Before the tragic death of lead singer Michael Hutchence on 22 November 1997 at the age of 37, INXS had not suffered one line-up change in 20 years of operation! INXS can lay claim to being the most internationally successful Australian rock band of all time. The band's success can be attributed to many factors, including the unchanging line-up, an inordinate amount of self-belief, unstinting touring schedules, consistently strong and fresh production for each album, a distinctive hard rock sound that incorporated funk and dance influences and frontman Hutchence's sultry good looks.
Indeed, Hutchence was the archetypal rock showman. He exuded an overtly sexual, macho cool with his flowing locks, and lithe and exuberant stage movements. Having grown up in Hong Kong, California and Sydney, Hutchence came to epitomise the globe-trotting, superstar rock singer, with all the attendant trappings of international fame. Hutchence also had to deal with his fair share of tabloid scandals, such as when he and Paula Yates (proud parents of Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily) were at the centre of drug and pornography accusations, plus custody battles with Yates' former husband Sir Bob Geldof.
INXS formed in Sydney during 1977 as The Farriss Brothers. The band relocated to Perth, Western Australia in 1978 when the Farriss family moved there taking the underage Jon with them. A year later the band was back in Sydney with a new name: INXS. In 1980, the band linked up with manager Chris Murphy (soon to head the powerful MMA organisation). The independent Deluxe label issued the band's debut single, `Simple Simon'/`We are the Vegetables' (May 1980), followed by the album INXS (October 1980) and its single, `Just Keep Walking'/`Scratch' (September).
Those early records displayed a jaunty, new wave/ska-pop sound and were not indicative of the band's future directions. The records sold poorly (`Just Keep Walking' managed to reached #38 on the national charts), but the band quickly gained a reputation as one of the country's best live acts. Constant touring across the country during 1981 (almost 300 shows) kept INXS in the public eye, and subsequent records began to sell. The band's third single, a revival of The Loved Ones' `The Loved One'/`The Unloved One' reached #18 in April 1981. The Richard Clapton-produced Underneath the Colours album (October 1981; #15 in November) yielded the singles `Stay Young'/ `Lacavocal' (September; #21 in November) and `Night of Rebellion'/`Prehistoria' (January 1982). INXS then signed a new deal with WEA. The budget-priced collection INXSive on Deluxe mopped up various album tracks and early singles sides.
Shabooh Shoobah (October 1982) was the band's first album to reach the Top 10 nationally (#5 in November). Backed by booming production values courtesy of Mark Opitz and a selection of confident, well-crafted rock songs, it was the band's strongest to date. The album spawned four singles, `The One Thing'/`Space Shuttle' (#14 in August 1982), `Don't Change'/`Go West' (#15 in November), `To Look at You' (double single pack, #36 in March 1983) and the 12-inch EP Dance: `Black and White' (#24 in July). Shabooh Shoobah was the band's first international release (on Atlantic/ATCO in the USA and Mercury in the UK). Both the album and single `The One Thing' charted in the Top 30 in the USA, and the band spent much of 1983 touring the country (including support slots to The Kinks and Adam Ant). Things were a little slower to take off in the UK, where the `hip' music press dismissed the band's music as unimaginative MTV rock.
While in New York, the band entered Power Station studios with Chic leader Nile Rogers to record `The Original Sin'. The track showcased the band's new fascination for melding rock, funk and modern dance rhythms. It became the band's first Australian #1 single in January 1984. INXS later contributed `The Original Sin' to the Various Artists album Building Bridges on CBS (1989). The Nick Launay-produced album The Swing made its debut at #1 on the Australian album chart (April 1984), and remained on the chart for over a year. The album boasted all the confident swagger and accomplished rock hooks of a band on the cusp of international acceptance; it reached #52 in the USA during mid-1984. Three further singles were lifted from the set for release in Australia: `I Send a Message'/`Mechanical' (#2 in March 1984), `Burn for You'/`Johnson's Aeroplane' (#3 in July) and `Dancing on the Jetty'/`The Harbour' (#39 in October). The Dekadance cassette compilation (March 1985) featured six extended and/or remixed versions of songs from The Swing plus the previously unavailable cover of `Jackson' (featuring a duet between Hutchence and Jenny Morris). The com- pilation reached #3 on the national chart in May. The promotional, 12-inch vinyl edition of Dekadance is one of the band's rarest releases.
In 1985, INXS took out seven awards at the Countdown Awards ceremony. Listen Like Thieves came out in August and made its debut at #1 on the national chart, having attained platinum status on advance orders alone (unprecedented in Australia). The album yielded four singles in Australia: `What You Need'/`I'm Over You' (#1 in August 1985), `This Time'/`Sweet as Sin' (#19 in December), `Kiss the Dirt (Falling Down the Mountain)'/ `Six Knots', `The One Thing' (live) (#15 in March 1986) and `Listen Like Thieves'/`Different World' (#28 in June). Producer Chris Thomas (Sex Pistols, Pretenders, Roxy Music) gave the album a much harder sound than heard on previous INXS records, but somehow it lacked the pop smarts that had made The Swing so appealing. Nevertheless, Listen Like Thieves went on to sell over a million copies worldwide (US #11; UK #48). `What You Need' became the band's first Top 5 (#5) hit in the USA, but when issued in the UK it only managed #51.
Such was INXS's live standing in the UK, however, that the band was able to sell out London's prestigious Albert Hall, which led to two appearances supporting Queen at Wembley Stadium. Worldwide success continued to grow after the band's performance at the Australian Live Aid concert was beamed across the globe in July 1986. At the end of 1986, INXS recorded a rousing rendition of the old Easybeats' rocker `Good Times'/`Laying Down the Law' with Jimmy Barnes. To coincide with the massive Australian Made tour of early 1987 (which Jimmy Barnes and INXS headlined), the single reached #1 nationally. `Good Times' also reached #47 in the USA and was later included on the soundtrack to the film The Lost Boys.
Hutchence was the first member of INXS to release any records under his own name when he issued a solo single, a cover of Whirlywirld's `Rooms for the Memory'/`Golfcourse' (#11 in February 1987). Both songs were taken from the soundtrack to Richard Lowenstein's feature film Dogs in Space. Set in the post-punk wasteland of inner-city Melbourne, the film featured Hutchence in the part of Sam, lead singer with the band Dogs in Space.
The next album, Kick (November 1987; again with Thomas as producer), became the band's most enduring release by mixing the hard rock sound of Thieves with a looser approach to dance grooves. It made its debut at #2 in Australia and went on to hit the top spot. It was the second biggest selling album on the Australian charts for 1988. INXS won Best Group at the 1988 Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) Awards. Kick also reached #9 in the UK and #3 in the USA and went on to sell nine million copies worldwide. The first single from the album `Need You Tonight'/`I'm Coming (Home)' (October 1987) reached #3 in Australia, and by January 1988 it was #1 in the USA. When issued in the UK, however, `Need You Tonight' only reached #58. After two sold-out UK tours, however, Mercury reissued `Need You Tonight' a year later, which resulted in a #2 placing. `Mystify'/`Devil Inside' followed suit, reaching #14 in the UK during March 1989. The next brace of singles lifted from Kick were big hits in Australia, but did even better Stateside: `Devil Inside'/`On the Rocks' was #2 in March 1988 (Australian #5), `New Sensation'/`Do Wot You Do' reached #3 in May (Australian #8) and `Never Tear Us Apart'/`Guns in the Sky' (`Move on' was the B-side in Australia) hit #7 in September (Australian #8). `Do Wot You Do' also appeared on the soundtrack to the popular teen feature film Pretty in Pink.
During October/November 1988, INXS undertook the massive Calling All Nations tour of Australia, after which the band members scattered across the globe to pursue individual projects for a year. Hutchence collaborated with Ian `Ollie' Olsen on the Max Q album and appeared in cult film director Roger Corman's Frankenstein Unbound, in which he played the part of Percy Bysshe Shelley. His co-stars were Raoul Julia, John Hurt and Bridget Fonda. Andrew Farriss produced Jenny Morris' Shiver album and Beers toured with Richard Clapton and Absent Friends.
The band's eighth album, X, returned INXS to the charts in October 1990 (Australian #4; UK #2; US #5). It yielded the hit singles `Suicide Blonde'/`Everybody Wants U Tonight' (Australian #2 in October; UK #11; US #9), `Disappear'/`Middle Beast' (Australian #23 in January 1991; UK #21; US #8), `Bitter Tears'/`The Other Side' (Australian #36 in March; UK #30; US #46) and `By My Side'/`Soothe Me' (Australian #23 in June; UK #42).
Hutchence's much publicised romance with Kylie Minogue around that time also brought the group to the attention of a whole new generation of potential fans. Hutchence was later quoted as saying that his favourite pastime was `corrupting Kylie'. Live Baby Live (Australian #3; UK #8; US #72) was a document of the band's triumphant concert at Wembley Stadium in front of 74 000 fans during July 1991. It also contained one previously unreleased studio track, `Shining Star', which was issued as a single backed with three live cuts, `I Send a Message', `Faith in Each Other' and `Bitter Tears' (Australian #21 in November 1991; UK #27). Live Baby Live was the band's least successful album in eight years. `Shining Star' spent only one week in Billboard's Hot 100, breaking the band's run of US hits.
Nevertheless, the band's perseverance in the face of initial UK apathy was vindicated when INXS walked away with Best International Group award and Best International Artist honour for Hutchence at the 1991 BRIT presentations. The band also helped organise (with co-manager Gary Grant and Mark Pope) the ambitious Concert for Life, which was held in Sydney's Centennial Park on 28 March 1992. The concert drew approximately 65000 fans and raised $600000 for St Vincent's Hospital.
The Mark Opitz-produced Welcome to Whatever You Are (August 1992) saw the band experimenting in the studio. In Australia it peaked at #2 during September, but went one better in the UK, where it hit the top spot. It went on to sell two and a half million copies worldwide. It yielded five singles: `Heaven Sent'/`It Ain't Easy' (Australian #13 in July 1992; UK #31), `Not Enough Time'/`Deepest Red' (US #28 in August), `Baby Don't Cry'/`Baby Don't Cry Part 2'(Australian #30 in September; UK #20), `Taste It'/`Light the Planet' (Australian #36 in December; UK #21) and `Beautiful Girl'/`In My Livingroom' (Australian #34 in May 1993; UK #23; US #46).
INXS followed up a year later with Full Moon, Dirty Hearts (Australian #18; UK #3; US #53), in which the band members re-acquainted themselves with their pub-rock roots. The first single was the hard rocking `The Gift'/`Need You Tonight' (Australian #16 in October 1993; UK #11), followed by `Please (You Got that)' (with Ray Charles)/`Born to Be Wild' (Australian #37 in December; UK #50) and `Time'/`Communication' (Live) (Australian #36 in February 1994). The band's version of Steppen-wolf's `Born to Be Wild' also appeared on the soundtrack to the Yahoo Serious film Reckless Kelly.
INXS—The Greatest Hits peaked at #3 in the UK and the Australian Top 10 during December 1994. It included one new song, `The Strangest Party (These are the Times)' which was issued as a single backed with `Wishing Well' (Australian #34 in October; UK #15). Ironically, INXS—The Greatest Hits did not chart well in the USA, where previously the band had been treated as conquering heroes. No doubt the arrival of grunge in general, and the emergence of bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden and Smashing Pumpkins in particular, contributed to INXS' lower profile in the US. Nevertheless, Hutchence kept busy by contributing to a number of feature film soundtrack and tribute album projects. These included singing `Under My Thumb' on the Symphonic Music of the Rolling Stones album, `Baby Let's Play House' on the Elvis Presley tribute album It's Now or Never, a cover of Iggy Pop's `The Passenger' on the Batman Forever soundtrack and a version of Eric Burdon and War's `Spill the Wine' on the Barb Wire soundtrack.
In 1996, INXS split from long-time manager Chris Murphy, and left Atlantic/ATCO for a lucrative new deal with Mercury in the USA. March 1997 saw the release of the first new INXS album in three years, Elegantly Wasted. With the likes of Savage Garden, silverchair and Human Nature dominating the charts, the album could only manage an Australian Top 40 stay of four weeks after peaking at #14. Likewise the first CD single, `Elegantly Wasted' charted at #48 for only one week during April and then disappeared. Nevertheless, Elegantly Wasted sold almost a million copies worldwide. The second single `Don't Lose Your Head' (as featured in the film Face/Off) came out in June. The members of INXS had returned to Australia during November, for their 20th anniversary national tour when Hutchence died by hanging himself at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in the Sydney suburb of Double Bay. An inquest into his death found it was suicide, although some believe it was an accident.
Following the tragic death of frontman Michael Hutchence in November 1997, the remaining members of INXS disappeared from public life. The band gave its first, post-Hutchence live performance as part of the Telstra Concert of the Century/Mushroom 25th anniversary in November 1998. The band backed Jimmy Barnes for the encore, storming through a cover of The Loved Ones’ ‘The Loved One’, then joined the all-star jam on a rousing rendition of The Easybeats’ ‘Good Times’. It was a fitting end to a big day. In June 1999, INXS performed at the official opening ceremony for Sydney’s Stadium Australia, alongside Mike Brady, Wendy Matthews and Men At Work. Fronting the band was US soul singer Terence Trent D’Arby.
Despite the infrequency of live appearances since Hutchence’s death, the members of Australia’s premier funk-pop band were still working. Tim Farriss set up his own studio, Montana, in Sydney where Tim Finn, Mental As Anything and Jenny Morris have recorded. Garry Gary Beers had Mangrove Music studios on the NSW Central Coast, where Leonardo’s Bride, silverchair, Yothu Yindi and The Whitlams recorded. Beers played bass on the new Whitlams album, Love This City. Beers also formed his own band Mudhead, with Jack Jones (vocals, guitar; ex-Southern Sons) and Dave Leslie (guitar; ex-Baby Animals). Andrew Farriss was writing with Yothu Yindi. Kirk Pengilly also set up his own studio. Jon Farriss played drums on Jimmy Barnes’ new album, Love and Fear.
Interest in Michael Hutchence and INXS remained strong, and in October 1999 the V2 label issued the singer’s eagerly anticipated solo album, Michael Hutchence. The album comprised songs recorded during various stages of his career (in between INXS commitments), with production assistance from Danny Saber (Black Grape, Rolling Stones), Andy Gill (ex-Gang of Four) and Tim Simenon. The lead off single, ‘A Straight Line’ (September), featured funked-up electro-rock with a booming brass section, wah wah guitar, big female backing vocals and Hutchence’s soulful vocals. The non-album tracks, ‘Standing on the Rooftop’ and a cover of Iggy Pop’s ‘The Passenger’, were included as B-side cuts.
The album also included the passionate ‘Possibilities’, the last song Hutchence ever recorded (with Saber), plus vocal contributions from Joe Strummer (on ‘Let Me Show You’) and Bono (‘Slide Away’). Inevitably, it was a fragmented affair but there were enough reference points to future musical directions to suggest Hutchence had a promising solo career ahead of him. While ‘A Straight Line’ failed to make the Australian Top 40, album made its debut at #3, selling over 35 000 units in the process.
In May 2000, the remaining members of INXS were preparing for their performance as part of the Tim Rice: Concert Spectacular, alongside Kate Ceberano, Bachelor Girl, Iva Davies, Anthony Warlow and David Essex. It was to be only the band’s third live appearance since Hutchence’s death.