Sex and drugs and rock’n’roll – it’s the classic symbiotic trifecta and one that has been synonymous with Sydney’s Kings Cross since the 1950s. These days sex and drugs remain an institution in the Cross – sadly rock’n’roll maintains only a token presence.
Flashback twenty or thirty years and Kings Cross could well lay claim to being the rock’n’roll epicentre of the country. Not only did it host a string of popular venues such as the Chevron and the Manzil Room, many musicians made their home there and hundreds of interstate bands shacked up regularly in venues such as the Bernly Hotel whilst they played their Sydney dates.
With so many musicians living and performing in the area it’s little wonder that the Cross soon became immortalised in song with titles such as Cold Chisel’s Breakfast At Sweethearts and Plaza Hotel, written by long-time resident and KC observer Don Walker, and Ian Moss’s Piccolo Bar. These songs genuinely evoke the period of the time and in a simple few lines do more to portray the history of the Cross – be it good, bad or ugly – than all the comic book Underbelly franchises put together.
Dig through the archives and you’ll soon come across a number of songs that pay homage to the Cross beginning with Frankie Davidson’s Have You Ever Been To See Kings Cross? A huge novelty hit when it was first released in 1963, it featured the memorable lines:
“Have you ever been to see Kings Cross where Sydneysiders meet? There’s a million faces goin’ places walkin’ up ‘n down the street.”
Paul Kelly’s From St Kilda To Kings Cross was a tale of two cities, which linked Melbourne’s bohemian hub with Sydney’s Golden Mile and was written on Don Walker’s piano whilst Kelly was living at the songwriter’s Kings Cross flat during the early 80s. It’s since become an Australian classic but other KC songs, written at the time, have sadly slipped into obscurity. Howard I Know were a short lived Sydney combo headed by songwriter Howard Shawcross and their 1985 Red Eye single Orwell Street, is a wonderful document of what was once one of the Cross’s more notorious streets, home to Abe Saffron’s infamous Venus Room.
Saffron is widely rumoured to be the character that inspired Peter Head’s King Of The Cross, a song the ex-Adelaide musician wrote upon moving to Sydney in the early 80s after playing numerous gigs at venues such as The Bourbon & Beefsteak and Springfields. Head is on record as saying:
“Well, the Cross is good, every time you walk down the street there’s at least ten stories that come into your head – all those weird and wonderful people.”
More recently long time KC identity Jeff Duff has put pen to paper to recall the type of incident that has plagued the Cross in recent years. In 1989 years ago Duff was the victim of an unprovoked assault on the mean streets of the Cross, badly beaten by a bunch of hoons. He recalls the episode and the painful aftermath of recovery in Going Underground, a song that will feature on his forthcoming album.
No doubt there are many other songs that have been written about the Cross and it could be a great concept show for the next Kings Cross Festival or even a compilation album.
If you are a budding songwriter looking for inspiration, a walk down Darlinghurst Road would surely provide abundant material. Sadly Sweethearts is long gone, replaced by a nondescript McDonalds, but just off the strip the Piccolo is the great survivor in Roslyn Street. Throw in Porkys, Showgirls, The Injecting Room, the tattoo shops, the $2 store and “there’s a million faces goin’ places walkin’ up ‘n down the street.”