How would you explain Chisels to an American? The first thing that jumps to mind is the "Freebird" joke. You know how this goes - you go and see some sensitive balladeer like Sufjan Stevens or Ryan Adams and, during a lull in the show, some wag in the audience yells "Freebird!". Well, in Australia, it's "Play some Chisels!".
An unsuspecting migrant trying to fill in Australia's immigration tests might wrongly think that Australia's national anthem is Advance Australia Fair. The correct answer is, of course, Khe Sanh, the poignant tale of a VietNam vet who returns to Australia only to fail to cope with civilian life. To adequately describe the significance of this Australian Marseillaise, I must turn to people far more competent than I:
an incredibly annoying song that is played at the end of every outer suburban Year 12 Social to a group of vomiting underage drinkers, and every function involving boorish Rock Spider Aussies making utter cocks of themselves abroad, and every footy trip/Grand Final barbeque/buck's night, or any other gathering popular with people who's main philosophy is 2-4-6-8-Bash-A-Gay-Til-He's-Straight...During the 70s and 80s, Cold Chisel and their fans were despised by indie and alternative types, many of whom bore bruises inflicted by Chisels' more closely-related fans, and it was not until about the middle of this decade that Cold Chisel enjoyed a certain amount of rehabilitation (although songwriter Don Walker has always been held in high esteem by your male white Hornby wannabe's, and rightly so).
In general, Cold Chisel's most popular songs are straight-down-the-line rock, with some sentimental ballads slowing the pace a little. What saves Chisels from being utter shit is the quality of the songwriting. Mostly handled by Don Walker - but all members of the band contributed songs - the songs enable you to see the characters and step into their lives. I don't write this lightly - when you listen to Ita, you can see the stoner share-house full of bogans watching quality TV like Beauty and the Beast. You can relate to the guy who foolishly told his girlfriend they should take a break from their relationship, only for her to up stumps and get married to someone else. I absolutely guarantee you're hankering to rip the headset off, tell the customer to go fuck themselves and head off to Bow River, whatever that may be for you. I mean, for me Bow River is the East Brunswick Club (I have small dreams). The point is that just because I'm a middle-class* softcock doesn't mean I can't see myself in a Chisels song. Here's a great little explanation of the appeal of the Ian Moss-penned Bow River.
*For widely varying definitions of middle class - the reason this post is four months overdue is that I got a job as a real live pubic servant in February, and my life has been a whirlwind of business cases and benchmarking and probity, but not the good kind of probity.
You Must Know:
Just what it says on the box. If you don't know any other Chisels songs, this is the one you need to know.
My Turn To Cry
"When I told you just have a good time I think you took me all wrong - next thing you're engaged and a kid is coming along." Remember Barnsey next time you're thinking of suggesting to your partner that you should consider a trial separation.
Possibly the world's only Top 40 hit about abortion.
No Sense is unusual in two regards - firstly, it's stylistically quite distinct from Cold Chisel's typical output, and secondly, it was written by singer Jimmy Barnes, whose career both in Cold Chisel and as a solo artist has not suggested that spiky, post-punk screeds are really his thing.
Like a more mainstream version of Take This Job And Shove It.
You Got Nothing I Want
Chisels' response to not breaking the American market.
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