In another life I used to play drums in various Melbourne bands. In the early 1980s I was part of the burgeoning scene of post-punk “little bands” who wore black and played at venues like the Crystal Ballroom (Seaview hotel), Esplanade, the Tote et cetera.
In those days, there was a degree of tribal bum-sniffing between MSM (mainstream musicians) and alternative band people, which was very much like what is currently happening between the MSM (mainstream media) and bloggers. The MSM, then as now, repeatedly asserted its superiority over the self-taught amateurs trying to insinuate themselves in their territory, while the little band people cultivated an attitude of reverse snobbery.
So, in my youth I never appreciated Cold Chisel as perhaps I should have. This was just personal taste. I don’t like the sound of men straining to sing above their range, often associated with overly tight trousers (coincidence?) and I find their rhythm section kind of stiff– for instance, Cheap Wine, a mechanical four-four with not much syncopation in it. Nor do I like the 1970’s style fake American accent (“Cheap Wahn”). I did quite like Together Now.
Tribally speaking, Cold Chisel and Barnesy were the mainstream par excellence, played on high rotation on the kind of radio station where the DJs wore mullets and shouted a lot. They were the boys’ Boy band. Then there was their eternal appeal to the kind of people who wander cluelessly into audiences from the front bar and yell, “Play some Baaaaarnesy!!!” Is there any small local band who hasn’t had this happen to them?
But still… A while ago I went to see Little Fish, which is partly about echoes from the eighties, and so features the Cold Chisel song Flame Trees sung by a Cabramatta kids’ school choir. I found myself with the song stuck in my head and thinking what a great chorus it had, after all.
I got out the acoustic and downloaded the lyrics and chords from here (be sure to clean your internet files and cookies if you do the same.) It’s not the easiest song in the world for a kitchen-table guitar player like me to learn (more than three chords), but I’ve nearly got it nailed now.
The Flame Trees lyrics are wonderful. The song broad-brushes out the whole background with breathtaking economy.
The kids are driving and Saturday afternoon just passed me by
I’m just savouring familiar sights
We have a history, this town and I…
Straight away, we know his age group (old enough to have grownup kids), and what he’s doing (visiting the town where he used to live. The chorus suggests it’s somewhere in Northern NSW or Queensland.)
Number one is to find old friends and say “you’re doing well
After all this time you boys look just the same”
Number two is the happy hour at one of two hotels
And settle in to play “do you remember so and so”
Number three is to never say her name.
You can see and feel the scene he’s setting, and we can sense the back story even without the details.
My favourite part of the song is a sudden key change which expresses perfectly a man whose thoughts are straying onto unwelcome territory, in a hurry to change the subject to boastful talk about his rugby days, in case he starts thinking too much.
And there’s a girl, she’s fallin’ in love near where the pianola stands
With a young local factory auto worker, just holdin’ hands
And I’m wondering will he go or will he stay
(Key change up) Do you remember, nothing stopped us on the field in our day
Googling, I find Flame Trees was written by Don Walker of Tex, Don and Charlie, and Steve Prestwich. These two were responsible for most of the band’s Greatest Hits. Since Don Walker was born in North Queensland and Prestwich in Liverpool (UK), Iíd bet on Don as the one whose life experience informs Flame Trees. But as his biosays, ìhis private life needn’t be of any interest to you, sunshine.î Fair enough.
Still can’t come at Cheap Wine, though.
A Little Wray of Sunshine (has gone from the world)
Link Wray, RIP 1929 – 2005
Guitar player Link Wray, who invented the power chord, the major modus operandi of modern rock guitarists, has died aged 76.
A native of Dunn, North Carolina, Wray’s style is considered the blueprint for heavy metal and punk music.
Wray’s is best known for his 1958 instrumental Rumble, 1959’s Rawhide and 1963’s Jack the Ripper. His music has appeared in
movies such as Pulp Fiction, Independence Day and Desperado.
His style is said to have inspired many other rock musicians, including Pete Townsend of the Who, but also David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Steve Van Zandt and Bruce Springsteen have been quoted as saying that Wray and Rumble inspired them to become musicians.
Talking of those long-ago days of the eighties. My friends and I had Link Wray on the turntable (black vinyl, yes, not CDs) non stop. Rumble and Jack the Ripper were part of the soundtrack of our lives. Jack the Ripper‘s playing in my head now. Goodbye, Link.