Music From Down Under That Rocks: Part I

A two-part musical journey to Australia

I guess it’s safe to assume this has happened to most folks, particularly those who are into music – suddenly, out of the blue, a song pops into your head you haven’t heard in a million years. Well, that’s what I encountered yesterday with When the War is Over, a tune by Australian rock band Cold Chisel.

It brought me right back to my early twenties when I was playing bass in a band. When the War is Over was one of the covers we did. I was delighted to find it in the library of my streaming music provider. It also turned out I still like it. Then I checked out Cold Chisel. Not only did I discover they still exist, but I also saw they are from Australia. I had no idea about the latter, or at least I don’t recall.

Australian Music Collage

The above episode further made me think about music from Australia. It didn’t take long to remind myself how much great music has come from this part of the world. And there’s much more than just AC/DC, Men at Work and Little River Band, the first three acts that came to my mind.

Since for the most part, this blog focuses on the U.S., England and Canada with occasional posts about German artists, I thought taking a musical trip down under would be well warranted and fun. And since putting everything in one post would be too much, I spontaneously decided to make this a two-part mini-series. So, all on board and let’s go!

AC/DC

One of the greatest rock bands I know, AC/DC were formed in Sydney in 1973 by Scottish-born brothers Malcolm Young (guitar, backing vocals) and Angus Young (lead guitar). The band has gone through many line-up changes and a good deal of tragedy over the decades. Technically, they are still around. There were some recent reports about a new album, for example here and here. Supposedly, it’s a tribute to Malcolm Young, who passed away in November 2017. Reportedly, the album reunites Angus Young with former lead vocalist Brian Johnson, bass player Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd, featuring songs Malcolm had recorded with the band before he was no longer able to play due to dementia. It also features Malcolm’s nephew Stevie Young. Well, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Meanwhile, here’s a tune arguably from AC/DC’s best phase with lead vocalist Bon Scott. I don’t care that is has been played 100 million times. To me, Highway to Hell will always remain one of the most epic rock songs. Co-written by the Young brothers and Scott, it was the title track from AC/DC’s sixth studio album released in July 1979.

Bee Gees

I realize seeing the Bee Gees in this mini-series may surprise readers, especially fans of blues and rock, music genres I dig and celebrate in this blog. But while the Bee Gees clearly fall outside these genres, I actually like many of their songs for their three-part harmonies, catchy melodies and grooves. And, dare I say it, this even includes their disco-oriented tunes. Since the Gibb brothers were born in England, only lived in Australia for about nine years and didn’t become famous until after they had returned to England, one could also ask whether the Bee Gees should even be considered to be an Australian band. I think it’s defensible since their story started down under when Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb and Maurice Gibb started singing together in December 1957 – remarkably before they had even reached their teenage years. During the first half of the ’60s, they released a few singles each year. In November 1965, their debut album The Bee Gees Sing and Play 14 Barry Gibb Songs appeared, billed as Barry Gibb & The Bee Gees. But their early efforts remained largely unsuccessful, so the Gibb brothers decided to return to England in early 1967. Before they did, they recorded various tunes, including Spicks and Specks, which became their first hit. In February 1967, the Bee Gees signed a deal with Polydor and in July that year released their first international full-length record, Bee Gees’ 1st. The psychedelic pop album marked their international breakthrough and the rest is history. Here’s the above noted Spicks and Specks, written by Barry Gibb.

The Church

The Church were initially established as a trio in Sydney in March 1980 by singer-songwriter and bassist Steve Kilby, guitarist Peter Koppes and drummer Nick Ward. English guitarist Marty Willson-Piper joined one month later after he had seen one of the band’s gigs. In April 1981, The Church released their debut album Of Skins and Heart in Australia, which internationally came out in January 1982 and was titled The Church. The band is still around. Just recently on February 1st, Kilby announced Koppes had departed, leaving him as the only original member. In October 2017, I covered the most recent album by The Church, Man Woman Life Death Infinity, which reminded me of their album I know best and dig to this day: Starfish from April 1988. I just love the atmospheric, spacial sound of that record. Here’s Reptile, credited to all four members of the band at the time: Kilby, Koppes, Ward and Richard Ploog (drums, percussion).

Cold Chisel

Since the idea of this mini-series was sparked by When the War is Over, I simply couldn’t leave out Cold Chisel. That being said, this song and a few other tunes I’ve heard in the meantime pretty much sum up what I know about this band, which was founded in Adelaide in 1973. Wikipedia describes their music as pub rock, R&B, hard rock and rock & roll. Based on what I’ve heard thus far, this doesn’t seem to be off-base. Cold Chisel’s original line-up consisted of Ian Moss (lead guitar, vocals), Don Walker (keyboards, backing vocals), Jimmy Barnes (vocals, guitar), Les Kaczmarek (bass) and Steve Prestwich (drums). They broke up in December 1983 and reunited in October 1997 with a different line-up. While Cold Chisel have enjoyed significant popularity in Australia and New Zealand, success has largely eluded them in other parts of the world. The lyrics of the November 1981 single You Got Nothing I Want, an attack on the U.S. music industry over its lack of the band’s promotion, pretty much sealed their fate in this market. Here’s the aforementioned When the War is Over, which was written by Prestwich and appeared on the band’s fourth studio album Circus Animals released in March 1982.

Crowded House

Crowded House, which I know best from their ’80s pop-rock, were formed in Melbourne in 1985 by Neil Finn (guitar, vocals), Paul Hester (drums) and Nick Seymour (bass). Following their break-up in 1996, Crowded House have been on and off. In 2016, Finn confirmed the band is on indefinite hiatus. In April 2018, he joined Fleetwood Mac to replace Lindsey Buckingham, together with Mike Campbell. But now that the Mac’s 13-month world tour is over and, according to a recent interview Mick Fleetwood gave to Rolling Stone, they are unlikely to do another extended tour, Crowded House are back with a new line-up: Finn (lead vocals, guitar keyboards), Seymour (bass, backing vocals) and Mitchell Froom (keyboards, guitar, backing vocals), along with Finn’s sons Liam Finn (guitars, keyboards, backing vocals) and Elroy Finn (guitars). Perhaps they should consider renaming themselves The Crowded Finns! Anyway, here’s a tune I loved back in the day and still dig: Don’t Dream It’s Over, written by Neil Finn, and from their 1986 eponymous debut album.

Stay tuned for part II…

Sources: Wikipedia; Fox News; Ultimate Classic Rock; Rolling Stone; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: The Church/ Starfish

Australian rock band’s 1988 breakthrough remains great-sounding album to this day

Like I suspect most folks living outside of Australia, I first heard about The Church in the late 1980s when they released Under The Milky Way. The tune’s spacey sound created by combining a 12-string acoustic with an electric guitar and keyboards in the background proofed to be an immediate attraction and made me buy the album Starfish on CD, even though I didn’t know any of the other tracks. Clearly, this was in the pre-streaming age where somebody like me who wasn’t much into singles had to buy entire albums to own certain songs.

Released in February 1988, Starfish was the Australian rock band’s international breakthrough, fueled by Under The Milky Way, the lead single that got plenty of radio play in Germany. While the lyrics of this and the other tracks on Starfish are rather dark and psychedelic, the combination of great sound and lead vocalist Steve Kilbey’s distinct voice make for an album that continues to be seductive to this day. I can’t necessarily say this about many other ’80s records.

the church 1988

The Church in 1988

The Church were formed in Sydney, Australia in March 1980. The founding members included singer, songwriter and bassist Steve Kilbey, guitarist Peter Koppes and drummer Nick Ward. Marty Wilson-Piper joined one month later as the band’s second guitarist. Later that year, The Church signed with EMI-Parlophone and recorded their debut Of Skins And Heart. It was released in Australia in April 1981 and internationally the following January as The Church with a slightly altered track listing.

Starfish was the band’s fifth studio record. By then Richard Ploog had taken over on drums for Nick Ward, who had left in early 1981. The album was recorded in Los Angeles and produced by session musicians and producers Waddy Wachtel and Greg Ladanyi. At the time, Wachtel who more recently played in Keith Richard’s backing band X-Pensive Winos, already had worked with other heavy weights, such as Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks and Linda Ronstadt. Ladanyi had an impressive credits as well, including production work with the likes of Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon and Don Henley. Let’s get to some music.

Here’s the album’s great opener Destination. The tune, which also came out separately as the record’s third single in July 1988, was credited to all four members of The Church.

Next is the aforementioned Under The Milky Way. How could I possibly skip it? The song was co-written by Steve Kilbey and his then-girlfriend and guitarist Karin Jansson, founder of alternative Australian rock band Curious (Yellow).

According to the record’s description on Apple Music, the lyrics for North, South, East And West reflect Kilbey’s dark impressions about Los Angeles in the ’80s. Here’s an excerpt:  War’s being waged and the world’s just a stage (in this city)/The real estate’s prime, the number plates rhyme (liquidity)/Wear a gun and be proud, but bare breasts aren’t allowed (in this city)/ Dream up a scam and then rake in the clams (liquidity)…The tune was credited to all members of the band.

One of my favorite tracks on the album is Spark. The song was written by guitarist Marty Wilson-Piper who also sang lead.

The last tune I’d like to call out is Reptile. Credited to all four band members, the song also was released separately as the album’s second single in April 1988. Another track featuring great interplay between the two guitars, it sounds a bit like combining a Byrdsy jingle-jangle with a U2/The Edge-like guitar sound.

Since Starfish, The Church have recorded 12 additional studio albums to date, the latest of which, Man Woman Life Death Infinity, appeared in October 2017. I previously reviewed it hereStarfish remains the band’s most successful commercial release to this day. It was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America in December 1992 and has sold 600,000 copies in the U.S. only.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube