Thursday, March 21, 2019


No brainer this one, the opportunity to showcase this fairly recently deceased legend of oz rock, George Young. Who he? Shame on you, but you know his work, even if, latterly, you know his brothers better. But here's a thing, by quirk of fate, chance or whatever, George Young just happens also to be the same name as mine, albeit if translated into the english.

Like many famous australians, see also the brothers Gibb and the fella from Men at Work, Young was born in the UK, but it was in his adopted home that he became famous. First came The Easybeats, with him teaming up with Harry Vanda, another scion of an immigrant family. Even if they/he were remembered for but one song, the timeless 'Friday On My Mind', that would be more than enough to celebrate, a massive worldwide hit in 1967. They actually then relocated to the UK in attempt to consolidate on this, breaking up a couple of years later.

Young thereafter returned home, along with Vanda, becoming hired guns for any aussie band seeking a writing/production team. Whilst they never achieved quite the same success, his younger brothers, Angus and Malcolm, were growing up, were also seeking to make a name in the music business. Big bro George was conveniently on hand to light that fuse, the duo producing their first few records, with Young initially playing the bass guitar as well. That band went on to make quite a name for themselves. You may have heard of them......

I have to freely confess AC/DC were and are my worst nightmare, a generic 'rawk' thrash of limited merit, but many beg to differ. I was much happier when the Vanda/Young team returned to their own projects, notably with another worldwide one hit wonder, 'Waiting on a Train', in 1982, by the curiously named Flash and the Pan. (I am uncertain which was which.) F&tP actually had a number of recordings but this was the prime cut, demonstrating that, on the right day, the pair had an undoubted knack with smithing a song. Grace Jones' 1981 'Walking in the Rain', was a cover of one of their songs. Earlier 1977 ear worm, 'Love is in the Air', taken to the heights of charts all over, was also one of theirs, albeit ahead of F&tP. (John Paul Young was unrelated.)

George Young died in 2017.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Australia(n): Men At Work/Down Under

purchase [Down Under]

There really isn't anything more Australian in this genre than Men at Work's <Down Under>.
I've checked the SMM records: surprisingly, there's no record of either Men at Work nor Down Under!

Maybe that's not such a surprise: the group had but a single major hit (some lesser hits, OK). But this song is the first that comes to [my] mind when you say "Australia". No?

Back in 1982, I used to record MTV to VHS tapes so that I could watch these hits again and again 10,000 miles away at any time I wished.

The SongFacts web site provides some depth to the bottle-clanging in the official video for the song:
>It was just a little bass riff with some percussion that he played on bottles which were filled with water to varying degrees to get different notes. It was a very intriguing little groove.
I really loved it, it had a real trance-like quality to it. I used to listen to it in the car all the time.<

Avicii & Men at Work above (more Avicii here)

Australia: Midnight Oil/Blue Sky Mining

Midnight Oil: Blue Sky Mine

There are many great bands and musicians from Australia, and I hope that we get to a bunch of them over the next two weeks. I’m going to start off with my favorite, Midnight Oil. Like most Americans who have heard of Midnight Oil, I first became aware of them with what is still probably their most famous song, “Beds are Burning,” from 1987’s Diesel and Dust (released in the US in 1988). It is a great song, highlighting the claims of indigenous Australians to their historic land. And the album raised other concerns of indigenous Australians and environmental matters (and had another great single, “The Dead Heart.”)

Not surprisingly, there was a bit of a backlash about a bunch of white guys raising these issues, but it seems that the band did all of the right things (like donating their royalties to indigenous organizations and touring with indigenous bands), and it seems that eventually, most people appreciated the fact that Midnight Oil’s popularity raised the profile of these issues.

It was the band’s next album, 1990’s Blue Sky Mining, that made me a confirmed fan—in fact to this day, it remains one of my favorite albums, and is included in any conversation about my “Desert Island Discs.” I think that while it lacks a single track that has the staying power of “Beds are Burning,” each of Blue Sky Mining’s 10 songs are strong, and the album holds together from the opening sorta title track, “Blue Sky Mine,” about the experiences of workers at the Wittenoom blue asbestos mines, to the environmentally focused closer “Antarctica.”

The band decided to both make their music a little more accessible and make their message even more political, and it worked. Not to mention that the success of their prior album gave them the opportunity to work at a better studio, so the sound of the album is much cleaner. There are songs about the need to remember and examine Australia’s difficult history, corrupt politics, divisiveness, and other environmental and political issues. Damn—all of these issues are still problems in the world. Here’s a nice article about the album, including an interview with guitarist Jim Moginie and producer Warne Livesey, looking back on it after 25 years.

Midnight Oil’s environmental and political emphasis was not just empty rhetoric. On the tour supporting Blue Sky Mining, the band, in New York to play at Radio City Music Hall, pulled up on a flatbed truck at Exxon’s nearby headquarters, unfurled a banner that read “Midnight Oil makes you dance, Exxon oil makes us sick” and played a 30-minute lunch-hour set to protest the prior year’s Exxon Valdez spill. Peter Garrett. the band’s 6’4” shaved-head frontman was the President of the Australian Conservation Foundation in 1989–1993 and 1998–2002, and during 1993–1998 he was on the International Board of Greenpeace. He also served in the Australian House of Representatives and in the Cabinet as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts and later as Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth.

David Letterman loved Midnight Oil, and I loved Dave. He usually introduced them with some crack about how Garrett scared him, and referred to them as “bushmen,” which seemed funny at the time, but hasn’t really aged well. Here’s a video of their performances on his show, and in the last one, you can hear some of Dave’s comments.

Being who I am, I did go back and get copies of most of the band’s albums before Diesel and Dust, and they didn’t totally grab me, and I didn’t listen to them much. They seemed to be searching for a style, mixing punk, pop and even prog influences that really came together in a trio of albums that started with Diesel, continued with Blue Sky and ended up with its successor, Earth and Sun and Moon (with a fine live set that was released during this period). After that, although they put out some good music, to my ears they never again reached the peak of that three album run. They are a band that I have never seen live, and regret it.

Midnight Oil disbanded in 2002, when Garrett left the band, although they reformed intermittently for benefit shows. They reunited for a world tour in 2017 (somehow, I missed their NY dates) and are touring Europe and the UK later this year.