2014 marks the 35th anniversary of Australian Crawl’s debut single, so it is highly fitting that the band have issued The Greatest Hits. It is also not a coincidence that this band so closely linked to beach culture has released this compilation in the middle of summer in the band’s Aussie homeland.
Beautiful People is a promising, toe-tapping start for the band. A simple guitar-driven, yet cheery band arrangement combined with James Reyne’s distinctively wobbly vocals already form the Australian Crawl sound.
The following hit singles off the 1980 debut album The Boys Light Up proved that Australia Crawl was more than just a quality pub rock band. The title track (written by Reyne) is a bonafide classic, as its hooky harmonica and full-throated riff (‘boys light up, light up, light up’) and ambiguous lyrics have permeated Australian pop culture. Was the title an allusion to marijuana, or something else entirely?
The beautifully composed Downhearted (co-written by future member Guy McDonough) is an iconic Australian ballad. Its melody remains timeless, as Reyne tones down on the theatrics and croons nicely over a soothing, jazzy backing track. There’s even a saxophone solo in the instrumental section that surely must have inspired the production of Sade’s Smooth Operator a few years later.
The surf-ready sound is perfected on the follow-up album, 1981’s Sirroco (named after the yacht owned by Australian acting legend Errol Flynn). Reyne’s trademark voice drives the energetic Things Don’t Seem, which conjures up images of jogging and surfing at the beach (or moshing at a beach pub rock gig). It also grooves along in the laid-back yet hooky Lakeside.
The album marks McDonough’s debut as the second lead vocalist of the band. In contrast to Reyne’s quirky vocals, his vocals ring clear on the glorious, humorous ode to Flynn’s playboy status, Errol. The catchy track and its hilariously debauched video (featuring scenes of surfing, girls, beds and Jacuzzis) make this another highlight in Australian rock. McDonough also provides emotion on the mid-tempo ballad Oh No Not You Again. Here’s a bit of trivia: album track Easy On Your Own was co-written by future Australian Film Institute winner and Australian actress Kerry Armstrong (SeaChange, Lantana).
1982’s Sons of Beaches (produced by Blondie producer Australian ex-pat Mike Chapman) provides the downbeat hit Shutdown, which is a move away from the band’s upbeat, sunny surf sound. Unfortunately, Daughters of the Northern Coast and Runaway Girls don’t quite have the magic of earlier singles and flopped. Waiting would have been a better single choice, as it is McDonough’s own hard-hitting version of Downhearted.
Reckless (Don’t Be So), off the 1983 EP Semantics, makes up for the previous few singles. This tender plea to control one’s emotions and actions features the line ‘throw down your gun’, which is poignant in hindsight as it was recorded before the gun buyback scheme in the late 1990s. The experimental White Limbo is a tribute to Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, as it includes few sung parts, an African-influenced vocal hook, female whispers and funky guitar riffs.
After the death of McDonough, Australian Crawl limped to complete its final album Between A Rock and A Hard Place in 1985. Two Can Play is an overproduced head-scratcher, but Trouble Spot Rock is a return to the band’s roots.
The Greatest Hits, with its warm mix of uptempo beach anthems and ballads of summertime sadness, proves that Australian Crawl is the perfect soundtrack for the beach this summer.