Surf, sun, pub rock, and something about Bondi (maybe)
Back when these songs were recorded, Australia was very different to what it is today. A woman was often referred to as a ‘Sheila,’ men drank beer out of ‘tinnies,’ and political correctness was virtually unheard of. Yes, the cultural cringe of the antipodes was well and truly embedded within the Australian psyche. But there was also a positive side, in that our society, generally speaking, was far more relaxed. Housing was, on the whole, quite affordable, education was free, and workers were allowed, in fact encouraged, to take four weeks off every Christmas. And not only that, Australia probably had the highest number of public holidays per calendar year anywhere in the developed world.
During the late 1970’s and 1980’s, when it came to Oz Rock, one couldn’t get anymore Aussie than Australian Crawl, a band who took their name after a particular swimming style, appropriate considering the group’s penchant for the coastal lifestyle, where booze, surf and marijuana were the main preoccupations.
Forming in 1978, Australian Crawl were different in that rather than look abroad for inspiration, their musical influences were predominately local in nature. Lead singer James Reyne has one of the most unique voices around, even if he did sometimes take a somewhat eccentric approach to pronouncing his syllables.
We get the party going with the upbeat “Beautiful People” (or Boo-tifurl Peepole in Reyne parlance), a terrific pop song with a great melody and a distinctive riff. “Indisposed” is another winner, consisting of a bluesy riff, a languid beat, and of course Reyne’s characteristic vocal delivery. “Errol” is an energising pop number, as is “Things Don’t Seem.” But it’s not all surf and sun, Reyne and the boys were also capable of looking at the serious side of life, most notably on “Oh No, Not You Again,” a tune about drug addiction, while “Reckless (Don’t You Be So)” is a deeply reflective song, and one of the band’s finest and most enduring.
Other highlights include “Downhearted” (you’ll need the lyric sheet for this one), the catchy “Shutdown,” and the affecting “Hootchie Gucci Fiorucci Mama,” a scathing commentary on the indifference of the upper classes toward those who live with less (“Everyday I see you wearing things that have never been worn before/While the children at the government schools send money for the poor… So it’s a backbeach in the summer/The chalet for the snow/You poor hootchie gucci fiorucci mama/You got really no place to go”).
Now every band needs an anthem, and Australian Crawl’s was “The Boys Light Up,” a song that wouldn’t have a chance of getting on the radio now, but in 1980, when it was released, times were very different. It was also the band’s largest hit, and the tune which most people still remember them for. “Boys Light Up” is a quintessential lesson in how to write a number one; keep it dumb and simple, which is precisely what this song really is, but in the best possible way (just think Men At Work’s “Down Under” with a reggae-rock beat and blues harmonica).
Crawl File was first issued in 1984, and has since been surpassed by other expanded compilations, though for many this will probably do. Australian Crawl were one of the most popular groups of their day, whose songs continue to receive healthy airplay on radio, despite the band never having reformed (I was at their final show in 1986). Crawl had a distinctly Australian sound, which perhaps explains why they were so well-liked by the Oz charts. That, and the fact they were damn fine songwriters.
As a footnote, their song “Unpublished Critics” has often been compared to “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses over the years, something I wouldn’t have picked up on, but now that I come to think of it…