Do you remember Australian music in the 1980s? Is your worldview permanently coloured by the music videos from that profoundly day-glo era?
How, then, to sum up that era in just seven songs? Well, listen and learn fashionistas.
The 7-day 1980s Music Challenge began, for me, as it always does: with a sultry smash hit from my final year of school, 1989.
1. Kate Ceberano, ‘Bedroom Eyes’ (1989)
There are so many songs I could have chosen from this album but in the end, how could I resist a version of ‘Bedroom Eyes’ recorded live at Selina’s?
Sit back, enjoy the helium-tinged backing vocals, the brass section, the facial sweat and, most of all, KC at the height of her (considerable) powers …
[Edit: it seems that video was too sultry for YouTube, as it’s no longer available. So, as a form of recompense, I’ve included the original music video, which is still totally mesmerising.]
B-side: Kate Ceberano, ‘Young Boys are My Weakness’ (1989)
2. Men At Work, ‘It’s a Mistake’ (1983)
This song takes me back to an earlier, darker time. Men At Work fooled the world with “Down Under” and let us not speak of it here. “It’s a Mistake” is very much more a true 1980s song, with its faux-reggae trappings, and its storyline of an impending nuclear apocalypse. Both of these elements were a part of my own life in small-town Australia, although in the former category I was pretty much listening only to The Police, and in terms of Armageddon I only had “Z for Zachariah” to guide me. As with many songs from the early 1980s, I did not see the video for this one until quite recently. Special bonus points for the array of King Gee shorts worn by the band, and for the granny bashing a soldier with an umbrella.
B-side: Redgum, ‘A.S.I.O.’ (1984)
3. Wa Wa Nee, ‘Stimulation’ (1986)
So far, my choices have fallen on either side of the line dividing desire and death. In contrast, today’s song seems to capture both concepts perfectly at the same time. Unlike some of Australia’s other goofily-named bands from the 1980s (hello Hoodoo Gurus, Boom Crash Opera, Pseudo Echo and Big Pig), Wa Wa Nee always left me feeling a bit cold, in a Bros kind of way. There was just something sneering and (let’s admit it) vacuous about a bunch of bottle-blonde, self-obsessed jerks pawing at keytars and whining in falsetto about ‘stimulation’. At the same time, just one look at this video clip and you’ll be transported right back to a time when yours truly longed to be a member of that exact kind of band.
B-side: Pseudo Echo, ‘Listening’ (1983)
4. Tina Turner, ‘We Don’t Need Another Hero’ (1985)
Now that we have reached song number 4, this implies that we have reached the pinnacle of the decade, music-wise, and it should come as no surprise that, for me, Tina Turner topped the charts every week during that wondrous and wild epoch.
Choosing just one TT song to represent her output in the 1980s is a pretty tough job. However, given that my other choices have focused on Oz rock,
I’m really only left with two options: ‘Simply the Best’, the song that made the NRL almost respectable again, or the theme song to Mad Max III: Beyond Thunderdome.
Having not watched rugby league for the best part of a decade now, it’s ‘We Don’t Need Another Hero’ for me.
From the opening strains of the pan-pipe intro, when we catch a glimpse of TT’s steampunk heels and chain-mail dress, we know we’re in for something special here.
If only the same could be said for the movie.
B-side: Tina Turner, ‘One of the Living (12-inch version)’ (1985)
5. Angry Anderson, ‘Suddenly’ (1987)
After the high point of Tina Turner and her Thunderdome, it’s perhaps inevitable that this entry will come across as either horrifying or boorish. If there was one thing that TT’s appearance in MMIIIBT proved once and for all, it’s that the talent pool of Australian cinema in the 1980s was shallow at best, and more akin to a moudly speck of water on a bubbler at worst. Mel Gibson? Let us not speak of him here. Justine Clarke? Doing much better these days on Play School. As for Angry Anderson … well, hmmm. And yet, and yet … Look, in the hands of a female torch singer, a song like ‘Suddenly’ would doubtless be in danger of self-combusting, burning up on re-entry or just disappearing completely. It’s got the chords, it’s got the piano thing happening, and it’s got a chorus that makes you want to set your undies on fire. But for some reason, in the hands of Angry Anderson, who comes across in this clip as being about as lovable and sensitive as a kerosene bath, it’s instead become a song to the tune of which you’d cheerfully murder someone. I don’t know about you, but from the first instant we see AA’s bald dome, as the camera pans around his face and then past him, to leave him staring off into the empty distance, I get the feeling that we’re really entering uncharted territory. By the time the bald woman appears, it’s all over for me. Lucky for Angry, the producers of Neighbours decided to play this ‘tune’ during the wedding of Scott and Charlene, thus ensuring its continued infamy in the history of Australian music.
B-side: Icehouse, ‘Hey Little Girl’ (1982)
6. The Takeaways, ‘Sweet & Sour’ (1984)
The train wreck that was ‘Suddenly’ gave me pause. Having included 2 songs in this challenge that I actually loathe, I took a long, hard look at myself and asked: “What’s wrong with you?” The thing is that, as Toni alluded to in comments, going back in time to the 1980s also carries with it an additional risk: that what starts out as nostalgia will quickly turn to nausea, if not outright revulsion. So, today’s choice is a palette cleanser, a tabula rasa that casts aside the horrors of cravat-wearing gits and meat heads expressing ‘feelings’ through the filter of a crushed fist. Sweet and Sour (along with Grange Hill, Home and Worzel Gummidge) was one of my go-to TV programmes in the 1980s, and this film clip just sums up the Ken Done-bright spirit of those times. Even better, it’s a song by a fictitious band in the key of ‘yeah’ that’s actually sung by Deborah Conway! Let us never speak of ‘Suddenly’ again.
B-side: Divinyls, ‘Boys In Town’ (1981)
7. Michael Hutchence, ‘Rooms for the Memory’ (1987)
It’s been an emotional week and I have probably spent far too much of it trolling YouTube for low-quality versions of film clips originally broadcast on Rage. When I think back to the 1980s, and compare that time to today, it’s quite startling to think just how little access we had to diverse musical content. In a broadcast era, we were limited to what we caught on the ABC on Countdown, or on the one commercial television station during an airing of Sounds on Saturday with Donnie Sutherland. To the former I owe my discovery of pretty much everything I’ve posted so far in this challenge, while to the latter I owe my exposure to more dubious fare such as Duran Duran spin-off Arcadia. The whole side-project phenomenon is a treasure trove for fun music-trivia trainspotters such as myself and so, in the absence of a more fitting song on which to close this challenge, I’ve decided instead to get a little obscure. While true INXS fans will already be aware of Michael Hutchence’s acting role in Dogs In Space, I think it’s a pretty safe bet to say that the number of people who are aware of his collaborations with Ollie Olsen, first on the DIS soundtrack and then later (and perhaps more spectacularly) in Max Q is much smaller. I’m posting ‘Rooms for the Memory’ because that’s what YouTube is nowadays: a collection of windows into alternate universes where the dead remain alive, television never did kill the radio star and time stands still.
B-side: Max Q (feat. Michael Hutchence), ‘Sometimes’ (1989)
Well, on that note, it’s been a pleasure remembering Australia in the 1980s with you. There are obviously so many other choice cuts I could have mentioned, which makes me think a follow-up post is not just desirable but inevitable, too.
Big thanks to Yarn Akova for inspiring me to do this. Drop me a line in the comments if you’d like to share your own memories!