I once made the claim to Will Buxton that Neil Finn is the greatest rock songwriter of our time. And I was right. He protested, obviously, because he’s a Paul McCartney fan and he thinks The Beatles are the greatest band of all time. He might even be right about that – they’re certainly the benchmark for the position – but Paul needed John to write their greatest hits, and vice versa. Sure, they wrote some great songs individually, but as many as Neil? I’d argue not.
Which is what makes this so hard to choose: how to pin down one song among so many greats? I’m just going to stick with Fall today, because of the immense swoon of it, the warm and tender embrace of the melody. But it could have been so many others: Into Temptation (and it hurts almost physically not to pick that), Seven Worlds, Weather With You, Distant Sun, Private Universe, Don’t Dream It’s Over, Not The Girl You Think You Are … I’ll stop now, because I’m just turning this into a list, but you get the point I’m making, I’m sure.
I can see Buxton shaking his head and trying to form words to argue, and if all I’ve done is make him speechless for a while then it’s a public service, and you’re welcome. But Neil, at his best, took elements of both Paul (those gorgeous melodies) and John (“the finger of blame has turned upon itself”) and fused them into a whole – he was obviously a student of their work and would claim he wasn’t fit to shine their shoes but false modesty helps no one, and the body of work he’s put together, with the Crowdies and away from them, is a canon of timeless quality.
And that’s without mentioning how good they are live – I saw them busk in Martin Place, and any number of other times including at Wembley (although not at their “final” show at the Opera House, because the girl I was going out with at the time had her birthday and didn’t want to go, so we were about the only people in Sydney, including all my friends, not to go, or at least watch on telly. We split up a week or so later…), and their crowd interaction is better than almost any other band I’ve seen.
I remember going to see Liam Finn in London with Gardie one night, and Neil turned up to play a couple of songs before walking off through the crowd, which parted like the Red Sea for him: Gardie couldn’t help himself and hugged Neil, because being American he’s like that, but all I could do was shake his hand (now Gardie had stopped him) and say thanks before stepping out of his way as he headed out of the venue and into the night. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZdcz1ALuBo (live) or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gyVGNcD8PNo (record).