Friday, 9 December 2011

100 LPs Shortlist #17: "East" by Cold Chisel

Cold Chisel - East

Bogans have stolen my music!

Or at least that's how it looks. But, it was never meant to be that way.

NOTE: For overseas readers, the term "Bogan" is the widely accepted Australian equivalent of the American term "Redneck" or the British term "Yobbo"; someone who appears to be of a lower intelligence than most, with an affectation of being "lower class" and "rough around the edges".

Cold Chisel never asked for the ubiquity their music has received over the years. Since first splitting up in 1984, their legacy has snowballed. For a country of 21 million, they have allegedly sold 6 million records, over 1 million of those were for their compilation LP "Chisel" (the one with the gold cover). Their legacy has now been almost physically tied to that of the image of the bogan - the sort that patronises commercial rock stations like Triple M and who seem to think that they can escape their Australian music quotas by playing 11 out of the 12 tracks off today's featured album.

Of course, the charm of Chisel is their ability to craft a great song and also to write lyrics that specifically reflect Australian life. The irony is that the sometimes oblique references are lost on most of their fanbase. It has been said that more people know the words to "Khe Sanh" than they do the Australian national anthem. The sad fact is that the song is actually about a drug-addicted Vietnam Vet who can't integrate into society properly after returning from his tour of duty.

"East" is by far the most well known Chisel LP, and indeed it has most of its 12 songs played on commercial radio frequently. And indeed, if you grew up in Australia in the 1980s you will be more than familiar with most of these tracks. The meaning of most of these songs could be lost on most 21st century listeners, however the themes are largely universal.

Starting with the original Side 1 of the LP, "Standing on the Outside" is a tale of sympathy for inmates of the nation's jails. Indeed, Don Walker, the writer of the song, has never been "inside" (hence the title), he sings of the stories of inmates, from his vantage point of being outside the prison walls.

"Never Before" is an atypical relationship song, that is rhythmically interesting, with some stellar guitar work from the song's writer, Ian Moss.

Hands up who knows the real meaning of the lyric to "Choir Girl"? Yep, didn't think so. It's about a girl getting an abortion. I bet you'll never hear it the same way again…

We all know that Barnesy was a hell-rasier in his day. So much so that his future wife Jane didn't like his behaviour very much, and nor did her parents. So she fled back to her home country after he had a spat. Hence came the song "Rising Sun". The fact that Chisel are legends in this country is probably the only reason why a song with these racist anti-Asian lyrics still get played on the radio…

"My Baby" was a perfect pop song written by bass player Phil Small and sang by Ian Moss. The song was popular and the writer so shy that he didn't submit another song to the Chisel canon for the next 18 years when another modest track appeared on the comeback LP "The Last Wave Of Summer".

"Tomorrow" sings about the tension of living and making ends meet in the seedy parts of the city, like Darlinghurst and Kings Cross in Sydney. Tales of damp squalor and hookers abound in this one.

The original Side 2 of the LP starts with the now-Bogan anthem "Cheap Wine". The tag line "Cheap wine and three day growth" was easy fun in the sagging economic climate of 1980. Now it is a rallying cry for the cheap drunks and those complacent with their personal hygiene.

"Best Kept Lies" is, in my opinion, a companion piece to "Never Before" on side 1. A nice rhythmic shuffle with some great guitar work. Lyrically nothing special, maybe that's the reason it has escaped airplay.

"Ita" is a strange tale of unrequited love for the journalist and one-time editor of Cleo magazine Ita Buttrose. Lyrically similar at times to "Tomorrow" (minus the hookers), Barnesy sings of a bizarre animal lust for Ita while watching her TV show on a cheap crappy television in his squalid digs in inner-city Sydney.

"Star Hotel" is a well regarded track but one whose meaning has been lost on most listeners who don't remember the incident. This track details the attitudes and emotions surrounding the riots in King Street, Newcastle after the closure of the Star Hotel in 1979. The sleeve notes of the "Chisel" LP state that the closure of the pub was the last straw for a generation fed up with high unemployment and zero prospects, but in reality it was more than that. In reality, it had more to do with the police trying to eject patrons by force after closing time and shutting down the band on stage by hitting the singer in the mouth. The moral to this story is God help you if you ever try to get between a Novacastrian (i.e person from Newcastle, NSW) and his drink. Contrary to popular belief, Cold Chisel were NOT on stage on the night of this riot. Indeed, they never played a show at the Star Hotel.

"Four Walls" - a companion piece to "Standing on the Outside", but a lot more sober and stark. It still contains heavy amounts of empathy for inmates, much like the aforementioned jail ditty.

"My Turn to Cry" is a barnstorming closer. Mossy's guitar is the star here. The track is classing boy-girl breakup stuff - young boy and girl meet and go out. She dumps him. She finds someone better. Baby baby it's my turn to cry.

The playlist below features the 1999 remastered version of the LP with three tracks recorded around the same time for inclusion on the LP, which were subsequently dropped. One of the tracks, "The Party's over" was featured on a bonus 7-inch single that came out with the first copies of the LP (earlier copies of the CD and cassette are missing this track, and indeed the A-side of the single, a tepid live version of "Knocking on Heaven's Door" found its way onto the "Swingshift" double live LP). This track carries on Don Walker's fascination with Ray Charles-styled soulful ballads. "Hands Out Of My Pocket" was issued as a single when it was rediscovered and released in 1994. The last track, "Payday in A Pub" is a throwaway that would have made a nice single B-Side. Still, it's way better than most other bands best work. These three bonus tracks were previously released on "Teenage Love" in 1994, which was deleted when these bonus track reissues were released.

These days, if I had to play a Chisel album at all, East is probably the one Chisel album I'd avoid playing. Circus Animals, 20th Century and the first record all hold far more charm, mostly because they haven't been overexposed in their entirety! More on those later...

For now, here is Chisel's commercial high point. Enjoy!

Cold Chisel - East by David Kowalski on Grooveshark

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