The next time you and your buddies go down to a local bar and have an unpleasant break in conversation, consider starting a discussion based on the following question – which band is the best that has never had a top 40 hits? Obviously, this is a version of the old, old chestnut that has passed many drunken hours for sports fans through the ages – who is the best footballer who has never played at a World Cup? The answer to that question is obviously quite obvious, George Best. The musical variation of this question can be more stimulating.

While Robert Lloyd and the various incarnations of his post-punk combo Brummie, The Nightingales, were shortlisted by every respected critic, his guttural, sub-Beefheart squeal was aimed more underground than mainstream. The same hard-hitting mindset also rules out New York City’s Suicide and David Thomas’ experimental garage group, Pere Ubu.

Soon, however, someone will hear the only truly acceptable answer, at least the only acceptable to me, and many other men and women of a certain age, each of whom is the proud owner of a pair of roses. tinted glasses. It just has to be these guitar-pop teens, The Go-Betweens. The inexplicable absence of Australian indie-pop pioneers in the singles list remains a mystery to this day. Not once, during their illustrious life of 1978-2006 (allowing a break in 1989-2000), their melodic letters ever threatened to bring them a pop star here or in America. Incredibly, they didn’t even make it to the top 40 charts in their native Australia. It is certainly the biggest miscarriage in popular music history since Al Jolson passed out to The Jazz Singer, brazenly proclaiming that “you haven’t heard anything yet” and shamefully began to make a fortune.

Much like Brisbane guitar heroes, led by singer / songwriters Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, they didn’t manage to reach a single lonely week in the top 75, despite creating tons of heavenly pop songs that should make them famous names on both sides of the Atlantic is a secret that really takes up the brain. In fact, this prompts longtime fans of the group to ask the age-old questions that slip out of our mouths every time we come across a recording of Barry Manilow’s “Bermuda Triangle” while drunk blasting from a pub jukebox; – How could you let this happen, dear Lord, how?

Consider some of the flotsams and jetsams that have (displaced) from the charts since rock and roll came out. In no particular order, I give you Vanilla Ice, The Bay City Rollers, Duran Duran, Milli Vanilli, Arthur Mullard and Hilda Baker, Black Lace, MC Hammer and Sting. And that’s just the tip of a very embarrassing iceberg!

Even more puzzling was the regular presence on the list of bands that can best be described as secondary Go-Betweens. A very ordinary Deacon Blue comes to mind here, as well as Trashcan Sinatras. And how the hell do you explain the continued presence in the charts in the 1980s of bands that made music comparable, both in content and style, to The Go-Betweens themselves. For example, Aztec Camera recorded 12 hits and 74 weeks on the chart, while Lloyd Cole, with or without his Commotions, recorded 15 hits spread over 62 weeks.

After the band broke up in 1989, Forster and McLennan attacked the solo fame, theoretically doubling their chances of a hit, but the record-buying audience was not convinced. In particular, McLennan wrote a series of wonderful ballads in the 1990s, the best of which, “Black Mule” (1991) and “Hot Water” (1994), are perhaps the best of all his compositions.

Even the French, not very famous for keeping their finger on the pulse, have made The Go-Betweens something of a famous affair. In the 1996 issue of the top rock magazine Les Inrockuptibles, the band’s cover read “Le groupe le plus sous-estime de l’histoire du rock?” Which overall – The Go-Betweens, the most underrated band in rock history? The magazine also placed “16 Lovers Lane” on the list of the best albums from the period 1976-1996.

Published November 1996.

1. The Smiths: The Queen Is Dead

2. Pixies: Doolittle

3. Stone Roses: Stone Roses

4. Betweens: 16 Lovers Lane

5. Portishead: Dummy

6. PJ Harvey: Dry

7. Tricky: Maxinquaye

8. Morrissey: Vauxhall & I

9. Mass attack: blue lines

10. Beck: Mellow Gold

11. The Feelies: The Good Earth

12. REM: Automatic for humans

13. James: Stuttering

14. The Divine Comedy: Liberation

15. The Smiths: Strangeways, Here We Come

16. My Bloody Valentine: Loveless

17. The La’s: The La’s

18. De La Soul: 3 feet high and growing

19. Bjork: Debut

20. Jeff Buckley: Grace

This reassessment of the team’s standing, along with an invitation to play at the magazine’s 10th anniversary party, prompted Forster and McLennan to reform the group.

For a brief moment, the true devotees of the group allowed themselves to believe that a great evil could be corrected. Maybe the band will get lucky and put a song on the soundtrack of some mega Hollywood Rom-Com. There was a precedent of sorts. The Triffids, their Perth compatriots, and themselves from the groundbreaking independent band of the 1980s, almost managed to succeed when their classic song “Bury Me Deep In Love” was selected to play on Harold and Marge’s cheesy wedding scenes for the popular soap for the day. neighbors. The team, properly raised, struck its advantage; their next single, “Trick Of The Light”, had a brilliant week at number 73 in the charts in early 1988.

Unfortunately, despite the recording of a series of very good albums that came back, especially “Oceans Apart” from 2005, with the standout songs “Here Comes A City”, “Born To A Family” and “Darlinghurst Nights”, the familiar pattern soon returned – with the recognition of critics on the one hand, and commercial indifference on the other. The Australian media also did not mind punishing the team for their perceived failure. Current ABC programs The 7:30 am report announced his return to the stage as follows –

“The Go-Betweens have been described as the quintessential team of critics. They made an artistic form of commercial failure. But, as reported by Bernard Brown, they are happy to have earned the respect of the industry even if the dollars have not followed suit. “

The good old Bernard concluded his report by saying, “But the band’s influence has far outstripped record sales, and they’re labeled a commercial failure.”

Any hopes that The Go-Betweens could somehow turn the tide vanished once and for all with McLennan’s unexpected departure in May 2006 at the age of 48.

Any discussion of great songwriting partnerships in popular music would rightly start with the likes of Lennon and McCartney, Bacharach and David, Leiber and Stoller or Jagger and Richards. However, you shouldn’t look too far down the list before you come across the names of Forster and McLennan, possibly parenthesized right next to Difford and Tilbrook or Morrissey and Marr.

Both were able to write incredibly catchy songs and both had a penchant for writing eye-catching lyrics. Grant McLennan’s River Of Money from Springhill Fair (Beggars Banquet, 1984), although his writing is rather unusual (more prose-poem than a pop song), is such a unique lyrics that it requires to be quoted Entire.

River of money

The expectation of sadness is neither fair nor reasonable

limit yourself to its causes. Like a river in a flood

when it sinks and drowned bodies

animals were placed on the treetops

another type of damage that occurs outside the stream.

At first it seemed as if she had just left

room to go out to the garden and was delayed by a stray

chickens in corn. Then he thought she might

they ran away with the boy on a rodeo from a neighbor

fortune, but only one afternoon he does

she heard the guitar playing coming from her room and

He ran upstairs to confront her and saw her

that it’s just the wind shuffling the curtains

that he finally met her

he did not come back. He handled the flood well

but the watermark of her departure was still quite visible.

Then he used the compass to think about it

geography may save him, but after a week in

In the Victorian Alps he returned north realizing that it was snowing

he had never seen it before, it was just frozen water.

I’ll take you to Hollywood

I’ll take you to Mexico

I’ll take you anywhere

A river of money flows.

I’ll take you to Hollywood

I’ll take you to Mexico

I’ll take you anywhere

A river of money flows.

But he really could handle it

the size of her absence? The snow had failed him.

The bottles almost emptied to no effect.

Television, a Samaritan in other torments, had

has been taken over. She left her traveling clock

thinking he is unable to function in

another time zone; so long empty days of precious sunlight

they were filled with the sound of her minutes, counted down

her hours.

I appreciate it isn’t about the three-minute hero, but this pair felt just as comfortable writing the standard verses, choruses, and pop verses of a song that sounded 2.56 on the radio and wouldn’t scare the horses. From Springhill Fair, they released a trio of flawless singles. McLennan’s pop-by-numbers opener Bachelor Kisses was the first to hit the stores (and stayed there, in the bargain basket), followed by Forster’s hauntingly sad confessional Part Company;

“It’s her handwriting, she writes

From the first letter I got, her Bill of Rights “

The latest single from the album “Man O Sand To Girl O Sea” made Forster more confident;

“I feel so sure of our love

I’ll write a song about our breakup. “

This sequence of star-eyed singles should have seen The Go-Betweens cuddled lovingly to the pop establishment’s breasts. Instead, they remained in exile in the desert, also known as the John Peel depiction.

However, back then it seemed only a matter of time before their streak was over and the Brisbane boys would bask in the sun kissed by the glitter of success on the chart. Then two solid albums came out, “Liberty Belle And The Black Diamond Express” (Beggars Banquet, 1986) and “Tallulah” (Beggars Banquet, 1987), each of which gave excellent singles on “Spring Rain” and “Head Full Of Pride.” “Forster. and McLennan’s “Right Here” and “Bye Bye Pride”.

Great British public opinion, however, remained skeptical. Peel sessions, stadium tours supporting longtime fans of the band, R.E.M, contracts with many reputable record companies such as Rough Trade, Postcard and Capitol, did not have the slightest impact on the team’s outsider status. If the pop band can be called persona non grata, they were! Frustration began to speak, forcing McLennan to comment that it had happened;

“I gave up on commercial success, which is very good for my well-being.”

The reality, however, was that their most “commercial” album, or even a masterpiece, was yet to come, but in trying to get onto the charts, the band only managed to smash it. The omens weren’t good from the start. First, the announcement was made by bass guitarist Robert Vickers, who has been with the group since 1983. His successor, John Willsteed, seemed to be an upgrade though, and his playing certainly brought clarity and refinement to the band’s sound in line with their new direction of travel. Some experts admit that he played a few more complicated guitar parts on “16 Lovers Lane”.

Unfortunately, Willsteed also struggled with a huge drinking problem and it didn’t take long for him to make enemies from the rest of the team.

In addition, Amanda Brown, hired after the violin for The Servants’ lofty second single “The Sun, A Small Star”, began working with McLennan. Suddenly news came out that Forster and Morrison had been in a relationship for years. The battle lines have been drawn.

At exactly the same time that the Forster / McLennan friendship that began long ago in the University of Queensland drama department began to crumble, the power brokers at the group management firm were trying to push McLennan to light at the expense of Forster. Author David Nichols in his book The Go-Betweens makes it clear about the re-alignment that has taken place, “every promotional video since” Right Here “shows that Forster is completely retired.” The Was There Anything I Could Do video seen today is an A-show with McLennan and Brown rummaging through the center of the stage while Forster sits far back. Morrison was deeply dissatisfied, especially with the decision to appoint producer Craig Leon. In an interview with On The Street, Sydney was scathing about changing her accent;

“He was chosen to make this single available to the people so that we can get out of our iconic corner.”

Despite the accusations that would inevitably ensue, the next five Go-Betweens singles are McLennan compositions.

On a more positive point of view, Forster and McLennan worked together on songs for “16 Lovers Lane” rather than working individually. The spirit of collaboration instead of competition extended at least to songwriting! Released in August 1988 (Beggars Banquet / Capitol) and produced by Mark Wallis who collaborated with Marianne Faithful, Tom Jones and REM, “ 16 Lovers Lane ” was a sublime collection of shimmering guitar ballads and hymns so sparkling and sun kissed that you had to wear dark glasses to listen to them.

When their debut single “Lee Remick” was released in 1978, Forster and McLennan talked about capturing the “striped sound of sunlight” that Forster later referred to as existence;

“A romantic phrase, but it’s abstract. This could be the sun coming through the louvers while the record is playing. It’s a guitar flickering on the fender. They are harmonies and hard pop songs. He’s lying on the bed next to the window reading. book in the afternoon. It’s the sun on the shoulder-length girl’s hair. This is Buddy Holly in the desert the day they filmed Maybe a Child. These are T-shirts and jeans. It’s Creedence. It’s Bob. It’s Chuck Berry. “

On 16 Lovers Lane, created twenty years after the concept was first articulated, they came closest to refining its meaning.

Opening with McLennan’s shamelessly lukewarm “Love Goes On”;

“There is a cat in the alley

Dreaming of birds that are blue

Sometimes girl when I’m lonely

I think about you this way “

and ending with the majestically romantic “Dive For Your Memory” by Forster

“I’d be diving for you

I would come down like a bird

I’m lonely deep down

And I miss my friend

So when I hear you say

That we didn’t stand a chance

I will dive for your memory

We stood before this chance “

“16 Lovers Lane” (once voted the 24th best album of the 1980s by Rolling Stone magazine) also boasts another pair of McLennan classics in “Streets Of Your Town” – a track that should take a place in the nation’s pop consciousness in the same way. like “There She Goes” by The La or “Don’t You Want Me Baby” by The Human League, and the longing, heart-breaking lament “Quiet Heart”.

“I was trying to tell you

I can only say this when we are apart

About this storm in me

And how I miss your silent, silent heart “

“Streets Of Your Town” was such an obvious choice for the single that they had two cracks, first releasing it in October 1988 and then refusing to accept defeat the following summer. Among the twin versions of this neglected classic were two more “ear-gentle” contenders: “Was There Anything I Could Do” (McLennan) and “Love Goes On.” They both met the same unfortunate fate – they were steadfastly ignored.

No impact on the charts, with a blatantly radio-friendly song like “Streets Of Your Town,” must have been a crushing blow to Forster and McLennan, and was probably the final nail in the coffin of The Go-Betweens. Broken and heartbroken, they went their own way.

There was no doubt that The Go-Betweens swallowed their pride and danced to the beat of their payers. They smoothed the kinks in their song structures, planet from the angular edges and streamlining the sound, until with each new album they started to sound less and less like The Velvet Underground, and more and more like Abba. Not that there is anything wrong with Abba or the “16 Lovers Lane” itself, in fact it is partly a breathtakingly beautiful album. It’s just that 3/5 of the band did not want to do this type of album anymore. Go-Betweens have sold their soul, but still haven’t sold any records!

Worse still, there was not even the consolation of leaving your mark on the charts where you would expect more mature bands to massage their ego through a loyal fanbase that has been successfully built over a long career. However, all the Go-Betweens were able to gather, a week was not. 91 in June 1987 from Tallulah, and a week at no. 81 for “ 16 Lovers Lane ” in September 1988.

However, The Go-Betweens have made minor invasions of the British Independent Charts. Prior to signing for Beggars Banquet, the band recorded for Rough Trade and Situation 2, qualifying them for indie charts. Between the ages of 83 and 86, they had three positions in the top 40. McLennan’s autobiographical song “Cattle and Cane” recognized by the Australian Executive Rights Association in 2001. It reached No. 1 of the Top 30 Songs of All Time in the country. 4 in March 1983 while “Man O Sand To Girl O Sea” was located at no. 24 at the end of the same year. Only the 12-inch edition of “Lee Remick” peaked at No. 7 in November 1986. And there the trail is cold.

To speculate now about The Go-Betweens’ spectacular failure is to set yourself an impossible task. Maybe it’s just because they never really built up a British fan base, maybe the Australians seemed less cool than the Americans, or the dynamic duo just lacked sex appeal. It could be argued that both Forster and McLennan as singers were not sufficiently distinctive, even that at times they sounded too erudite for a day radio. Perhaps it was Forster’s controversial decision to play the promotional premiere of Capitol Records “16 Lovers Lane” in an olive dress (the company reduced the promotional budget of the album the next day). Or maybe fate was just against them all the time.

In September 1985, the band signed a contract with Elektra, hoping for better promotion and distribution of their work. Forster was in an optimistic mood “We went with Elektra – let’s start our album in just over a week. Without a doubt, the songs are our best, we play the best and we ourselves could be great producing this unknown masterpiece.” Within a few weeks, Elektra collapsed and the band fell again. he began to fight, much to Forster’s disappointment;

“I think we have a sense of anger – no one has ever been able to present us to the British public in any coherent or intelligent way.”

One thing’s for sure – they had a handful of great songs, and in Forster they had someone who gave the band a personality. His artistic-rock experience prompted him to pay close attention to his stage performances, although we can only assume that his tongue was firmly in his cheek thanks to this analysis of his “dance”;

“Bobby Womack himself once told me that I am a man of soul, and when it comes to contemporary music, there are only three soulmen left: himself, me and Prince. Prince came to Brisbane and took the colors, the movements, his Whole act on my part. This is true! He saw my movements! “

Perhaps The Go-Betweens drummer Linda Morrison was closer to the truth speaking in 1992 than I and the others, we would happily admit it when she presented this review;

“We may have been one of the country’s most lauded bands, but we sold all the records. Detriment. So let’s not say that this is one of the most praised bands in the country, who cares? We don’t sell CDs, we weren’t a popular band and I’m sick of hearing about us being so fantastic – because if we were so fantastic why didn’t anyone buy our records? “

Forster’s reaction was a bit more laconic;

“It was quite liberating to realize that our group was so good and we hadn’t gotten anywhere. After a while, the lack of recognition was so absurd it was funny. “

After their initial breakup, the compilation album “1978-1990” was released, which allowed the music press to make a verdict on the life and times of The Go-Betweens. Melody Maker’s Dave Jennings could barely contain his anger; “The fact that The Go-Betweens never went massive is a disgusting injustice … take The Go-Betweens to your heart where they belong.” In 1996, writing for Select magazine, Andrew Male wrote that “The only problem with listening to The Go-Betweens is that they can’t help you remember how shit the 1980s were. Go-Betweens produced records with a soft glow and got nowhere. Sting sang about a fucking turtle and became a millionaire.

Even now, however, there is no critical consensus. Simon Reynolds, in his final account of the post-punk years 1978-1984, Rip It Up And Start Again, devotes just one sentence to our Antipodes heroes; “Go-Betweens, which was originally from Australia, but had a spare, sharp sound that was similarly ingrained in television and the early Talking Heads.” Of course, it’s important to note that at this stage, The Go-Betweens only had “Send Me A Lullaby” and “Before Hollywood” to their credit. Bob Stanley in his acclaimed book “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah: The Story Of Modern Pop” (2013) completely omits them from his 800-page anthology.

However, any discussion of literary pop, if you are willing to admit that this genre does exist, if you believe that great pop can be thoughtful rather than instinctively felt, cerebral rather than carnal, would have to consider The Go. between each other. Their unique form of romanticism, sparkling choruses, bizarre, specific lyrics and screaming pop sensibilities have made them one of the great post-punk groups. They recorded two albums, “Springhill Fair” and “16 Lovers Lane”, which would lose nothing compared to Costello’s “King Of America”, “Rattlesnakes” by Lloyd Cole, “Songs To Remember” by Scritti Politti, “Look’s Like Rain” Mickey Newbury. or “Everything Must Go” The Manic Street Preachers. In this context, their work will be remembered long after their most commercially successful contemporaries disappear from the recorded history of popular music.

In the end, however, at the beginning. In 1978, after the local success of their debut single “Lee Remick”, Forster dreamed of sailing to England. Given the intricate fate that awaited them on these shores, his words now seem extremely poignant.

“I think England has the greatest acceptance of new music, they’re more open. They write it on NME and people buy your records. Any country that accepts Jilted John, X-Ray Spex and The Only Ones … there is a place for The Go- Betweens “.

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