Ms .45's mp3/bureaucratic/gaming blog.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

You Got Nothing I Want - Cold Chisel 101

Back in December '07, Bitterandrew from Armagideon Time posted a summary of an old issue of Hit Parader from November 1981, which rather intriguingly mentions Cold Chisel as "an Aussie rock outfit deemed 'likely' to follow in the footsteps of AC/DC and Air Supply". I asked if he'd actually heard any Chisels and he was curious, so I thought I'd remedy the total lack of Cold Chisel on The Hype Machine and try to explain it to our FTA partners.

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:

Khe Sanh
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.

Choir Girl
Possibly the world's only Top 40 hit about abortion.

No Sense
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.

Bow River
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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bitterandrew said...

Fascinating, and not at all like the AC/DC impersonations I was expecting. I'm amazed that they didn't make a bigger impression in the States...

Anonymous said...

he he... they had a shot at the states, but there was a clash of personality between them and the american music industry I think.

I think they disapeared from TV week's logies ceromonies for much the same reasons.

Anonymous said...

he he... they had a shot at the states, but there was a clash of personality between them and the american music industry I think.

I think they disapeared from TV week's logies ceromonies for much the same reasons.

Anonymous said...

ahh, i just stumbled upon this now. i was looking for some 'Chisel to reminise on my childhood - born too late to have witnessed Cold Chisel first-hand however, i was brought up with Barnsey and yet even this past Saturday in a night out at the pubs did we get a bit of Khe San - known and sung by EVERYONE: those who are old enough to have gone to the concerts; young 'uns; those pissed and sober. tore the fucking roof off! quality summary ^^