Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published January 15th 2020
NZ music at its finest
I recently had a conversation with a couple of women about Australian music, based on a comment I made in a column I recently wrote here. We're all around the same age, and so the talk went to the songs of the 1980s, and the fact I'd mentioned The Church's 'The Unguarded Moment' was my favourite Australian song. Talk went to Cold Chisel, Uncanny X-Men, Australian Crawl, Hoodoo Gurus, INXS, the usual suspects. And then we started on New Zealand acts as well and, well, one band came up a lot. Their songs are so wonderful, and the musicianship is tight. And that inspired me to pull out this album…
I present to you Body And The Beat by Dragon (1984).
I had not listened to this all the way through in a very long time. But I had listened to a number of tracks. Like so many albums in the 1980s, a number of singles were released from it (if memory serves, there were 5, dating back to 1983), and they were all really good. This album has all but been forgotten over the intervening 30-plus years, but maybe it is time to amend that, because this is a classic album that deserves more love.
'Rain' The album opens with one of the most recognisable tracks in Antipodean pop/rock. This song is one of the finest songs from the 1980s… well, actually, from ever. It is my favourite song by a New Zealand artist. From the opening rain sound effects to that chorus, and then that extra chorus ("Don't you go out in the rain/ Don't go out in the pouring rain…"). Magnificent. I find myself air drumming to it. When it was played by the instructor at the gym, none of the 20-something women in attendance complained; some even sang along., No matter the generation, it is one of those songs that transcends time and fashion. It was the first single released from the album (in 1983) and set the tone for the next year of their music. From lyrics to music to singing, all of it - simply superb.
'Promises' I've also seen this called 'So Far Away', but on the back of my cassette it is just called 'Promises'. It has an upbeat vibe about it, quite singable and danceable. We have the big chorus again, but it is not simply a rehash of the opening track. Another really good song.
'Wilderworld' Another fantastic track. A little deeper in tone, with a cool echo effect on the vocals. Maybe the synthesiser dominance dates it a little, but I don't care. It has a wonderful chorus that soars on Marc Hunter's magnificent voice. This was released as a single, and deservedly so, but did not make much of an impact on the charts because, by then, I think all of us owned a copy of the album.
'Cry' In a world without 'Rain' this would be my favourite song on the album. I love the chorus and Hunter's voice throughout just gives it all a feeling of being upbeat. This album, despite some lyrical darkness, has such a positive feel about it, as though everyone was enjoying what they were doing, coming through in the music. Another song released as a single.
'Cool Down' We slow down for this track. This is a track that actually has the feel of an Australian summer, lazing and relaxing, while the heat bears down. The synthesiser sounds are replaced by piano and Hunter's voice once again is given full chance to shine.
'Body And The Beat' The title track and final single, released more than a year after 'Rain' first graced the airwaves. This song sounds very of its time. For someone like me, that's not an issue, but for a modern audience, I guess it might sound very dated. Vocal effects, synthesisers and tinny drums. But the song is rescued by Hunter's vocals again, and its pounding, driving beat, led by Todd Hunter's bass line. This would not have sounded out of place on a Human League album, to be honest. Fine track.
'Witnessing' We slow down again for this track, with a bass guitar intro leading into a song that is not too bad, but not brilliant. This is my least favourite song on the album. Look, it is not a bad song, not at all, but in comparison to the rest…
'Magic' Despite all my talk about 'Rain' in this review, one of the two women who started this column idea in my head says this is her favourite song by Dragon. (For the record, the other cites 'Summer' as hers). Another of the tracks released as a single, it is another really good piece of music. That feels like I'm selling it short. This is great. The dark verses leading into that glorious chorus, this is so well put together. And the lyrics are really strong as well. A forgotten gem, for sure.
'What Am I Gonna Do?' I am surprised this song was not released as a single, to be honest. It has such an upbeat sound and feel … and yet the lyrics are really depressing, about a man not sure what to do now that his girl has left him. The song has a real sing-along quality to it and, of course, the ubiquitous 1980s sax solo… Great track.
'Fool' And we finish with another song that sounds a little dated. But it has a pleasant vibe about it, with a nice bass run throughout and Marc Hunter sounding like he's having fun singing again. Nice way to end this.
Outside of the track 'Rain', this album is all but forgotten when people talk about great Australian albums, let alone classic albums. But this is one of those rare albums where there is not a bad track. Even a song like 'Witnessing', which I consider the least track here, is not bad, not by a long shot. But you just do not hear people talk about Body And The Beat. Maybe it is because it is of its time, maybe it's because it was released by a New Zealand act, maybe it's the fact it was released when so many other world-dominating albums were out there, I don't know, but it really does fall by the wayside. That is unfair. This is one of the finest albums ever recorded.
It is also a nice way to remember Marc Hunter, who passed away in 1998 (wow… it's been more than 20 years already?), possessor of one of the more underrated voices in pop/rock music.
If you can find this album, grab it. Especially if you like the singles, you will not be disappointed. Or if you like 80s music. Or if you like good music. Look, just buy it. Well worth it.