Mix # 25, Tracks 1—3
Theme: Australia and New Zealand
1). Spicks and Specks — The Bee Gees
A little contentious, because the Gibb brothers were born in the UK, and made their careers over there also. However, they spent formative teenage years growing up in Queensland, and tried and struggled to make a career as musicians in Australia. Ironically, they made their decision to head back to England in the mid sixties after giving up on Australia, but while they were on the boat back to the UK, this song went to number one on the Australian charts. So they achieved their first number one as an Australian band, which merits it being placed on the list. As for the song itself, it’s a golden little nugget of pop, that displays early evidence of the boys talent for writing pure candy, and stands above much of the fairly generic pop Australia was otherwise producing at the time.
2). Walking Down A Road — Split Enz
This is a true lost classic, both the song, and the album it comes from. It was voted by a panel of New Zealanders from radio and music journalism as the best Kiwi album ever, and it’s most certainly deserved. Split Enz went on to become better known for their more average (occasionally very good) new wave and pop hits, but this, their debut, is grand and weird art rock. There’s a touch of prog and a touch of glam to these songs, and if I had to make comparisons for the modern listener, I would say Roxy Music’s early albums, or perhaps even a little bit of Sunset Rubdown, with the weird and wonderful mix of restless experimentation and relentless hooks. This was the only album Phil Judd made with the band (tensions between Phil and co-songwriter/vocalist Tim Finn ended in a fist fight and Phil walking out), and judging by the band’s more pedestrian releases after this album, he was an integral part of the album’s success. The album is like a trip through the subconscious, with heavy subjects like death, madness, abandonment, imagination, fantasy, and rage all covered, balanced out by some lighter love songs. Despite the heavy nature of some of the music, the band became bona fide stars in NZ (my parents were among the sold out crowds for this album’s tour).
(Phil Judd went on to form The Swingers, who had a hit with the infectious “Counting The Beat”. Tim’s younger brother Neil Finn joined Split Enz not long after - many of you may know of him as the leader of Crowded House.)
3). (I’m) Stranded — The Saints
The Saints were one of the few internationally recognised punk bands to come out of Australia. In some ways, Australia and New Zealand have been too affluent and socially stable to provide youth with the rage or dissatisfaction to make great protest music. Artistic individualism is usually expressed with polite quirkiness (especially in New Zealand), or not at all (especially in Australia). The Saints were snotty, and grimy, and dissatisfied, and their music holds up strong with the best British and American punk even today, especially this song, their undisputed classic.