After years of hitting every place and pub in Australia and drinking em dry with their road crew, Cold Chisel got a record deal and released their first album on WEA/Elektra in 1978.
The self-titled debut sounded nothing like the band did live but back in the day every producer would tell the bands that what worked in the live arena would not work in the studio environment. Tell that to Bob Rock.
Regardless, before the album was even released “Khe San” was already a crowd favourite. It was a lot faster live than the studio version.
“Breakfast At Sweethearts” came in 1979.
I like the reggae influenced title track and the 12 bar blues of “Goodbye”. “Shipping Steel” has this feel good beat and a riff which is almost danceable. And “Merry Go Round” has a good riff, a fast beat and Barnesy delivering one of his high octane vocal melodies.
But the album is a product of a band touring and in between shows, put into a studio and asked to be creative.
“East” is the third studio album, released in June 1980 and produced by Mark Opitz. By far their best.
I have it on CD and LP. My LP has a yellow sticker of 2 on it which means absolutely nothing, as the second hand store I got it from had it placed there.
“Standing On The Outside”, written by Don Walker kicks of the album in rocking fashion.
“No amount of work’s gonna buy my way to Freedom”
We have been sold the dream that if we work hard enough, we will be somebody. But that’s not the case for everybody. For every person who makes it, there are millions who don’t.
The themes of the “working class man struggling financially” would appear on a lot of songs from Chisel and even on songs when the members went solo. Because even though Australia is seen as the “lucky country”, it sure costs a lot to live in it.
“Never Before” is written by Ian Moss and its progressive, a fusion of so many different styles, almost Police like.
“Choirgirl” is a Don Walker cut and he writes about abortion and the rights of a woman to choose, which at the time was part of the national debate.
“Rising Sun” from Jimmy Barnes romps it’s way through the 12 bar blues as he references his brief relationship with his future wife which ended at the time when she went back to Japan, hence the lyric of the rising sun stealing his baby away.
“My Baby” from bassist Phil Small is my favourite. That vocal melody lead played on the guitar by Ian Moss during the intro deserves to be listened to.
The killer cuts continue with “Tomorrow”, which is another Don Walker track about a person who comes out of jail, can’t catch a break trying to make it legit and ends up on the wrong side of the law again.
“Cheap Wine” is a classic in Australia.
Cheap wine and a three-day growth
When you’re on the booze, tidiness and keeping appearances go out the window.
I’m sitting on the beach drinkin’ rocket fuels
Australia is surrounded by beaches and there’s nothing more Australian than going down the beach and having a few.
“Star Hotel” is written about the riot that took place on the night it was closing up for good.
And the most underrated star of the album is Mark Opitz. Finally the band had a producer who allowed them to do what they best, which is to play and he wanted to capture that live sound and energy on record. Bob Rock had the same ideals for the “Black” album from Metallica. The album sounded fantastic on any system or format.
Then came a live album in “Swingshift” which captures the band in its domain. No studio overdubs here, however mixing it all in took 125 hours.
In 1982, “Circus Animals” was released with the angry and loud “You Got Nothing I Want” kicking off the album, which was Barnesy’s “fuck you” to a certain U.S label who showed no interest in them on their recent U.S tour.
Then “Bow River” kicks off, with Ian Moss firing on the guitar and lead vocals. “Forever Now” (written by drummer Steve Prestwich) is more laid back with a pina colada type guitar melody.
I like the swinging “creeping in the night” blues groove of “Numbers Fall”.
And the piece d’resistance is “When The War Is Over” written by Steve Prestwich, the underrated songwriter of Chisel.
“Twentieth Century” is the fifth and final studio album until the group reformed in 1998. It was released in early 1984 and peaked at No. 1 on the Australian albums chart, their third consecutive album to do so.
The band had announced its intention to separate in August 1983, and by December had played its final shows months before the release of the album.
Barnes did the album on the condition that everyone receives an even songwriting royalty regardless who wrote the songs.
Pianist and main songwriter Don Walker called it a nightmare while producer Mark Opitz said he was there for the breakthrough album and the break up album and the breakthrough was much more enjoyable.
That doesn’t mean there are no good songs on it. “Saturday Night” is excellent and “Flame Trees” is my favorite Cold Chisel song which drummer Steve Prestwich wrote (with Don Walker). Prestwich wasn’t actually playing on the album because he was fired, however he was hired to do the Final Tour.
So am I. It makes no sense.
“No Sense” is a Jimmy Barnes cut and its got an acoustic riff which is almost reggae like. But it still rocks. “The Game” written by bassist Phil Small and Don Walker is underrated and a great track.
And the band was done until they reformed in 1998 and released the excellent “The Last Wave Of Summer” which I caught live.
And the tour book is excellent with a bio, the story of the reunion and then each track from the new album has a page for the lyrics with some great art.