Song #31: The Dreaming — Kate Bush (1982)
Australia. Since I was a kid, I was obsessed with Australia. OK, mainly kangaroos, but they’re from Australia, right? Kangaroos, koala bears, kiwi, Tasmanian Devils — yeah sure, those last two aren’t technically from the sixth Continent, but you can see where this theme is going, can’t you? — if it was from Down Under or the surrounding islands, a exotic place on the exact other side of the planet, then I found them endlessly fascinating. I was reading about them or trying to draw them — hell, when we had to pick foreign pen pals to write to in 4th grade, I made sure I got the name of a kid from Australia (Sydney, to be exact. I think we exchanged letters maybe two times; I kept asking if you were allowed to have kangaroos as pets down there.) It wasn’t just me; whenever we played Risk, I constantly had to battle my Brother for Australia; he would often pile all his armies on its 4 territories, forgoing even trying to win the game just so he could claim Australia.
And when the bands began to pour out of Australia in the ’70s and ’80s … yup, you got it. The obvious starting point is Men at Work, but that’s only because most of us didn’t know AC/DC were originally from Sydney. (At the other extreme, the less said about the Little River Band the better, but unm yeah them too. Now, where were we?)
As for Men at Work, well, they had a sax so you know they were in as far as I was concerned. They famously caught that first seemingly endless MTV wave and we would sometimes stay up half the night just to see the next showing of Who Can It Be Now (The secret? Pick an eye and stick with it). By the time I got to college, Land Down Under was in such heavy rotation on the automated radio station in town, you could set your clock by it. This was not an exaggeration. For my money though, the winner off their first album was the song that came in between their two biggest hits:
With lines like “I wonder who’s in my old college room/And stuck in my old locker door” the lyrics seemed tailor made for me. My brother remained a fan of the band long after I did, and still tracks down Colin Hay in concert.
The next Australian band most of us noticed was INXS, thanks to their great album “Shabooh Shoobah”, but for all the fond memories I have of their early ’80s releases (yes, including the crazy art school girlfriend who was a big fan), once you know the end of the story, it’s just sad.
Speaking of slick spellings, casting further afield there was New Zealand’s Split Enz and the Finn brothers’ later vehicle, Crowded House. It’s not an invasion if you invite them in.
By the late-1980s, if it was Australian, I’d pick it up. Midnight Oil, Big Pig — and the Hoodoo Gurus. Best known for their ode to necrophilia, “Dig It Up,” this surf/goth/psychobilly band delivered a one-two punch with their first two records — “Stoneage Romeos” and “Mars Needs Guitars!” — and still has one of the best songs about love at first sight:
Of course, if I had to pick my favorite song about Australia, it would, ironically enough, be by a British artist. Kate Bush‘s “The Dreaming,” off the 1982 album of the same name is fueled by a clanking syncopation — and accompanied by the gonzo video of her flying thru lasers in a space-age jumpsuit surrounded by dancers playing aborigines — as it delivers a truly killer opening stanza:
“Banga goes another kanga/
On the bonnet of the van”
It’s tough to top that.