Almanac Music: Aussie Album Review – Skyhooks ‘Living in the 70’s’







In the midst of listening to this year’s wonderfully diverse range of new Australian music releases, as is my wont I have also taken the time to revisit a large number of local albums from the past. Recently, I stumbled upon Skyhooks’ 1974 release Living In The Seventies, an album to which I had not listened for many years. What a joy it has been to reacquaint myself with this seminal recording, and what a pleasure it is to acknowledge just what a classic it is. For when Skyhooks were at their peak, I was a mere primary school student, too young to investigate and appreciate any styles of music which veered from my parents’ tastes. I distinctly recall that, to my child’s eyes and ears, Skyhooks appeared to be a bunch of oddballs who looked and sounded distinctly different from the usual.


The Skyhooks’ debut album kicks off with the title track and also contains the hit Horror Movie, which both remain prime examples of just how keen an observer of social issues was the eye of chief songwriter and bassist Greg Macainsh. His lyrics could also be wry (You just Like Me ‘cos I’m Good in Bed) and at times sarcastic (Whatever Happened to the Revolution?), but Macainsh also had the uncanny ability to tell a story inside four minutes (Balwyn Calling). He was a gifted songwriter. Over the years, much has been made – rightly – of the references to Melbourne locations littered throughout his songs. In mid-70’s Australia, this was rare for a local band, and it was certainly one of the facets which set Skyhooks apart from the crowd.


However, to look back at this album only through the prism of its winking acknowledgement of ‘Australiana’ would be to overlook how just musically fine a record Living In The Seventies is. Quite apart from the strength of the songs and their social impact (a number of the tracks were at various stages banned from airplay), the irreverence on display in their garish costumes – perfect for the early Countdown era – often distracted from just how good this band was musically. I suspect that even contemporaneous views of the band may well have overlooked this aspect of the band dynamic. Red Symonds’ latter-day antics on Hey Hey It’s Saturday and his lengthy period as a host on breakfast radio have somewhat overshadowed the fact that he was a superb guitarist and genuine musical talent. Along with Bob Starkie, he formed one of the finest Australian guitar pairings. The riffing on You Just Like Me…, Balwyn Calling, and especially Carlton (Lygon St Limbo) still sounds superbly vital today.


A charismatic, affable, and likeable front man, Graeme “Shirley” Strahan was a much better singer than he was given credit for. It is notable that he had only been in the band for three months when this album was recorded, which is quite extraordinary given how seamlessly he slotted into the whole Skyhooks show. Of course, when listening to Shirley now it is difficult not to contemplate his tragic early death. Freddie Strauks was an excellent drummer, with many of the tracks retaining a driving beat, and I suspect that the aforementioned Macainsh could have played any instrument which was thrust in front of him. He surely should be regarded as important a figure as anyone in Australian popular music?


This is a “guitar” album right down to its bootstraps, dominated by the interplay between Symonds and Starkie. On Side 2, the record loses a little of its momentum, not the least because the latter tracks are not as well-known nor as often played on the airwaves as those on Side 1. I dare say that Symonds’ controversial Smut has rarely been heard on the airwaves. But it is true that the title track and Horror Movie are regularly played on “classic hits” radio to this day. And why not, for they remain excellent musical statements.


So I am calling for some greater appreciation of Skyhooks, even though the promise of this debut recording was probably never realized. Indeed, in little more than two years after this release, Symonds would be gone, and with him the glam look would be ditched in favour of a more hard-rock feel. But this album and the follow-up Ego is Not A Dirty Word are the work of an energetic young band at the top of its game and still merit a listen today.



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About Darren Dawson

Always North.


  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    My very first album Smokester. I even wrote a letter to the Advertiser editor when their performance at Memorial Drive in 1975 was not received with universal acclaim.

    They were prolific and hard-working ( and all of those things you said. They didn’t translate well overseas and were a bit lost upon their return from the US, dialling up the thoughtful, but generally forgetting the tuneful.

    They had a crack with Women In Uniform, which was brilliant but too little, too late.

    I’ve said this a few times, but it all fell to pieces the night I saw them at The Tivoli in Feb 1978 (with Air Supply in attendance), a pale facsimile of their early days.

    I loved them until I didn’t.

    PS – Jukebox In Siberia was an abomination.

  2. What an album Smokie.

    It reached number 1, as did their follow up album, ‘Ego is not a dirty word’.

    Yep six, or was it seven were banned from airplay: the two singles, Lygon calling, and was there another one?

    Skyhooks sung about Melbourne, this during a time when Australian bands would release singles like Arkansas Grass, St Louis, with singers often singing with an American twang. A contemporary of Skyhooks, the Dingoes, were another band who spoke about Australia but Skyhooks sung about life in Melbourne, our second biggest city. 90% of Australians live in urban areas, Skyhooks acknowledged, celebrated this.

    Greg Macainish was a great song writer; where did he finish up? Of course Red Symons was a integral part of Melbourne life for many years. The disservice the ABC did removing him from the 05-30 time slot, replacing him with pap has been to the detriment of us.

    Skyhooks were a great band Smokie, this album setting the way to some classic music.


  3. I remember the great divide at primary school Smokie. Sherbet fans to one side (the girls) and Skyhooks the other side (the boys). One of greatest Australian albums ever.

  4. All very good comments, thanks all.

  5. Luke Reynolds says

    Great piece Smokie on one of the very best and most important Australian albums of all time.

    Further to Swish’s comment, “Jukebox In Siberia” was the song that introduced 11 year old me to this wonderful band in 1990. A song that while I acknowledge now is far from their finest work and hasn’t aged well at all, means a lot as my introduction to the band, which then led to me buying every Skyhooks album on CD in the 1990’s. Of all these albums, “Living in the 70’s” holds up best of all. It’s a masterpiece and I love every song. Even “Smut”. All 11 tracks still freshly burst out of the speaker.

    I always enjoy any words on Red’s prowess on the guitar. He was a magnificent, technical guitarist as well as a must watch character in the band.

    How good is the album cover. The essence of Shirl absolutely spot on.

    Skyhooks are the number 1 band on my list of bands I wish I’d seen but will never be able to.

    RIP Shirl.

  6. Luke Reynolds says

    PS- correct about the wonderfully diverse range of new Australian music releases this year. So much good work being released in this country.

  7. “Important” is a great descriptor, Crackers.

  8. Smokie- great words and analysis of such an important band and one of Australia’s most vital records. For me, Carlton is as evocative and celebratory of place now as it was then. While not every track has aged as well as some it’s a record that certainly marked a time when we began to value our own stories and settings.

    Truth be told I’ve always preferred Ego, but their first four albums offer some wonderful song writing and Shirl is as fine a frontman as ever grabbed a mike in this country.


  9. When at a concert I loathe it when the crowd claps along as it’s mostly poorly done but I love crowd singing. ‘All My Friends Are Getting Married’ from Skyhooks’ Live in the 80s features my favourite example of this. It’s tuneful, euphoric and shows the great affection they have for the song and band. Another indicator of their significance!

  10. Thanks, Mickey. Some interesting observations there

  11. Excellent (and necessary) piece Smokie. I grew up in the 80s but Skyhooks songs were still very well known by kids my age. When Jukebox came in out in ’90 I purchased the compilation it appeared on – there was another great new song called ‘Tall Timber’ which was about the tall poppy syndrome. Really enjoyed the album, although I did think they could ‘over-do’ a chorus.

  12. Hi Smoke, good reflection. Growing up Skyhooks were one of the Aussie bands that mattered. And their use of local places was critical to their success. Certainly, from faraway Perth the sense of what Melbourne was was based on only a handful of indicators and they included Homicide and Skyhooks. The wit of their songs was another highlight. Shirl was critical and of course, Macainsh’s insightful observations, fuelled as they were by the burgeoning Carlton theatre scene including La Mama and The Pram Factory. Which was more of a frame for their “glam” look than whatever was happening in the UK music scene. However, I don’t think the album as a ra set of songs holds up over time. Smut is a novelty song and that ages a song immediately. The best songs stand significantly higher than the rest. Song arrangements are a little bit obvious and I never went to Skyhooks for their musicality or guitar lines. I agree with MR, Ego is a better record but it also highlights their limitations. All of which means not much at all, Skyhooks were damn good for their time and have at least 10 songs across their records which stand up still. As we now know, coming down the pipe at the same time or a minute later were ACDC, Cold Chisel, The Saints, Radio Birdman, The Scientists, Oils and then a whole bunch more. What role did Skyhooks play in paving the way for Australian music to get large? I reckon they were a significant landmark and that’s a pretty good legacy. Cheers

  13. Many of the people who grew up listening to Living In The ’70s are now living in their 70s. That some of the songs from the album still stand the test of time is a testament to the endurance of the album. (Bearing in mind, as ever, the current, the tide, the irresistible rip that is nostalgia.) Thank you, Smokie, for placing the album in the context of your introduction: ‘In the midst of listening to this year’s wonderfully diverse range of new Australian music releases…’

  14. Kevin Densley says

    Interesting, Smokie – thanks for this piece. It made me think of other issues associated with this landmark album – for a start, how dark, cynical and often dystopian (‘Horror Movie’) it is, overall – as well as the extent to which women depicted in the songs are represented as predatory, for example ‘Balwyn Calling’. Also, I think Skyhooks were pretty fine, musically, better than many other Australian bands around at the time – Red’s intricate, often wittily-styled guitar work (e.g. ‘Toorak Cowboy’), Macainsh’s busy, inventive bass playing, and Freddie Strauks’ precise, technically skilled drumming were all fundamental.

    Actually, there’s so much one could say about Living in The 70s, but it requires further thought, I feel, so I’ve just put down some initial thoughts. I may save a full-length review of my own for a later time.

  15. Thanks for your comments, Damo, Rick, Vin, KD.

    Much to consider in your musings. On the whole it is hard to disagree.

    But I do like the fact that this review has stirred many memories and emotions.

  16. Matt O’HANLON says

    Great article on a magnificent album. I dusted it off and played it yesterday. In our household growing up my 1 year older sister and 1 year younger brother (catholic family of course) had a regular battle of the bands – my sister was sherbert and my brother was Hush. I was Skyhooks. From their first appearance on countdown playing Horror Movie I thought they were great. They also improved my geography being a kid from central Queensland- had to look up what a toorak cowboy was. Bit different to the bull riingers at the Lakes Creek!

  17. Roger lowrey says

    Love your work Smokie even though I was intermittently drunk, stoned or otherwise concupiscent to fully appreciate it all. Loved the band heaps. Heard them live many times. RDL

  18. Kevin Densley says

    RDL, when you were intermittently any or all of the things you mentioned above, I hope you were at no time wearing the erstwhile distinctive red blazer of your college. (Ha!)

  19. Roger Lowrey says

    Not at all KD. My concupiscent mode came well after Chanel College and certainly after the Marist Fathers’ seminary. I am a year or two older than you comrade. Thanks for your concerns nonetheless. RDL

  20. Mick Jumpertz says

    Great reflections Smokie.

    For me Skyhooks we’re the first band that grabbed me. The guitar interplay between Bob and Red was a highlight and Bob’s current Skyhooks shows (definitely worth seeing) showcase this almost 50 years later. Macainsh’s songs and bass playing were top notch and still sound great.

  21. Richard Griffiths says

    Excellent review of this seminal album that captured the essence of suburban life in Melbourne in the mid seventies. I hadn’t listened to Living in the Seventies and Ego for about 20 years until I stumbled across a Skyhooks Box Set in my garage that must have been released in the early 90’s. It reaffirmed what great musicians they were and the brilliance of Greg Macainsh.

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