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 Everett True

Everett True’s Australian Garage Rock Primer

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Some discussions, you just know you shouldn’t start.

Now, I’m reasonably clued-in on certain strains of music, and I did pick up my Australian passport from the post office this very morning, but I should have known I was on a hiding to nothing when I asked folks to recommend me some classic Australian garage rock. It has often occurred to me that Australia – and Melbourne in particular, with its array of fine drinking establishments tailor-made for seeing loud raucous rock bands in – is blessed when it comes to primordial rock music: The Saints and Missing Links being two prime purveyors of the breed, the Vines being a hopeless bunch of prime donna retards who can’t even tune their own guitars but still think it’s important that they should be in tune while pretending they’re all ‘street’ and ‘spontaneous’, man.

There’s a good argument to be had for grunge beginning in Australia with The Scientists in 1979. Ask Kurt Cobain. Oh wait. You can’t. He’s dead, and even if he were alive, you reckon he’d want to hang out with a two-bit Vampire Weekend-loving scruffy-faced loser like you? Oh really? Well, that’s your call. OK, ask former Sub Pop owner Bruce Pavitt or producer Jack Endino or some cat like that. They know all about The Scientists and their scrawny ilk, swaggering down the streets of St Kilda. Grunge wasn’t suburban metal at all, despite what MTV and Alice In Chains and all those stoner hair rock bands would have had us believe: It was stripped-back primeval rock music, no artifice, just SWEAT and BEER and heads banging in bass speakers. In other words, Australian garage rock.

Or not. Your call.

So whatever. Australia has just as great a tradition of garage-rock bands as Peru or Germany or all those other places overlooked due to the American imperialism practised by Western rock critics everywhere. Sure, The Easybeats (“Friday On My Mind“) were a chart band, but they had way more in common with those Nuggets and Pebbles compilations that helped define the genre than … um … something else.

So I took it to the bridge, and checked in with the music fans populating specialist Aus music site Mess And Noise, as well as the array of fanatics, critics and Cobain-heads that make up my following on Facebook: RECOMMEND ME A GREAT AUSTRALIAN GARAGE BAND. These are the edited highlights of what they came back with …

1. What’s your definition of a garage band? Starts in the garage or stays in the garage?

This one’s easier not to answer. It doesn’t fucking matter. I never really thought anyone took the term literally, though I guess there’s an argument to be made that in America it was an entire generation of Rolling Stones fans aping – and sometimes bettering – their heroes in their parent’s suburban garages, a myth that was still clearly alive when punk began in the UK in ’76, with The Clash shouting “We’re a garage band/We come from garage land” even as they donned their army fatigues and toy machine guns for corporate fashion shoots in Northern Island.

I always find it best to easier to duck the question altogether and give examples: Jim White and Mick Turner’s post-Moodists and pre-Dirty Three band Venom P Stinger; current-day press sweethearts Eddy Current Suppression Ring (a band that has made a creditable career out of religiously listening to the same early Pavement song over and over again, and copping Lightning Bolt’s ‘stage’ act); Melbourne’s proto-Riot Grrrl heads MatrimonyThe Birds; anything coming out of Brisbane in 1974 but most specifically The Saints (“the most primal band in the history of rock’n’roll”); early pre-punk trailblazers Radio Birdman, even some of the early-’90s sides of You Am I.

I’m aware that this makes the definition as fluid as the person wielding it, but I guess I’m talking a certain attitude and use of guitars. And I’m also aware that this definition is at odds with almost everything that follows so … um … don’t listen to me. Listen to them, especially Tim Pittman at the end of this article. He’s the expert.

2. Missing Links (writes Fowltonmeans). They weren’t in a garage though, they practised above a shop in Epping in Sydney. Matrimony was more of a warehouse band. Who are The Birds? Guess I’ll have to read your article.

Oops. Yeah, ’60s beat combo Missing Links. Sydney label Half A Cow reissued their self-titled album on CD in 2001, and mighty fine it is too, performing all the actions and making all the sounds you’d expect. I have no real idea who The Birds are either, except that they rock and showed up on a bootleg compilation I downloaded off the net a few months back entitled Doctor Fuckwit’s Boss Oz ’60s Garage Punkers, alongside the equally genius (if more chaotic) Purple Hearts and Peter Tilbrook and the brilliantly named Wild Colonials.

Fowltonmeans goes on to explain that he while he digs The Easybeats – c’mon, The Easybeats dudes, I know you’re American and everything but ‘Friday On My Mind’ has been voted Best Australian Song Of All Time, and is as great as anything by even the fucking Kinks – they were as much a garage band as Lemon Pipers or Supertramp: “They would not have seen the point in playing in the garage for the sake of it.” He suggests The Throb and Craven Fops instead.

3. Take a dose of the Australian Ugly Things vinyl compilations (writes Barman). Maybe both editions of theMurder Punk bootleg series or the Where Birdmen Flew LP. All should be apparent then.

Some great suggestions right there. I have, and I did, and all is. Fuck yeah! Ugly ThingsBlack DiamondsJackson KingsVacant Lot (with the timeless plea of stoned students everywhere “Don’t Let Me Sleep Too Long”), Creatures and of course Missing Links and the Easybeats again. I have neither the space nor the inclination to go into depth here, but you are just as able to search YouTube as I am, and to look through collector blogs for illegal downloads, not that I’d recommend that of course, and I’m merely trying to give you a couple of pointers. Ugly Things is the fucking bee’s bananas, the hornet’s beeswax, the solar-plexed Monty. You cannot go wrong with it. Check it out, if you’re a fan of the Monks, the Rats, Los Saicos or indeed the mother-lovin’ Sonics.

The Murder Punk series is fine too, but it ain’t what I was looking to discuss when I started this topic – it’s early Australian punk, late-’70s style. If I classify punk as garage it blows the field wide open, but there again … why shouldn’t it? it seems that the connection is far clearer in Australia than other countries. There’s an entire strain of UK punk that didn’t have anything to do with ’60s garage rock at all, whereas the Australian punks (Radio Birdman, Saints, et al) seemed to be a direct continuation.

The Murder Punk comp does contain The Scientists‘ “Pissed On Another Planet,” though, and for that alone we should be very grateful.

4. Purple Hearts.

Yes. Again. Purple fucking Hearts. And Missing fucking Links. And the ever-lovin’ Saints. Three great places to start a lifelong love affair with a suitor that can’t hurt back.

Electricsound throws the first major spanner my way, showing up my knowledge of the genre for what it is: pitiful. “Three recommended comps if you don’t have them,” he writes casually. “It’s A Kave-In! (Kustom65), Peculiar Hole In The Sky (Big Beat), Hot Generation (Big Beat).” I’ve looked, and I don’t have them. I looked again online, and they look great. Damn.

5. The Black Diamonds outta Lithgow (writes Huwzey) claimed they had enough material to play for two days straight but only released a couple of singles, crazy good though.

Damn straight.

The next comment, from Wipey, pretty much nails it, even though he doesn’t mention Tales From The Australian Underground – all that ’80s Birthday Party/Moodists/Laughing Clowns/Lighthouse Keepers stuff, perhaps my favourite compilation of music from anywhere EVER. Well, all right, not ever. I just wanted to see if you were still awake. It’s still a fucking great primer though.

“Get Ugly Things 1 and 2 for the ’60s shit. Get Antipodean Screams 1 and 2 for modern shit. Get Do The Pop for ’70s and ’80s shit. Play The Crusaders for ’90s shit.”

6. Some more names for you (courtesy of coolestjerk):

Chinese Burns
The Twilights
The Leather Souls
The Morloch
Machine Gun Kelly’s Rejects
Derek’s Accent
The Moods

7. Even more names (courtesy of rigid)

Dirty Lovers were the ultimate garage band. Lost Souls. Early, early Lime SpidersFrowning CloudsBo-WeevilsStraight Arrows. Everything on coolestjerk’s list, etc etc.

“Some bands in the US Midwest take offence at the term “garage rock,” as they equate it with pudding bowl haircuts and Farfisas,” writes Barman.

“Pitchfork says dilapidated/abandoned farmhouse is where it’s at in 2011,” writes Bugsy.

8. For a great resource on Australian mid-’60s garage bands (writes FrankieTeardrop) , get your hands on Ian Marks and Iain McIntyre’s book Wild About You, published in 2004 by Melbourne radio station 3CR. I’m pretty sure you can still get a copy from them. Weather Records released a CD of local bands covering songs by the ’60s artists covered in the book. Highly recommended! Includes profiles of The Atlantics, The Missing Links, The Purple Hearts, The Creatures, The Throb, Toni McCann, The Elois, The Black Diamonds, Running Jumping Standing Still, The Moods, Tol Puddle Martyrs + more.

OK. This seems like a little bit too much information (and that’s not even including all the comments about great grungy new Brisbane bands like Hits, or where the punk/garage divide falls, or why are Radio Birdman classified as garage when they have elements of prog, or how the Australian Birds – a band from Perth – simply appropriated the name of the UK Birds, featuring Ronnie Wood, in the hope of securing a recording contract) … it must be time to turn to my friends on Facebook.

Oh god. The first handful of suggestions straight out the gate include Spiderbait, Silverchair and AC/DC. This is not what we’re talking about AT ALL. I’d like to include The Birthday Party among the list of classic Australian garage rock simply because I like to include The Birthday Party whenever I’m talking about music full stop – I worked them into both my Ramones and Nirvana books – but to do so would be to blow the gates wide open once more. Although that still shouldn’t stop you from investigating Tales From The Australian Underground (parts one AND two) as it really is the shit. Serious.

Another thumbs up for Do The Pop!, can’t fault that. A great tip for The Elois’By My Side.” A mention for The Celibate Rifles. A mention for The Vines. A mention for The Presets (fuck me, what sort of people befriend me on Facebook?).

A more reliable contact suggests “Bored!Powder MonkeysPhilisteinsHossGodThe Sunset StripSplatterheadsRed Planet Rockets … invest in all the Do The Pop comps (DTP and redux 1 out now, redux 2 and 3 out later this year), both of Tim Pittman’s Tales from the Aus Underground comps (all 7″ cuts, amazing), check out Citadel back cat, Au-Go-Go Records, Waterfront, Dogmeat … Greasy Pop from Adelaide too… blah blah blah…”

Man, I really have opened a can of squiggly gelatinous sprawling worms, haven’t I?

My PhD supervisor thirds Do The Pop as “a good a round-up of the ’80s Detroit/Stooges/MC5-influenced bands as you’ll find. I’d second the Missing Links record (who were much earlier). They had a song that played completely in reverse as a B-side on one of their singles, which was pretty radical at the time.”

Whoa. Enough information already!

Finally, I receive an email from ace Australian promoter Tim Pittman, the man behind the Tales From The Australian Underground compilations (and also a fine Sunnyboys reissue – think Radio Birdman, and you won’t be far wrong).

For mine, the term ‘garage rock’ is widely abused these days, mostly stemming from The Strokes/White Stripes surge in the early Noughties. Quite how they got the moniker escapes me. Lazy journalism I think.

My own definition of garage – or ’60s punk as we used to call it – is the type of bands found on Nuggets, Pebbles, Boulders and in Australia on Ugly Things. However, I can agree that there was a strain of garage-rock (or ’60s punk)-influenced bands unique to Australia during the late ’70s and until the late ’80s. For the most part, these bands (Lipstick KillersLime SpidersThe StemsWet Taxis) were initially introduced to these sounds by Radio Birdman, who had covered many of the tracks by the original punks in their set (13th Floor Elevators, Remains, Outsiders) as far back as 1976. The Saints were on another tangent, covering ’50s standards from Elvis to Connie Francis to Del Shannon, though they do a smokin’ cover of the Missing Links’ ‘Wild About You‘ on their debut.

The Lime Spiders were kings of this. Their earliest repertoire was almost exclusively covers of ’60s punk, but it was so obscure hardly anyone knew it! It was all toughened up but it was still great. Then they started to write their own songs. Oh well…

There were plenty of other bands who were less faithful to the original sound but still covered these bands in their earlier set. The Scientists, for instance, used to perform tracks from The Standells and The Seeds, but they also covered Suicide, Big Star and Leonard Cohen, so they were never straight copyists. The Hards-Ons, too, would cover The Elois and The Choir (among others) next to covers of Kiss and Ramones. The Eastern Dark would cover the D-Coys and The Stoics next to covers of The Soft Boys and the Descendents. And the Sunnyboys seemed to (unwittingly) latch onto the garage-Beatles stylings of the Remains and use it as a template for (again unwittingly) a successful chart career.

It seemed to me that a new generation rebelled against that sound in the late ’80s and moved onto more contemporary indie-sounds. Tumbleweed carried the flag for a while, covering “Mr. Pharmacist” and other gems for a younger audience, but they were isolated and shunned by the older garage brigade.

In more recent times, the bands that have best exemplified this style are The Pink Fits (ex-Tumbleweed), who are super raw – like The Mummies – and play all original material, and The Unheard, who are also ex-Tumbleweed and who play super-heavy distorted versions of Ugly Things classics. Geelong’s Frowning Clouds – like The Stems previously – are very faithful to the ’60s punk sound. Eddy Current, it could be argued, are also very garage, but I’ve not known them to cover any of those bands, and they always seemed to me more like a cross between The Kinks and the Modern Lovers than that stoopid Saints and X comparison people make.

Anyway, here’s a non-definitive list of ten top Oz garage bands.

Purple Hearts – originals
Missing Links – originals
Black Diamonds – originals
Radio Birdman – for introducing it all.
Lipstick Killers – post-Birdman, the first real ’60s punk jukebox. One killer single.
Sunnyboys – for introducing it to the mainstream
Lime Spiders – for opening up the Pandora box of ’60s punk.
The Stems – for being so faithful to the sound.
Hard-Ons – for putting the snot back in.
The Pink Fits – for bringing it all back again (with added fuzz).

Oh, and five comps.
Ugly Things
Pretty Ugly
Devil’s Children
Tales 1 & 2

[Article reprinted from Something Awful. Bear in mind it was written for an American audience.]

3 Responses to Everett True’s Australian Garage Rock Primer

  1. Adam Yee October 27, 2010 at 11:34 pm

    I’m astounded that Shutdown 66 hasn’t rated a mention. Four albums and close to a dozen singles of raw early ‘Stones/Pretty Things garage r’n’b brilliance. One of the finest live bands I’ve ever seen.
    The Sailors’ “Violent Masturbation Blues” is a supreme early new millenium example too.

  2. tengallonhead November 11, 2010 at 11:07 pm

    Not sure it strictly qualifies as ‘garage’ but X-Aspirations by X (released in 1979) is a super-raw and spontaneous example.

  3. Brendan January 12, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    Hi
    I’m a big garage rock fan from Australia. A couple of years ago I I bought a heap of Oz Garage CDs. Let me know if you want a listing. I compiled my own 4 CD Australia New Zealand Nuggets from it (time span 1965-1970) and I reckon it stood up very well against the Nuggets 1 and 2 box sets.

    Brendan

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