Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler...Former teacher... Scientist... Published author... Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published December 3rd 2019
Vale to an Australian icon
On December 2nd, 2019, a part of my childhood and teenage-hood passed away. Andrew "Greedy" Smith, founder and singer (and keyboard player and songwriter and harmonica player… man, the guy was just talent) with Australian band Mental As Anything, died of a heart attack. He was only 63 years old. He was a member of both the Aria and Australia Songwriters Halls of Fame. The man was an icon of Australian music.
Now, I have not mentioned a lot of Mental As Anything's music (though the album Mouth To Mouth just missed my main list for best albums of 1987), but if you grew up in the 1980s, they were always there. They had an infectious style that made their songs instantly singable.
But Greedy himself seemed to be such a likeable man. His appearances on television and radio always seemed filled with such good cheer and fun. The interviewers seemed to genuinely enjoy talking to him. There was always a twinkle in his eye that said he was having fun. And you just never read any negativity about the man. He was universally loved in the Australian music industry. As such, that makes his passing all the more sad. This was a nice man of music, and he produced some all-time classics of Australiana.
A quick word – why on Earth wasn't Mental As Anything bigger around the world? Their music was great, their songs were easy to sing along to and they exuded a spirit of fun. Sure, they made some small inroads into foreign album charts, but not the top of the world success they deserved.
And so, as a way of celebrating Greedy Smith, here are my favourite Mental As Anything songs…
First, let's start with 5 cover versions. Mental As Anything were masters of covering other people's songs in their own style, and some of their best work was with other artists' creations.
'Working For The Man' single (1983)
This was, in fact, the first Mental As Anything song I really got into. I'd heard and enjoyed other Mentals songs before, but this one made me into something of a fan. The reason was I was brought up by my father on a steady musical diet of songs from the world before 1966 (long story about that…), and one of my dad's favourite recording artists was Roy Orbison. So, when I was listening to the radio one day and I heard what sounded like the Roy Orbison classic (which dad had – and now I have – on 45) my ears pricked up. It was not as good as the original, but I really enjoyed it. I waited for the DJ to tell me who it was and – bang! – suddenly I entered the world of Mental As Anything. It is a pretty straight forward cover, but that does not diminish its goodness.
'Love Me Tender' single (1987)
I have no idea why I bought this single except that it was Mental As Anything, I saw it, I had a few bucks to spare, and so now I own it. I reckon I bought it the year after it was released (on vinyl, of course) when I was going through a state of melancholy. 1988 was also when my friendship (platonic and one of the strongest I ever had) with Melinda was at its peak, but I still missed Clare and Barbara, and so this old Elvis song struck a chord with me. I really did like the way it was delivered and the little outro was such a sweet extra.
'Rock And Roll Music' from Cyclone Raymond and Young Einstein Original Soundtrack (1988)
Ah, that perennial favourite. The old Chuck Berry number – though most people I know seem to only really recall the version by The Beatles – which you hear most 60s cover bands perform is given the Mental As Anything treatment from a bizarre Yahoo Serious movie. Slightly straight-forward cover version, truth be told, but it does have that sense of joy about it that the Mentals seemed to bring to a lot of their work. One of the highlights of the soundtrack album, really.
'Smoke On The Water' from Andrew Denton's Musical Challenge (2001) No Video – sorry! Andrew Denton was the host of a radio station morning programme for a while, and as a part of that he would get various artistes to come in and perform songs right out of left-field when looking at their own oeuvre. And so he had the Mentals perform this Deep Purple classic, and, man, if they didn't blow it away. It is different from the original and just sounds awesome, from the whistled and "doo-doo" intro through to the end. Great version.
'Enter Sandman' from Triple M Musical Challenge 3 (2002)
In 2002 we had no more Andrew Denton on the Musical Challenge, but it still existed. And so the Mentals returned, and they brought with them Metallica and one of the strangest (harmonica-led) cover versions ever. Metallica fans will call this sacrilege, but I don't care – I like it. It just sounds so strange and it's got true ear-worm qualities. Just great. Honestly.
And now 10 original Mental As Anything tracks:
'(Just Like) Romeo & Juliet' single (1980)
This is a song I did not really like when I first heard it, but as I grew older, it grew on me until it became one of my favourites from the Mentals' playlist. I think when I first heard it I didn't understand it completely, but as I grew a little wiser (possibly), I saw where it was coming from. And, really, the organ-dominated backing music is really cool.
'If You Leave Me Can I Come Too?' from Cats & Dogs (1981)
I was attracted to this song when I first saw the title. What a great title! I had it on a collection (one of those K-Tel ones, 1981… Rocks On in this case) and it was one of the better tracks on that album. What a great song, with a sentiment that is unique and yet compelling. What better way to ask your significant other not to leave the relationship? Just perfect.
'Too Many Times' from Cats & Dogs (1981)
I did not understand this song when I first heard it, but by the time I was sixteen and had discovered the (alleged) joys of drinking to excess, and then losing too many female friends (through my own stupidity, I do admit), this song seemed strangely personal to me. And it has some really good music. For such a depressing lyrical song, it is surprisingly jaunty and catchy.
'I Didn't Mean To Be Mean' single (1982)
Nice wordplay and infectious organ-driven music make this another of those fun songs. Well, sort of. The lyrics are dark – the guy is admitting he isn't the nicest person, even to the ones he loves. And yet, the music is just so bouncy and poppy and happy. Such a well-done juxtaposition, something not done successfully too often.
'Spirit Got Lost' from Creatures Of Leisure (1983)
This is a strange song. Musically, it is verging on the happy Halloween ditty (is that really a thing?); lyrically, it is a strange song that sounds almost philosophical ("I was lying in bed when I woke up dead/Cool, but not too calm…"). I think it is a song about missing a girl, but what a unique and awesome metaphor for that feeling!
'Apocalypso (Wiping The Smile Off Santa's Face)' single (1984)
Hey! A Christmas song! This came out when I was in high school and, that year, along with a bootleg version of Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band singing 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town', this was pretty much our go-to Christmas song. Playing on the fears of Reagan-era USA brinkmanship and adding a Christmas theme, this rather melancholy (especially for the Mentals) tune summed up the times so wonderfully well. It seems odd, but I haven't thought about this song in over twenty years. For a track that I listened to so much way back when, that is a bad thing on my part.
'Live It Up' from Fundamental (As Anything) (1985)
Like so many songs I've mentioned from this time period, this was a song that you simply could not get away from at the various Blue Light Discos we attended. It was always there, every time. But that was okay, because it was one of those songs where everyone in the audience would sing along, because we knew it and we loved it. This song brings back some happy memories of those days, and the song is a song of hope and cheer as well. A feel-good song.
'You're So Strong' from Fundamental (As Anything) (1985)
"Try not to break me, baby/ You're so strong…" This is one of the strangest love songs ever, and yet it is definitely a song of great affection. I seem to remember this at a few Blue Light Discos back in the day as well. At least, I certainly remember singing along to it very loudly. Could have been a few parties. Never mind – I relate this song to large groups of people screaming it.
'He's Just No Good For You' from Mouth To Mouth (1986)
The thing I remember about this song more than anything else is the single-shot video clip – so amazingly well done – and the over-amorous dog at the end. But when I had a chance to hear the song away from the stunning visuals, it is actually a really good song as well. Telling a girl to come back because her new beau is not a nice person is a standard of song-writing, and has been for years, but, again, this is Mental As Anything, and the song is just so easy to sing along to, you almost forget that it really is a song of desperation. "You deserve a whole lot better than that…"
'Don't Tell Me Now' from Mouth To Mouth (1986)
Another song with great sing-along qualities about it. This one probably resonates with me because of the time it was released and the fact this is that time period I seem to drift back to again and again. The brass section adds a little pep to it, lifting it to something slightly different, and yet still undeniably Mental As Anything. Try not singing along to this by the end of it.
That, I think, is the best way to celebrate the life of Greedy Smith – through the music he created with one of the great Australian bands. His contribution to Australian music is sometimes overlooked, but it should never be forgotten. This was an icon of Australian culture.
Thanks for the remembrances Steven.
A great list of songs. I remember the first time I heard them, way back when with the Nips are Getting Bigger on Countdown. Unfortunately I asked some people I volunteer with about the Mentals, who are around my age, and they were all totally ignorant. Shame! Obviously they had never watched Countdown or listened to any pop music.