Ladies and gentlemen, it is a truth universally acknowledged that if you are living in Melbourne, you probably have an opinion about music. But did you know that over the years, tons of songs have been written about this fair city of ours? While we could theoretically fill this list purely with songs by Paul Kelly, we want to steer away from the well-known hits in the most typically Melbourne way possible. We want to acknowledge your ‘Four Seasons in One Day’, but raise you a low-fi alt-oddity for super-obscurity points. We want to endow you with trivia, like the fact that the Beatles wrote their underrated B-side ‘Rain’ after arriving in Melbourne in 1964 to pissing rain and howling gales. Apparently John Lennon said, ‘I’ve never seen rain as hard as that, except in Tahiti,’ which seems a bit harsh coming from an Englishman, but I digress.
Here are the Top 10 Songs About Melbourne that you may or may not have heard of—and yes, there are a few that didn’t make it onto the list (oh hey there, Frente!). But you know, no-one ever said getting recognition in the music biz was easy.
The same band responsible for ‘You Just Like Me ‘Cos I’m Good in Bed’ and ‘Carlton (Lygon Street Limbo)’ nailed the typical Toorak gent with this little ditty. The glam-rock Aussie band wrote stacks of songs about Melbourne and this country-tinged tribute to ‘village playboys’ who like to buy yoghurt and box wine before driving their Lamborghinis to a South Yarra hairstylist sits beautifully beside ‘Balwyn Calling’ and ‘Smut’ on their 1972 debut, Living In The ‘70s.
This incredibly upbeat song (note: sarcasm) shot singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett to international stardom. Her bittersweet lyrics about house hunting in Melbourne’s northern suburbs hit home (zing!) with a generation of disenchanted first-home buyers who would just like to have somewhere central to live without taking out a million-dollar loan, thanks. It offers a timely riposte to ruthless real estate agents who show little regard for the memories or meaning attached to a house with the repeated refrain, ‘If you’ve got a spare half-million, you could knock it down and start rebuilding’.
Dan Sultan’s soulful rock ballad about good ol’ Fitzroy has a beautiful black-and-white video clip featuring some of Melbourne’s finest watering holes and housing commission estates. The standout track from his 2009 sophomore album, Get Out While You Can, it’s inspired by his own family history and touches on how much this gentrified latte-sipping suburb of Melbourne has changed. Recently covered by Missy Higgins on her OZ record, it’s an modern classic.
Prepare your ears – this thrashing tour through pissing in tinnies, high-fiving every c**t on Smith Street and fare-evading on the #86 tram may hurt them. But it undeniably captures the essence of ‘living the loife’ in Collingwood, and the photorealistic computer-animated video is both hilarious and awesome. There’s even a floating ghost of Chopper Reid at the end—can you get any more Melbourne than that?
If you’ve ever had a break-up while travelling on the Frankston line, then this is the song for you. With lyrics like, ‘The day is grey, don’t love you anymore’, it’s a melancholy tribute to a doomed relationship as well as a troubled line full of teenage crime. Frontman Toby Martin confirmed in 2005 that yep, it was written while on the train and yep, his mum still lives there.
Bitching about tram inspectors is almost as popular as indie music in Melbourne so it was a genius move for Justin Heazlewood aka The Bedroom Philosopher to tap into the zeitgeist with this jaunty track from Songs From The 86 Tram. Loaded with wordplay and social commentary just like ‘Northcote (So Hungover)’ and ‘New Media’, it takes the perspective of an amorously-overcharged tram inspector who gets off on being shown concession cards by female passengers who ‘just ain’t validating’. The video clip features the ticket machines of yore (RIP Metcard) and showcases the results of 10 weeks of pole-dancing lessons by Heazlewood as well as a fireworks-laden backstory delivered to camera with unflinching eye-contact.
Sonically upsetting but funny as hell, this song was recorded by local satirist New Waver, who creates parody covers of well-known pop tracks. A send-up of the swift gentrification of Fitzroy, it includes standout lyrics like ‘[we] made it cool for guys in suits to live near our tram stops’ and ‘please come to the opening of my micro-gallery in Preston’. The video clip has some hilarious imagery ripped straight from real estate ads juxtaposed with pics of grubby pubs.
Written by Ian Hearn in the 80s and reworked in 2014 for the Strange Tenants’ new six-track EP, this ultra-smooth urban reggae track features sentimental yet sardonic social commentary about changes to inner-city life in Melbourne. The central refrain of how grey skies over Collingwood constitute ‘a typical summer’s day’ have been quoted at many an AFL Grand Final and the video clip features the band members walking around the backstreets while rugged up in the typical Melbourne black attire. In 1999, Weddings Parties Anything released a killer cover of it, which is well worth checking out.
Ah, TISM. The glorious band formerly known as This Is Serious Mum released ‘Mournington Ride’ on their 1992 EP and it’s every bit as culturally relevant as ‘Greg! The Stop Sign!’ A scathingly witty ode to the city’s suburbs with lyrical home-truths like ‘don't get off the train at Ringwood, the goths want your mascara’ and ‘don't get off the train at Broadie, the petrol heads want your Torana’, it’s clever, catchy and laden with the same infectious energy as the rest of TISM’s jingles.
#10: ‘Sangria’ – Remi
Local rapper Remi released this song in 2013 about taking the day off and drinking with his mates. It captures Melbourne in all its laidback summer glory with lyrics like ‘I’m with my homies chilling in Brunswick’ and ‘f**k a myki, I don’t clock in’. His shout-outs to Streets Blue Ribbon and Liquorland make this song Aussie as Iced Vo-Vos, and he also throws in mentions of fellow Melbourne musos like Silent J and Hiatus Kaiyote.
If Courtney Barnett isn't really your style, check out Melbourne's Best Hidden Gems For Music Lovers.
Image Credit: Remote Control Records.