The Go-Betweens

TrackAlbum
The Sound Of Rain1978 - 1990
Cattle And CaneBefore Hollywood
As Long As ThatBefore Hollywood
Part CompanySpring Hill Fair
Spring RainLiberty Belle And The Black Diamond Express
Twin Layers Of LightningLiberty Belle And The Black Diamond Express
Apology AcceptedLiberty Belle And The Black Diamond Express
Bye Bye PrideTallulah
Love Goes On!16 Lovers Lane
Dive For Your Memory16 Lovers Lane
Surfing MagazinesThe Friends Of Rachel Worth
Going BlindThe Friends Of Rachel Worth
Here Comes A CityOceans Apart
Darlinghurst NightsOceans Apart
This Night's For YouOceans Apart

spotify-logo-primary-horizontal-dark-background-rgb-sm

 

 

Contributors: Glenn Smith, Ben Clancy, Andrew Shields

3 contributors, 5 songs each, those were the rules. 15 songs were then chosen at three different locations, incredibly without any song duplication. So, on to contributor number one…

Two distinct songwriters, one of them in love with the drummer, the other playing bass like a songwriter and then falling in love with the oboist. A fine collection of musical support players and a truly unique take on being Australian, what Robert Forster described as their striped sunlight sound, what Grant McLennan wrote of as the houses of tin and timber. This is the Go-kBetweens. Two unique voices that perfectly complemented each other and although hints of it emerged towards the end of their first incarnation, generally the writing team worked perfectly as an overlapping partnership both on record and live.

And it was live where the striped sunlight shone brightest. Forster’s driving rhythm guitar worked as one with Lindy Morrison’s drumming; the two often rehearsed as a duo and it provided a subtle difference in the live sound, the powerhouse chords and spaced and spacy drumming holding everything together, with the bass pushing out from the melody. McLennan and Robert Vickers in particular took bass playing into new places in rock and pop, heavily influencing a lot of what followed, in particular the Pixies/Breeders sound. The early eighties was a strange time for Australian bands in cardigans; they would start live in the small inner city clubs and then be lured out to what were commonly called the beer barns, licensed rugby leagues, workers, and returned soldiers clubs awash with poker machine money and looking for any type of entertainment that would fill their cavernous auditoriums. I can remember heading out to the west of Sydney to see the GBs at the Revesby Workers Club on a Saturday night, can’t remember who they were supporting but it doesn’t matter as they were superb and their performance was only enhanced by the surroundings. The auditorium was encircled by pokies, playing in a fake Vegas before a hundred or so die hards and they gave their all. It was early in the Amanda Brown period with Robert still on bass, and in this melange of purple and orange bright lights and sounds they played the set of their lives, trawling their back catalogue, covering all their records including such rare gems such as Hammer The Hammer. Wonderful Revesby nights with the Go-Betweens.

On record astonishingly there are no low lights, no bad records, each album providing something in terms of song writing and performance. And neither song writer dominates, each one holding his own in each and every record, this is where they are unique. Sure, Grant started to write the pop songs towards the end of the first era, but for every Streets Of Your Town, Robert would return serve with masterpieces such as Clouds. Any Go-Betweens fan knows the relationship to the song is deeply personal, but here are mine for those who want to come and have a look.

 

As Long As That (Before Hollywood 1982)

The strange melodic bass ushers us into the duelling perspective of Forster and McLennan. “Were you born or just conceived?” asks Forster as the chorus is played out, McLennan responds with “What can I say, there’s lightning on the hill tonight”. Colours are changing shape; inspirations are questioned as the melody resolves itself in a rousing chorus. Taken from one of their early albums, this song gives us the best of the band and one of the rare occasions where the two writers share the song and singing.

 

Twin Layers Of Lightning
(Liberty Belle And The Black Diamond Express 1985)

The search for fame, the lust for recognition, is a constant theme in Forster’s songs; it is an ache, an itch that can’t be scratched. This song is a poignant reflection on the bitterness and frustration of their London experience, the tune glides along horizontally, while Forster shouts at a world that doesn’t realise he’s a star. The drums hide behind the tune, they are almost non-existent, and there are spaces left throughout the arrangement for a mournful guitar figure that highlights Forster’s impatience with the non-arrival of either infamy or fame.

 

This Night’s For You (Oceans Apart 2005)

The melody maker that was Grant McLennan is beautifully shown in this superb latter period love song. More likely than Forster to be musically adventurous, this song brings in a hum along verse that is then balanced by the more aggressive chorus. He starts by talking about following footprints to the end of the room, finding silver flying around, but then the mood darkens, with towers falling and fires burning as a disengaged lover is confronted with what has gone wrong. Lyrically, This Night’s For You is one of his finest efforts showcasing how he could always wear his quiet heart on his sleeve in a manner that was deeply moving.

 

Bye Bye Pride (Tallulah 1986)

The arrival in 1986 of multi-instrumentalist Amanda Brown brought a new and dynamic sophistication to the song writing and arrangements. Amanda and Grant started a relationship, thereby creating two partnerships in the band, which brought a different feel to McLennan’s lyrics, there was a new poignancy and focus to his words, his pictures being painted with one person in mind. Bye Bye Pride highlights his new found lyrical focus as well as the added colour and light brought by Brown’s musicianship. The lilting oboe that floats through the melody brings an added dimension and meaning to the words. The album before he’d been singing about taking the wrong roads down, now he sings with joy, the doors are open wide, fans are off, he’s out into the street and the birds are singing, “I didn’t know someone could be so lonesome”. A personal and family favourite, the kids could sing along to this when they were four and five, probably the band’s best moment. Enjoy.

 

Part Company (Spring Hill Fair 1983)

“Come and have a look,” sings Robert as he looks on where he is at, having now parted company. Again the weave of the guitar takes us along for the sad and forlorn trudge of the parting. He calls it for what it is; her cruelty, her unfaithfulness, it’s all mud in the September rain as it comes back to him. An eerie keyboard line sits outside the melody, going higher in pitch as his regrets build and build. A key feature of Robert’s songs is his powerful rhythm guitar, here strummed with gusto as the array of minor chords pour out behind him, supporting him in his anguish. All a bit heavy I know but quite superb, Morrissey would have been proud to write it (see main clip above).

Glenn Smith

 

I am saying this with extreme modesty, but we made great music. We made music that was good enough to be written about… Good enough to be discussed, good enough to be dissected, good enough to be criticised. Go-Betweens albums can be held up to very harsh light.” Robert Forster

The Sound Of Rain (1978 – 1990 compilation)

Some Go-Betweens fans like to speculate that if the early Brisbane recordings had been released as the debut album instead of Send Me A Lullaby, then the band would have been more successful. Rubbish. There’s no alternative history where The Go-Betweens’ critical acclaim is matched by record sales.

No matter how much was spent on the production and videos for Tallulah, the charts were untroubled. No matter that Mark Wallis, who had helped transform The Primitives into a top 10 band, produced 16 Lovers Lane. There was no magic dust to give The Go-Betweens a hit. Streets Of Your Town, an all-time classic pop song, even has that staple of soft rock million-sellers, a nylon string guitar solo, but still the public looked the other way.

When Gang of Four and Wire fan Lindy Morrison joins the band, after they’ve been to Britain and recorded for Postcard, things start to fall into place. You’ve got It Could Be Anyone from Send Me A Lullaby to point to the future, but The Sound Of Rain is where it starts. It’s the sound of a band finding the sweet spot between art rock and melodic pop. I imagine that the band listened to Highway 61 and The Monkees’ Sometime In The Morning before recording The Sound Of Rain in Robert’s bedroom. This song features The Apartments’ Peter Milton Walsh on teardrop guitar. They sound absolutely vital here.

 

Apology Accepted (Liberty Belle And The Black Diamond Express 1986)

He lost his father when he was very young and I think that’s a good starting point for a lot of what he was and what he wrote about. I think the melancholy is right at the very heart of it.” Robert Forster

If I had to describe to you what people mean when they write about love, I’d point you to side two of Liberty Belle And The Black Diamond Express. In particular, I’d play you the songs that bookend that peerless run of songs: In The Core Of A Flame and Apology Accepted.

You’d start by feeling the rush of lust and desire that is passion’s full fire: “If the devil had seen your dress/He would’ve changed his name/Put down his fork and moved up above/Why burn in hell when you burn for love?” And then you’d learn what love really means by measuring the weight of its loss in Apology Accepted.

Better songs may have been written, but when I’m listening to the uncompromising emotion of Apology Accepted I can’t call any of them to mind.

 

Love Goes On! (16 Lovers Lane 1988)

In 1988 the band moved back to Australia after five years in London. 16 Lovers Lane has a sense of light and freedom, but the whole record is superbly alive to the band’s internal relationships. Robert and Lindy had broken up, Grant and Amanda Brown had started going out together, and Robert and Grant’s competitiveness inspired each other to write some of their best songs. Amanda says that “Love Goes On! is an unashamedly excitable song about love and lust … there’s a sort of muted guitar part that when the song drops down in the final verse sounds like a little racing heartbeat … it captures that rush and excitement of early love.”

If you want a song from 16 Lovers Lane that presages the band’s break up, listen to Dive For Your Memory (see below). If you want a song that confronts love head on, listen to Love Goes On!. Grant McLennan didn’t really write rock ‘n’ roll songs, but that’s what this is. And it’s magnificent. Little wonder it’s Forster’s favourite McLennan song.

 

Going Blind (The Friends Of Rachel Worth 2000)

I interviewed Grant in 2003 for TNT Magazine before the release of Bright Yellow Bright Orange – a surer-footed, stronger record than The Friends Of Rachel Worth, but one without a signature pop song – and asked him where the next Going Blind was coming from. He started singing Going Blind, beaming with happiness, and was lost in its spell.

When he recovered his composure, I recalled seeing The Go-Betweens play Going Blind at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire three years previously. There’s not a lot for Robert to do in this song. He tried to get some attention by dancing outlandishly. Even if there’s something particularly distinctive about a tall, thin man in a canary-yellow suit striking poses, the moment belonged to Grant.

Grant knew exactly what I was talking about, but ever the gentleman he wouldn’t be drawn on the matter. Maybe he knew that when you’re playing a pop song you’ve written that’s every bit as good as Ticket To Ride, all eyes will be on you.

 

Here Comes A City (Oceans Apart 2005)

There was a great rumour that when Robert and Grant reformed The Go-Betweens, Lindy insisted that they should be called, in the tradition of their country’s tribute bands, The Australian Go-Betweens. Grant laughed at this suggestion when I put it to him. The rumour had been started by a mischievous associate of theirs. Nonetheless, the reformed band are clearly better and more confident on Bright Yellow Bright Orange and Oceans Apart when they have a settled line-up than they were on The Friends Of Rachel Worth.

Here Comes A City is classic Forster; a nervy, jagged riff with its eye on the finish line. It’s too simplistic to say that McLennan wrote the pop songs (even a single like Was There Anything I Could Do? has a difficult rhythm) and Forster wrote the artier songs (“Sometimes I think [People Say] is the best song I’ve ever written”). It’s this song – and others like Man O’ Sand To Girl O’ Sea and Spring Rain – that suggests The Go-Betweens could only be who they were because of Forster’s distinct otherness.

I don’t – I can’t – have a favourite out of Forster and McLennan, but I recognise that the band’s essence was in part thanks to songs like Here Comes A City that start by imagining what Fairport Convention might have sounded like with John Fogerty.

Ben Clancy

 

Like the great songwriter, Paul Kelly, and the brilliant guitarist, Rowland S. Howard, the Go-Betweens were among those artists whose music I only really began to explore after I moved from Ireland to Australia in the early 2000s. What all three of these fine artists shared was an unashamed literariness and (especially in the case of Kelly and The G-Bs) a determination to portray a distinctively Australian sensibility in their music. This marked them out from many of the Australian artists I had heard previously who, whatever their degree of artistic excellence, often seemed determined to sound generically American in their work. Unlike many of their Australian contemporaries, The Go-Betweens also had an unashamedly ‘arty’ edge to their music. Both of the principal songwriters in the group, Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, had studied English literature at the University of Brisbane and they also shared a common interest in film, and, more particularly, in art-house cinema. In consequence, their work was to be regularly sprinkled with references to both art forms.

Their interests in music were also eclectic ones, ranging from a shared enthusiasm for the music of the Velvet Underground to an admiration for the then far less fashionable group, The Monkees. In this respect, the contemporary band they most resembled were the great Scottish group, Orange Juice, who, like them, attempted to combine what might be termed an ‘indie’ sensibility with a wide range of other influences, including classic pop and soul music. Both bands briefly shared a common record label, Postcard Records, and their songwriting styles were similarly quirky and idiosyncratic. The two bands also shared a wry and droll sense of humour and this characteristic was to be a particularly marked feature of some of the best of Robert Forster’s songs for the group.

From their earliest recordings onwards, it was clear that The Go-Betweens were one of the more interesting bands to emerge from Australia in the wake of the musical explosion that had been triggered by The Sex Pistols.

 

Cattle And Cane (Before Hollywood 1982)

However, the first undisputed classic to be written by the band was the haunting Cattle And Cane. It is one of those rare songs which continues to reveal new levels of meaning the more one listens to it. It is also beautifully produced and is an excellent demonstration of the layered and finely crafted approach which the band took to the arrangement of their songs. Its unusual rhythm also has a strangely hypnotic effect and this is added to by the seemingly straightforward but somehow elusive lyric of the song. What struck me on first hearing it was how brilliantly vivid and evocative was its portrayal of Grant McLennan’s youth on a remote farm in Queensland. For someone like me who grew up outside Australia there was also something intriguingly exotic in its portrayal of a young boy travelling home “through fields of cane to a house of tin and timber” with above him “a rain of falling cinders”. What give the song its air of mystery, however, is the fact that it does not follow a chronological pattern but rather gives snapshots of different periods in McLennan’s youth. These shifts also leave some questions unanswered; what, for example, is the significance of his father, who died young, leaving his watch in the shower? The song also avoids being overly nostalgic, by pointing to the larger world outside Queensland to which the young boy aspires.

 

Spring Rain (Liberty Belle And The Black Diamond Express 1986)

My next choice comes from the band’s fourth album. Like Cattle And Cane the lyric of the song is rather ambiguous, but it appears to deal with Robert Forster’s aspirations, during his adolescent years, for some kind of transformation to occur which would give him the possibility of a more fulfilled life. Like many of the band’s other songs, the slightly melancholic air of some of its verses opens out into an openly optimistic and romantic chorus, which carries the promise that these long sought for changes will actually happen. Again, the essentially optimistic nature of the group’s songs – and the generally upbeat character of their arrangements – was something they shared with Orange Juice and, in many ways, this feature of the two groups ran counter to the prevailing atmosphere within rock music at that time. Indeed, the ‘striped sunlight sound’ of the G-Bs, as it was described by Forster, was to find, perhaps, its real apotheosis in their next album, the classic 16 Lovers Lane.

This was, by far, the poppiest of their records and it contained a number of their most enduring songs. Its sound was also, by their own admission, heavily influenced by the surroundings in which it was written. They wrote most of the tracks on the album in the beach suburbs of Sydney and they are characterised by what Jonathan Richman has described as ‘that summer feeling’.

 

Dive For Your Memory (16 Lovers Lane 1988)

An exception to the generally buoyant character of the album, however, is Robert Forster’s more downbeat song. Dive For Your Memory is, perhaps, his finest love song and was inspired by the break-up of his relationship with fellow band member, Lindy Morrison. The song also benefits from the superb guitar work of John Willsteed, whose brief tenure with the band ended once 16 Lovers Lane was finished. Indeed, his rather abrasive personality seems to have played a part in exacerbating the tensions between the group’s members which became ever more obvious during the making of that record. These tensions eventually resulted in the band splitting up, with both Forster and McLennan pursuing solo projects and collaborations with other artists for the best part of a decade before eventually reuniting on a more or less permanent basis in 2000.

 

Surfing Magazines (The Friends Of Rachel Worth 2000)

My final two selections here come from the albums which the band made in the years between 2000 and Grant McLennan’s untimely death in May 2006. The first of these, Surfing Magazines, is a fine example of Robert Forster’s superb ability to put an ironic twist on the lyric he is delivering (a skill he shares with other great songwriters like Bob Dylan and Lou Reed). Indeed, from his deadpan delivery of the song it is hard to know whether he is celebrating the lifestyle he is describing so evocatively in it or satirising it. The song also manages to combine being rather kitschy (listen to the keyboard arrangement, for instance) and throwaway and, at the same time, being an extremely skilful evocation of Forster’s own youth. It is also an undeniably catchy song and is a good demonstration of Forster’s ear for a pop hook.

 

Darlinghurst Nights (Oceans Apart 2005)

My last choice is Forster’s superb song from their 2005 album. Like Cattle And Cane, Darlinghurst Nights is a finely crafted evocation of a particular time and place, although, in this case the song deals with the time which the group spent in hanging out in the then ‘arty’ suburb of Darlinghurst in Sydney in the early 1980s.

Forster remembers this as a time that had ‘so many possibilities’ and as one when he regularly met with other young and talented Australian rock musicians, artists, writers and film makers while walking the streets of the suburb. However, anyone who is familiar either with college life or with bohemian circles in any of the larger cities will immediately recognise many of the characters and incidents described in it. Its lush jazz-influenced arrangement also showed the distance that the band had travelled from its early punk-inspired days in Brisbane. McLennan’s death the following year brought an end to this great partnership between two fine songwriters, whose talents so finely complemented each other. During the lifetime of The Go-Betweens however, the band has repeatedly shown, as with the best writers, that if you describe the particular well enough, it becomes universal.

Andrew Shields

 

The Go-Betweens website

Robert Forster official website

A true hipster: Remembering Grant McLennan – by Robert Forster

Amanda Brown discography

Lindy Morrison discography

The Go-Betweens biography (iTunes)

Glenn Smith lives in Sydney and teaches high school English, plays very bad guitar with his bass playing son and spends far too much time thinking about The Beatles …

Ben Clancy has promoted the annual Grant McLennan tribute gig every Sunday of the May Day bank holiday since 2011 as part of the Hangover Lounge club, which he co-runs, at the Lexington.

Andrew Shields is a freelance historian, who grew up in the West of Ireland and currently lives in Sydney, Australia. Along with an interest in history, politics and literature, his other principal occupations are listening to and reading about the music of Bob Dylan and, in more recent years, immersing himself in the often brilliant and unduly neglected music of Phil Ochs …

The Go-Betweens topper-15 in the list at the top of this page is in chronological order.

TopperPost #427

2 Comments

  1. David Tanner
    Mar 30, 2015

    Great list, even though mine would be VERY different. But that’s the point of Toppermost it’s all about the contributors individual choices. Off to make up a playlist of your selections immediately!

  2. Nairn Davidson
    Apr 7, 2015

    It’s all gold dust, but I would insist on I Just Get Caught Out in the ten.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

↓