The Wonder Of Oz

Australia has been on my radar since the early ’70s, when my father bandied about the idea of moving the family there. He had a gig secured, but, at the eleventh hour, my mom put the kibosh on the venture.

I was five and pissed. Cornfields and cows did not match the allure of koalas and kangaroos.

I don’t think Australia was of much consequence to me again until later in the decade and the success of Olivia Newton-John in Grease and the dominance of the Bee Gees in pop culture.

I was eleven. Music and girls were beginning to occupy more of my attention. Olivia made quite an impression.

(twenty years later, she came into a record store where I worked and was every bit as fetching in the flesh)

Over the next few years, as I listened to more and more music, Australian acts like AC/DC, Rick Springfield, Little River Band, Air Supply, and Olivia were staples on the pop and rock radio stations I listened to.

1982 was Australia’s breakthrough year, though.

Our family trekked to the World’s Fair that summer. I’m sure that the world offered up all kinds of groovy stuff, but the only thing I really recall was thinking that, of all of the countries with exhibits, the women at the Australian pavillion were the most lovely.

(I was fourteen and now lamented a life deprived of koalas, kangaroos, and sheilas)

1982 was also the summer that Men At Work arrived in America and soon everyone was spreading vegemite on their toast.

Once I left school and moved on, I got to know a handful of people that were Australian expats. These folks did nothing to dispel my belief that I’d have been cool, too, if I’d grown up in Sydney instead of Sticksville here in the States.

(one of them seems to – literally – know every musician in Australia)

But, though I’ve come close to making the trek to the Australia, I’ve had to admire and imagine the country from afar, living vicariously through one friend’s old blog and a slew of music throughout the years.

(if anyone from Australia is reading and has a gig for two hard-working kids from the States, I think I could convince Paloma and the cats to make the trip)

Here is a quartet of songs by some Australian bands that I simply felt like hearing today…

Little River Band – The Night Owls
from Time Exposure

I knew Little River Band for songs like Lonesome Loser and Cool Change, but The Night Owls came out in the autumn of ’81 when I was really starting to pay attention to music.

I totally took to the song. It was a hit at an age when staying up late into the night was an still an exotic, mysterious venture.

Hoodoo Gurus – Bittersweet
from Mars Needs Guitars

Though Hoodoo Gurus arrived smack dab in my college years and got a lot of press, I don’t really recall hearing them much aside from the occasional trip home when I could listen to 97X.

Other than Bittersweet, I own nothing by the band, but I have taken a mental note (which I will likely lose) to keep an eye out for them when shopping for used vinyl.

INXS – The Stairs
from The Greatest Hits

INXS was simply a fantastic singles band and they left behind a string of songs during the ’80s that still bend my ear when they shuffle up on the iPod. And, I wouldn’t hesitate to put the stunning Don’t Change on a list of favorite songs from the decade.

The Stairs, though, might be the second favorite thing that Michael Hutchence and crew put out. I was pretty burned out on INXS when X, the follow-up to the mammothly successful Kick, was released. The album made me yawn.

But The Stairs had me the first time we played it in the record store where I was working at the time – the percolating intro building to a noisy buzz…Hutchence’s charismatic, impassioned vocals…the hypnotic, determined march of the song and a bit of arena rock guitar to drive it all onward…

The Black Sorrows – Harley And Rose
from Harley And Rose

I had never heard of The Black Sorrows when I grabbed a promo copy of Harley And Rose from a bin of CDs in another record store where I was working. There was no particular reason other than it was up for grabs.

One listen and I filed it as a keeper. Over the past twenty years, I’ve essentially forgotten about it and never came across the band again. But, here and there, the title song would pop to mind and I’d throw it on (or retrieve it from the mp3 catalog).

Checking their Wikipedia page, it appears that Joe Camilleri, the heart and sole constant member of the group, has had a long and distinguished career in Australia, so I suppose I need to make a mental note on him, too.

(and I need to ask my friend about him – he likely knows or, perhaps, has played with him)

Apparently The Black Sorrows evolved from Camilleri, who had already had success, and some friends who would gather and play covers of R&B, zydeco and blues songs.

The wistful Harley And Rose makes me think that it might be the result had Paddy MacAloon of Prefab Sprout grown up in some dusty Australia town and started out in a band playing covers of R&B, zydeco, and blues songs.

6 Responses to The Wonder Of Oz

  1. Perplexio says:

    It’s funny you mention Australian music today. I just made a mix CD yesterday for an upcoming 900+ mile road trip out East to see my family featuring all Aussie or Kiwi bands/musicians… Many of which are more obscure (at least to us Yankees) in nature. I think the only recognizable names on the CD are INXS (Don’t Change), Colin Hay/Men At Work (I included what I consider to be a far superior version of Down Under from his solo CD, Man At Work), Split Enz (I chose I Got You as the CD opener), and Crowded House (Don’t Dream It’s Over).

    As much as I love LRB, I ran out of room for their material. There were about 10,000 copies of their Greatest Hits album re-release that came out in 2000 that made it into collector’s hands before the album had to be pulled for legal reasons. The label had released alternate versions of 3 of their songs which was verboten as per the contract the label had with LRB… The 3 alternate versions: Man On Your Mind with a George Martin written/produced horn arrangement added, a more guitar heavy mix of Night Owls, and an alternate vocal performance of Take It Easy On Me featuring bass player Wayne Nelson (the same guy who sang lead on Night Owls) on vocals instead of Glenn Shorrock (there’s a whole story behind that one). I wanted to include the guitar heavy Night Owls but I already had 19 tracks so it was as Chevy motors or the Latin-American community would say– “No va.”

    Like you, I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for Oz and likely other than money what holds me back from visiting is that gnawing deep in my heart that tells me once I go, I won’t want to come back. I’ll want to make it a permanent vacation.

  2. Perplexio says:

    PS: On Joe Camilleri check out his work with Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons. I actually included one of their songs on my mix CD (Shape I’m In).

  3. […] might be the reason that, though one of Australia’s most successful musical exports to the States, the Little River Band were a blank slate to me and rather […]

  4. mltucker says:

    Hey there Barely Awake, I was an expat American until I relinquished US citizenship during the Bush years. I have lived in Australia since ’81 when I was in my mid-20s. I was gob-smacked by the the abundance of raw talent is a country with such a small population. For the big record sales many Aus bands often feel they have to ‘make it’ overseas. Not all do. However many make a passable living here without the international following. You may be interested to know there’s a documentary making the rounds on Joe Camilleri. Details are on the Black Sorrows site:
    Cheers, MLT

    • barelyawakeinfrogpajamas says:

      Interesting journey, MLT. I often ponder my alternate universe where I had grown up in Australia and, depending on the outcome of this autumn’s US presidential election, might have to follow your lead 🙂

      The Black Sorrows continue to pop up now and then on my iPod and are long a personal forgotten act, even though I was never very familiar or aware of them to begin with.

      Are you a musician by chance? If so, do you now my buddy Cletis? (I swear that the guy knows every musician in Australia).

      • mltucker says:

        Well, I was a singer in the 80s in Sydney pub bands but eventually gave it up because of all of the smoke (kept losing voice – not good). Still go to gigs regularly. Not a fan of the big arena shows normally, preferring the pub scene (now that it’s smoke-free), however if Todd Rundgren were to come and play at a big arena I would be there in a heart beat. I’m also originally from Darby, PA, but geographic allegiances aside, he’s just some kind of genius.

        One of my Australian Guitar heroes is a guy called Ed Keupper (founding member of the Saints). Look out for him. And if you like the storytelling singer-songwriter types, there’s Paul Kelly from Adelaide (my town) but who works out of Melbourne. he can rock a bit and leans towards bluegrass from time to time.

        I don’t know Cletis but it’s a great ‘muso’ moniker.

        I hear there is an enclave of US expats buying land and starting wineries in Central Otago on the South Island of New Zealand. The election is a worry for sure. The country seems so divided.

        Hey thanks for the tunes. I’ll be following your site.


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