In a ridiculous attempt to parody one of the greatest cartoons ever let me say, ‘Let’s give a cheer for March, let’s give a cheer for Mar’ which is ill-considered if pop-culturally tremendous. So, here we are in March, a month that’s always on the cusp of everything.
In the wonderful High Fidelity the protagonist Rob Gordon and his disturbed employees Barry and Dick trade musical top fives at the record store, Championship Vinyl. Since Alex and myself were gifted a turntable at Christmas I’ve bought a dozen or so second-hand albums and my personal top five follows (from the beginning of 2022).
Of course this is entirely an exercise in yoofy nostalgia so has been limited to music from my adolescence. I’ve decided that if an album’s from a time when I could vote, then I won’t buy it!
On state election day I went to a record fair and wandering about the tables and crates of vinyl I thought, gee what am I doing here? There’s only middle-aged and old blokes here, all nattering about rare B-sides and European pressings of obscure collectables. Then I thought, oh, hang on…
Honourable mentions- Late for the Sky by Jackson Browne, Glen Campbell’s Greatest Hits, and Beggars Banquet (NB- no possessive apostrophe) by the Rolling Stones.
I admit that neither Dickens nor Shakespeare were on my early reading menu, but instead Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven starring Peter- whom I’d now cheerfully describe as a wanker, along with Janet, Jack, Barbara, George, Pam and Colin. Truth be told, Scamper the English Cocker Spaniel remains the most likable of the lot.
But, I also came late to Revolver, Blood on the Tracks and Exile on Main St. Among the weighty vinyl of my childhood was Ripper ’76. It’s the greatest ever compilation.
Beyoncé: And the Grammy goes to…Ripper ’76!
(Kanye and his So Fresh: The Hits of Spring squad storm the stage.)
You Messed About I Caught You Out
Suitably, Sherbet’s “Howzat” opens the batting. Garth Porter’s lush and languid keyboards invest it with a distinct 1970’s feel: all Sandman and Chiko roll. It’s a celebrated song, nevertheless the band’s finest tune, I’d argue, is “Summer Love” and yet, across their discography the tail is exposed prematurely, as Phil Tufnell bats at six, all bewilderment and eyes-shut slogging.
Of course, Sherbet’s lead singer Daryl (in Molly’s world folks had only one name) is now mostly known to liquefied crowds both at and away from Flemington for “The Horses.” Initially recorded by Ricky Lee Jones, one-time partner of unorthodox, but lusty ball-striker Tom Waits, it was co-written by Steely Dan founder Walter Becker who passed away earlier this year.
For cricket-themed albums may I present quirky British ensemble The Duckworth Lewis Method? “Jiggery Pokery” remains the finest song I’ve heard chronicling the Edwardian spectacle of the Gatting Ball. Richie may even have approved of this.
My Favourite Noosha
At track 7 is “S-S-S-Single Bed” by Fox. An enigmatic outfit, another of their songs is “If You Don’t Want My Peaches Don’t Shake My Tree” possibly reminding you of the lyrics in Steve Miller’s “The Joker” which itself references The Clovers’ 1954 song “Lovey Dovey.”
As sexually-charged fruit images go, this peaches motif has endured for many a season. Indeed, it’s always ripe for a-pickin’. Fox vocalist Noosha Fox is seen by some as a prototypical Kate Bush, but I’m unsure. I do think she’s my favourite Noosha.
Britpop had Oasis versus Blur while in Countdown Era (CE) Australia we witnessed the Skyhooks and Sherbet war. Closing out Side A of Ripper ‘76 is “Million Dollar Riff” by Shirl and company. Another Greg Macainsh tune about song writing, it’s driven by their urgent guitar and prickly irreverence. The battle of the bands? For me, Skyhooks made bigger cultural and personal impacts.
Side B blasts forth with the record’s penultimate track (of four) beginning with “Love” in the title as Billy Ocean sunnily accuses, “You run around town like a fool and you think that it’s groovy.” Talk to any veteran vinyl album and it’ll tell you that it ain’t easy kicking off Side B, but “Love Really Hurts Without You” does it as easily as a Sunday night bowl of Rice-a-Riso®.
Happily, it includes expert use of a tambourine. Forget Polywaffles, where have all the tambourines gone? Did Josie and The Pussycats nick them all?
This Song is a Social Commentary
Ol ’55 provided Happy Days-like fun, and Ripper ‘76 showcases their first single, “On the Prowl,” Frankie J Holden’s rollicking recount of a burglary gone awry. Though I prefer “Lookin’ For an Echo’ perfect for six-beers-in and hand-over-an-ear-backing-vocal-stylings. Both are also compulsory post-2017 AFL Grand Final karaoke songs in a Clare Valley motel with old friends, to the auditory risk of all within earshot, and without.
But you already knew this.
A Chartreuse Micra-Bus
“Convoy” is homage to interstate truck drivin’ by William Dale Fries, Jr. (born November 15, 1928), best known by his stage name C. W. McCall. It was my introduction to the idiosyncratic, oddly-mesmerising language of CB radio, and by extension, the marketing might of Radio Shack.
When you’re next in an outback truck stop it’s on the dusty K-Tel cassette you’ve idly picked up while waiting for your dim sims and, depending upon geography, potato cake/scallop/fritter.
The album does feature a few Jimmy Higgs ducks such as the Silver Studs and a flaccid Bee Gees track, but for sustained value, I give Ripper ’76 four and a half episodes of The Paul Hogan Show.
Or for the kids, a Pitchfork 9.2.
Sherbet – Howzat
Maxine Nightingale – Right Back Where We Started From
Elvin Bishop – Fooled Around and Fell in Love
Silver Studs – Happy Days
Billy Thorpe – It’s Almost Summer
Thin Lizzy – The Boys Are Back in Town
Fox – S-S-S-Single Bed
Roxy Music – Love Is the Drug
Nazareth – Love Hurts
Skyhooks – Million Dollar Riff
Billy Ocean – Love Really Hurts Without You
Donna Summer – Love to Love You Baby
Ol’ 55 – On The Prowl
Bee Gees – Fanny (Be Tender With My Love)
Supernaut – I Like It Both Ways
Jon English – Hollywood Seven
Split Enz – Late Last Night
C.W. McCall – Convoy
Daryl Braithwaite – Old Sid
10cc – I’m Not in Love
Urgency. I reckon this is the best word. For they were always urgent. Midnight Oil was aggressive, and Sherbet was summery. But even when they were brooding, Skyhooks was urgent.
Learning of their 1991 reunification tour, some mates and I instantly booked our tickets. However, on the day of their Adelaide concert I awoke 565 kilometres away on the West Coast as I had to pack up my Ucontitchie Road farmhouse for the move to Kimba.
With my earthly goods flung through the front door of my new house, we leapt into my mate’s SS Commodore, pointed the 4.9 litre beast eastward, and rumbled the five hours, through a January thunderstorm, to North Adelaide’s Old Lion Hotel. We arrived with moments to spare. The pub already stinging in its smoky, hot fug. There were but three beers on tap. Red Symons was at his belligerent Red Faces best. It was a night of huge fun.
I love crowd singing on a live album. It amplifies the sense of being there, when in all likelihood, you weren’t. Great examples include “Army” from Ben Folds Live and,” Don’t Look Back in Anger” by Oasis, but supreme for me is “All My Friends Are Getting Married” from Skyhooks’ Live in the Eighties. When Shirl invites the crowd to sing the chorus they do in such an adoring fashion. Back at the Old Lion this, too, was a highlight of that summer night.
Sophomore albums often rate highly. Think Nevermind, The Bends and Astral Weeks. Buoyed by the acclaim of their debut offering, there’s often a young band or artist, teamed up with a noted producer. Their confidence is unparalleled. An equivalent could be, again from 1991, when Mark Waugh made an elegant hundred on debut at Adelaide Oval. However, a friend observed, “It’s not such a surprise. After all, you only get picked for your country because you’re in fantastic form.”
Bearing this in mind, Ego Is Not a Dirty Word is their finest album. I know that Living in the Seventies is the much-loved debut, selling over 300,000 copies, and enjoying the infamy of six of its offerings being banned. But, on this second release, there’s an increased breadth in the songs, with “Love’s Not Good Enough” musing on suburban loneliness, “Smartarse Songwriters” featuring Greg Macainsh’s meta-cognitive explorations, and the title track, pushing the patience of many (I can’t imagine Sir Joh was a fan) with its brazen reference to the triumvirate of Richard Nixon, Leonard Cohen, and in an Australian music first, Jesus.
My favourite is side 2, track 2. I know it’s a hundred types of wrong but I recently played it in the car for our boys on the way home from karate. On the first note of “Mercedes Ladies” they both giggled at the larrikinism of bass line, the cheeky guitars and Freddie’s comical tom-tom drumming. It rollicks along with the musical highlight the double hi-hat chick at the end of each line. It’s a great way to spend three minutes, and encapsulates the band, their time, and their legacy. In this, as in much of their material, Skyhooks satirise the suburbs while also rejoicing in them.
Of course, we’re all apprehended by our creative context. Even here in smug 2016, history will eventually scold us. 1975 imprisoned many with multiple charges: sexism, homophobia, stereotyping. But despite this Skyhooks also pioneered themes concerning the suburban and the local. It was music of the largely untold other; it was not of NYC or London.
Such is the significance of Skyhooks for me that the mention of Carlton evokes the song first, and the footy team second. The band’s collected lyrics still generate a google map of Melbourne, and a reference to Toorak or Balwyn returns me to my original conceptions of the city by the Yarra. If the Beatles are Liverpool, and the Rolling Stones are London, then Skyhooks are Melbourne. Their music has always presented the geography of a highly human environment, as there’s colourful pictures of grimy pubs, menacing streetscapes, and widescreen vistas too.
It was in my school mate Lumpy Nixon’s lounge room (I’m sure there were ceramic ducks flying up the wall) that I first saw, and heard Straight in a Gay, Gay World. I was mesmerised by the guitars on the title track, and the sonic trickery of a swarm of insects hovering overhead on the outro, moving from the left speaker to the right. I was fourteen and this was beyond cool.
The album’s artwork gripped me equally with its triptych of a solitary black sheep, butcher shop and lamb dinner. It was the first humorous cover I’d seen. The art often functioned as a portal to an album’s narrative. I was especially intrigued by Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, and tried to decipher the cover photo of the two business men, one calmly ablaze, shaking hands on a Californian backlot. However, I couldn’t unlock its mystical meanings. In our age of Spotify and digital downloads, these happy distractions have largely disappeared. But vinyl’s fighting back.
And finally to Shirl. He’d a remarkably complex voice, blending a tradie’s building site swagger with the footballer’s front-bar cockiness. It was effortlessly confident, and also reassuring, saying, “Why would you live anywhere else?” as it slapped your back and shouted, “Forget about it, I’ll buy you a beer!” He sung to, and for, us. But, his vowels were knowingly crisp and aware of the telling subtext. He delivered his stories with affection, while also investing the songs, as appropriate, with a sneer. “Million Dollar Riff” could be his best performance. Shirl was the perfect front man.
I love that I can go years without listening to a band, and then one afternoon find myself dragging out a dusty CD, and with the opening chords, being teleported to a distant, thrilling place. With Skyhooks that place is removed and unreconstructed, but from time to time, I really enjoy going back there.
Just before her weekly massage Catriona Rowntree eyes the camera coquettishly.
The Getaway audience is transfixed. Where’s tonight’s rubdown? Fiji? Ah, lovely.
But it’s about her voice. A voice, some would suggest, belonging to the blissful space between sleep and waking.
Like Catriona in her fluffy bathrobe, sparkling shiraz is also distinctly Australian.
No matter that the rest of the planet views it like a toasted cheese sandwich in India.
October long weekends. Our throng stayed two hours’ north of Adelaide at the Clare Country Club. We’d observe an annual routine.
Golf. Dinner at Bentley’s hotel. Golf. Watching the SANFL Grand Final in the Watervale pub (another Port flag). Golf. The Magpie and Stump in drowsy Mintaro, where I first heard a publican inquire, “Another cup of tea vicar?”
The Clare Dragon Chinese restaurant where the crankiest person in the world would serve us: Colleen. Every year she’d mutter, “Well I won’t be here next time you visit. This is driving me mad. I can’t stand it.”
And come next October Colleen’d deliver these same lines like a poem. A poem performed by the cantankerous employee of a regional Chinese eatery.
There’d also be a winery tour. One stormy Sunday we coasted into the Wilson Vineyard near Polish Hill River. At the counter, we began our work with Freddie Flintoff gusto.
A single sip. The subterranean purple hue, the mesmerizing flavor, the sassiness. It was dangerous fun. It was a sparkling shiraz. It was called Hippocrene. I was enthralled.
Poets can be fibbers, but I reckon John Keats got it right in “Ode to a Nightingale”
O for a beaker full of the warm South
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim
Tellingly, the parents-in-law smuggled a bottle into England for us to share on my birthday. If a Google map showed who was drinking what across Europe, then we were likely the only sparkling shiraz slurpers. I didn’t care.
Hippocrene was an occasion wine. Sometimes it’d be Christmas. Sometimes the occasion would be Sunday. We only ever had two or three bottles a year, so at the easing of the cork there was always frisson.
Like the Greek civilisation from which it inherited its name, one October the cellar door assistant announced that Hippocrene was no more. “Have you any left?” I begged. Out the back were a few bottles of the ’96. We bought half a dozen.
And then it was gone.
The Black Chook
This can open the batting at your barbeque. Unlike Watto, it doesn’t plonk down a dumb left pad and get struck plumb. More like Boof, it’s good for a chirpy thirty.
Surprisingly sturdy, it boasts drinkable complexity. And it receives extra points for having the word “chook” in its name.
The Black Chook’s about $18 in Australia, or approaching a hundred bucks and two months’ national service in Singapore.
The Black Queen
A tremendous wine by the late Barossan, Peter Lehmann.
We’d been to Kapunda to climb over and in and on Leo the Train at the Hill Street playground. We’d luncheoned at Masters’ bakery on the main street, helpfully named Main Street. As Dr Evil might say, “Try the sausage rolls. They’re breathtaking.”
Heading home I thought I’d buy a bottle of sparkling shiraz. So I said to myself, “Self. Why not actually call into Peter Lehmann’s winery on the way through Tanunda?”
Rather than going to a liquor chain this seemed a retro, fun thing to do. Not so much slaughtering a cow because you fancy a hamburger, but more like listening to Revolver on vinyl.
A profound, exotic gargle, the Black Queen is about $40 in Australia, or the price of an inner-city apartment here on the tip of Malaysia.
Andrew Garrett Sparkling Shiraz
Like a glass of agitated Ribena®. You’d be better off with a wine made by Midnight Oil warbler, Peter Garrett.
Andrew Garrett once tried to sue Westpac for- raise your little finger to the corner of your mouth- eleven billion dollars. I’m less chance to drink this again.
Bleasdale Sparkling Shiraz
Here’s a confession. Langhorne Creek’s an hour south of Adelaide, but it was only three years ago that I first visited. For me, that’s the oenological equal of never having heard 16 Lovers Lane by The Go-Betweens. The Bridge Hotel serves lunch, and you can sit outside, under the obliging gums, with a Coopers Pale Ale.
It’s parched and dusty, but the vines often enjoy winter flooding from the Bremer River. Bleasdale Sparkling Shiraz reminds me of writer and Exeter Hotel inhabiter, Philip White.
When the Advertiser was still a newspaper, he penned a column called Drinks. White once described a wine, I think a Greenock Creek, as being “full of iron and steel, and women and children.” Obviously, this also summarises the Bleasdale.
A snip at $20 for Tony’s Team Australia, or if you’re from the Republic of Singapore, similar coin to a luxury holiday on Koh Samui.
Sparkling shiraz is the viticultural Skyhooks. Unheard of in Europe. Never caught on in America. Yet enduringly significant and loved in Australia.
For a certain demographic, both provide a cracking soundtrack to backyard barbies.
As the creator of pastoral poetry, and Deniliquin Ute Muster fan Theocritus said, “Now give me goat and cup.”