POP AND PUNISHMENT
Or: SOME THINGS YOU PROBABLY DON'T NEED
TO KNOW ABOUT THE WRITING OF THESE SONGS
By Dave Faulkner
LEILANI was the only
record released by the first line-up of the band, then know as le Hoodoo Gurus,
for the independent label Phantom Records. Back then the members were: myself,
Rod Radaji and Kimble Rendall on guitars and James Baker on drums. Astute
listeners will note the absence of bass guitar in the band, an accident of
fate which later inspired a song about a fatal accident ('Arthur'). It was
only when Kimble and Rod quit a year later that we were able to remedy that
"oversight". 'Leilani' was based on an old 50's movie, 'Bird Of
Paradise' starring Jeff Chandler (my least-favourite actor at the time, though
that title is now held by George Clooney). This primitive recording somehow
received extensive alternative airplay, whatever that may be, and even became
popular in a few clubs, so allowing us to break out of the inner-Sydney musical
ghetto we inhabited.
TOJO NEVER MADE IT TO DARWIN
marks the true beginning of the Hoodoo Gurus "sound". Brad Shepherd
and Clyde Bramley had joined the band, Clyde excellently providing some much-needed
bass guitar and in Brad we finally had a real guitarist (no offence intended
to Kimble and Rod but to my knowledge none of us has ever been asked to do
any session work). 'Tojo..' was an "answer song" to an Australian
hit of a few years earlier, 'Santa Never Made it Into Darwin' which had been
release to raise money for the victims of Cyclone Tracy which had almost destroyed
Darwin on Christmas Eve, 1975. During World War II the Japanese army invaded
New Guinea but failed to reach Australia thanks to the heroic resistance however
Darwin was bombed heavily and often. This is the only song I've written about
which my father (a returned serviceman) has ever had anything nice to say.
The follow-up to 'Tojo
' was MY
GIRL. Owing to a flippant suggestion by Kimble, who had returned to
film-making, we made the song's video a story about a dog trainer and his
champion greyhound. To this day people insist the song was "written about
a dog". Oh, well. The truth is, it was meant to be part of a never-made
home movie, a tribute to 60's beach movies entitled 'Gidget Goes Ape'. While
the Gurus were out on tour the record's producer, Alan Thorne, added keyboards
and session-singer backing vocals which horrified us (and our record company
loved, of course!). Alan did a great job producing the rest of our fist album,
'Stone-Age Romeos' and we enjoyed working with him (which we did many times),
but those backing vocals still make my skin crawl.
BE MY GURU has always
been our unofficial anthem and we loved to play it whenever we felt an audience
was too comfortable during a show. This was the first of what we called our
"Punishment Songs". It was put on the flip-side of 'My Girl' to
add a bit of acid to the sugar, so to speak.
I WANT YOU BACK was
one of the few songs of mine to ever be covered y another artist, a fellow
mysteriously named Simon F, produced by Billy Idol's then-guitarist Steve
Stevens (do you miss the 80's?). Some writers refer to their creations as
their "children", well this felt more akin to having your child
grow up to be a serial killer. Their (per)version was not a hit, but then
neither was ours.
"I Want You Back" was released at the
same time as our first album "Stone-Age Romeos'. If there had been a
further single I would like it to have been I WAS A
KAMIKAZE PILOT, another song inspired by the Pacific War. Late (very)
one night I saw I a T.V. documentary from the late 60's featuring an interview
with a Japanese businessman who had once been a "Kamikaze". My song
was one possible explanation for his survival.
When we commence the sessions for 'Mars Needs Guitars'
we had a brand new drummer, Mark Kingsmill who altered our lives forever with
his distinctive explosive style. At the same time I vowed to myself that I
would write less comic narratives and try to express my sentiments in a more
forthright way. I feel I succeeded with BITTERSWEET
though at the time I didn't think that a) the band would want to play it and
b) our audience would want to hear it. I was happily wrong on both counts.
only recorded as a b-side but producer Charles Fisher thought it "had
something" and should be included on the album. No-one was more surprised
than us when it became the second single and our biggest hit at the time.
We just liked it because it was noisy.
One of my favourite songs I've written is DEATH-DEFYING.
I have vivid memories of shooting the video in Kakadu National Park after
having woken to see the news footage of the Challenger Space Shuttle exploding
The Gurus first manager, Stuart Coupe, wrongly thought
that POISON PEN was written about him, probably
because of his notoriety as a Rock Journalist (often an oxymoron) and he had
also recently been replaced by Michael McMartin, who happily remained with
us for the rest of our career. The song was about the fallout from a relationship
that had turned bitter (with no "sweet" attached).
IN THE WILD was recorded
in concert in my home city of Perth, Western Australia (the band formed in
Sydney, contrary to popular myth). For some obscure reason, this track was
not included on the 'Gorilla Biscuits' rarities album so we're making amends
here. Originally titled 'In The Dry', as in Dry Season, I altered the lyric
so that people who didn't know about the weather in the tropics would "get
it". I shouldn't have worried.
Our next album was "Blow Your Cool", and
it produced our biggest Australia hit, WHAT'S MY SCENE?
Whenever I'm asked to name a favourite of my songs I usually choose this one,
not because I think it's "the best" but because it best captures
everything I try to do when writing any song. I wouldn't change a note or
a syllable of this one and I'm especially proud that it has two different
choruses when one is usually enough.
The b-side HEART OF DARKNESS,
was recorded as a 3-piece whilst Brad was off gallivanting in L.A. to supervise
the recording of the Bangles harmonies on GOOD TIMES
(nice work if you can get it!). We had toured with them the previous year
promoting 'Mars Needs Guitars' and we watched them go to No. 1 with 'Manic
Monday' as the tour began. Oh well, so much for the co-headline. That tour
and it's sequel two years later were some of the most fun we ever had on the
IN THE MIDDLE OF THE LAND
was written about one of my pet subjects: evangelical preachers and their
hypocrisy. As a later song of mine says, "Follow any creed / If my freedom's
guaranteed / I don't mind.
When the 'Blow Your Cool' touring was over Clyde
retired from the road and the band. At this point we persuaded Rick Grossman
to join, contributing his tremendous bass skills to the band, and so we had
reached what was to be our ultimate line-up. After that we only changed our
haircuts (and underwear). Almost immediately we were in the studio recording
the single-only release THE GENERATION GAP, a
song originally recorded by Jeannie C. Riley (of 'Harper Valley P.T.A.' fame).
I changed a couple of lines to suit myself but the ones about grown-ups getting
stoned were from the original.
COME ANYTIME was the
lead off single for 'Magnum Cum Louder' and its best described as a romantic
song about an unromantic subject but you can reverse the adjectives and the
statement would be equally correct.
CAJUN COUNTRY wears
its Creedence influences proudly on its sleeve which is probably the reason
we (foolishly) left it off the album and consigned it to the obscurity of
a flip-side (p.s. thanks to Boozy and family).
I often describe AXEGRINDER
as the song that "killed" 'Magnum Cum Louder'. We had enjoyed considerable
airplay for 'Come Anytime' (and prior singles) but 'Axegrinder' stopped everything
cold. Funnily enough, it became one of our biggest showstoppers in concert
within 12 months. Actually, most of our songs became "bigger" over
time: Radio seemed to prefer playing the singles off the album previous to
the one we were promoting with many stations only adding our songs when they
became "oldies" - apparently new music is a little confronting.
The Hoodoo Gurus first decade comes to a close with
ANOTHER WORLD, a song based on (in part) a cheerful
50's sci-fi movie called 'I Married A Monster From Outer Space' which has
a typically paranoid body snatcher plot with a sexual morality twist. Dancers
be aware: the guitar-break is in 7/8 time so you'll frequently end up wrong-footed
as we did when we shot ourselves in the foot by making a deliberately-cheesy
accompanying video, we never obeyed the rules about making ourselves look
glamorous and terribly earnest to be taken seriously. But come on, it was
the 80's - who could take it seriously anyway?
MISS FREELOVE '69 from
the 'Kinky' album, was written on the morning after the events described in
the song, although I gave them some embellishment to provide a happy ending:
the real police declined to join the party (at least they didn't shut it down).
Miss Freelove herself was meant to be the incarnation of Bacchus but if she
was anyone, she was me!
The b-side to 'Miss Freelove '69' was a version
of STOMP THE TUMBARUMBA, first recorded by Jonny
Devlin & His Devils in the early 60's. The Stomp was a peculiar Australian
surfer dance craze through Tumbarumba was a strange choice as it is a land-locked
town in N.S.W. - one more reason to love the song. The "beatnik"
intro was inspired by The Godz' 'White Cat Heat' (for the trainspotters).
Many people have told me A
THOUSAND MILES AWAY is their favourite Gurus song and it's also among
my top ten. There are references to airports and flying but I was writing
about emotional distance rather than physical travel.
I THINK YOU KNOW was
another Punishment Song. We liked to keep bashing out the last two chords
for a couple of minutes, Buzzcocks-style, a bit like a punk mantra. Punishment
never felt so good.
I wish I could re-record A
PLACE IN THE SUN because I didn't finish writing the lyrics until we'd
played it live for a while. I altered the final verse (on the record, a repeat
of the first) to provide some gender balance. For the sake of "closure"
(ahem!), here they are "Hey, boy / Relax and enjoy / We're not hurting
anyone. / Don't fight / and get uptight / When you could be in the sun / Like
everyone." There. I feel better now. Thank you.
I recently per-formed CASTLES
IN THE AIR at a friend's wedding and for the first two verses it seems
like an ironic choice, to say the least, but luckily it all makes sense by
the end. I'm glad someone understood what I was driving at because the lyrics
did take me a long time, off and on (please don't say it sounds like it).
'Crank' was the only album we made entirely outside
of Sydney. Usually album sessions were an opportunity for some quality "home"
time and a respite from touring but the experience of being Los Angeles residents
for a few months was great. THE RIGHT TIME was
originally conceived to be just one of a suite of songs, a mini-opera like
the Who's 'A Quick One...', as I strived to fulfill my Wagnerian masterplan
to revive the 70's concept album (c.f. Radiohead). Two other songs from 'Crank',
'Hypocrite Blues' and 'Gospel Train', also survive from the grand opus. 'The
Right Time' was intended as the theme for a female gang of motorcycle hellcats,
but of course that's obvious.
YOU OPEN MY EYES found
Brad taking over lead vocal duties on a Hoodoo Gurus single. Though Brad had
sung on every album since 'Mars
' this was the first time that people
started crying out, "It's a hit!" (or were they saying, "that's
our Hitler!"?) The video was pretty spectacular and was the most expensive
of our career even though we were charged a fraction of its true cost - thanks,
Many bands on tour have been frustrated trying to
avoid a current annoying radio hit (not their own, though the ever-modest
Gurus would) or some "classic rock" track that had been flogged
within an inch of its life (as those responsible should have been). For us,
that song was Boston's 'More Than A Feeling' and LESS
THAN A FEELING was our response, here represented in its rare Stadium
Rock version. Radio stations do still play our music but, then, that's just
NOBODY was the last
single from 'Crank' and was one of the few somber moments on a very uptempo
record. I'm ashamed to admit that one of my proudest moments during the sessions
came on the last day when I got the all-time top score on the studio pinball
machine - the same machine that can be heard on 'Form A Circle' (Did I hear
someone at the back say, "keep a straight line!"?).
JUDGEMENT DAY is a
might-have-been single and one of the best songs that Brad and I wrote together.
Neither of us has been "born again" so the biblical tone of the
lyrics is meant to be taken with a pillar of salt and is only for the purpose
of metaphor (You know, that secret society Metaphor).
'Blue Cave' or strictly speaking, 'In Blue Cave'
was a rewarding experience. We found ourselves back with Charles Fisher, the
producer of 'Mars
' and it seemed that amongst the band there was a new
level of musical communication though how we ever thought that BIG
DEAL was a single is beyond me now. I guess the word "commercial"
didn't enter the equation. Some credit must go to our record company for indulging
us in our desire to inflict another Punishment Song on an unwary public.
WAKING UP TIRED was
yet another Brad/Dave collaboration and the song became a rally call for insomniacs.
We'd like to apologise now to all those working stiffs who have been cruelly
awakened by this song courtesy of malicious Breakfast Radio d.j.s.
QUICKSAND was originally
intended for 'Crank' but, as often happens today's album track becomes tomorrow's
b-side - a bit like old stock in a department store: you can pick up some
bargains. There was a live-to-air recording of this song which captured the
energy better (available on 'Bite The Bullet - The Director's Cut', an Australia-only
3cd set I highly recommend if you can find it) but his version has a bit more
"crunch". Toothpicks optional.
I wrote IF ONLY
whilst on tour in Brazil and used every "ool" rhyme in the book
(but mercifully not "school"). It's one of those morning-after-the-night-before
songs, the sort of feeling usually expressed by the immortal Homer Simpson
as "D'oh!". Amateur guitarists note: the verses are based around
the open E chord played upon the 12th, 5th, 2nd (minor) and 4th fret positions.
According to my royalty statements (not as glamourous
as it sounds) 'Down On Me' received a bit of airplay in the U.K. whereas Brazil
favoured NIGHT MUST FALL. This was written after
hearing of the life-threatening illnesses of two close friends who have since
died. At the time of 'Blue Cave's recording only Philip had succumbed but,
sadly, I can now say: Wendy Wild, this one's for you too. It was a difficult
song to write and harder to sing but it has helped me deal with the incomprehensible
fact of their passing.
DOWN ON ME is notable
for its lack of chordal variation, well, even less than usual. I hope to one
day write a song that is melodic but only contains one chord. Less is more,
more or less.
We knew A HARD DAY'S NIGHT
without ever having learned it: one night on stage Brad played the distinctive
opening chord which I then recognized and so chime in with, "It's been
" and all at once the whole band launched into a respectable
rendition of this fab Beatles fave, as if we'd been playing it for years.
We didn't trying it again until a couple of weeks later during a live-to-air
concert in the Sydney studios of JJJ FM. So here it is: live, completely unrehearsed
and not too shabby, even if I do say so myself.
Before the band finished we decided to play a final
Australian tour which we called 'Spit The Dummy', a local expression that
loosely translates as "throwing in the towel", and we ended up recording
a few new songs for a retrospective compilation, 'Electric Chair'. GENE
HACKMAN is (naturally) a tribute to a fine actor but also to the Ramones,
while THE REAL DEAL was our final "declaration
of principles". Both songs were collaborations with Brad and are among
my personal highlights of our career. The fact that they were our last studio
recordings makes that even more satisfying.
The Hoodoo Gurus did countless tours of Australia,
the U.S. and Canada, explored Europe from Finland to Spain, Japan (once) and
Brazil (twice) but I rate the final 'Spit the Dummy' tour as the best we did;
Personally, professionally and especially, musically. Most bands become enemies
when they finish, if not before, but I'm happy to say that wasn't the case
with us. 'The Real Deal' and the goodbye tour proved to me there was "still
some juice left in the orange". Peel slowly and see.