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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.

LIKE,WOW-WIPEOUT was 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 during take-off.

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 road.

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, Kimble!

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 good taste.

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 a …" 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.

June, 2000

 

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