Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published May 16th 2020
40 years old
Many things make a person feel like old age is creeping up on them. Recently I have been looking at music from the year 2000 under the realisation it was 20 years ago. That was bad enough. But then I received an email advertising a special limited edition release of a classic Cold Chisel album. I looked, interested to see if I could afford it.
It was a fortieth-anniversary edition of one of their albums.
The album? East by Cold Chisel (1980).
One of the greatest Australian rock albums ever released, one of the finest examples of pub rock with a commercial edge ever recorded, and it was released forty years ago. Wow. But here's the thing: There are songs on this album that still sound fresh and excellent today. There are still songs that get played on FM radio. There are still songs that, if I put them on the jukebox at the local hotel, would have people singing along.
A brief rant, if I may. I do not understand how some brilliant bands from Australia do not make it overseas. The Divinyls are known as a one-hit-wonder in the USA. One? What? Same for Midnight Oil! And then there are bands like Cold Chisel who do not have a hit outside of their home country. How can that be? When Limp Bizkit has an international following, when Nickelback, that perennial joke of modern music sells millions of albums, why aren't Cold Chisel regarded as stalwarts of rock? Yes, I know, they sing about things that are uniquely Australian, but why should that matter? Especially in this day and age? I do not understand it. Chisel have released more consistent albums than Kiss; they've never released a St Anger like Metallica. They are great. Why can't the rest of the world see that?
Sorry. Had to get that off my chest.
All right, I own this album on both cassette and vinyl. Not CD. I borrowed a friend's CD a few years ago and it had three extra tracks on it, but I will stick with the vinyl version for this because that is the version we bought and loved forty years ago.
'Standing On The Outside' The album opens with a fast-paced track, a slice of pure Australian pub rock. One thing about classic Australian rock music (and continues to this day; look at The Smith Street Band's latest) is that the lyrics tend not to be standard, boring lyrics. They have something to say a lot of the time and are so well written. This song is about a guy who looks at what others have and he doesn't, and decides that maybe breaking the law is the way to get what he wants, because "No amount of work's gonna buy my way to freedom " But this song pounds along like the rocker it is. What an opener.
'Never Before' I was never really sure what this song was about, but it does seem to be a guy trying to calm a woman in the only way he knows how not very well. As a song, it has similarities in sound to what would become Ian Moss' Matchbook album at the end of the 80s. It is a bit of a departure from the previous Cold Chisel albums, but this sort of difference is why East is regarded as one of their very best. This song has a groove to it and some wonderful guitar playing.
'Choirgirl' (My album has the title as one word, my cassette and the greatest hits albums as two, but I'll stick with the album.) A ballad. A strong, emotional, incredible ballad that showed us all that Jimmy Barnes could really sing. This was released as a single before the album, at the end of 1979. I have to admit that when I was younger, I didn't really like it, but as I've got older, I appreciate it much more and have come to see it as an excellent song. It just grew on me, that was all. And here's an interesting factoid I didn't know until the early 2000s: it's about the termination of a pregnancy. Holy cow.
'Rising Sun' And we go back to straight-ahead rock. This track is about a guy whose partner has gone to Japan, and he wants to get her back (including an unfortunate line) and he rants about it. This song just goes by so fast, belting along, that it scarcely matters. This is great live, by the way.
'My Baby' Slowing down again for a mid-tempo track. The track placement is very good on this whole album. This song is a classic Chisel song about a guy who is happy with his girl, even if she is not a super-model. And, really, that's all people want to be happy. I think the song is so well regarded because it is about being happy with what you got. Not just satisfied, but happy. Very positive song.
'Tomorrow' We close out side one with another great rock track, one that is under-rated amongst the Cold Chisel oeuvre. A guy has just been released from gaol and the papers won't let him forget it, and he is struggling to cope. Such amazing lyrics, and the music is on point. What a way to end the side.
'Cheap Wine' And side two starts with one of the all-time classic Chisel songs. This and 'Khe Sanh' are probably the best known songs Chisel ever released. This just resonated with so many people. "Cheap wine and a three day growth " That morning after has never been described so perfectly. I've seen interviews where the band said it is about not having much but having a good time anyway, but, in the late 80s, my friends and I took this as our morning after mantra. It is, indeed, one of their best.
'Best Kept Lies' Is that a hint of reggae I can hear in this track? A different sound; again, this is a definite strength of this album. The relationship described in this song is one that is not exactly healthy, and yet it is one I bet most people can relate to at least once in their lives. Another track that I grew into liking over time.
'Ita' A song that would have absolutely no meaning to anyone outside of Australia. Ita Buttrose was editor of a trashy women's gossip mag at the time. To me, it always felt like they were having a dig at her and the fact that people believe her lies. And she's still at it. She is just one of the many down-toned right-wingers in Australian media who hate the people and only care about the rich, peddling lies and fomenting division in society. In fact, if you recorded this today and used the word "Murdoch" instead of "Ita" you'd probably have a hit all over the Western world. Sorry, I'm ranting. Good song.
'Star Hotel' Another rocking track, about a riot at the titular hotel. The music gives the impression of you watching it for yourself. This is a track that is such an incredible meshing of lyrics, musical tone, the sung voice and emotion that it does actually bring the event to life. And I love the organ sound on the keyboards. Quite stunning, really. It does not go at a fast pace, but it is all there.
'Four Walls' And let's stay with the riot theme with a song about a riot at the Bathurst Gaol. However, this is a slow ballad. I know a few people who have been in prison, and they consider this a theme for just being in prison. Apparently a lot of guys who play guitar inside will learn this song, and there'll be a choir singing along. Depressing, yes, but it speaks to those guys in a way very few other songs do. They think Chisel understand them. That is something many of them want to be understood.
'My Turn To Cry' We finish with another fast-paced rocker. Strangely for this album, this is a straight-forward song about a lost love. The singer's partner has gone off with someone else. I knew about this song early; it was a track I played to myself after Barbara left me. This still speaks to me so many years later. Another forgotten Chisel classic.
Another classic album without a bad track. There is a reason why this album is considered one of the finest Australian albums ever produced. Not just rock albums, but albums in general. I would go so far as to say it is one of the better rock albums to have come out of the 1980s, full-stop, from any country. Cold Chisel are a band that should be recognised around the world. Maybe it's something we Australians can keep to ourselves, but I like the idea of sharing.
Cold Chisel are more than just a great Australian band they are a great band. They deserve so much more.