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

Aw, The ’80s (Part 2: 1985-1989)

A two-part feature looking back at music of the decade

Here is the second and final installment of my feature looking back at music and some related events in the ’80s. This part is focused on the second half of the decade. As noted in part 1, it isn’t meant to be a comprehensive review but instead a selection of things I find noteworthy.

1985

To me the key music event during this year and perhaps the entire decade was Live Aid. I was watching it on TV from Germany while simultaneously taping it on music cassette from the radio. Organized by Bob Geldorf and Midge Ure as a fundraiser to fight starvation in Ethiopia, Africa, the benefit concert was conducted on July 13 simultaneously in the U.K. at London’s Wembley Stadium and the U.S. at John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. Among others, it featured Status Quo, Queen, U2, David Bowie, The Who and Paul McCartney at Wembley, while some of the performers in Philly included Joan Baez, Madonna, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Tina Turner and, in a less-than-stellar appearance, a reunited Led Zeppelin featuring Phil Collins on drums. The concerts were watched by an estimated global TV audience of 1.9 billion across 150 countries and raised approximately 150 million British pounds.

Live Aid Wembley
The Live Aid concert at London’s Wembley Stadium was attended by 72,000 people

Other events that year included the official launch of VH-1 on cable TV in the U.S. (Jan 1); recording of the charity single for Africa We Are The World (Jan 28), co-written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie and performed by USA For Africa, who apart from Jackson and Ritchie featured Ray Charles, Billy Joel, Cindy Lauper, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder and numerous other top artists; release of Dire Straits’ fifth studio album Brothers In Arms, their best-selling record that among others became known for its exceptional sound quality due to its all-digital recording (May 13); Michael Jackson’s purchase of the publishing rights for most of The Beatles’ catalog for $47 million, out-bidding former artistic collaborator McCartney whose success in music publishing had inspired Jackson to increase his activities in the business (Sep 6); and Roger Waters’ announced intention to leave Pink Floyd, which marked the start of a two-year legal battle over the rights to the band’s name and assets.

The biggest hit singles of 1985 were Shout (Tears For Fears), We Are The World (USA For Africa), Take On Me (a-ha), I Want To Know What Love Is (Foreigner) and Material Girl (Madonna). Following is Money For Nothing, the second single from Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms album, which they performed at Live Aid. Like on the studio recording, it featured Sting on backing vocals.

1986

On Jan 30, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame held its first induction ceremony. The first batch of inductees included Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Elvis Presley. While over the years since, there has been much debate over who should be in the Rock Hall, the selection process, the award categories, etc., I think there is no doubt that the above artists all well-deserving inductees.

Rock Roll Hall of Fame 1986 Inductees
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 1986 inductees (left to right): upper row: Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and Fats Domino; lower row: The Everly Brothers, Buddy Hollie, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Elvis Presley

Other events: Bob Geldorf’s knighthood award to recognize his work for Live Aid and other charity concerts for Africa (Jun 10); release of Madonna’s True Blue album, the best-selling record of year (Jun 30); and disbanding of The Clash, Electric Light Orchestra (revived by Jeff Lynne in 2000) and Men At Work.

The top-performing hit singles included Rock Me Amadeus (Falco) – the first German-language song to top the U.S. Billboard Hot 100Papa Don’t Preach (Madonna), The Final Countdown (Europe), Take My Breath Away (Berlin) and West End Girls (Pet Shop Boys). The 1986 tune I’d like to highlight is Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel, which was first released as a single in April. It also appeared on his fifth studio album So that came out the following month. Here’s the song’s official video, which won multiple accolades in 1987, including a record nine awards at the MTV Music Video Music Awards and “Best British Video” at the Brit Awards. It’s definitely one of the most memorable music videos of the decade.

1987

Some of the events in music during that year included the induction of Aretha Franklin as the first woman into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Jan 3); release of U2’s fifth studio album The Joshua Tree (Mar 9), which topped the charts in 20-plus countries and became one of the world’s most commercially successful records, selling more than 25 million copies; Whitney Houston’s second studio album Whitney, the first record by a female artist to debut at no. 1 on the Billboard 200 (Jun 27); launch of MTV Europe (Aug 1); and release of A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, Pink Floyd’s first studio album after the departure of and legal battle with Roger Waters (Sep 7). Waters finally wrapped up his legal separation from the band later that year.

The highest-charting hit singles were La Bamba (Los Lobos), Never Gonna Give You Up (Rick Astley); I Wanna Dance With Somebody Who Loves Me (Whitney Houston), It’s A Sin (Pet Shop Boys) and Who’s That Girl (Madonna) – I remember each of these songs like it was yesterday! Here’s Where The Streets Have No Name from my favorite U2 album The Joshua Tree. Credited to the band (music) and Bono (lyrics), the tune was released as the album’s third single in August 1987, five months after the record’s appearance.

1988

Some of the music events that year included the induction of The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Drifters, Bob Dylan and The Supremes into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Jan 20); near-death experience for Alice Cooper on stage after one of the props, the Gallows, malfunctioned – yikes! (Apr 7); sale of legendary soul label Motown Records to MCA and financial firm Boston Ventures for $61 million (Jun 27); John Fogerty’s win of what sounds like a frivolous self-plagiarism lawsuit Fantasy Records had brought against him, claiming his 1985 comeback tune The Old Man Down The Road was too similar to Run Through The Jungle, which he had recorded with Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1970 (Nov 7); and final concert by Roy Orbison in Akron, Ohio (Dec 4) prior to his death from a heart attack only two days thereafter.

Leading hit singles: A Groovy Kind Of Love (Phil Collins), Don’t Worry Be Happy (Bobby McFerrin), Always On My Mind (Pet Shop Boys),  Heaven Is A Place On Earth (Belinda Carlisle) and Take Me To Your Heart (Rick Astley). One 1988 song I like in particular is Under The Milky Way Tonight by Australian outfit The Church. Co-written by Steve Kilbey and Karin Jansson, it became the lead single to their excellent fifth studio album Starfish. Both were released in February that year. Here’s a clip.

1989

I can’t believe I made it to the last year of the decade! Some of the events I’d like to highlight are criticism of Madonna by religious groups worldwide over alleged blasphemous use of Christian imagery in her music video for Like A Prayer (Feb 23), which had premiered on MTV the day before; release of Bonnie Raitt’s 10th studio album Nick Of Time, one of my favorite records from her (Mar 21); release of Tom Petty’s excellent debut solo album Full Moon Fever (Apr 24); Ringo Starr’s formation of his All-Starr Band (Jul 23); opening of The Rolling Stones’ North American tour in Philadelphia to support their comeback album Steel Wheels (Aug 31), two days after the album had dropped; and release of Neil Young’s 17th studio album Freedom (Oct 2), best known for the epic Rockin’ In The Free World.

Key hit singles were Like A Prayer (Madonna), Eternal Flame (The Bangles), Another Day In Paradise (Phil Collins), The Look (Roxette) and Love Shack (The B-52s). The final ’80s tune I’d like to call out via clip is Down To London by Joe Jackson, an artist I’ve listened to for many years. He recorded the song for his 10th studio release Blaze Of Glory, which appeared in April 1989.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Germans Who Rock In German

Germany may be much better known internationally for engineering and beer than music, but there is much more to the latter than the Scorpions

In some ways, this post is a bit of a remake of my previous thoughts on German rock music. Obviously, what I said last October remains true today. Other than the Scorpions, one of my favorite bands, electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk and perhaps heavy metal formation Accept, there aren’t any other German rock music artists I can think of, who have a significant following beyond German-speaking countries.

Undoubtedly, one of the key reasons is the fact that many German rock bands are singing in German. Some go further and sing in dialects spoken in their native regions. This may make it tough even for other Germans to understand their lyrics – not exactly a recipe for international fame!

Following is a song selection from German-singing rock bands, including some of my favorite acts from the Deutsch Rock genre. The caveat is most of these artists are “old guys,” who do not well represent what’s in the German charts these days, which I honestly don’t even know. But, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Old guys rock! 🙂

Wolfgang Niedeckens BAP

Niedeckens BAP, formerly known simply as BAP, probably remains my favorite German rock band. They perform their songs in the dialect spoken in the town of Cologne, Niedecken’s home town. A huge fan of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen (and friends with the Boss!), Niedecken is the mastermind of the band, which was founded in 1976. During its 40-plus-year history, BAP have seen various changes in its lineup. Niedecken remains the only original member. Here’s a clip of Halv Su Wild, the title song from BAP’s 17th studio album released in 2011.

Wolf Maahn

This singer-songwriter, actor and producer initially started his music career in 1976 as a founding member of the Food Band. Mixing soul, jazz, pop and rock, this group sang in English. Wolf Maahn’s “German language music career” kicked off in the early ’80s with the studio album Deserteure. He gained broad national popularity in the mid ’80s, starting with the 1984 record Irgendwo in Deutschland. The studio album included Fieber, one of his best known songs. Here’s a clip

Marius Müller-Westernhagen

Westernhagen started his professional career as a 14-year-old actor in 1962, before he became interested in music during the second half of the ’60s. He continued acting and music, though his early recording efforts were largely unsuccessful. That changed in 1978, when Marius Müller-Westernhagen released his fourth studio album Mit Pfefferminz Bin Ich Dein Prinz. The record’s title song remains one of his best known tunes. His latest, 19th studio album Alphatier appeared in 2014. Westernhagen continues to be one of Germany’s most popular music artists. Here’s a clip of a killer live version of Pfefferminz.

Udo Lindenberg

In addition to being a rock musician, Udo Lindenberg also is a writer and painter, making him one of the most versatile German music artists. He first hit the music scene in the early 1960s, when he was 15 years old and played as a drummer in bars in the German town of Düsseldorf. In 1968, Lindenberg went to Hamburg and joined the City Preachers, Germany’s first folk-rock band. In 1969, he left and co-founded the jazz-rock formation Free Orbit. They released an album in 1970, Lindenberg’s first studio recording. Only one year later, his enponymous solo album appeared. It would take another two years before Lindenberg achieved commercial breakthrough success with Alles Klar Auf Der Andrea Doria, his third solo album. He continues to record and perform to this day, still going strong at age 71. In 2008, Lindenberg had a major comeback with Stark Wie Zwei, his 35th studio release. Here’s a great clip of a live performance of Mein Ding, one of the tunes from his comeback release.

Herbert Grönemeyer

Grönemeyer is another long-time German multi-talent, who in addition to being a singer-songwriter is also a producer and actor. While some of his music is rock-oriented, overall, I would describe his style as pop. After his acting role in the acclaimed 1981 motion picture Das Boot, which also became an international success, Herbert Grönemeyer increasingly focused on music. His big national breakthrough as a music artist came in 1994 with his fifth studio album Bochum. One of my favorite Grönemeyer tunes, Vollmond, is on 1988’s Ö, his seventh studio release. Grönemeyer has since recorded seven additional studio records, the latest being Dauernd Jetzt, which appeared in Nov 2014. Here’s a clip of a live performance of Vollmond. Grönemeyer’s voice sounds a bit strained, but it’s still cool.

Brings

Brings are another act from Cologne, singing their songs in the local dialect. They started out as a great rock band in the early ’90s before they drastically changed their style to pop/”Schlager” in the early 2000s. This change, which I find quite unfortunate from a music perspective, brought the band new popularity. They’ve since become a mainstay during the Cologne Carnival, a longtime tradition of the city that culminates with a week-long street festival where people go out masqueraded. Here’s a clip of Nix För Lau from the band’s second studio album Kasalla, which appeared in 1992.

Tocotronic

Founded in 1993, Tocotronic is an indie rock band from the northern German town of Hamburg. Admittedly, I know very little about their music, but there is one tune I’ve liked from the first moment I heard it. It’s called Gegen Den Strich and was included on the band’s seventh studio album, Pure Vernunft Darf Niemals Siegen (2005). Tocotronic have since released four additional studio records, the most recent of which (Tocotronic, aka Rotes Album) appeared in 2015. Here’s a clip of Gegen Den Strich. The sound reminds me a bit of The Church and their great 1988 album Starfish.

Spider Murphy Gang

Named after the gangster Spider Murphy in Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock, this band from the Bavarian town of Munich became known with classic rock & roll style songs performed in their native Bavarian dialect. The Spider Murphy Gang started out in 1977, covering top 40 rock & roll tunes from Presley, Chuck Berry and other classic rock & roll performers. In 1980, they recorded their German debut album Rock’n’Roll Schuah. The follow-up Dolce Vita brought them national acclaim, fueled by the tune Skandal Im Sperrbezirk, which became a staple of the so-called Neue Deutsche Welle (German New Wave). While the Spider Murphy Gang have had numerous changes in their lineup and haven’t recorded any new music since 2002, they continue to perform and are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year. Here’s a clip of an extended live performance of Schickeria, a tune from Dolce Vita.

Revolverheld

This rock band was founded in Hamburg in 2002. Initially, they were known as Manga  before they changed their name to Tsunamikiller in the autumn of 2004. Following the devastating tsunami in Thailand in December that year, the band changed its name to Revolverheld. Like Tocotronic, I’m not well familiar with their music. The tune I’d like to highlight is Freunde Bleiben from their eponymous debut album in 2005. Here’s a clip.

L.S.E.

Named after the first letters of each member’s last name, Rolf Lammers, Arno Steffen and Tommy Engel, L.S.E. are yet another band from Cologne, which was founded in 1992. Like BAP and Brings, they sing in the local dialect. During their active period between 1992 and 1996, the band recorded three studio albums. While they haven’t made any new music since 1996, L.S.E. haven’t officially dissolved and still perform occasionally. One of my favorite tunes by this versatile band is the title song of their debut album Für Et Hätz Un Jäjen D’r Kopp, which was released in 1992. Here’s a great live version together with German comedienne, TV actress and frankly multi-talent  Carolin Kebekus, captured in September 2014.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube