We were vaguely aware that we were courting controversy with our first list of the Top 10 Songs About Melbourne. I mean, we deliberately didn’t include any by Paul Kelly and we brutally decreed that Frente! didn’t make the cut. But it’s kept us up at night (it hasn’t really) so now we’re back with Part 2 of classic Aussie songs about this fair city of ours.
The second single from The Whitlam’s breakthrough album, Eternal Nightcap, shares the story of a girl who ‘eats all of the garden’ and ‘has an aversion to conviction’. That’s all of us, right? Although frontman Tim Freedman hails from Sydney, he has always maintained a long-distance love affair with Melbourne and makes an obligatory reference to the weather with the lines, ‘In love with this girl, and with her town as well / Walking round the rainy city, what a pity there’s things to do at home’. While in other love songs, the rain could be seen as a metaphor, in this one it isn’t, because it’s set in Melbourne and we famously experience four seasons in one day.
Speaking of four seasons in one day… this classic Crowded House track didn’t make it onto our last list of songs about Melbourne because it felt too obvious, and Melbournians pride themselves on being obscure and abstruse. But it’s undeniable that it could be Melbourne’s theme song. Written by Neil Finn in the early 90s for their album Woodface, it’s accompanied by a music video that was actually filmed in New Zealand and takes inspiration from Salvador Dali paintings. When the critically-acclaimed compilation of Tim and Neil Finn covers, She Will Have Her Way, was released in 2005, New Buffalo’s cover of ‘Four Seasons in One Day’ was a standout.
To some, Melbourne Cup Day is a disgraceful event that glorifies animal cruelty. To others, it’s a joyful collision of business, fashion, celebrity and equine worlds. To us, it’s a fine excuse to kick back and party on a weekday while betting on a thoroughbred whose name sounds like an evil character from a Disney movie (Black Caviar, Almundin, Jezabeel, Doriemus… we rest our case). So it’s fitting to remind you that Slim Dusty wrote a song titled Melbourne Cup featuring the lyrics ‘there’s a drone of rowdy voices in every Aussie pub’ and ‘it’s doubtful if they’d even know the way to saddle up’. It’s a catchy little number, even if it has dated a bit since it was first released in 1975.
In the mid-80s, Dan Warner and James Stewart started playing country-tinged sets as a guitar duo in the inner city pubs of Melbourne, and while they were originally known as The Warner Brothers, legal pressure from the American label forced them to change their name to Overnight Jones. Their EP, rather sulkily titled ‘Not Brothers Anymore’, was released in 1993 and featured a live recording of one of their signature songs, ‘Stuck in Melbourne’. With lyrics like, ‘He packed his things and threw them in the EJ / He’d made up his mind to go, but to where?’, it’s a definitive Melbourne anthem.
For something a little more punk rock, you can’t go past The Powder Monkey’s Yin Yang. It’s about a night that singer-bassist Tim Hemensley and his friends dropped acid and went to Chasers nightclub on Chapel Street. It includes lyrical gems like ‘the ceiling is my best friend here’ and ‘I know nobody’s innocent, everybody’s bent / That’s how I live in Brunswick, singing with another accent.’ When Hemensley died in 2003, Melbourne lost a musical icon.
The Underground Lovers called their fourth album Rushall Station, and the title track is a dreamy, hypnotic sort of song that makes you feel like you’re wandering along Merri Creek lost somewhere between North Fitzroy and Clifton Hill. It was released in 1996 and has some noteworthy lyrical touches as well as soft space-synth sounds. The serene blend of indie and electronica (with a few trip-hop elements thrown in for good measure) will make you feel at peace – and if you don’t feel like being at peace, the track was weirdly remixed by Sonic Animation and uploaded to YouTube with a pic of the cast from Heartbreak High here.
Better known as the country-themed offshoot of TISM, ROOT! were very good at writing razor-sharp and geographically-specific songs that satirised modern culture, celebrity and the entertainment industry. So naturally they took aim at Crown Casino with ‘Crown Tower Blues’. The singer starts off with a lament that he’s lost his family ‘somewhere in carpark level three’ before launching into a cheerful rejig of a certain children’s party song that rhymes ‘end of the ropey’ with ‘hokey pokey’.
Written in response to the rapid development of Melbourne in the late 90s when major projects like CityLink and Docklands were being constructed with little regard to the city’s parks and historic sites, All Torn Down is as good now as back when it was released in 1998. The music video features a blood-red birds-eye map of Melbourne and a mash-up of clips of the band playing in iconic Melbourne locations. The Living End’s track Roll On is also based on local history; in this case, the 1998 Australian waterfront dispute.
Riffing on the lyrics from Paul Kelly’s From St Kilda to King’s Cross, this undeniably catchy track by Klinger opens with the lines, ‘From St Kilda to Watsonia North / Is fourteen hours on public transport.’ Sounds about right – we’ll take their word for it. The song describes the kind of relationship and sharehouse we’ve all experience at some point or another with lyrics like, ‘My head feels like my mouth’s been drinking’ and ‘borrowed sheets on borrowed beds’.
If you’ve ever fallen asleep on the St Kilda sands, you’ve got something in common with the Cat Empire. Slower and more introspective than their usual up-tempo tunes, The Crowd is a tribute to the band’s hometown of Melbourne that references ‘crowded trams’ and ‘traffic jams’. It’s the perfect wind-down track at the end of a big weekend and features that signature latin-samba sound as well as a big, bold trumpet.
Image Credit: Linda Xu