Words by Chris Wicky (The Company Of Men).
Coming of age in central Europe in the late 20th century was pretty dreary. Yeah, we were unconfined but the great outdoors felt pretty small, the streets were empty, the lights were grey and the internet was still a decade away. Nowhere to run to, just plenty of places to hide. The late eighties in Switzerland was a time of walls closing in, blocked horizons, and stymied dreams.
Fresh of the release of his new video for Love The Ones Who Love You, Chris from The Company Of Men shares five influential Aussie tracks.
My friends and I were always looking for more, but we had few ways of finding it. Some music magazines, a few tapes we’d make for each other, our older neighbour’s LP collection. My neighbour’s favourite LPs went from late-seventies Supertramp to mid-eighties Elton John. Dreadful stuff. My friends weren’t much more knowledgeable than I was, we had a bit of Clash, some Costello, some Skynyrd (yup) to tape-trade but huh, not that broad a choice.
The music mags were where it was at. They were our windows on the world. My favourite magazine was called Rock&Folk, it was French and, thank you Universe, it had a monthly column about Aussie Rock. Australian bands were the first truly underground bands I listened to and here we are, thirty years later, in these surreal conditions, where I find myself writing for an Australian magazine about the Australian bands that introduced me to the indie scene. I’ve been part of that scene for all my life, that scene has defined me, my bands and the music company that I work for so yeah, I owe you a pretty big one, Australia.
Now, of course, you fine people probably know these bands, some of them might have been the songs your parents used to listen to on road trips, I get that. But for me, age 16 in ‘88, they were the shit, they were exotic, they were unique and, more importantly, they were mine. Most of them were probably massive stars down under, but I didn’t know and I didn’t care. From where I was standing, they were obscure, they were my discoveries and they made me feel clever and tasteful. I could tell my friends about them, I could look like the snob I aspired to be (it was the late eighties, you weren’t a real music fan if you weren’t snobbish about it). While everyone at school was arguing about whether REM had sold out with Out Of Time, I was worrying that the Hoodoo Gurus could have done with less reverb on their snare. It set me apart, it taught me that you could be totally fine living aside from the pack. Australia was, to me, synonymous of independence. Australian bands were my teachers, and their teachings allowed me to live a life of freedom and joy so, without further ado, here is my very own Top 5 Australian songs that opened up my musical world:
The Johnnys – Bounty Hunter
The Johnnys were the very first band I saw in a club. My friend Guy and I wanted to form a band and we thought we might need to see one to figure out if our plan was realistic. We saw the Johnnys. The whole show, I was thinking that being in a band must be the coolest thing in the world, it felt attainable (as the Johnnys technicality wasn’t exactly mind-blowing), but how on earth were we ever in our lives going to look as cool as the Johnnys? Did we have to wear hats? Did every band have to wear hats? I came home with more questions than answers, but damn my first show was unforgettable.
Hard-Ons – Where Did She Come From
Ok so I loved the Ramones, but when you’re a stupid kid, you think that only the Ramones can be The Ramones. The Hard-ons taught me that it’s absolutely fine to rip off another band, as long as you bring something of your own to the table.
The Church – Under The Milky Way
My first larger indie venue show, a thousand people at Grand Vennes in Lausanne, Switzerland. I went to see The Church with a girl I very much wanted to go out with. Our opinions on the matter differed. That show was the perfect blurry and sad soundtrack to my feelings at the time.
Cold Chisel – Khe Sanh
I bought this album because it was the best looking cover in the shop and the singer sounded kind of like a mix between Graham Parker and Springsteen. Turns out Jimmy Barnes is a little cheesier than those references but the passion on the first Cold Chisel album is undeniable. And for a kid from Switzerland, you wouldn’t believe how overwhelming the romance of a sentence like “the last plane out of Sidney’s almost gone” is.
Radio Birdman – We’ve Come So Far
Cheating a bit for the last one, as the early Birdman singles are the classics, but for the wonderful Zeno Beach they ended up on the same label as my first band Favez was signed to and I liked the sound so much that we got their wonderful producer Greg Wales to produce an album for us. He flew from Australia to Switzerland for two weeks of pure love. Aussies, man, I love ‘em. Glad they’ve always been a part of my life.
Love The Ones Who Love You is available now. Watch the video here.