Midnight Oil: Their 20 Greatest Songs – Sorted | australian music

In his memoir Big Blue Sky, Peter Garrett cites an iron law of rock (and Regurgitator): fans will always tell you that they prefer your old stuff to your new stuff. That’s because, for any band that has a long career, the songs are associated with the memories we attach to them when we were growing up.

I grew up with Midnight Oil. They’re the first band I’ve seen live, I’ve seen them more than most, and had the great privilege of writing liner notes for their Overflow Tank box set. In compiling this list, I tried to keep in mind that my memories do not measure the quality of a song, let alone its cultural impact.

However, in this necessarily subjective list, I succumbed to the iron law. According to my calculations, Midnight Oil released three purely classic albums. These are Head Wounds, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 (usually abbreviated as 10-1) and Diesel and Dust. Ten songs here are taken from the last two alone. It was impossible to ignore them.

But these 10 songs don’t tell the story of Midnight Oil’s career enough. I tried to make it in this list. Yet he was burning to omit the magnificent Tarkine, from the band’s latest album, Resist, and Golden Age, from the underrated Capricornia. The 1990s may be unfairly underrepresented, other than two essential cuts from Blue Sky Mine.

Since 1978, Midnight Oil has released 13 studio albums, two studio EPs and various bric-a-brac. If space and time allowed, I could have more comfortably written about 30 songs, maybe 40. But I guess if you’ve ever seen them perform live – and live has always been the best way to experience Midnight Oil – you would have been pretty happy with this setlist.

20. No Time for Games (1980)

It was Midnight Oil’s first true anthem, amplifying their socio-political lyrical ambitions with a huge screaming chorus, sandwiched between delicate time signature changes. As was often the case with early Midnight Oil recordings, the live versions left the original sounding slow: check out the band’s lightning performance at their famous performance from late 1982 at the Capitol Theater in Sydney.

19. Best of Both Worlds (1984)

Made in Tokyo, Midnight Oil’s fifth album Red Sails in the Sunset expanded on the studio magic and ambitious arrangements of its 10-1 predecessor with slightly diminished returns. But Best of Both Worlds was a barn burner. Taking the Saints’ Know Your Product fusion of brass and guitar as a model, he threw shade at the rest of the album’s verbosity in his resolute attack.

Midnight Oil in Hobart in 2022. Photographer: Rémi Chauvin

18. Armistice Day (1980)

Place Without a Postcard was Midnight Oil’s difficult third album. Recorded with famed English producer Glyn Johns, it sounded like he had lead in his saddlebags – live performances of songs like lucky country and Brave Faces hint at what could have been. But on Armistice Day, the gloom plays in his favor. It’s a big, bad bomber of a song, Martin Rotsey’s anti-aircraft guitar dropping the heavy artillery.

17. Hercules (1985)

After pushing studio boundaries as far as they could with Red Sails in the Sunset, Midnight Oil returned to their northern beach surf-punk-hippie roots for the EP Species Deceases: four up-tempo rock, back-to-basic songs inspired by the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior and a trip to Hiroshima. Hercules was the main radio cut, highlighted by Jim Moginie’s mind-blowing inverted guitar in the coda.

16. Rising Seas (2022)

If you were hoping for a furious Midnight Oil comeback around 2022 – something that reminds you of your own youth – you’d be looking at their fine, probably last, album through the wrong end of the telescope. Here are men in their late 60s, looking back not in anger, but in horror. Rising Seas begins with an anthem, then builds, holding back the tide – a metaphor for the song’s subject. Finally, at 4.41, the song breaks its banks and overflows.

15. Back to the Limit (1979)

“The first thing I have to do with you is cut the hippie waffle,” producer Les Karski told Midnight Oil as they began recording their second album – and excellent first. Their first eponymous album had meandered at times, but Head injuries was tough, tense and mean, and Back on the Borderline was just perfect: Rob Hirst is on fire behind the kit, the guitars click and crackle, and there was an instantly memorable pop melody on top.

14. The Island of Wedding Cakes (1980)

Invoking the spirit of the shadows and Australian surf-rock pioneers the atlantic, this instrumental earned Midnight Oil their first serious airplay. At that time, commercial radio could not handle Garrett’s voice. An obscene and defamatory rant had been removed from the song’s mix, with just an inaudible snippet of conversation remaining. The end result is curiously melancholic and touching. The Atlantics returned the compliment with a wonderful cover.

Midnight Oil's Peter Garrett and Peter Gifford perform on stage in Chicago, Illinois in 1984.
Peter Garrett and Peter Gifford perform in Chicago, Illinois in 1984. Photography: Paul Natkin/Getty Images

13. Gunbarrel Highway (1987)

Not included on the original US CD or cassette editions of Diesel and Dust – and left out of the vinyl editions to this day – Gunbarrel Highway has been reduced to virtual bonus track status. Which is a real shame, because its big, cinematic sweep ranks among Midnight Oil’s most evocative songs, hurtling like a road train through endless mulga and spinifex, symbolizing the heavenly collision between modern and ancient.

12. Stand in Line (1979)

This live show was usually reserved as an encore, until it was dropped after Bones Hillman joined in 1987 (he struggled to master his devilish bassline). Stand in Line was the pinnacle of the band’s early surf-punk years: the lyrics were sharper, Garrett delivered them with insane engagement, and Moginie’s long, unconventional solo was jaw-dropping. The song back to set list for the Great Circle tour in 2017.

11. Dream World (1987)

Named after the Gold Coast theme park and inspired by Queensland’s ‘white shoe brigade’ of 1980s property developers, Dreamworld rocked hard. But it also featured layered harmonies and a huge down hook line, just a bit faster than the similar pattern in Cure’s contemporary Just Like Heaven. It’s the sound of a band full of confidence, probably the best overall performance on Diesel and Dust.

10. American Forces (1982)

Recorded with a young Nick Launay, who had worked with Birthday Party, Public Image Ltd and Killing Joke, Midnight Oil’s breakthrough album 10-1 was truly a post-punk record, both in spirit and in spirit. wildly experimental execution: on the hook refrain of the American forces, Hirst played piano strings with his drumsticks. But studio stuff never got in the way of songwriting – Armageddon never sounded so much fun.

9. Read About It (1982)

A live staple, often used to open shows, Read About It was built on a bed of furiously strummed semi-acoustic guitars, punctuated by Moginie’s devastating electric riff. The band works like a machine here, driven from behind by Hirst’s furious battery. Rumor has it that famed (fictional) producer Bruce Dickinson walked into the studio to demand No more cowbells on this one.

8. The Forgotten Years (1990)

This was Hirst’s response to Born in the USA; a song for the dead that warns of the complacency engendered by peacetime: “These are the years in between, these are the years that have been hard fought and won.” In his memoirs, Garrett ranks Forgotten Years alongside Eric Bogle’s And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda and Redgum’s I Was Only 19 among the best Australian anti-war songs. It rings with more urgency than ever.

Midnight Oil in Ghent, Belgium in 1988: (LR) Rob Hirst, Peter Garrett, Martin Rotsey, Bones Hillman, Jim Moginie.
Midnight Oil in Ghent, Belgium in 1988: (LR) Rob Hirst, Peter Garrett, Martin Rotsey, Bones Hillman, Jim Moginie. Photography: Gie Knaeps/Getty Images

7. The Dead Heart (1986)

Originally written to commemorate the return of Uluru to its traditional owners in 1986, The Dead Heart marked the beginning of the Oils’ heart rock era, setting the tone for campfire songs and Diesel road anthems. and Dust, on which he appeared. the next year. The music was no longer a clenched fist of steel; instead, it was full of space and light, with the band delivering their message with less aggression and more warmth.

6. Blue Sky Mine (1990)

A fully developed melody, gracefully sung by Garrett with backing from Hirst and the late great Hillman, and lyrics that transcended its origin story from the abandoned mining town of Wittenoom in Western Australia: the bitter irony of “nothing is as precious as a hole in the ground.” says it all. Rotsey’s brief, resounding guitar solo might be the best 15 seconds of his career.

5. Short Memory (1982)

The short memory seems so massive that its recorded three minutes and 54 seconds seem almost counterintuitively brief (it stretched more in concert). In short, cut lines, oddly told by Garrett, it runs through human history: those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. The break between Moginie, this time on piano and synthesizer, and Rotsey on guitar, is the most apocalyptic moment of 10-1.

4. The Beds Are Burning (1987)

Bob Dylan once observed that a band could tour for 15 years on a song like Beds Are Burning – which is, in fact, exactly what Midnight Oil did until Garrett left the band for a second career. in politics. Beds Are Burning opened up a massive international audience that had previously eluded the band. Ironically, it took a song about the chasm between Australian settlers and First Nations people to strike such universal chord. Recently covered by Patti Smith.

3. Only the Strong (1982)

By the time Midnight Oil arrived in London to record 10-1 in 1982, the band were broke, exhausted, on their last chance, and Hirst was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. His anxiety produced one of the Oils’ most impressive tunes — and he played out of his skin. Moginie and Rotsey are in a frantic call and response, every part of the complex musical arrangement is a hook.

2. Warakurna (1987)

Entirely written by Moginie after the band’s visit to the WA desert community and brought to the fully formed band, Warakurna was Diesel and Dust’s emotional peak, an incredibly empathetic reckoning with dispossession, violence and grief. But it’s also a matter of endurance, survival and respect. Midnight Oil was no longer trying to hit you in the head – Warakurna came straight from the heart.

1. Power and Passion (1982)

Author Donald Horne wrote that Australia was a lucky country, run by second-rate people who shared its luck. Power and passion distilled that sentiment into its brilliant opening line: “People, wasting away in paradise.” The last line quoted the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata: “It is better to die standing than to live on your knees. Topped off with Hirst’s bravura drum solo, it embodies everything that made this band great.

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