Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler...Former teacher... Scientist... Published author... Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published January 20th 2020
10 times the greatness
I looked at 1980s songs about Australia in my last column here at Weekend Notes and one of my regular readers sent me an email literally three hours after it was posted. She asked if I had seen any of the wonderful cover versions of one of the songs I mentioned. I told her I'd seen a few, so she sent me links to a heap more.
I listened to them all and… wow. This was clearly a song that resonates with a lot of artists. And so, in the vein of similar columns I have done in the past, here is another "covered" column.
The song is 'Solid Rock' written by Shane Howard, originally released in 1982.
This is a song decrying the treatment of Indigenous Australians and has become a sort of an anthem for those pushing for greater recognition for the Indigenous population, for lessening the official and political and police prejudice against Indigenous people, and for those fighting against what Australia Day stands for in those eyes.
Yes, it has become a political song. But it always was. It was a protest song from the word go. It was written to make people think. And the fact that mantle has been taken up still, now, almost forty years later, shows just how incredibly effective it has been in encapsulating the feelings and thoughts of many.
All right, the song. It was first released by Goanna, off their wonderful Spirit Of Place album (which I bought on cassette) in 1982. It made an impact straight away, making the top 10 in the Australian music charts, winning awards and being everywhere. The pounding drums, the didgeridoo, the incredible harmonies, the great musicianship and the mind-blowing lyrics all combined to form a song that has, clearly, stood the tests of time.
In 2017, Jessica Mauboy released a slightly pop-ified version of the song from the sound track of her television series The Secret Daughter. While she tones down the roughness, there is no denying she means what she is singing.
Shane Howard released a re-recorded solo version of the song, slightly heavier in tone and slightly slower in pace from the original in 2012, with a magnificent guitar solo in there, punctuated by the didgeridoo. He called it 'Solid Rock (Puli Kunpungka)' and it is actually different enough from the original to stand out.
Darlow recorded a version in 2016, featuring Shane Howard. This is a slightly rocked up version, slower in pace, but with the harder riffs of a guitar band. This is probably my favourite of the cover versions of this track. It has enough of a different feel to actually seem different, but it still maintains the integrity of the original so amazingly well. Just awesome.
In 2011, Darker Half, a hard rock band, recorded a slightly heavier version of the track as well. And, with its little guitar flurries, the standard heavy-metal singing, it works amazingly well, far better than I would have thought it would have.
In 2015, Dead Kelly upped the ante and recorded an even heavier version on their Bushfire EP. Really upped the ante. This is thrash metal, with incredible double kicks on the drum, the stereotypical growled voice and yet it maintains that familiar guitar riff and even some didgeridoo. This is probably a real "like it or not", no middle ground song. I like it, but my tastes are nothing if not eclectic. However, I do know many others won't (and that includes the woman who gave me the idea for this column).
All right, let's head off in a slightly different musical direction. In 2009 The Street Warriors, a hip hop group, recorded a version with Shannon Noll. This version was quite popular at the time, and the fact that the song works as a hip hop tune, maintaining its musical heritage at the same time, shows just how incredibly well written it was originally.
Let's slow things down now. Wes Carr was a winner of one of those television talent shows (term used advisedly). But, unlike many other winners, he could sing and could actually perform. As such, in 2018, he released a covers album of Australian classics called Australiana. One of those tracks was our friend, 'Solid Rock'. But, instead of just doing a straight ahead cover, he recorded it with minimal instrumentation, acoustic guitar at the forefront, voices the dominant thing. And again, despite the different presentation, damn if it didn't work magnificently. This column has actually inspired me to order the album…
All right, now that we've slowed down, let's go further. In 2017, ABC released an album called Deadly Hearts where Indigenous artists were asked to record versions of songs that had meant a lot to them. Robbie Miller chose 'Solid Rock'. Stripped right back, just a man and a guitar, it is an impassioned cry in his hands, and shows, yet again, the power of the song to be what ever anyone wants it to be. This is a stunningly beautiful version, and I am indebted to my online friend for introducing me to it. Wow.
And we'll finish with a version by Shane Howard (again), this time with Isaiah, performing the track at the 2017 New Year's Eve celebrations from Sydney, broadcast on ABC TV. I don't know why I like it – the slow start into a straight-ahead cover – but I do. The backing band is tight and does a great job and they do justice to the song. Just a nice way to finish, I think.
All right, so there we have it. 10 versions of 'Solid Rock', in time for Australia Day. This might be too much for some people, but I think it shows one very important thing: a truly great song can be covered and interpreted in many very different ways and yet still remain not only relevant but also maintain its message and its power.