We often hear reference to the ‘Great American Song Book’ and that country’s fine tradition of celebrated songwriters across a number of musical genres. Here in Australia we don’t have anywhere near the number of composers and lyricists that the Americans have but it’s reasonable to say we have cranked out our fair share of memorable ditties.
About 40 years ago I was in El Paso, Texas on the edge of the US border with Mexico. Together with a group of friends I ventured into one of the city’s classic modern day Western saloons. The dimly lit bar was full of shady wizened looking guys in cowboy hats, both Mexicans and gringos alike. We sat down at a table and eyed off the old vintage juke box in the corner as one of the bar’s patrons pondered on his selection. “This will be good,” I murmured to my friends, “we’ll get a taste of Hank Williams or George Jones here,” only adding to our unique cultural experience.
The 45 dropped onto the platter and out came the dulcet tones of Joe Dolce singing Shaddap You Face. It was the last place in the world we expected to hear what was a huge hit back in Australia, and indeed right around the world. The song has of course since been ridiculed and dismissed as an oddball novelty but I have always thought it would make a great national anthem – certainly preferable to that horrendous piece of post-colonial anglocentric hogwash called Advance Australian Fair.
If I was to nominate the top 10 songs of the great Australian songbook, then Joe would certainly come in as number one but what about the other nine. There’s bound to be disagreement and controversy but for what it’s worth here are the songs that for me really resonate – from nine down.
I Don’t Like It – Pauline Pantsdown – Simon Hunt’s 1998 send up of Pauline Hanson certainly got up the goat of the One Nation leader who failed to see any humour in this sharp piece of satire.
It’s Time – Various singers – Gough Whitlam’s 1972 election song was our version of We Are The World, complete with an all star cast of Australian entertainment and sporting personalities. The stirring anthem could well be revived at the next federal election with DJ Albo and a similar roster of celebrities.
My City Of Sydney – Tommy Leonetti – It took an Italian American from New Jersey to write the best song ever about Sydney, for many years a signature tune for Channel 7 and given a great punk cover by the XL Capris.
The Cicada That Ate Fivedock – Outline – A unique piece of rarely aired Australiana from an early 80s pub band. The title says it all.
Who Farted – The Vaughans – Even Shakespeare saw the comedic value of flatulence and what Australian doesn’t love a good fart joke. In 20 years time they may well be playing it on 2CH.
100,000 Morrisseys – Mr Floppy – A late 80s gem from Melbourne punk combo Mr Floppy that asked the question “What shall we do when 100,000 Morrisseys come marching over the hill?”. Enough said!
Ballad Of The Chimp – Bud Petal – A moving tribute from this unique Sydney based singer and songwriter to Nim Chimsky, the chimpanzee who was the subject of an extended study of animal language acquisition at Columbia University. Primate to primate love at its very best!
Jake The Peg – Rolf Harris – You might well ask why the now despised wobble boarder is included here. We are a grown up country and we need to take equal ownership of both our achievements and sins. It’s a reminder that next time you see a Rolf Harris album in an op shop you need to smash it violently into a thousand tiny pieces.
I Wanna Die In A Franco Cozzo Bed – The Argotiers – Could this be the greatest lyric line ever penned in the Australian songbook? – although sadly only Melbournians will be aware of its significance. In Brunswick and Footscray, in fact all over Melbourne, this much loved Italian immigrant has long been famous for his highly decorative baroque style furniture stores and legendary TV adverts. His beds in particular are mind blowing over the top creations, lovingly branded as ‘wog’ furniture. Who wouldn’t want to die in one?