC radio launched 2JJ or Double J with Skyhooks song "You just like me because I'm good in bed". It set the pattern for cutting-edge, provocative music programming and being government, it was mercifully free of advertising. Double J became Triple J with the move to FM. Often they played garbage because it was new and different but there were gems thrown in and it was up to the audience to decide which was which. Rap was played years earlier on Triple J than any of the commercial stations.
The tradition continues, more or less. I believe they have a playlist now (they didn't in the early days) but there is little overlap with the commercial stations. Sometimes this is good as it avoids endlessly- repeated, over-packaged American pop but it also means you need to listen to the commercial stations some of the time just to find out what's happening in the outside world where there is some endless-repeated, good Australian music.
When I think "Accadacca", I think: "It's a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll". It's raw, it's loud, it's great head-banging music and its the only rock song I know of that features bag pipes. There was an alternative version sung in schools across the country that went: "It's a long way to the shop if you want a sausage roll". I even taught Lan to sing it and now it's a general response in our household indicating that it's too much trouble to go wherever has just been proposed.
This was from the early days when Bon Scott headed the band and before they became an international success. They went downhill from there for me. A few years later I was given the album "Back in Black" and at the time I loved "Shoot to thrill" but when you listen to the words (generally considered optional with AC/DC) you realize it's pretty awful-an anthem to violence and male chauvinism.
I was amused by this on their web site in May 2003: "AC/DC will play as Special Guests to the Rolling Stones in Germany for 3 dates in June. These extraordinary concerts won't be part of a full-scale worldwide tour, and mark the first time the band isn't billed as headliners since 1980. Hey, it's the Stones."
This was the first reasonably "heavy" band that I liked, helped in part because a friend (now forgotten) in Year 10 made a pirate copy of "Face to Face" for me. It included "Marsailles", "Straight Jacket", "I ain't the one" and "After the Rain" amongst others.
I saw them live at an open air concert organised by 2SM in Revesby or somewhere in Sydney a long way from home. "The Expression", "The Radiators" and "The Church" played too-all for $1!. I heard once that the Angels and Cold Chisel had a "competition" for which band brought the Newcastle Workers' Club the greatest liquor sales when they played there. The club was later badly damaged in an earthquake killing several people and in my mind I still associate the band with the club.
I can't find any site on the Web devoted to the band which surprises me. They made some great music including "Beautiful People", one of my all-time favourites of Australian music, which observed that at their houses, "the garden's full of furniture, the house is full of plants"! Brilliant. Some other hits were "Shut down", the haunting "Hooci Cooci Fiarruci Mama" (not sure about the spelling) and of course "Restless". James Reyne was the lead singer and he later had a successful solo career but it was nearly always impossible to understand the words he was singing. There was a hilarious segment on "Hey, hey, it's Saturday" (an Australian TV institution with Daryl Somers which ran for 25 years) where they played the film clip for "Fall of Rome" but they added subtitles as if it were sung in a foreign language. It started out following the words but then the started skipping bits and there were "..." on the screen where they couldn't make it out, eventually degenerating to "... something about public transport" as if the "translator" was now only catching snatches of it. I still laugh when I think of it today. Perhaps you just had to see it.
Gorgeous voice. "Bedroom eyes" made me melt but I was surprised how rough she sounded in a radio interview I heard when she said she'd deserved the success she was having at that time because she'd been working for "frigin' years". I was pleased she had a bit of a hit with "Kiss me" in 1998 though it was only on the radio for a few weeks.
For me, the one song that epitomizes Australian rock and roll is "Khe Sanh", a song initially banned from radio for being too raunchy. I'm much too young to have fought in Vietnam but a shiver goes down my spine every time I hear it. "Four Walls" and "Misfits" have the same affect.
Though they were huge in Australia, they never achieved the international stardom of INXS. A great pity but it was partly because their songs are so Australian. "Ita" is meaningless to all but a handful outside the country. Another barrier was the American record company that was supposedly promoting them but didn't care. "You got nothing I want" overflows with contempt for the executive that pushed them around.
I wasn't keen on Jimmy Barnes as a soloist except for "You promised me you'd call", a song that should have been a huge hit but wasn't. Barnes at his best.
The band reformed in 1998 and released an album but nothing I heard on the radio had the fine polish of the songs they released in the 80s.
Technically this is a New Zealand band but that's near enough. After Split Enz broke up, Neil Finn formed Crowded House and their first album was great. I've got in on vinyl but I ran out of time before I left Australia to transfer it to tape. Bother! I heard a few songs from their second album on the radio and it was OK. I bought a CD of one of their last albums over here (US) and thought it was rubbish; there wasn't one decent song.
A cover of "Don't dream it's over", one of the songs off their debut album, reached the top 10 of the US charts in April 2003.
If you try entering www.crowdedhouse.com in your browser, you get taken to Neil Finn's site.
I've often thought of Christina Amphlett as having a voice that is the female equivalent of Bob Dylan, or perhaps Joe Cocker - she is not Kate Cebrano or even Natalie Imbruglio. Rough but gloriously expressive. I bought "What a life" on vinyl and loved it, particularly "In my life". I can't go on without mentioning "Science fiction", "Temperamental" and "Ain't gonna eat out my heart anymore" which were on other albums.
I saw this band twice, once with a lovely girl named Nicola who I believe went on to be a champion body builder. They had a string of hits in the 70s including "This Time", "Are you old enough" and "I'm still in love with you". Marc Hunter, their lead singer, died in 1998 of throat cancer.
This guy has done everything - singer, songwriter, actor, playwrite, originally rising to fame for his role as Jesus on stage in "Jesus Christ, Superstar" which ran for five years. It's a shame he didn't gain greater success internationally. Had several hits during the 70s including the (traditional?) love song "Six ribbons" and a haunting version of "Turn the page", most recently redone by Metallica.,/p>
"What's my scene" is the only song I can think of that grabbed me the very first time I heard it and I knew I loved it. They had already had some hits before "Blow your cool" so I knew who they were but I got the album for a birthday and it remains one of my favourites. "Do you know where nowhere is?" is a classic. ("It's where you are.")
Make sure you take a look at "The Arthur Hoax" on their website under "Misc.".
Their official site was at www.hoodoogurus.com but it seems to have been taken down. I find it bizarre but an archive of the site as it was on 24 Oct 2001 is on the server belonging to the National Library of Australia! Government approval? Is Prime Minister John Howard a fan?
Hunters & Collectors
I didn't like some of what they did but "Do you see what I see?" and "You don't make me feel like I'm a woman any more" are great rock and roll. I notice that "Throw your arms around me" was number 2 on Triple J's Hot 100 of all time though I was never particularly keen on it.
I've read that "Man of Colours" is the best selling album by an Australian band in Australia with 600,000 copies sold. (John Farnham's "The Voice" sold 1 million copies" making it the best selling by any Australian outfit; I read that "Jagged Little Pill", "Thriller" and "Saturday Night Fever" also topped 1 million. The soundtrack to "Grease" has sold 2.8 million copies which is more than the 2nd and 3rd best sellers combined!). All the more strange then that, front man Iva Davies has never had the public profile of Michael Hutchence, Peter Garret or Jimmy Barnes.
Iva was trained classically, playing oboe or bassoon or something silly. They received the Johnny O'Keefe Award for the best new talent at the CountDown Awards in April 1981 and went on to produce some great music including "Great Southern Land", "No Promises", "Street Cafe", "The Wall" and "Love in motion".
Originally they were called Flowers when they were signed by Chrysalis Records which intended to release their album overseas, they found there were already performers in both the US and UK who had registered the name so they had to come up with something else.
I saw them at the Coogee Bay Hotel and was pleasantly surprised how LOUD they were live compared to their restrained recorded material.
A band recognized everywhere. They were huge and they deserved it. It's sad that Michael is gone but I think it is better to have made an impact on the world and be dead at 37 than live to 107 and be a nobody. Neil Young said "it's better to burn out than it is to rust" and that's what happened to Michael. Too many hits to list but "Falling down the mountain" is my favourite.
I remember the first time they appeared on CountDown and I thought they were trying too hard to be a Rolling Stones rip-off band and they would go nowhere. Fortunately, Michael stopped trying to be Mick and got on with being a rock star in his own right.
Yes, I admit it. I do enjoy some of her music even though it is uncool in some circles as there is compelling evidence that the "Impossible Princess" can't actually sing. It was hard to take her seriously when she did "Locomotion" but I did enjoy the songs on her 1998 album. I even considered buying it but Australian CD prices are outrageous at nearly A$30 each so I elected not to. If only someone else like Kate Cebrano had done her songs for her.
She finally "broke through" in the US in 2002 with a completely mindless song "Can't get you out of my head". Why that one? It was awful but apparently people bought it.
Little River Band
I've included LRB mainly on the basis of Graham Gobles' "It's a long way there", a nine minute masterpiece that covers loneliness, disappointment and hope for a better world: "I live for the day when I can hear people saying that they know and they care for everyone; but I feel like I've been here for the whole of my life, never knowing home.". The songs "Help is on it's way" and "Shut down, turn off" were good, the latter being ahead of its time for PC users with software problems. Oh, and they were huge in America too.
They are touring again and I had the opportunity of seeing them here in Denver but they weren't going to start playing until 10 pm and I had something I needed to do the next day so I opted out. Pity.
Mental As Anything
Several words come to mind when I think of the Mentals but "serious" is not one of them. If you are looking for songs that examine the great social issues of our time, you've come to the wrong place. If on the other hand you are looking fun, look no further. Perhaps best remembered for "The nips are getting bigger", my personal favourite was "Berserk Warriors", a song about Vikings. Started in 1978 by a group of Sydney art students and still playing, one/some/all (?) of the band members went on to form Mambo, a successful business selling beach and (very) casual wear.
Martin Plaza (presumably a stage name taken from Martin Place, a pedestrian thoroughfare in downtown Sydney) tried to launch a solo career but to my knowledge it was unsuccessful though he did a wonderful song called "Use me all over", the idea for which he got from the instructions on a bottle of skin moisturizer!
The conscience of the Australian music industry, Peter Garret and helpers have made a point of raising social issues and touring aboriginal communities in the outback. Peter has a law degree and at one time was an Australian senator representing the Nuclear Disarmament Party. As President of the Australian Conservation Foundation, he has been active in the recent campaign against the Jabaluka uranium mine.
They are played on "alternative" radio in America but the only song I have ever heard is "Beds are burning" which in case you don't know, tackles the issue of Australia's treatment of its native peoples and promotes land rights with the line that we should "give it back". Such selection amounts to propaganda in my view; I doubt they would play "U.S. Forces" which puts America in a less favourable light.
I saw them at the Hordon Pavillion in Sydney (is it still there?) for a concert promoting their then-new album "Diesel and Dust" (I think). Unfortunately, I rarely enjoy music I hear for the first time so I thought the concert was disappointing.
They had so many great songs: "King of the mountain", "Kosciusko", "Blue sky mining", "You wouldn't read about it" and "US Forces" come immediately to mind. "Put down that weapon" is much softer than their usual work but I thought it a masterpiece. I look forward to the day that is not that far away when I can legally compile via the internet my own "greatest hits" album of their work as there is much I don't like. "The power and the passion" falls into this category.
I think this band was largely a "one album wonder" but what an album it was! My recollection is that the first five songs on their self-titled effort were all hits: "Burning feeling", "Love somebody", "Take me back", "No lies" and "River of tears". It never got much airplay but the next song "Welcome to the world" deserves a mention as it highlights how it is totally a matter of luck which society and which family we are born into-a girl is "happy ever" but for the boy "a toy's his gun, is all he'll know". Some kids are born into a life of violence and misery and those of us who live comfortably should be aware of their plight and hopefully do something about it.
Howzat! Daryl Braithwaite and team were the most polished act of the 70s and this was their biggest hit. "Summer Love" was another great one but I was late learning of popular music since my parents effectively had none (unless you count "The Seekers") and I didn't own a radio until I was about 13 so I missed most of the band's work.
Despite their huge success in the 70s, I was shocked to see on Daryl's home page that in 1986, all the money was gone and "Daryl accepted the only job he could find, labouring on the roads for the Bulla Shire council. He worked for them for 8 weeks." A ridiculous waste of talent.
Daryl Braithwaite's site
A permanent fixture on the Australian Top 40 in the late-70s, Shirley (a guy) and the band were cheeky, colourful and initially wore wild makeup-before Kiss thought of it. The debut album "Living in the 70s" sold 300,000 copies, equivalent to an American band opening with 4.5million sales. They produced "Ego is not a dirty word", "Horror Movie", "Blue Jeans", "You just like me because I'm good in bed", and "All my friends are getting married" amongst others. They tried hard to break into the American market but they never made it.
Actually, as mentioned in the note for Crowded House, the band was from New Zealand but they became famous while they (Neil Finn and brother Tim, plus a few helpers) were in Australia. Like INXS, when I first saw them on Countdown singing "I see red", I thought they were ridiculous and that they would soon disappear. Fortunately I was wrong and they did some beautiful work including "I wish I never", "What can a poor boy do?", "Sometimes I get frightened" and "Message to my girl". Neil later formed Crowded House while Tim's solo career seemed to start and end with "There's a fraction too much friction".
No site but mentioned on www.frenz.com which bills itself as the official resource site for Split Enz, Crowded House and everyone involved.
I assume the band was named after the triangular frozen ice treat that was sold when I was little. They only had two hits that I can remember but they were great: "I need a friend" and the classic "Alone with you" which had a sensational guitar piece in it. For some reason the second one reminded me of a lovely girl called Juliet (though I don't think I ever was alone with her for any length of time).