|We Can Get Together||Icehouse|
|Street Café||Primitive Man|
|Hey Little Girl||Primitive Man|
|Baby, You're So Strange||Measure For Measure|
|No Promises||Measure For Measure|
|Man Of Colours||Man Of Colours|
|Crazy||Man Of Colours|
|Electric Blue||Man Of Colours|
|Miss Divine||Code Blue|
Icehouse (l to r): Keith Welsh (bass), John Lloyd (drums), Iva Davies (guitar, vocals), Anthony Smith (keyboards)
Contributor: David Lewis
The atmospheric and powerful Icehouse – one of Australia’s most successful bands; one of Australia’s best songwriters and one of the best collections of musicians Australia has had.
Unlike the muscular Cold Chisel (Toppermost #320) or Midnight Oil (Toppermost #384), Icehouse defined an urbanity and sophistication: an inner city ambience, if you like. Headed by the elusive Iva Davies, a classically trained oboist (is there any other kind?), they were formed in 1977 as Flowers. They released some interesting singles under the name – the best of them being We Can Get Together. This song, for some reason, evokes late night to me in atmosphere and instrumentation.
They had to change their name – a Scottish band named ‘The Flowers’ had a monopoly on it. So, the first album which was called Icehouse (1980) inspired the new name. In fact, Icehouse, given the cold synth backings is a much more appropriate name. But the music is fantastic. The song Icehouse is a terrific example of this type of work.
Iva Davies’ unique songwriting developed quickly. He is a songwriter of great nuance and subtlety. I’m ignoring Great Southern Land (Primitive Man 1982), not because it’s not a wonderful song, but because it’s ubiquitous (though here is the official clip). From that album though, I’m adding Street Café. It always works. And Hey Little Girl is a unique approach – Icehouse don’t really sound like anything else.
The band is also able to rock out in a very satisfying way. Baby, You’re So Strange (Measure For Measure 1986) is an example of this. It’s not a standard rocker, but I’ve seen it fill dancefloors. And it’s a great song. No Promises from the same album is another great Icehouse track. The melody wraps and winds itself around to all sorts of interesting and unexpected places. Gorgeous and nuanced, it belongs in any top 10 of Icehouse (and ranks highly as an Australian composition anyway).
Icehouse’s use of synths are one of the key things that make them unique. Australian pub culture preferred guitars, bass drums, and maybe keys. Icehouse were one of a handful of bands which based their work around synths successfully. The 1987 album Man Of Colours is considered the masterpiece, and from it, I’m struggling not to include every song. But the title track Man Of Colours is sublime. Is it about Vincent Van Gogh? Is it about someone else? It doesn’t matter. It’s magnificent.
You’d have to be Crazy to ignore this track. Davies’ ennui-filled vocals are perfect for this type of thing. Great fun, a touch of humour, and a wonderfully structured song. I’m also going to add Electric Blue from Man Of Colours, co-written with John Oates it’s a stunning collaboration; the call and response, or really response and call, the verses, the lyrics – it’s all there.
Sydney and its life has always inspired Australia’s best writers. Miss Divine (Code Blue 1990) is purportedly about Tilly Divine, who was one of the more notorious underworld figures – running a string of brothels. Her great rival, Kate Leigh dealt in sly grog and stolen property. The two women waged the razor gang wars in the 1920s and 30s. Both highly charismatic, and Davies’ ode to Tilly is appropriate and mysterious.
Icehouse is a terrific live unit, the soundtrack to many people’s youth, and a lasting and important addition to Australian and world pop. In my one (brief) conversation with Iva Davies, he stated that he didn’t write unless he had a deadline, and as he had no deadlines, he wasn’t writing at the moment. This is a bit of a shame, as there’s no real dead spots in the discography. Nonetheless, they are actively touring, and Davies has nothing to prove. So enjoy these 10 songs, and keep digging.
David Lewis has written several posts for Toppermost. He lives in Sydney and lectures in Popular Culture and Contemporary and Roots Music at the Australian Institute of Music. A guitarist, mandolinist, banjoist and bassist, he plays everything from funk to country. He writes on music here.