Sad songs are just the best songs: that’s simply a fact. I’ve always been a sucker for a heartbreak soundtrack, even if I didn’t go through much of it when I was young, mostly by avoiding going out with anyone (if you don’t ask, you won’t be disappointed, as Ross might say), and a lot of it probably comes from spending far too much time with Eyman and trying to out miserable each other.
But when the Sprouts released Steve McQueen it was just a perfect album: tremendous sound from producer Thomas Dolby, a genius cover with the band sitting on a cool old motorbike, and a string of songs about broken hearts. When Love Breaks Down was probably my favourite for such a long time, and it makes sense (miserablism personified, a skinny singer spitting out his heart, and a clip that looked it was made by John Woo but for the lack of guns), although this was really the best thing they’ve ever done: that winding guitar riff, the rolling bass, the lyrics (“what are you, 21? Why don’t you give it a rest / the world is a million”), and the view that changes as the song progresses, from sympathy to the boy to pointing out the simply truths about the situation (“she is a person too / she has her own will”) and even bringing jokes (“why don’t you join the Foreign Legion”, “life’s not complete / ‘til your heart skips a … beat”) like a real friend would.
Just beautiful, like all of their songs were. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmiKqRlfX00
As far as I’m concerned, the video for this song should be nothing but footage of flying over Sydney Harbour.
I don’t remember when I first played it on a flight into Sydney – I must have had my iPod on shuffle, and it was one of those serendipitous moments the world throws up every so often – but now every time I fly into Sydney I have to put this song on as we get over the northern suburbs and I watch the city of my birth roll under me, recognising suburbs and landmarks as we go (“that’ll be Jen’s place down there, now it’s Chatswood, and North Sydney, it’s Balmain and the bridge, and if I dropped something out the window now it would land on Alex’s [old] roof…”). It’s an instant nostalgic moment, and one I want to crawl inside of and never leave every single time.
My Mum’s probably thinking “yeah, so you haven’t played it much then…” right now.
They were such a great band, and Michael Hutchence was just a perfect front man: not a great voice, to be fair, but good enough when it was backed up by that extravagent confidence and his effortless louchness. They don’t make them like that anymore. I’m not sure what is my favourite INXS song (The Gift is tremendous, and Elegantly Wasted, but it’s probably something like Original Sin), but I always have a special place in my heart for this and Johnson’s Aeroplane and all those beautiful old tracks, so vibrant and alive, before they started making hits and the rest of the world caught up to Australia.
I saw them live in Centennial Park, along with the rest of Sydney and all the top bands in the country, for the Victor Chang memorial gig (Crowded House were the support, and when they played Weather With You it started to rain, so they played Four Seasons in One Day and the sun came back!) and they were incredible, coming back after breaking the erst of the world and showing us what they’d learned, and Hutchence had the whole place in the palm of his hand.
It was just wretched to hear of his death and everything that followed, but I still have a fond place in my heart for those nights in Milan when Bira and I would watch Rock Star: INXS as they looked for a new singer while we drank wine and argued about who was the best choice for them (Bira was always a Marty fan, and Trees was a great track, but I still think Mig was the right choice, as proven after JD won and was later kicked out, although Jordis was amazing too).
But none of that matters: this song is perfect and, although I realise it’s probably a subconscious plea for Sydney to be exactly as it was when I left every time I return, which is impossible and unthinkable, I can’t imagine ever returning to Sydney without it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNV0Y0EKKnA
It must be tough to make something as perfect as this. It’s such a nailed on classic song, just absolutely bullet-proof, but where do you go from there? No point asking The La’s, as they never did anything else. It’s as though they distilled an entire career into one song and called it a day. I know, drugs and fights and so on, and there was the entire career of Cast to follow, but all those years don’t hold a candle to this.
The album was pretty good too, with Timeless Melody and what have you, but this is really the only thing you need to know from them, a perfect slice of Scouser pop, a hymn for every guy who has been in love but didn’t have the words or the guts to tell her, and had to watch her walk by, never knowing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZXLLMbJdZ4
I can’t even begin to remember how I found the Campers – they didn’t have any hits, I doubt they were played on radio, they wouldn’t have been big in Melody Maker or any of the other UK music press that I read religiously – but this album was just perfect. Don’t take my word for it, you can hear the whole thing here, and I suggest you do. I’ll wait.
See? I told you it was good.
I don’t really know why a major decided to give them a budget to make an album, and I don’t know how a band of scruffy surf punks ended up making something with this much ambition, but I’m really glad they did. Because Stinky will always revert back to Take The Skinheads Bowling or Where The Hell is Bill? from the older albums, or even Pictures of Matchstick Men from the later one when we inevitably reminisce about what a great band the Campers were, but for me it’s always this album, because I’ve played it hundreds of times and it’s just locked in my head.
I think it’s the woozy brass section wound through it: it’s certainly why I was struggling to pick between this or Turquoise Jewelry (“take off that jumpsuit, you look like Grace Slick”), or the psych out of She Divines Water, or the words to live by closer Life Is Grand. But no, I’ll stick with Fatima, because whether I hear it in London or Bristol or Bagnacavallo or New York or even good old Double Bay, it makes me smile (“this here’s a government experiment and we’re driving like hell / to give some cowboys some acid, and to stay in motels”) at the memory of listening to it at all of those other places too. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51PP8TwXrxE
Still the greatest song of all time. Fact.
God I love this song so much: I have to stop and listen any time it comes on, to the exclusion of all else (which makes writing this incredibly difficult). I don’t know what caught me first on this song, but it’s probably those strings. What an amazing voice Shara Nelson had, though. I saw them at Sydney Town Hall, in the huge parquet floored main room, and we were suitably fueled for the evening, which featured the heaviest speakers I’d ever been exposed to at that stage. It was a brilliant night, untouchable, and even as we walked out through the detritus of beer cans (I knew even then they’d never put another show on in that room because of the mess, and sadly I was right) it was the sweep and majesty of this song that filled our heads.
I’ve seen them a bunch of time since – at Finsbury Park with James, in New York, in Brixton, even in Blackheath – but that first magical night stays with me even now. And now it’s sent me down a magic rabbit hole of Massive Attack tracks – Sly, with it’s Australian bush sounds weaving through it, the neverending build of Risingson, the simple perfection of Protection – and I may get nothing further done today. So be it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWmrfgj0MZI
This was another Barters’ house song, but Graham always took the lead vocals. It was a huge surprise to us all when he announced he was gay, obviously.
The funniest thing about that is that when we moved to Doonside and I went to school for the first time, in Year 5, at lunch time I saw him sitting there under a tree by himself I asked someone who he was and was told “that’s Graham: he’s a poof.” No idea how anyone knew what that meant at that age, but more baffling again was being told not to be his friend, because that would make me “a poof by proxy”. It was a high attainment school, I’m sure you can tell.
So naturally we became mates, I was a PbP, and I’m not sure I cared much even then. I guess the first sign was a few years later, when his girlfriend cried on my shoulder that she couldn’t understand why he wasn’t interested in her, and tried to kiss me: loyally (and no doubt stupidly) I took off and told him next time I saw him, when he said “you should have kissed her back.” It wasn’t long before he came out.
But this song, the unparalleled joy of it, the sheer pleasure of shouting “I want you looooooooove!”, that never grows old. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGNiXGX2nLU
Yeah, I know this is possibly the worst single he ever put out, from one of the worst movies ever, but we used to dance like maniacs to this song anyway, so screw you. Plus, it got us to go backwards to the great stuff, but I still love this song from all those nights at the Barters’ house, with a fire blazing in the backyard and the speakers pulled out to surround a makeshift dancefloor Brian built on the grass so we could do slides and splits. Ow!
We had a tracklist of songs that required someone to run in and put the next record on after each one, and they all built up to this, when I’d do the James Brown spin and shuffle with the boys doing backing dances behind me as the place went wild. Okay, so a skinny ginger kid doing James Brown is pretty funny, anyway. And I probably had the hair for it, since I’ve had a variety of crap haircuts. I never played the next song because I need to get my cape and scream “I feel good!” That was the same place I drank rum for the first time, and split my head open getting the bottle out of the washing room sink full of ice.
I probably danced better for it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5BL4RNFr58
I don’t care: this is one of the greatest dance songs of all time, and if you can’t see that then it’s your problem. There was a year (I don’t know, maybe 1991?) where you just simply couldn’t escape this song, and nor did you want to. Groove is always in the heart: that’s right. Ignore the version where they eradicated Bootsy – that’s a crime against nature, simply to save some publishing rights – this is the one to have.
There was a whole bunch of those psychedelic rap songs around for a while – all the De La Souls, Arrested Developments and so on – but none of them make me smile as much as this song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etviGf1uWlg
It’s just a brilliant groove, isn’t it? Rolling and rocking and just moving on and on. Kind of like the campaign for Mandela was, I guess, until he was finally released. I never really knew much about The Specials – I didn’t even really get into Ghost Town until The Prodigy did an amazing cover of it, and I worked backwards – but this song just burned up the radio and I had to buy it. And I didn’t even get my free Mandela with the 12”, ho ho ho.
Strangely enough, I wanted to call my dog Nelson and, even though I was evidently pro-Mandela, it was actually after Piquet, the first guy I really followed in F1 (and to be fair, it’s probably a bit insulting to name a dog after a human rights activist and living embodiment of patience and guile. But for a racing driver it’s fine), but ultimately I didn’t do it because I didn’t want people to think poorly of me for yelling “Nelson” after a dog. Plus, we had cousins with the family name Nelson, which might have been confusing. So I called him Digger, and then had to be very careful how to pronounce it.
I met Piquet on the first day of the first season of GP2 actually, back in Imola all those years ago: I’d had a couple of years of interview current F1 drivers under my belt by then, but this was something else, and I was remarkably shy around him, even though he was just some old guy (and a driver’s dad) by then, rather than a 3 time world champion. I spent the first half of the season trying to convince Nelson Jr that, despite working for Autosport, I wasn’t going to screw him over like they had his dad (in favour of Mansell), but ultimately I won him over to the extent that he started playing pranks on me, including pouring a bucket of water while I was interviewing someone else: I chase him around the paddock before finally grabbing him in his truck and making him give me a new shirt, only for GP2 to tell me I couldn’t wear team uniform. I just found it the other day, actually. Happy days: I think he was on the podium in Le Mans on the weekend?
Not sure what it has to do with Nelson Mandela, though. Or The Specials. A message to you, anyhow. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgcTvoWjZJU
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).
I’ve always liked a good three piece band (and also always liked The Fauves’ Three Piece too, even if they were taking the piss out of them). There’s just something about the symmetry of them: everyone has a job, and the whole thing demands they all work together or it collapses, and the Violent Femmes were such a great example of that. Their songs are seemingly so simple, but every component is essential: the acoustic guitar, the acoustic bass, the whiny vocals, the skiffle beat snare, the combination of which is pure alchemy.
The Femmes are a band that cross over so many groups and timeframes for me: dancing around at The Farm (“why can’t I get just one kiss”), seeing them busking in front of the Opera House and then more raucously at Selina’s (I didn’t realise I went there so many times until I started writing these pieces), in New York/Italy/Bristol with Stinky, and they never sound anything but great, even though they’re properly old now. And who’d have thought a bunk of punks from Milwaukee would still be going strong after all these years.
I should probably mention that Grosse Point Blank is one of my favourite albums, with one of the greatest soundtracks of all time: if you haven’t seen it, go do it now. Off you go. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rswiq4Hi-tc
It’s not their best song – that’s Just Because – but it’s my favourite of theirs, just because of when it hit. It just rolls and rolls, and it’s such a ridiculous tune, with an even more ridiculous video (that reminds me of going to the supermarket in La Mirada, obviously), and it was a perfect song as far as I could tell when it came out.
It was only later when I found an old flyer that I realised: “Hey, you know that Been Caught Stealing song?” “Yeah.” “We saw them in LA.” “Shut up.” But it was true. We got taken to The Scream, this new cool club in an old building, and I remember walking up the carpeted stairs (that later featured in David Lynch’s Wild At Heart: “mah jacket is a symbol of mah in-div-id-u-al-itee…”) and thinking “this is pretty flash” before annoyingly being stamped with a Coke bottle on my wrist (because we were too young to drink), and then this band came on with a tall, blonde, dreadlocked singer (who might have been the bass player: to be honest we were getting drinks anyway) singing some song called Stop, and it was amazing.
And back in Sydney, there it was on the flyer: Creado y regado de Los Ángeles, ¡Juana's adicción! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrwjiO1MCVs
Another band for whom it’s impossible to pick just one song: how do you do it, when they’ve got so many stone cold classic tunes? This one always reminds me of LA, driving around late at night on the way to the beach to have a coke in some diner, because we were too young to drink there, and then that moment hits in the song and the whole world flattens, glides, rolls past the window.
I think it’s that moment that picked this song for me, but it could just as easily have been Never Let Me Down Again for walking around Berlin moodily, Eyman and I pissed off at each other because we’d never spent that long with another person before, both of us stomping about with our Walkmans on before he said “here, listen to this” and I did, and I got it. We probably even hugged.
But man, the songs. Bullet of a Gun. Personal Jesus. Walking in My Shoes. Strangelove. Enjoy The Silence. Even the new ones, like Wrong, are amazing. Hell, I reserve the right to return to DM another day. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2VBmHOYpV8
I really loved the Frankies: there was just something about them that really hit me (with a laser beam) at some primal level. It was probably the bass line. And they got me just at that period where I had plenty of money from working on my paper round and nothing much to spend it on, so I bought all the various versions of 12” singles they released. And the t-shirts.
It’s funny that I never saw any other level to the song, I just loved it for its drive: it’s so obvious in retrospect. And that’s without seeing the video. A few years later when I moved out of home I used to go to the gay bars on Oxford Street all the time: they played the best music, and all the girls used to go there so they wouldn’t get hit on. I used to get hit on all the time, because I was young and skinny, but I never realised it because I’ve always been stupid like that, and if I couldn’t tell when a girl liked me how would I know when a boy did? I realised I was old when I noticed that gay guys didn’t hit on me anymore. Ho hum.
It’s a shame those clubs weren’t actually as good as this, although it does remind me of going clubbing after Mardi Gras at the Hordern Pavillion, and when I went for a wee I looked down and there was a bloke sort of swimming his way along the trough: “keep going, don’t mind me” he insisted, but it stopped me in my tracks. Undeterred, he just moved on to the next punter. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCpz3LAjxek
It was always just the perfect song, this: I guess that’s why they kept putting it out, over and over again. Or maybe they were just trying to pay for the sleeve. I had the original, actually, but I love this version because it’s just funny.
I remember being into New Order for years, probably from about when Love Will Tear Us Apart tore them apart and they retreated, licking their wounds, to America and house music and Temptation (or The Up Down Turnaround Song as it became known to us when someone’s girlfriend asked us to play it again after we’d all danced like maniacs around the fire out at The Farm, a ramshackle place a friend of my friend’s brother used to live at that would draw us like moths back in the day) and Ceremony, drawn in by those stark covers.
But this. That drumbeat. That bassline. How does it feel? Hearing this, in some crappy club in the Western Suburbs of Sydney, it felt like a revelation. I saw them play live, at the Enmore Theatre supported by The Deadly Hume (the then-new band by the bloke who played The Wang for Hunters and Collectors before deciding he wanted to be the front man and leaving, writing Passenger Blues - "Got my eyes on your / Got the Death Seat Blues" - that was the spiritual song of that trip to Melbourne with Eyman).
I was standing at the front before realising the crowd was jumping so much that the wooden floor in front of the stage was bowing up and down about a foot from the concrete floor on which all the seats rested: I had one leg on either part of the floor, and figured I needed to move. This was back when they only ever played 10 songs at a show, encores included, so I stayed put when everyone else was leaving on a countback. I was rewarded with a version of this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GMjH1nR0ds
I first got into R.E.M. in Los Angeles, in the holding zone for our trip where we were buying bikes and hanging out with Mickey and Scooter, learning how to just be, how to exist without a timetable. It was a great time, living at Mickey’s place, a girl we didn’t know a month before but who had been a penpal (remember those?) of a friend from school who said “oh, well if you’re going through LA I’ll ask her if you can stay at her place”, and whose grey-bearded trucker dad took one look at us, realised we were mostly harmless, and allowed us to stay for as long as we wanted, bizarrely.
She had the new Hoodoo Gurus (“you’ve heard of them over here?”) and R.E.M. albums (Life’s Rich Pageant), and after playing them on a loop we went down to Tower Records and stocked up for the trip to come. I would ride around endlessly in my long-sleeved pink R.E.M. t-shirt with the orange bike on it, feeling it was an outward symbol of the person I’d become. Man, I wish I had that shirt now.
And yeah, I know this song is off Document, but it was out when I was in Europe, so sue me. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7oQEPfe-O8
Talking about moshpits at Selina’s, these lads got everyone moving. It’s hard to credit really, given how mild a song like this is, but the crowd mostly made their own fun, I suspect. I drove there with Eyman, and it was on the way over that we started to talk around the idea of cycling around Europe: “I’ve had this idea,” “Yeah, I was going to say the same thing,” “Do you think it’s possible?” “Yeah, I don’t see why not”.
By the time we drove into Coogee, it was decided: we’d sell everything, and we’d go. A couple of months to get everything in order, and off.
It was a great night, epic, we could hardly contain ourselves with the joy of a plan, and the world was meeting us at that level of excitement. “He’s drinking from a milkshake cup”, “It’s a bottle of wine in there”, “He’s doing alright on it,” “Spoke too soon, he’s off for a rest,” “Spider looks like he’s taken over more than a few times”. And in a few months, we were on a plane to LA, en route to Europe. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s11BuatTuXk
I know they were rubbish, but my god they were great at being rubbish. So they were a cartoon Killing Joke, with the guitarist with the blonde hair piled high, the bass player trying to make the best of a bad haircut and too much denim in his life, and the singer with the American Indian obsession who wished he was Jim Morrison. And I think he was, briefly, when The Doors reformed with him singing. I guess there was no point doing anything again after that, was there?
But this song. I saw them play at Selina’s in Coogee Bay, driving my little Corolla all the way across town by myself because I couldn’t convince anyone else of their epicness (perhaps unsurprisingly: I’m probably in the same boat right now) and borrowing my cousin’s leather jacket for the night. I walked in, a bloke clocked the coat and asked me if he could score some smack, and the show started. I was down in the mosh pit, as was my way back then, and we were all being thrown from pillar to post before the beer glasses from the back started to rain down during this song. I watched as a few of them landed before the bloke next to me got dropped by one to the head, realised discretion was the better part of valour and started to move back, but something made me look up.
There was one glass, thrown from right in the back, and it seemed to fly in slow motion: I stopped and watched, hypnotised along with everyone else, as it described a curve over my head. I looked towards the stage as Ian bloody Astbury watched it fly over his head, over the guitarist behind him, and land right on the snare just as the beat breaks for the final bit of the song, and the entire venue roared as one at the sheer perfection of that moment.
I had a tape of this album in the car, but I couldn’t hear it the whole way home, so much were my ears ringing. And I think they continued for most of the next day, too. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6PgftKbQnQ
I could never be a Goth, sadly. I mean look at me: I’m bloody ginger, I’ve got blue eyes, it’s too ridiculous for words. But it didn’t mean I didn’t want to be one, I just knew it could never be. But they had great tunes, the moody buggers, all huge riffs and stonking baselines and moody lyrics that said … well who knows, I never listen to lyrics really, it’s probably why I’ve never rated Bob Dylan. And why I won’t collect a Nobel Prize for literature.
But Killing Joke were epic: clearly it all meant a hell of a lot to them, and Jaz was a brilliant front man, screaming away in front of that wall of noise. It was a coin toss between this and Eighties, which is just a genius song (and clip) about how much EVERYTHING IS A DISASTER, man, all propelled by Geordie and his almost mountainous, bass-like guitar riff.
I knew I should have kept bleaching my hair after that trip to the Snowy Mountains. It works for him, and he has a bloody stupid name to get past on his route to effortless cool. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnpwuRlXbhk
I don’t really get homesick. Maybe it’s because I’ve moved around the world so much that it burnt out, or maybe it’s that I tend to live in the here and now, not the there and then. But this song always sends me back to the 80s in Sydney, the sun-bleached landscape, to too hot to think summers when I would get a red rattler all the way from North Sydney to Doonside, feeling the temperature soar the further west I got before finally being able to escape the tin can and go home, open the door and pull my clothes off as I walked through the house to the pool, and I swear I could hear the steam hiss as I broke the surface of the water. There’s little wonder I moved to Double Bay.
But I love watching this clip, seeing the funny little platform at Macdonaldtown that I used to see every day, wondering who on earth used it as it was always empty as the trains blew through, and the band (how many times must they have had a word to Robert about his dress sense, and how great that he ignored them) walking the streets of Balmain, a suburb I used to dream of living in after all those nights at the Cat and Fiddle, all the others at the Town Hall with Becky and the gang after screenprinting endless yards of material for a pair of trousers that had the fly backwards, all the telephone poles and brief glimpses of the water between the houses, and that beautiful bloody bridge just there.
I just found out that there’s another clip for this song, all sepia tones and mid-west iconography as they were clearly trying to break America, but I’m glad I hadn’t seen it until now, because it’s just wrong for me, it has to be hazy shots on the inner west of Sydney (even if the song is probably about Brisbane: they don’t have anything worth filming there, clearly). And why on earth did they think it was worth trying to break The Go-Betweens in the US? Surely that’s a fool’s errand, although I saw that Sub Pop, original and best home of Nirvana, The Shins, Rogue Wave etc have signed an Australian band call Rolling Blackouts CF who claim inspiration from The GBs, and they’re doing okay apparently.
I guess everything comes around eventually. I still wish I lived in Balmain. I guess a couple of days on holiday there and a long run around the peninsula will have to do. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJfP6G0LSEA