The most obscure hit songs in Australian history: Part four
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23.01.2023

The most obscure hit songs in Australian history: Part four

Words by John Phillips

Here are three more classic Australian rock/pop songs from hard-working bands and artists of the 1970s and early 1980s. They get very little airplay on commercial radio these days but definitely deserve a rehearing.

Black And Blue – Chain (1971)

Highest Chart Position:  12 (Kent Music Report)

Chain are an Australian rhythm and blues band that originally formed as The Chain in Perth in late 1968 before relocating to Melbourne. The original lineup consisted of Wendy Saddington on lead vocals, Phil Manning (guitar and vocals), Warren Morgan (keyboard and vocals), Murray Wilkins (bass) and Ace Follington (drums). The band has been through numerous lineup changes over the years, perhaps the most significant being Wendy Saddington’s departure in May 1969, and her eventual replacement on lead vocals by Brisbane-born singer and harmonica player Matt Taylor, in September 1970.

The “classic line-up” which recorded Black And Blue comprised Phil Manning on guitar and vocals, Matt Taylor on lead vocals and harmonica, Barry Harvey (also known as Little Goose or LG) on drums, and Barry Sullivan (Big Goose or BG) on bass. The song was recorded on Festival’s Infinity label at TSC Studios in Melbourne, and released as the band’s second single in early 1971. It peaked at No. 12 in May 1971 and stayed in the charts for 24 weeks. It was the band’s only Top 20 hit.

The song is about the miseries of life as a convict in a chain gang. It starts sparingly with a percussive representation of a sledgehammer striking steel and wood, over which Matt Taylor, in his distinctive authentic Australian accent, begins to outline his grievances. “You work me so hard that my back’s near broke” he cries, to which the band respond in a pained chant: “We’re groaning!” Phil Manning then peels off one of the great Australian blues-rock riffs, cleanly and sweetly, an eighteen-note beauty. With BG and LG’s super-tight rhythm section driving it along, more superb guitar playing from Manning, and Taylor’s harmonica providing light and drama, the song is an Aussie blues classic.

The follow-up single, Judgement, reached No. 30 on the charts in July 1971, while the album Toward The Blues, released in September 1971 and containing both singles, went Gold and reached No. 6 on the Kent Music Report national album charts.

Chain have split up and reformed with various lineups over the years, and continue to perform today. They will be playing gigs in Melbourne and Warrnambool in March 2023, and at the Byron Bay Bluesfest in April. For more information see their website at https://www.matttaylor-chain.com/

You Weren’t In Love With Me – Billy Field (1981)

Highest Chart Position – 1

Billy Field is a multi-instrumentalist musician, record producer and recording studio owner from Sydney. He was born in Wagga Wagga in 1953 and raised on his family’s rural sheep station near the small Riverina town of Urana, where he worked into his twenties. He undertook his secondary education as a boarder at Cranbrook School in Sydney, returning to the farm during school breaks.

He began performing in pub bands and as a solo artist at bars and other venues around Sydney in the early 70s, but returned to work on the family farm following the death of his father. He left the farm to play music full-time in the late 70s. In 1978 he partnered with fellow musician Andrew Richardson to establish what became the very successful recording studio Paradise Studios, where top selling albums by a who’s-who of Australian musical acts, including The Angels, Icehouse, Cold Chisel, Paul Kelly, Air Supply and many others, were recorded.

You Weren’t In Love With Me is the second single from the No. 1 album Bad Habits, which Billy Field co-wrote and co-produced with his friend Tom Price. The first single from the album, Bad Habits, had already gone to No. 4 on 6 July 1981. In an interview with music journalist Cheryl Lee, Billy Field said You Weren’t In Love With Me wasn’t really meant to be on the album as it was thematically wrong for a swing/big band album like Bad Habits. Needing one more big band song to make the tenth track, and reluctant to spend the thousands of dollars required to return to the studio to record one, Tom Price suggested they include You Weren’t In Love With Me instead. Billy Field reluctantly agreed, and the rest is history. The song was a massive hit. It peaked at No. 1 on the national charts on 2 November 1981, and was in the charts for 22 weeks.  It also won Most Performed Australasian Popular Work at the APRA Music Awards of 1982, and has been covered by Marina Prior and Beccy Cole.

The song is a beautifully arranged, sentimental tear-jerker about unrequited love, sung at the piano by Billy in his distinctive husky voice over a background of tasteful strings and plaintive backing vocals. You can almost see him shaking his head in regret as he delivers the song’s killer hook line: “Blind Freddy knew that/Blind man could see/I was in love with you/but you weren’t in love with me”. Though clearly different in style to the rest of the album, the song is a standout as a pop ballad, which makes its general absence from commercial radio playlists difficult to fathom.

Billy Field continues to perform, produce and record. For more information, have a look at his website: http://www.billyfield.com.au/

They Won’t Let My Girlfriend Talk To Me – Jimmy And The Boys (1981)

Highest Chart Position – 8

Jimmy And The Boys was a new wave/shock rock band from Sydney, formed in 1976 by old school friends Ignatius Jones, born Juan Ignacio Trapaga (lead vocals), and Joylene Thornbird Hairmouth, born William O’Riordan (keyboard and vocals). They were joined by a changing cast of supporting musicians over the band’s six-year life, before the group disbanded in 1982.

Their live act was very popular. On stage, Jimmy And The Boys set out to amuse, shock and outrage their audience, with stage antics that included contortionist acts by Ignatius and onstage fires, amid a somewhat chaotic celebration of sado-masochism and depravity. Alongside the theatrics, the band was very good musically, swinging from pop to rock to cabaret with ease.

They Won’t Let My Girlfriend Talk To Me, from the band’s second album Teddy Boys Picnic, was the band’s only Top 10 single, reaching No. 8 on the national charts on 15 June 1981, where it stayed for three weeks. The song is a captivating, tastefully arranged pop ballad about a man’s girlfriend being forcibly detained in a mental home. Written by Split Enz founder Tim Finn, it showcases the band’s excellent musicianship and Finn’s wry sense of humour and clever word play: “I said what’s going on/you’re just showing off/Well I’m cracking down/on your cracking up… There’s nothing wrong with her/that a dose of me won’t cure/But they won’t let my girlfriend talk to me”.

After opening the ABC’s hugely popular music show Countdown on 17 May 1981 with a highly entertaining live performance of the song, Ignatius Jones and Joylene Thornbird Hairmouth went on to introduce the program, with Joylene dressed as a transgender nurse and Ignatius gagged and tied with ropes to a wheelchair. This, by the band’s usual standards of shock and mayhem, was a quiet night in.

After a short break in 1982 to allow Ignatius Jones to perform onstage in the Rocky Horror Show, the band reformed mid-year to tour and record their live album In Hell With Your Mother. They disbanded in late 1982.

Next time:  Healing Force; Doug Parkinson; Blackfeather  

The most obscure hit songs in Australian history: Part three

The most obscure hit songs in Australian history: Part two

The most obscure hit songs in Australian history: Part one