Almanac Music: Australia’s Best Song? (Discuss)

 

Of course, there could be many nominations in this category, but for what it’s worth, I’ll write about mine. (Or, at the very least, mine at the moment – one’s feelings can change with regard to matters such as this.) And let’s not get caught up in what defines “best” here – we all know the general meaning of the word. That said, I will put a time frame: 1950s onwards.

 

My choice for Australia’s best song is a ballad of luminous beauty.

 

Of purest feeling.

 

Of restlessness.

 

Incantatory.

 

Summery, quintessentially Australian:
“shout it to the blue summer sky.”

 

Tender, delicate poetry:
“I met you in high places /
I touched your hand and touched your feet.”

 

Of ephemerality:
“We may never meet again.”

 

There’s something elusively left-field about the lyrics, in that they are never quite what you expect them to be, and it’s often not immediately obvious what they are “about”. And like all good song lyrics, these are considerably the lesser without their musical accompaniment, because they only fully come to life with it. An example is the sublime chorus:

 

“We may never meet again /
So shed your skin and let’s get started /
You will throw your arms around me.”

 

Just the words alone may invite a “Huh?” from the reader.

 

But with the words AND music, my feeling is “YES! EXACTLY!”

 

Musically, nevertheless, the song is not complex, basically a three chord piece, but it works, which is of course what matters.

 

There’s only ever been one woman that I’ve had a song, “our song”, with – and this is that song. Funny thing was, this woman wasn’t an actual partner of mine, but a good friend of an ex-partner of mine.

 

This ex-partner and I – in a long-gone time – and this friend of hers and her partner were often together as a foursome, either at home dinners or at parties. Back then, every time ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’ was put on the CD player, which was often enough, the friend of my ex-partner and I would get up and dance to it, looking into each other’s eyes and singing the occasional line, in the presence of our then-partners, which understandably made them roll their own eyes a little, and feel a bit annoyed, though they trusted us and didn’t interfere.

 

The dance was all this friend of my ex-partner and I ever did, nothing more.

 

Somehow, our behaviour fitted in with the irresistible, unusual, and spell-like qualities of ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’, written by Hunters & Collectors (with major input from Mark Seymour, as I understand it), my nomination for Australia’s best song.

 

 

 

 

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About

Kevin Densley is a poet and writer-in-general. His work has appeared in print in Australia, the UK and the USA, as well as on many online venues. His fourth book-length poetry collection, Sacredly Profane, will be published by Ginninderra Press later in 2020. He is also the co-author of a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press.

Comments

  1. Eloquently explained, Kevin. It is a great song and you’ve compelled me to change my listening plan this morning. I started with Neil Young’s ‘Comes a time’ album and was going to go on to Simon and Garfunkel (about whom I’ve been reading this week). But now I’ll change to Mark Seymour’s solo ‘Daytime and the dark’ collection. I’ll have to think some more about my own selection for best song. A real challenge.

    And, as for what you’ve written about the people involved, what amazing trust from the two, non-dancing partners!

  2. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for your comments, Ian. I’m pleased I had an influence on the your musical selection this morning – and look forward to hearing your own nomination.

    And yes, our respective partners did show considerable trust – but it wasn’t misplaced.

  3. Colin Ritchie says

    Good choice Kevin, H&C have written some classic songs, I especially like ‘When the River runs Dry’. However my all time Aussie favourite is ‘Everlovin’ Man’ by The Loved Ones. Great band, great songs, and Gerry Humphreys sadly missed.And not far behind is one of our unsung musical heroes, Doug Ashdown with “Leave Love Enough Alone’. His ‘Winter in America’ album is 100% class.

  4. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for your reply, Colin. In it, you’ve mentioned some wonderful songs – and I certainly agree with you about Doug Ashdown; so much so, that I’ll have to listen to some of Ashdown’s work again really soon … maybe even today!

  5. Thanks Kevin. H&C certainly right up there. A song like Khe Sahn is widely scoffed because Triple M and the like play it even fifteen minutes, but if I’ve not heard it for a while and happen across it I’m staggered at how good it is musically and lyrically. Things sometimes become cliched and even self-parodying for highly positive reasons.

    However, I nominate How to Make Gravy by Paul Kelly.

  6. Kevin Densley says

    Cheers, Mickey. Yes, Khe Sahn is a great song no matter how much we hear it. As for How to Make Gravy, I just had another listen to it and it went close to bringing a tear to my eye – fabulous!

  7. Luke Reynolds says

    Kevin, ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’ is one of my very favourite tunes. So many great versions- the 1986 version from the album ‘Human Frailty’ is my favourite, the 1990 reworking of it by H & C is probably the best known version, Crowded House did it wonderfully well in several live shows while Mark Seymour has done many fantastic solo acoustic renditions.

    Forced to nominate from the many great Aussie tunes, I’m gong with ‘Sounds of Then’ by Ganggajang. It always sounds fresh and timeless to me, and quintessentially Australian.

    Have you had a listen to Mark Seymour’s new album “Slow Dawn”? It’s superb. His last two solo records are as good as any in his long career in my opinion.

  8. Who could forget Smokey Dawson’s many songs (me). How about Slim Dusty “Pub with no Beer”. Johnny O’Keefe with “She’s my Baby” and “Shout”. I know he has been disgraced but Rolf Harris’ “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport” is an absolute classic.

    Charlie Drake, who I believe was British, had a ripper about Australia (does that count) called “My Boomerang won’t Come Back” Story goes our indigenous people love it.

  9. DBalassone says

    Re ‘Khe Sahn’, what Mickey said. ‘Flame Trees’ still gets me too, particularly the key change part i.e. ‘Do you remember nothing stopped us on the field’.
    Is it too tacky of me to mention ‘Up There Cazaly’? The chorus just soars and gets me every time.
    Also concur with Mickey on ‘How to Make Gravy’, but also partial to ‘The Oldest Story in the Book’ and ‘Love Never Runs on Time’.
    Also fond of Shane Howard’s ‘Talk of the Town’ (Live in Ireland version) and more recently ‘Hymn to Love’. Also Perry Keyes and ‘Pauly Roberts Scores A Car’. And the Whitlams ‘Blow Up The Pokies’, ‘Charlie No. 1’, ‘The Curse Stops Here’ and indeed most of Disc 2 of their last album where Freedman’s songmaking reaches new heights.
    But if I had to pick one. ‘Flame Trees’.

  10. Great analysis of a time less class from Mark Seymour and his band of Hunters and Collectors
    enjoyed seeing him play with his new band the Undertow and few years ago

    My nomination for Australia’s best song is a tie between two Balladeers’ best efforts
    How to make Gravy by Paul Kelly
    and Raining on the Rock by John Williamson

    They are both full of word pictures and a sense of true desolation and yet wonder and sense of humour . Of articulating an understanding of the Australian culture of celebrating Christmas as only Aussies can and understanding the true heart of the dry brown land and the sadness of what we have collectively done to first nations of this amazing continent . To have a perspective that is both indigenous and culturally aware of the fact that we live in a tough environment and we need to truly appreciate our connection to it and the fact that we all can truly be part of this land.

  11. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Luke. Great comments.

    Of course, I was aware of the various versions of “Throw Your Arms Around Me”. Kate Ceberano did one, too, as did the singer from Pearl Jam, from memory. The song almost invariably works. In the next few days, I plan to dust off the ol’ acoustic and play it myself.

    “Sounds of Then”, with the lightning cracking over the canefields, is a beauty! (So many good Aussie songs!)

    Haven’t heard Seymour’s “Slow Dawn”, but I know of it. I’ll have to put in on my list.

  12. Kevin Densley says

    Fisho – cheers! You’ve mentioned some great songs here – and reminded me of another of my absolute favourites, Chad Morgan’s “The Sheik from Scrubby Creek.”

  13. Kevin Densley says

    Hi DB – great range of songs you’ve mentioned. I reckon almost any song is worthy of admission to the pantheon, if it stirs/excites one’s emotions enough. And, yes, the key change part in “Flame Trees” is iconic in itself (an iconic key change – why not?), and the song is right up there, as far as I’m concerned.

  14. Kevin Densley says

    JJ – many thanks for your sentiments, fine ones indeed! (I’ll have to listen to Williamson’s “Raining on the Rock”.)

  15. Adam Muyt says

    Kevin, a fine choice. But for me it’s anything – and I mean anything – by the Go Betweens. The GOBs gave us poetry in every song. Okay, maybe that’s a bit biased…but most of their songs sang deep and painful and joyous and….ahhhh…
    (Especially the Grant ones)

  16. Liam Hauser says

    I couldn’t single out one song, but Australian Crawl and Midnight Oil had many worthy candidates.
    Sounds of Then (Ganggajang) is also a classic, as are Mondo Rock tracks including Good Advice, The Moment, and State of the Heart.
    I must also mention The Diamantina Drover. I bought a Redgum compilation for the sake of I Was Only 19. That’s a great song, but the highlight for me from the Redgum compilation turned out to be The Diamantina Drover.

  17. Shane Reid says

    Great choice Kevin. I actually prefer Paul McDermott and the Doug Anthony All Stars version of TYAAM. In a past life (professionally I mean! I was a choir conductor) I actually did an SATB cappella arrangement of TYAAM for Hal Leonard.

    The Aussie song that inexplicably gets me every time is April Sun in Cuba, again though I prefer an obscure cover of this too – by Sally Ford and the Pachuco Playboys.

    Great discussion

  18. Very interesting, Kevin. Human Frailty is one of the great Australian albums (which reminds me that I must review it for the Nac shortly) but I do not even reckon that Throw Your Arms is the best song on that album.
    Of course, it is all subjective, is it not?

    For me, the greatest ever Australian song is “Bye, Bye, Pride” by the Go Betweens.

  19. Many great songs mentioned. Triffids “Wide Open Road” deserves a mention. “A gun went off in my forehead”. Their “Bury Me Deep in Love” is the best walking out song for funerals. Agony and ecstasy hand in hand.
    Springsteen’s version of “Just Like Fire Would” is brilliant – love the French horn/piccolo (its a George Martin/Beatles thing) and the Saints original is pretty good.
    On cover versions I love Mary Black’s version of Shane Howard’s “Flesh and Blood”.

  20. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Adam. Many thanks for the response. I confess that I’m definitely no expert when it comes to Go Betweens songs. I need to remedy this!

  21. Kevin Densley says

    A range of great choices, Liam! Since posting this piece, all sorts of songs are popping intro my head, not necessarily absolute favourites, but stuff like Ross Wilson’s “Bed of Nails”, which I’ve always thought highly of. Your mention of him reminded me of that.

  22. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Shane. Many thanks for your interesting input. Yes, I reckon we’re having a great discussion here, too, bringing into the spotlight some wonderful Oz music. I’ve heard about the DAAS version of Throw Your Arms – next thing is to actually listen to it!

  23. Kevin Densley says

    Glad you’re finding the discussion interesting, Smokie!

    Of course, we are writing about these songs from our own (subjective) point of view, which is a major part of the interest.

    Cheers!

  24. Kevin Densley says

    Really interesting range of songs mentioned, PB. I’ll single out The Saints version of “Just Like Fire Would”, which I love. ( Confession: when I first heard it, I thought the title was “Just Like Firewood”!)

  25. Interesting that not one Aussie woman/female band has rated a mention yet. How about Chrissy Amphlett’s ‘Pleasure & Pain’? TIDDAS ‘Anthem’ ? And a host of others……

  26. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, KN.

    Yes, I love Chrissie and the Divinyls. My two favourites in this context are “Only Lonely” and “I Touch Myself”.

    Maybe some more women’s stuff will appear. I reckon so.

  27. Speaking of females, how about the great HELEN REDDY She had massive hits with “I am Woman” and my favourite, ANGIE BABY”

  28. DBalassone says

    Missy Higgins ‘The Way You Are Tonight’ is breathtaking.

  29. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks Fisho and DB!

  30. Terrific thread Kevin.

    Cattle and Cane by The Go-Betweens is a ripper. Reminds me so much of Melbourne Uni days.
    From Brisbane to Beechworth by Matt Taylor is an all-time classic:

    “From Brisbane to Beechworth
    Is a journey of the mind.
    I know many have made it,
    Many more been left behind.”

    But being very much a “mood” music listener I refuse to name the best. Depends on all sorts of bio-rhythms.

  31. Rick Kane says

    Good call KD and challenge accepted.

    Obviously this is both a fool’s errand and a magnificent party game that could go on forever.

    Throw Your Arms Around Me. Yes, it is right up there as one of the great Australian songs.

    A couple of others to add to the great (Spotify playlist [yes, that’s a hint]) mix already raised in this thread.

    When the Rain Tumbles Down in July by Slim Dusty
    Friday on my Mind by The Easybeats
    To Love Somebody by The Bee Gees
    I Remember When I was Young by Matt Taylor
    Howzat by Sherbet
    Jailbreak by AC/DC
    Way out West by The Dingoes
    Kangaroo Hop by Dave Warner
    Solid Rock by Goanna
    We Have Survived by No Fixed Address
    Treaty by Yothu Yindi
    Down City Streets by Archie Roach
    My Island Home by The Warumpi Band (and Christine Anu)
    Not Pretty Enough by Kasey Chambers
    Depreston by Courtney Barnett
    Boys will be Boys by Stella Donnelly
    Science Fiction by The Divinyls
    I’m Stranded by The Saints

  32. Kevin Densley says

    Fair enough, Dips, about being a “mood” music listener.

    Great to get some song choices from you.

    Glad you’re enjoying this wonderful thread.

  33. Kevin Densley says

    Great list, Rick! Yes, of course this kind of discussion could go on ad infinitum. My long list might even include occasional oddities like TISM’s “Greg! The Stop Sign”!

  34. Rick Kane says

    True!

    PB, great call. Ill add American Sailors/Too Hot to Move, Too Hot to Think, a The Triffids song but the better version is their spin-off band, The Blackeyed Susans with Rob Snarski singing. Speaking of …
    Either Oceans of You or The End of the Line. The singing! I’ll sop now.

  35. Can’t let it pass without a mention of two Dave Warner songs. Bernie and Is That What They’re Saying. Bernie is quite simply one of the all time great songs that received next to no recognition.

  36. Mistake, should read Dan Warner (not Dave)

  37. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, KN!

  38. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Lots to agree with from above and many other that I could add, but I’ll throw one in from far left field.

    My Baby’s Gone by Axiom.

  39. See you and raise you Swish. “I’ll Be Gone” by Spectrum.

  40. Kevin Densley says

    Many thanks for these contributions, Swish and PB. Memories!

  41. Kate Birrell says

    Christine Anu’s “iIsland Home”

    A couple of others that come to mind are redgum‘s “only 19”;
    Aerial Maps “ on the Punt” classic; and I don’t punt! And the Triffids “wide open road”

  42. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Kate. You’ve mentioned some iconic work here. You have probably seen that clip of Christine Anu singing “My Island Home” live next to the Sydney Opera House with just a guitar accompanying her – particularly resonant.

  43. Ian Hauser says

    I’m with Dips about ‘mood’ being important, as are time and place.

    A couple offerings from me:

    Doug Parkinson’s version of ‘Dear Prudence’;
    Renee Geyer – anything! Best soul voice in Australia;
    Mondo Rock’s ‘State of the heart’ – at the time of my daughter’s birth. (It was an American song a couple years later when my son was born, Joe Jackson’s ‘Real men’.)
    The Dingoes – whole of self-titled album.

  44. Kevin Densley says

    Great, Ian. Your offerings are a contribution to a very impressive list! Ross Wilson/Mondo Rock have been getting quite a few mentions, a pleasant surprise to me – I’ve always thought of him as a fine songwriter.

  45. Nominating a best song is an impossible task so I won’t even try. But I will nominate Paul Kelly as our best singer songwriter. And given that, surely we can come up with some better nominations from his 40 years of musical and lyrical brilliance than ‘How to make gravy’? Granted it’s better than most of the mawkish Christmas songs that every artist seems to produce and yes, it has an Australian vibe but it wouldn’t even make my top 20 from Kelly. Commercial radio seems to believe he only wrote ‘To her door’ and ‘Dumb things’ but even those two well worn classics rank way higher than ‘Gravy’. And if an Australian theme is part of the criteria, ‘From little things, big things grow’ and ‘Leaps and Bounds’ must rank highly. And that’s only a few of the well-known ones. Don’t start me talking…!

  46. Kevin Densley says

    Many thanks, Stainless.

    This discussion has certainly moved in interesting ways as it has gone along, such that many are putting forward multiple songs and various qualifying remarks. All entirely fair enough, of course. My initial piece was basically meant as a stimulating prompt.

  47. Wow, how many great songs. There’s hours of great listening there. Wonderful seeing ‘Way Out West’, even better hearing it.

    KNDole if we’re mentioning Dave Warner, how about ‘Suburban Boy’?

    Or we can wind the clock back a few years to Thorpie fronting the Aztecs belting out, ‘ Most people I know think that i’m crazy’. Of course no list of great Aussie songs can forget Stevie Wright belting out ‘Evie’, parts 1,11& 111. There’s the amazing footage of him on stage outside the Sydney Opera House belting out this tune to close the 1970’s.

    I won’t mention tunes like ‘On the prowl’, ‘Bad boy for love’, ‘Lygon st limbo’, let alone many others.

    Glen!

    Glen!

  48. Kevin Densley says

    Cheers, Glen! You’ve certainly put forward some great Oz songs there – and yes, that footage of Stevie Wright is absolutely classic stuff!

  49. Kevin Densley says

    Today reminded me of a song that’s certainly on my shortlist as one of Australia’s best ever, “Father’s Day” by Weddings Parties Anything – love it!

  50. The Real Thing R. Morris

    I heard him play an acoustic version in the Czech Club in North Melbourne in about 2005. Stunning.

  51. Kevin Densley says

    Yes. Great choice, JTH! Actually, I’m surprised it didn’t get a mention earlier.

    And, on behalf of all Footy Almanac responders to this topic, I’ll humbly raise the bat, as we’ve knocked up a nicely complied half-century!

  52. Any red blooded g tr aduate of the University of Queensland will down the trousers for “Eagle Rock” by Daddy Cool.

  53. Kevin Densley says

    An out-and-out classic OZ song, of course!

    I remember playing it in a couple of bands in my much younger days.

  54. Whrn i find my self in that dark place … i will often play “Sometimes” by Midnight Oil … doesn’t help but it gets me going. I am surprised that Midnight Oil wasnt mentioned more often. In this thread.
    S many of their songs have a resonance with this Country.
    I saw H&C ilive in Mackay and have always loved :Throw your arms around me” …. undoubtedly one of the very best
    But….
    Midnight Oil got me through my undergraduate degree … and supported me along the way. In the good times and the bad.

  55. Kevin Densley says

    Yes, Midnight Oil certainly have a great catalogue of songs. When I did my undergraduate degree at Deakin Uni in Geelong, I think the Oils were the main O-Week act three years in a row! As one would expect, they were a fantastic live band.

  56. Kevin Densley says

    I’m talking early 1980s when I write of the the three Deakin Uni O-Weeks immediately above.

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