I’ve been asked in the real world to contribute some ideas toward a list of the greatest Australian albums of the last 50 years. The occasion is that Johnny O’Keefe’s Real Wild Child/Oh You Beautiful Doll 7’’ was released in 1958, meaning that rock music in this country has been deemed officially alive for fifty years, which is a problematic notion in itself.
Wasn’t there a Melbourne band called The Thunderbirds who played rock ‘n’ roll shows at a Drill Hall in Ascot Vale in 1957? Well - yes there was.
Birth – so slippery, so gravely at risk of appropriation by outside forces.
The List is devilishly hard to administer. I think if I were an editor I would never commission one: although I did once, which was a list of the best songs about Melbourne, and that turned into a valuable exercise, but only because the premise had a big fence around it...songs about something.
In this case though, the fiftieth thing, what records actually get in the from the 1950’s – when there were few albums – and the 1960s? Even the 70’s? In the end in some ways it comes down to who is asked to contribute and what preconceptions and hang-ups they bring to the process. Another issue is political correctness. Another is ego. Journalists and music critics are enormously driven by these things. So it comes down to the records that people THINK should get in rather than the ones they want to get in, which is wrong. It distorts history and it distorts truth. And it distorts memory, which is what music, in the end, is about. Memory and truth. In that order.
With my ten I can’t contribute anything from the 50’s or 60’s because either a) I haven’t heard them, or b) I haven’t heard anything I like. From the 70’s there’s Skyhooks, obviously, but I don’t like Skyhooks. I didn’t grow up with them, can’t include them. It’s fiddly and complicated, I don’t like it. I know it’s important, but not to me. What about Ready To Deal by Renee Geyer, from ’75? Incredible soul-funk album. I know Joelistics from TZU has stuck it in his top ten and I’ll pay him that, and I love the album, but it couldn’t fly.
I wanted to include some Australian beats. The Avalanches are in my list. I loved an album by a Sydney crew called Moonrock, but, really, it couldn’t make it. There was a period in the early 90’s when there was some fantastic techno and electronica being made but who cares about albums in those realms? Third Eye. Severed Heads, paving the way from industrial to acidhouse before anyone knew what time it was. Josh Abrahams.
Bias B, an MC from Melbourne, can tell stories of my city like I’ve never heard before. Ed Kuepper, from the Saints, in particular his spectral 1991 album Honey Steel's Gold where guitar playing felt thick and voluminous and beautiful. Oh my God the Hoodoo Gurus. The Necks. Not Drowning Waving, especially when they got really ‘world’ on yo ass. Tendrils. Triffids.
There was this scuzzy, baggy band called Harry’s Laundry back in the early 90’s in Melbourne and they used to play pilled-up dance-rock on the back of a truck outside of the Razor nightclub at 4 in the morning in Albert Park, guerrilla style. I’d list them any night. Fragmentary, isolated, important.
There was this song that I heard, in an Australian lift, alone and stuck, in Australia, wearing a hat and suncream, and thongs, while drunk. Australian, it was. Unlike me.
But I can’t remember it now.
I’m in love with fragments and moments and feelings, which is why DJ culture suckered me so, and also why MP3 culture is threatening to and why the only albums I keep now are the ones that can sustain and that can mean something in the long format. It’s rare. To list them seems somehow too detailed. Having said that, the last album I bought, actually the last two, from the same $10 shop in Colac, on holiday, were Hunky Dory and Sticky Fingers, and this week I’ve been listening to the new Holly Throsby album A Loud Call – which is Australian -- and marvelling at how she can sustain such emotional intimacy.
Yet I’d like to make a list of my top ten moments, top ten feelings. Maybe next week, with songs to match. They’d come from a live experience, probably, all of them. Meantime, I’ll confess I do like looking at Robert Christgau’s lists, but it’s kind of vicarious. I don’t enjoy them or look forward to seeing them or take anything valuable from them.
I think one of the main things about lists is that they’re in list form. Sometimes I think this is the main thing they have going for them. That a list is small and meaningless.
Robert Christgau’s top ten from 1977 was, in list form:
1. Television: Marquee Moon
2. Kate & Anna McGarrigle: Dancer with Bruised Knees
3. Fleetwood Mac: Rumours
4. Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols
5. Ramones: Rocket to Russia
6. Andy Fairweather Low: Be Bop ‘n’ Holla
7. Parliament: Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome
8. Ornette Coleman: Dancing in Your Head
9. Al Green: The Belle Album
10. Hot Chocolate: 10 Greatest Hits
Here’s what I submitted for the Australian music thing.
Paul Kelly and the Messengers – So Much Water So Close To Home
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – The Good Son
Midnight Oil – 10-1
Hunters and Collectors – Hunters and Collectors
The Avalanches – Since I Left You
The Go-Betweens – Spring Hill Fair
AC/DC – Back In Black
The Dirty Three – Ocean Songs
INXS – Kick
Crowded House – Crowded House
And here’s three Australian-ish songs that’ll never make any lists, ever. Except maybe the BeeGees. But not the other two. Future Rubytipped shiznit shall include lengthy nonsense on skiphop (specifically Bias B, Pegz and Muph), that wondrous Hunters and Collectors record from ’82 and, oh, I dunno, Little River Band.
The Bee Gees: To Love Somebody (mp3) From their first album. 1967.
Deepchild: For A Reason (Colourblind rmx) (mp3) Deepchild is Australian. He makes satisfying liquid beats and wears dreadlocks. This a French remix. Which is not Australian and could therefore never be considered for any list of anything connected to Australia.
The Plums: Gun (mp3) From 1994. Singer Caroline Kennedy (Deadstar, The Tulips) is a painter and sculptor now and she assembles like she sings and writes: plain, no bullshit, strange dreams, odd lines, obvious, beautiful:
"… in my dream your fat mouth was a gun…”
They had another song, called The Trip, and there’s a line in it which became a kind of mantra to me: “…I could catch it, cage it, but the colours start to slide…” In other words, this band's virtues were unlistable, but immense.