Songs | MelbourneWe have long wondered how many songs have been inspired by our marvellous Melbourne with lyrics about suburbs, place names and objects.
Anyone growing up in Melbourne remembers Balwyn Calling from Skyhooks or Who hasn't waited for a loved one Under The Clocks but how many other songs are there?
Articles by Patrick Donovan and Shaun Carney [The Age] show there are many great songs that fit the bill so the quest begins: Songs of Melbourne
Music greats rally for guitar legend Lobby Loyde
August 26, 2006
SKYHOOKS' Greg Macainsh is credited with being one of the first people to write songs about Melbourne.
He overcame the cultural cringe that had held many songwriters back and proudly placed his hedonistic tales in suburbs such as Toorak, Carlton and Balwyn on the band's 1974 debut album, Living in the 70s.
But Lobby Loyde preceded him by some seven years in the Wild Cherries song That's Life.
" That's Life is certainly the first local rock song to mention Melbourne in the lyrics," says the author of the Encyclopedia of Rock and Pop, Ian McFarlane.
But Loyde appears to be a reluctant resident in the line: "Melbourne is a big, big city/So it looks like I have to stay."
Loyde, who has lung cancer, may perform the song at his sold-out benefit concert at the Palace in St Kilda on Tuesday. The Wild Cherries are reforming for the occasion, alongside a who's who of Australian rock, including Madder Lake, Wendy Saddington, the Masters Apprentices and Jimmy Barnes.
Loyde was preceded by Frankie Davidson, who mentioned Melbourne in some of his late-1950s recordings and Lucky Starr, who referenced Victorian towns in I've Been Everywhere in 1962. And, of course, there was the theme from the Ava Gardner and Gregory Peck film about the end of the world, On the Beach, shot in Melbourne in 1959.
"With Australian songwriters, you can almost put it into two camps - BM (before Macainsh) and AM (after Macainsh)," said rock historian Glenn A. Baker.
"But in terms of a rock band doing a real rock song without a novelty component, Lobby is up there with That's Life.
"Axiom were another band that put local placenames in unselfconsciously. And there were surf songs, like Stompin' at Maroubra by Little Patti and even the Beach Boys namechecked Narrabeen beach in Surfin' USA in 1963."
But Baker does not believe that songwriters abstained because of cultural cringe.
"I once asked George Young why he wrote a song about St Louis when I don't think he had even been there. He said in his Scottish brogue, 'Because it sings well'. Mordialloc may not 'sing' so well. But in Macainsh's hands, Melbourne placenames sang very well indeed."
Songs of Melbourne - The Age
Who hasn't waited for a loved one Under The Clocks? Who could deny Paul Kelly's genuine Melbourne sensibility? Remember the Kingston Hotel in Richmond in the swinging late-'70s? Or is it best forgotten?
Flat, dowdy, grey, conservative. Beaches like bathtubs. A river that's really a creek flowing upside down. Too cold in winter and too hot in summer. Let's face it: Melbourne isn't beautiful or majestic.
That's why so many of us love it, of course. It's what's inside that counts. In Melbourne, you learn to make your own fun. That's why artists going all the way back to the Heidelberg school have found it inspiring. Their paintings were mostly of mundane scrub or creek banks, but it was one detail - the light - that rendered the place special.
Urban, contemporary Melbourne, with its long, stretching vistas of suburbs and bitumen, a burgeoning and seemingly unstoppable leisure diet of coffee and focaccia, and a music scene that remains lively in the face of television, videos, DVDs, the internet and the iPod, is a place that more than any other Australian city has found its way into popular song.
But the sentiments of these songs are not sweeping celebrations. There is no "Melbourne, you're a rollicking town, I want to see your glistening bay and your Station Pier" lyric. Instead, it's the little pieces of life in the city that have occupied our songwriters since it became OK to talk about our own town in song.
One man more than any other made it possible. Greg Macainsh's time at the forefront of the public imagination was brief. After four years at or near the top of the charts with his band Skyhooks, the hits - and Macainsh's unique well of creativity - pretty much dried up.
But with little more than half a dozen songs, including Balwyn Calling, Carlton and Toorak Cowboy, all on Skyhooks' first album released 30 years ago almost to the day, Macainsh managed to achieve something that most artists can only dream of.
He claimed his hometown as an interesting, amusing and, most important of all, acceptable lyrical subject, and in doing so opened the way for an entire genre: the Melbourne song.
In itself, this was a revelation. There had previously been a few attempts at songs employing local themes. Col Joye's backing band the Joy Boys scored a hit in the early '60s with an instrumental named after the interstate train the Southern Aurora, and pioneering Melbourne rocker-turned-country artist Johnny Chester used the Hume Highway as an escape route from bad love in 1969's Highway 31.
One tongue-in-cheek piece by a male vocal group in the late '60s that got a little radio airplay had compared Melbourne's attractions with Sydney ("Sydney's got its harbour but we've got Melbourne Bitter") and in 1972 a comedy song about the Dandenong Ranges had made the lower reaches of the charts ("I go way up, up Upwey").
But until Skyhooks' arrival, there was a sort of unease about whether local place names were cool enough to use in song. In 1972, Brian Cadd was one of Australia's biggest artists and the opening line to his hit song Ginger Man - "She wrote to me from Texas" - caused a good deal of controversy.
Why, some music writers asked, did he place his songs in America? Cadd, who had already penned several hits as part of the Groop and then Axiom, whose first hit was Arkansas Grass in 1969, defended his choice of American localities on the grounds that Australian place names, such as Wagga Wagga, did not sound right when laid over a pop melody.
Macainsh got around that problem by making his Melbourne songs social documents about specific aspects of the city. He dwelt on the details and as a consequence introduced a genuine folk element into Australian rock.
In Carlton, he wrote of "pizza places" and the "spaced-out faces" of the suburb's student population. In Toorak Cowboy he parodied aimless rich loafers and reported his first purchase of marijuana in 1968 - a whole matchbox-full outside the once-trendy South Yarra Arms hotel.
A few years later, James Reyne followed Macainsh's lead by name-checking one of Melbourne's premier music venues, Bombay Rock in Brunswick, in Australian Crawl's first hit, Beautiful People (he also spoofed the beautiful people in Toorak for being excessive by riding $200 bikes in the park, which tells us something about inflation).
And so it goes: Stephen Cummings reminds us that Russell Street used to be where all the detectives worked in (Boys) What Did The Detectives Say?; Paul Kelly moves the locale of To Her Door from Brisbane to Melbourne by placing a character in a Silver Top taxi.
If pop music has any real, lasting value beyond the ephemeral and passing pleasure it can bring, it lies in its ability to hold up a mirror to its devotees, to reflect the world in which the singer and the listener live.
The songs listed here will take you from Maroondah Reservoir to Flinders Street Station, through Albert Park to St Kilda and across to Footscray, then down a series of back lanes and even to a suburban home where the phone has a seemingly interminable connection to a young lovelorn woman in Balwyn.
Melbourne, they're playing your song. - Shaun Carney
"We were living nearby at the time,and my wife, Deb, was pregnant with our first boy, Henry, and we'd go for lots of walks.
"With the song, I tried to capture the feeling of Gasworks Park (in Port Melbourne) at night - windswept and cold. "There's a tension there because you don't always feel safe walking through an open space at night."
"When I first came to Melbourne, I wrote a lot of songs about Melbourne, but they didn't end up anywhere. I guess, once you've been in an environment for a while, you start to look for different things besides what initially captured your eye." - Jeff Jenkins
Songs on 3UZ were not awash with local references when Melbourne rock'n'roll pioneer Johnny "Ches" Chester presented their midnight to dawn shifts in 1969.
Country music was more likely to celebrate Australian landmarks in song, and it was in this spirit that Chester started humming a tune on a Saturday night drive to Seymour 25 years ago.
"I was doing a show with my band at the time, Jigsaw," he remembers. "I was heading up the highway and I started noticing all these '31' signs. By the time I got to Seymour I had this idea in my head, so I sat down outside the hall and scribbled as much as I could on a brown paper bag.
"I did the show, drove back to Melbourne and I still had the melody in my head so I thought, 'That's got to be a good sign.' "
Melbourne isn't specifically mentioned in Highway 31, but if you follow the geography, you can't help but see it in the rearview mirror: "I got a lift to Seymour with a sympathetic friend, I told her that I had no wish to stay."
"It was a fella leaving his lady, taking off up the highway," Chester says. "It traced the towns on Highway 31 from Melbourne to Sydney."
The song made the Top 40 in Melbourne and Brisbane. "It probably would have in Sydney, too," says Chester, "except that instead of just playing the song, Lawsy (John Laws) was reading an advertisement over the top of it for a used-car dealer who was on the highway." - Michael Dwyer
STEPHEN CUMMINGS - The Sports 'It's about kids hanging around . . . You would see a lot of the same faces being picked up by the police'
Last House On The Left
"Melbourne is a city divided by a river. The river also divided sensibilities. In the middle '70s, in my mind you either lived in the north or south. Most of my friends lived north of the city - Fitzroy, Carlton, Brunswick. Then I moved to Elwood and St Kilda where the rents were kind of cheaper and the atmosphere was different.
"There was more air, there was a beach, big old buildings. Houses with gardens. So the song is about starting a new life across the other side."
The Sports played a lot at the Kingston Hotel in Richmond. It was the scene hotel of Melbourne in the middle '70s. It was an inner city pub where a lot of students, lecturers and art deros, the flotsam and jetsam of inner city life, congregated. At one stage it seemed like every girl in Melbourne had henna-ed hair and bright red lipstick. The song was about just about those girls dancing. A snapshot of the time.
"Six weeks after we recorded and released it they all had safety pins in their noses and ripped jackets and Band-aids across their eyebrows.
(Boys) What Did the Detectives Say?
"It's about kids hanging around the city. You would see a lot of the same faces being picked up by the police. You didn't have to be doing anything. All the cop shows of the day like Homicide and Division 4 featured Russell Street police station so it was a recognised Melbourne landmark. The Sports played in Pentridge a few times where I'd see some of the familiar faces I saw hanging around the steps of Flinders Street or outside the Town Hall. Russell Street was significant because after you'd finish a gig at Bananas or some other hell-hole at 3am, Stalactites was just down the road from the police station and it was the only place you could get something to eat." - Chris Beck
MICK THOMAS - 'Everyone has these places in the heart'
'My girlfriend says to me, 'You grew up in Geelong and the world thinks you grew up upstairs at Young and Jacksons.' I do have this funny feeling about Melbourne. Napoleon was from Corsica and Adolph Hitler was from Austria. They were people who assumed the place. I've been working with the Vandas, a band from Adelaide and they've moved to Melbourne in the winter and they are having the best time. It's like when you go to a place and you love it so much you wouldn't know what season it was. But I also wrote a song called Saturday Night in Halifax, which is set in Canada. It was about if you go out on the grog with your mates in a disco you may as well be in Preston as in Halifax. It's no different. Halifax, for me became synonymous with far-flung just as Under the Clocks became synonymous with home.
Under the Clocks
"My parents had a really loving relationship. They talked about meeting under the clocks a real lot. It's about meeting someone and being happy about being in a place."
"It's just a place in the heart. I moved with my schoolyard sweetheart from Geelong into Brunswick. Everyone has these places in the heart. I just think it was the first place in Melbourne that I came to. My dad used to say, 'Your Auntie Amy used to be a school teacher in Brunswick, it's not a nice place, Mick.' You write about places as they become special to you." - Chris Beck
PAUL KELLY - 'I walked two miles in Melbourne rain, I could have walked 10 more'
The most significant moment in any artist's career is when they cast off the perceptions of others like a suit of old clothes and produce an original work.
I have always fancied that in Paul Kelly's case that moment was From St Kilda to King's Cross. Why? Because, as a song, it's genuinely different. It's not, for example, a pretty tune; it bumps along like the bus trip it describes. The lyrics are specific in their references to place - in my book, always a good sign - and there's an image that's highly poetic but in an appealingly low-key sort of way ("And if the rain don't fall too hard, everything shines/Just like a postcard"). There's also that undercurrent of hardness that distinguishes Kelly's art.
Comparisons are odious but if there is one respect in which Paul Kelly reminds me of Bob Dylan, it's that he doesn't feel obliged to be nice or to forever write about love. This song has a warning about fair-weather friends being the hungriest friends and describes the mysterious way he deals with them. "I keep my mouth well shut, I cross their open hands." The songs ends with the mildly radical assertion that he prefers St Kilda Esplanade to Sydney Harbour. I'm always drawn to artists who resist the epicentres of fashion.
In a recent interview on Andrew Denton's television show Enough Rope, Kelly said songs often come from other songs and cited From St Kilda. His point was that when it comes to songwriting originality is not always what it appears. Nonetheless, when I listen to From St Kilda to King's Cross, I hear a young artist who is on his way. If I had to describe the song in one word, I'd say "virile".
From St Kilda was the first song on Kelly's greatest hits album. Leaps and Bounds, his paean to footy and the MCG, was the second. It's not his only MCG song. Behind the Bowler's Arm is well worth a listen particularly if you, like the singer, have had "a hard, hard year/pushing shit uphill", and want to forget yourself in the excitement of a top game at the G.
But the earlier song is the more complete work, conveying the excitement of a small boy running through autumn leaves to the stadium in a way that's free of sickly sentiment. This sounds like a simple enough achievement but it's not. It requires firm artistic control, a sure touch, a sense of contrast which in Kelly's earlier work was assisted by the hard-edged guitar work.
Some years ago, when asked by a publisher for a few lines about Kelly's work, I wrote: "At its best, Paul Kelly's art is a meeting of opposites, a gift for melody and a gritty sense of reality. It's like seeing ribbons on a barbed wire fence." So much of Kelly's art seems to me to be based on opposites. He's a double-man, the soft presence with the hard truths, the man whose songs express religious meanings and the absence of meaning.
To Her Door, another of his Melbourne songs, is one of his classics. An artist once spoke to me at length about a painting he admired of people observing a 19th-century military engagement, his point being that the painting was about war but there was none of the actual war in it. The same is true of To Her Door. The real story, surely, is what happens when the man gets inside his former wife's door. But that's what we never learn. What we are told about is the character's apprehension as he prepares for the attempted reunion and the background to the break-up.
Kelly has an eye for small but telling details. In Leaps and Bounds, it's "the clock on the silo says 11 degrees". In To Her Door, it's the brand of the cab in which the character makes his nervous journey from Spencer Street station (Southern Cross Station), all the while asking himself, "Did they have a future? Would he know his children? Could he make a picture and get them all to fit?" These are my favourite Paul Kelly lines and not, as some might assume, because of their family feel.
Making a picture - of family, of community, of nation - and getting all the pieces to fit is what some of us are trying to do all the time. It's just that most of us would need an essay to state our aim and he did it in 11 words.
When I First Met Your Ma is a love song with a difference. The passion is heart-felt and could even be described as pure ("I walked two miles in Melbourne rain, I could have walked 10 more"), but the song is not being sung to the woman. It's to the child the woman had with the singer before they parted, thus leading to the refrain: "Love like a bird flies away/you'll find out the only way." The song has not one centre but two.
Paul Kelly's gift to Melbourne has been four of his best songs.- Martin Flanagan
DAME NELLIE MELBA - 'When I stand on the platform of the town hall I shall feel the greatest emotion of my whole life'
A musical trivia question: if the girl born Helen Porter Mitchell in 1861 hadn't later changed her name to Nellie Melba, would her fame still have reached such dizzy heights? Answer: probably, though her international association with her home town - Melbourne - would not have been as strong. Try to imagine Sinatra calling himself Franky Hoboken or The King performing as Elvis Tupelo.
Melba played the patriotic card wisely and well. Despite the best efforts of some local muckrakers she never packed up to live permanently in exile. "If you wish to understand me at all," she once proclaimed, "you must understand first and foremost that I am an Australian." It was a new country; she was its first star on the world stage.
Her triumphant homecoming tour in 1902 was like Kylie, Nicole and Elle rolled into one. And she milked it for all it was worth, declaring: "I know that when I stand on the platform of the Melbourne Town Hall for my first concert I shall feel the greatest emotion of my whole life." Her appearances were sensations. Her songs ranged from Handel's Sweet Bird, in which she could show off her vocal gymnastics in imitation of a nightingale, to arias by Mozart and Verdi and the mad scene from Donizetti's opera Lucia Di Lammermoor.
But the show-stopper, often the encore, was Home, Sweet Home. Her habit was to accompany herself on piano when she sang it, invariably reducing many in the audience to sobs. It became a signature tune; one of her most common requests. She sang it into a telephone microphone in 1920 for Britain's first international wireless broadcast. It was no accident that Dame Joan Sutherland, her lineal descendant as an Australian diva, also sang Home, Sweet Home as an encore in her farewell shows in 1990.
Melba in Melbourne singing Home, Sweet Home is a masterpiece of programming. But the wonderful thing about the song is that it gets a cheer (or tears) anywhere. Part of Melba's appeal lay in her willingness to perform what people wanted to hear. Her concerts and recordings, by and large, were all greatest hits packages.
She stuck with some songs throughout her long career. Her first recital, at the Richmond Town Hall when she was six, included Comin' Thro' the Rye - a favourite of her father, a whiskery Scot. This - like Home, Sweet Home and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot - became a perennial. But Home was the one she could always rely on.
Although born in Richmond, she regarded Lilydale as home turf. Her father had been a shire councillor and owned the limestone quarry there. In 1909 she bought her property at Coldstream, close to Lilydale.
In 1902, Lilydale had greeted her as "The Divine Songstress whose Magic Tones have attracted a universal admiration and commanded the highest appreciation" - which, to her, was no more than she deserved. Performances of Home anywhere near Lilydale couldn't fail.
One biography describes her spotting a local farmer near the end of a concert at Coldstream. She asked him for a request; he opted for Home. Later, greeting him warmly, she told him: "I thought you'd have blisters on your hands, the way you clapped."
But in some ways it was all a glorious con-job. Lyrics for the song that is now a musical cliche were written by John Howard Payne, an American. Payne was many things: an actor; playwright; and diplomat. But he tends to be remembered, if at all, only for Home, Sweet Home.
Home is wonderfully simple: 11 lines with an elementary rhyming pattern. There's delicious irony in the thought of Melba - feted on several continents, a sucker for royalty and titles, and the proud owner of a country estate - taking a deep breath and beginning:
Mid pleasures and palaces,
Tho' we may roam;
Be it ever so humble,
There's no place like home . . .
It was never really a Melbourne song. But intrinsic to Melba's art was an ability to transport audiences to wherever she wanted them to be. Besides, home is where the heart is. And the former Helen Porter Mitchell always thought of herself as a Melbourne girl. - Alan Attwood is a Melbourne writer. Melba appears in his next novel.
GREG MACAINSH, Skyhooks - 'The songs had to be authentic, they had to be about places I'd actually been to'
"When the sun sets over Carlton
And you're out to make a deal
Check out who you're talkin' to
And make sure they are real"
-- Carlton (Lygon Street Limbo)
When the sun sets over Elwood, the man who put Melbourne on the songwriting map is at home, studying. Thirty years after the landmark Living In The 70s album, Skyhooks songwriter and bass player Greg Macainsh is doing a law degree.
"Really, the Trade Practices Act is just a different form of poetry," he laughs.
Billy Pinnell, who has worked in Melbourne radio for 45 years, says Macainsh's songs exploded the cultural cringe, opening ears to truly Australian songs.
"He broke down all the barriers," Pinnell says, "opening the door for Australian rock 'n' roll songwriters to write about local places and events. He legitimised Australian songwriting and it meant that Australians became themselves."
Macainsh wrote about his native land - the suburbs. His songs described the contemporary Australian experience without the obligatory kangaroo or wattle tree. These were songs about Carlton, not Oodnadatta. And they reflected that most of us were riding around in Valiants, not on brumbies.
Macainsh, now 54, says he didn't really know what he was doing. "It just made sense for me to write about the things I knew."
Greg Macainsh grew up in Warrandyte. His father had poems published in The Bulletin. His mother was a librarian. Macainsh was camping at a boy scouts' jamboree in Dandenong when he heard The Beatles' I Saw Her Standing There on the radio. "It was wild stuff, amazing," he says. "I lost interest in the scouts and concentrated on music. The little tranny had just hit. I listened to a valve radio at home and then to a crystal radio set I made for my bedroom. 3UZ was the station and Stan Rofe was the man."
At Norwood High School in Ringwood, Macainsh was captain of the softball team, "the team for wusses and misfits". He was almost expelled because of his long hair, but he refused to cut it. He bonded with a fellow student, Freddy Strauks, who became the singer in his first band, Spare Parts, and then the drummer in Skyhooks.
Macainsh's first "local" song documented him joining Eltham's version of the Grateful Dead, Reuben Tice. The song was I Went Down To Eltham To Get Me A Job In A Band.
His songwriting heroes were Chuck Berry, The Kinks' Ray Davies, and Bob Dylan. "They could all rattle off a place name, like Memphis or Waterloo Sunset or Muswell Hill. It gave their songs great mystique and the listener a sense of place. Later on, I thought I could do it in the Skyhooks, but it had to be real, it couldn't be twee or folky.
"The only other 'Australian' song I knew at the time was I've Been Everywhere, which had every Oodnadatta/Coolangatta/Wangaratta rhyme. It was a novelty song and I definitely didn't want to go in that direction."
Macainsh wanted to write about places that had "ethos and an atmosphere".
"And the songs had to be authentic, they had to be about places I'd actually been to. I was a bit sceptical about Arkansas Grass by Axiom because I'm not sure any of the guys had been to Arkansas. And the song's about the American Civil War and I was sure they hadn't been to the war."
Carlton, Balwyn and Toorak were the suburbs Macainsh wrote about on Living In The 70s. "They were the places I knew something about," he recalls. "With St Kilda, I hadn't spent a lot of time there by 1973 and 1974, so I couldn't really write about that."
Skyhooks' first gig was in Carlton, at St Jude's Church Hall in 1973. And Macainsh remembers many early-morning trips from Eltham to Johnny's Green Room in Faraday Street - the only place in Melbourne selling cigarettes at 2am.
Many people mistakenly thought that Balwyn Calling was about Macainsh's girlfriend, writer Jenny Brown, who grew up in Balwyn.
"I had another girlfriend from Balwyn, for a brief moment," Macainsh reveals. "I think the song speaks for itself. One thing you have to remember is that phone calls back then were far more significant than they are now. And not everyone had a phone. You'd ask people, 'Have you got the phone on?' So a phone call from someone in Balwyn was significant communication."
"Well, she mighta looked like a princess
Why'd you have to give her your address?
'Cause you ain't safe when you get home
She's gonna call you on the telephone"
Toorak Cowboy , meanwhile, which became one of six Living in the 70s tracks banned from radio, was written after one of Macainsh's girlfriends ran off with a guy from Toorak. The song refers to the Trak Cinema's supper show. "You could see a movie at 10 o'clock on a Friday night; it was a very groovy thing to do," Macainsh recalls. "And get your hair cut at Marini's." - Jeff Jenkins is the author of the Skyhooks' book Ego Is Not A Dirty Word.
DAVID BRIDIE - Let's Go Walk This Town
Born and bred in Melbourne, David Bridie has been acutely attuned to its atmosphere and landscape from Not Drowning Waving to My Friend The Chocolate Cake to his subsequent solo work.
John Cain Avenue and Thomastown are a couple of his most obvious urban references; Here Come the Sirens seems to gasp in the hot wind of summer and Come Around prowls the backstreets of Richmond. He also wrote an instrumental called Jimmy Stynes, after a player from his beloved Melbourne Football Club.
One of My Friend The Chocolate Cake's most recent songs almost offers an aerial view.
"Let's Go Walk This Town is all cathedrals and freeways - and bats," he says. "I've got this great green couch on the front verandah and the bats fly home right across my place every night. I really like 'em. And I like the fact that they go out and suck on the fruit trees in the eastern suburbs but they don't wanna sleep there."
Like many of Bridie's songs, Let's Go Walk This Town finds beauty and refuge in simple pleasures. With its muted atmosphere and ambling rhythm, the song seems to wear the Melbourne night like a cloak. "I think because Melbourne isn't as geographically beautiful as a lot of other cities, we haven't got the harbour or surf beaches, you tend to find beauty in more subtle things," he says. - Michael Dwyer
BILLY MILLER - Footscray
"Footscray, oh Footscray, you're the pearl of the south," Billy Miller sings, "I know cause I heard it from Ted Whitten's mouth. Not a hard place to get to, but hard to get out, I'll probably die here in Footscray."
Whether he's playing guitar in Dave Graney's band or in a Beatles cover band, Billy Miller will always be the guy from the Ferrets, the Melbourne band that had a hit with Don't Fall In Love in 1977.
But even by then he'd written hundreds of songs, great sheaves of them to sit in his piano stool unrecorded until a few years ago. He finally dusted off the best of them for his most recent CD, Elsternwick '69, which aptly describes the time and place of their origin.
"Six O'Clock Train is about a bloke going to meet his girlfriend at Elsternwick Station and he goes through all the stations on the Sandringham line from Richmond.
Me and my mate Gary (Adams) just used to write songs about what we were doing each day."
He dislikes American names in songs. "I remember when Axiom brought out Arkansas Grass. Stuff like that really pissed me off.
"Three ibis are flying down the Maribyrnong," he sings. "Cars on the Westgate will be home before long. In my backyard I'm singing this song, as the sun sets over Footscray." - Michael Dwyer
JAMES REYNE - 'I was just looking around at people who were putting on airs'
In the mid-1970s, James Reyne was living in a share house on Punt Road, South Yarra. He was a student at Monash University who spent most of his time playing drums in a rock trio called Archie Slammit and the Doors.
In terms of lifestyle, he was living worlds away from the vacuous Melbourne elite that he and co-writer Mark Hudson satirised in what became the first Australian Crawl single, Beautiful People. But the share house was just 200 metres from Toorak Road.
"As I still do when I'm writing, I was just looking around at people who were putting on airs," he says. "It's pretension. It's everywhere, probably even more now. There's a complete culture surrounding it now, magazines devoted to it. It was a much simpler time, 1975."
Reyne was inspired by Greg Macainsh. But he had also grown up with London's great West End musical comedy duo of the late '50s and '60s, Michael Flanders and Donald Swann.
"That line in Beautiful People 'The garden's full of furniture/The house is full of plants' is a direct rip-off of a song they wrote called Design for Living," Reyne says. "It's a brilliant song and it still stands up today."
The hip Melbourne venues mentioned in the song are not likely to mean much today, but Bombay Rock was a mecca for rock'n'rollers in the late '70s and early '80s. "We had a real glory period for a while there," Reyne says.
For Reyne, the perceived parallels between himself and his favourite subject matter would plague him for years.
From the Toorak Road spinster of Hoochie Gucci Fiorucci Mama to the Albert Park peacocks in My Day At The Beach, he's remained within easy swiping distance of Melbourne's rich.
"I went to a private school, I have an Australian-British background, born in Africa, so it reeks of British imperialism I guess. It all adds up to a perception, but because I was exposed to that world I suppose, I never wanted to be part of it.
"And there was also the fact that we came from Mount Eliza, which had the perception of being a Portsea sort of place. Then of course we went and made a video for Errol where we tried to take the piss out of ourselves by making a kind of Coke commercial. That all backfired, 'cause people thought we were serious."
For Australian Crawl, Beautiful People backfired within days of its first public airing on Countdown. For reasons known only to the ABC set designers, the band played draped in Hawaiian chic, on a stage strewn with inflated beach balls.
Reyne remembers Stephen Cummings telling him he thought the song was called Beautiful Beach Ball. But that wasn't the worst of it.
"The next week, we went down the dole office and the woman said, 'Hang on, I just saw you people on Countdown.' So we had to spend the next year paying back all this dole money." - Michael Dwyer
MARK SEYMOUR - This town 'is where I belong'
Film star Ava Gardner was famously misquoted in 1959, when she was alleged to have said "On The Beach is a story about the end of the world, and Melbourne sure is the right place to film it".
The invented slur is an entrenched part of Melbourne folklore, so it made a good starting point for Mark Seymour's song about the city's perceived doom - "surely not the place to make a movie/surely not the time to begin again", so goes the downbeat opening of his solo single of 1998, Home Again.
"It was written around '96, in the Kennett years," says the former singer of Hunters and Collectors. "It was a period of upheaval. We were going through a period of cultural turmoil. Melburnians were very much divided about the direction the city was going in, politically. There was a lot of tension and anxiety in the mood of the city. Things were definitely changing too fast for me."
Born in Benalla, Seymour moved to Melbourne as a 14-year-old. Home Again describes the memory of "perfect open spaces" transformed into a "town of shadows". The song paints an almost Orwellian picture with images of fearful and desperate faces hurrying between "a past that doesn't matter" and a future that's "a closely guarded secret".
The "demolition derby in the garden" is an obvious reference to the Grand Prix in Albert Park. The song's last verse offers the grim prediction that "sudden death is soon to be the biggest game in town", a reference to Crown Casino's advertising line.
"Sudden death is a gambling reference, something you associate with roulette. I actually thought gambling was gonna surpass football, which I don't think it has."
Seymour says he's very aware of how "the geography, the general ambience, the colour and the mood" of Melbourne influences his songwriting. The Hunters' best-known tune, Throw Your Arms Around Me, is about "a pilgrimage across town, running to this girl's house".
Another Hunters' song, January Rain, focuses on Flinders Street station. And Last Ditch Cabaret refers again to Crown Casino "a description of the Melbourne elite at play".
"I don't mind a party myself," he says, "but that level of narcissistic hedonism gets to me I suppose."
But so far, Home Again is Seymour's definitive Melbourne song. For him, it's an affirmation of the city's essential attraction beneath a changing veneer.
"The way the song is expressed is quite philosophical because I'm basically saying, 'This is where I belong, for better or worse,' " he says. "All of the close, important relationships of my life I've established in this town and they are more important to me than the landscape so I'm not gonna leave." - Michael Dwyer
THANKS TO: BRIAN DE COURCY, BILLY PINNELL, MICHAEL WITHEFORD, JO ROBERTS, IAN MUNRO, GUY RUNDLE, SHANE JESSE CHRISTMASS, SOPHIE BEST, MATTHEW HIGH AND JANE ROCCA
I'll always be a Melbourne girl - Vanessa Amorosi. In August 2002 Amorosi performed Shine I'll always be a Melbourne girl at the Manchester Commonwealth Games Hand-Over Ceremony.
Know of a song not mentioned above? Contact us and we will add it..
❊ Web Links ❊
→ Songs | Melbourne
→ Music greats rally for guitar legend Lobby Loyde - The Age
→ Songs of Melbourne
→ Songs About Melbourne (Unearthed Special) Triple J
→ List of songs about Melbourne - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
→ List of songs about Melbourne - Answers.com
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