Sunday, October 10, 2010

When the curtain falls, the best thing an actor can do is to go away.

Life goes on. Tahune AirWalk. September 2010.

Sunday Top Five! An interesting one today that I've extrapolated upon: My Top Five Tracks By Aussie Rock Legends Cold Chisel!

First, some context...

I’ll admit that for a very long time Cold Chisel have existed on the periphery of my consciousness. Being from Burnie, Tasmania, you can’t help but recognise all the hits. Undeniably, I’d always quietly liked the tracks, but found the boozing image and yob fan base a little alienating. Thus, I kept my distance and stuck to more exotic (if you can call Gram Parsons and the whole West Coast Country Rock experience ‘exotic’) sounds.

Thus, my real discovery of the Chisel is something of a surprise. Originating in Adelaide, Australia, they one of the most acclaimed Australian rock bands of all time, with a string of hits throughout the 1970s and 1980s and huge domestic sales, although for some reason they never could crack that overseas market in the way that contemporaries like Midnight Oil or INXS did. My theory is that their embodiment of the blurred mess of the Australian urban/suburban experience was a little tricky for anyone else to really grasp.

Typically Australian, you’re looking at a band that is 20% immigrant. Comprising a drummer from Liverpool, boozy singer from Glasgow, unassuming bass player from ‘anytown’ Australia, Queensland country boy with a literary bent on keyboards, and a guitarist from Alice Springs, smack bang in the centre of the continent; this is a mix of experiences. Regarded by many as meat and potatoes hard rock; I argue that you get far more than that. Flicking through the whole back catalogue, you can find a huge amount of raw power, subtle arrangement, emotive lyrical content, political and social comment.

Consider me a new convert.

Anyway, to my top five! Click on the title to listen for yourself and experience some of the finest in dated Australian film clips…

  1. Flame Trees (1984). I think that this is Don Walker's best writing for the band. A glum trip down memory lane looking back over life in a small Australian town, this song seems to ‘connect’ with many. Lost love, mortality, and what is left behind when you move on, there’s something appreciate that it was the band's last hit before they broke up (the first time).

  2. Khe Sanh (1978). Think of this one as Australia’s version of Born in the USA. with the name inspired by the Battle of Khe Sanh of the Vietnam War. Part bitter and disillusioned Vietnam veteran, part story of restless youth, this one remains a pub rock favourite. Like Bruce Sprinsteen’s song, Khe Sanh is one of the most popular songs ever recorded by an Australian act and one embraced by beer-swilling yobs as a resonant symbol of the Australian culture. Quite how that is reconciled with what is essentially a depressing, angry tale of a post-war existence of aimless drifting, womanising, post-traumatic stress disorder and drug addiction. Regardless, it remains great storytelling.

  3. When the War is Over (1982). A lovely little rock ballad written by drummer Steve Prestwich. Despite the band’s reputation of uncomplicated pub rock, this one has a reallyu interesting structure. It opens and closes with the chorus, and stick an instrumental break and guitar solo between the first and second verse. Guitarist (and secondary vocalist) Ian Moss sings the lead vocal on the first two verses, with Barnsey (the band's regular lead vocalist) Jimmy Barnes singing the third, the song peaking in intensity before returning to the soft refrain from the opening of the song. It’s also fitting that a breakup song is so bloody depressing.

  4. Forever Now (1982). Another from the drummer! A neat bit of Australian pop. Although they’re remembered for full bore barroom boogie, this one shows that well-crafted pop wasn’t beyond them.

  5. Saturday Night (1984). Think of Cold Chisel and you think of boozy Saturday nights. One of the last hits, this is an interesting little song that conjures up late-night city life on the wrong side of town. The track features ambient noise apparently recorded in the seedy part of Sydney, amidst the punters out on the piss. Don Walker has said of the song, "The band I'd been in for ten years was breaking up. I think it's just a 'kissing all that goodbye and moving on into the unknown' song."

As ever, if you disagree, let me know in the comments what I’ve missed, or your take on the band!

Tahune Forest Reserve. September 2010.


me said...

Khe Sanh...I'm sure it's a good song (I quite like the melody), but for me it's hard to disassociate it from yobbos, the smell of stale VB, and shouting about "ciggies in the silver city" (or something). And for some reason, I also associate it with 'Straya Day.

Who's next after Chisels? AC/DC?

me said...

The chest-beating, flag-wearing aspects of 'Straya Day, that is.

Kris said...

Well, I've always liked AC/DC (Bon Scott AC/DC anyway). Great rock band there.

The thing about the yobs, that's my point though. Khe Sanh is probably even more a bitter and sharp social comment on the state of life for a Vietnam veteran as Springsteen (also six years earlier), or Redgum's I Was Only Nineteen, but the drunken yobs seem to miss the point. That's not really the band's fault though.

Roddy said...

Back in the good old days when I believe Jimmy Barnes could actually sing!
You really had to be totally wasted to appreciate most of what they put out.

Kris said...


Roddy said...

I will take a modicum of humbug with that Bah, thank you.