The other week, I made a very big assertion with regards to the criteria of this blog series list. And it was that there wasn’t a concrete criteria, that virtually anyone could get in if they were ‘influential’ or ‘popular’ enough– a metric which in some ways is extremely bias. Regardless if an artist debuted in the 80’s or in the 2010’s; regardless if they had a hit in the 90’s or had 5 hits in the 90’s; regardless if they were known just for their music or for their life outside of music too… if you glance through our list, you’d find a vast smorgasbord of different artists, who in my opinion each deserve their place in their own special way. And because you could conceivably argue that each artist deserved to be there, and each artist was vastly different to each other… ergo this meant that there was hardly any criteria for inclusion on such a subjective list as this. But as I pondered this past week as I was ruminating as to who to write about, it struck me that there was indeed a bit of a pattern with the artists whom I was choosing to write about, and with whom Jon was choosing to write about, even if we didn’t know it at the time.
And maybe it’s not a pattern, maybe it’s simply an observation that though associated with my hypothesis, isn’t caused by it. But I have firmly concluded that a large proportion of the artists we were writing about, they all had bigg-ish discographies, they all had relatively massive hits to bring them to the forefront of stardom; and they all are active somewhat in the music industry even to this day. And my brief hypothesis which I fleetingly entertained, was that artists were influential once they had large enough discographies, or artists were influential once they all had massive hits, or artists were influential if they were still active. If I deemed an artist to be influential because of any other reason, well then they simply weren’t influential, and I was wrong. You see, aside from Carman, who sadly passed away since our blog post about him, the rest of these artists are still going, and I reckon they’ll keep going for a very long time. And these ‘facts’ that became so profound to me throughout this past week, kept me thinking. Is there a set number of hits someone has to write or sing or perform for them to have been considered ‘influential’? What if someone releases an out-of-this-world hit (like Carly Rae Jepsen for “Call Me Maybe”, or Ed Sheeran for “Perfect”, or Natalie Imbruglia for “Torn” or even Snow Patrol for “Run”) and the rest of their discography is still good, but not living up to the dizzying heights as their hit single- sales-wise? What happens if they’re considered a one-hit wonder by many, but are an iconic treasure and legend in their home country? What then? Are they influential worldwide, purely based on a larger-than-life following that they may still have today, based on one or two or three songs? Or are these artists influential simply because of the fact that, by and large, they’ve been going and going for an insane amount of time- sometimes 20 or 30 or 40 years; that even if they do have a hit song and not much else, that their influence isn’t measured greatly by that hit song, but rather on their staying power and longevity in an industry where stability is right now a luxury and a commodity rather than a guarantee?
For me personally, writing about influential artists has been a joy to do. It’s been fun researching and listening to artists not necessarily in my preferred genre, and to see how God encourages and comforts within the unexpected. How I’ve been moved and impacted within these 6 posts thus far, and what I have learnt, has been nothing short of remarkable. I’ve learnt that ska isn’t this big scary thing- it’s literally pop or rock with the addition of horns and saxophones when it all boils down to it. I’ve also learnt that music has the ability to cross entire language boundaries and borders; and I also recently discovered that battling with your demons, though harrowing and heartbreaking, can be a catalyst for iconic and legendary songs! And as I continue to step into the unknown and open my ears to what God has for me, my hope and prayer is that my eyes and ears can be opened to the many eternal truths and beautiful aspects of Himself that God wants to show me through these musical and lyrical legends. Previously, when I was blogging about artists who I deemed to be coming into their own burgeoning influence now and more so within the next 5 years (although Matthew West in hindsight was a misclassification on my part!); because there wasn’t much to dive into and discographies weren’t as large, there’s wasn’t much of a sample size for me to determine the heart and soul behind the artist. Sure I could, and probably did, assert that Selena Gomez or Thomas Rhett or Maddie & Tae or NF or Peter Hollens or Tori Kelly are the next big thing (or even extremely influential now!) in their respective fields and genres; but how much of that would be based on songs, or what they do in their spare time, or their reputation, or how much social media buzz they’re getting, or how they act as people or if they conduct themselves well in interviews?
These thoughts were buzzing in my brain this past week. A simple remedy was for me could have been to scan through what I previously wrote, and see the breakdown of how I was writing about each artist, whether it was 60% songs, 30% life outside of music, 10% world view and beliefs or some other combination. Maybe I’d draw up a pie chart or a graph or something. So that I’d see whether the breakdown of influence of each artist in my blog was a true reflection and representation as to the real breakdown as to how these artists are truly influential in their lives towards myself and others around them. But that exercise in and of itself would’ve taken an extremely long time; and thus I decided to instead come to a conclusion without really doing any of the testing- which is what you usually do when you’re lazy. You see, the general feeling without ‘wasting’ too much time was that the predominant influence that I was asserting upon these 40 artists was based largely mostly in their current hit songs and what they were projected to do and be in the future. It was largely based on the now whereas the influence that I concluded in my last 6 blogs since I switched with Jon, was based more on the past and iconic songs and everything a certain artist did in the past. One could say that simplistically, one series was about assigning (and later on asserting) influence based on the now and the future, and the other was about establishing influence based on looking back and based on history.
And this doesn’t mean that one blog series is bad and the other good, or vice versa; it’s just that it’s different. It’s been a change in the style of writing and how I approach listening to artists, and it has been rejuvenating and refreshing of sorts. Instead of looking to the future and being immersed in the current music (of which sifting the popular artists from the popular and influential ones is a full time job in and of itself!); I am now peeking behind the curtain that is our past and seeing what treasures lie there in terms of iconic and legendary artists. And boy indeed there are some! The result is that I’m finding that artists like Martina McBride, Coldplay, Backstreet Boys, Tina Arena, Michael Buble, Bryan Adams, Phil Collins, U2, Shania Twain, Seal, Nickelback, Dido, Hanson, Alicia Keys, Jewel, Goo Goo Dolls, even Creed; are all in some ways just as influential or maybe even more so, than up and coming and just-established artists like Little Mix, Kelsea Ballerini, Shawn Mendes and Riley Clemmons. And it is in this light that you could surmise that influence isn’t completely dependent on how long you’ve been in the music industry, although there seems to be a correlation. Influence isn’t completely dependent on the number of hits you have, or the number of awards that you have. Influence, and I think we’ve established this a long time ago, is about something far greater. It’s about human connection. It’s about how many people stand in line for a Q&A or a VIP meet and greet after a show. It’s about how quickly tickets sell for a tour. It’s about how many times someone says a song saved their life. it’s about everything else that isn’t able to be measured numerically and tangibly. And it’s about people’s preferences too. If one person is making a list of 100 influential artists, and they’ve never listened to The Beatles or Elton John (which is somewhat inconceivable but let’s just play pretend with this hypothetical for a moment…), if they weren’t extensive and methodical in actually making a balanced and impartial list, would they include those artists they’ve never had an inkling to listen to? Perhaps, but most likely not. And the same goes for any other person and who they listen to and choose not to listen to. Which is why if you ask a hundred people about the most influential artists in history- because of the broad brushstrokes of what influential means to each person, you’d get a hundred different answers.
And so as I now speak about an artist who has been influential and popular in one area of the world (in Australia and in New Zealand) but relatively unknown everywhere else, the question still remains, is Crowded House influential on a global scale? And if not, are they influential overall? Comprised of Neil Finn, Nick Seymour, Mitchell Froom and Neil’s sons Liam and Elroy, the group originated in Melbourne in 1985. For me I’m not that familiar generally with the history of artists pre-2000, and as such this was a stretch for me in more ways than one while listening to and researching about this iconic band… but let me just say that Crowded House, though popular and influential somewhat in their own way and their own right (of which I am totally convinced when I listen to their heartfelt and powerful melodies); I’d say are popular and influential predominately for another reason. A simple, yet profound reason. And it’s because of one song. One song that has changed the global landscape. One song that has encouraged many. One song that has comforted many, and one song that has provided healing for many. Is it presumptuous for me to declare an artist influential because of one song? Perhaps. But as you all know from blogs gone by (“The Reason” by Hoobastank, “Mhhmmm Bop” by Hanson, “Kiss From a Rose” by Seal, “I Won’t Give Up” by Jason Mraz, “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani, “You’re The Voice” by John Farnham, “Iris” by Goo Goo Dolls, “Bring Me To Life” by Evanescence, “When I Look To The Sky” by Train and “You Raise Me Up” by Josh Groban), one song can propel an artist to stardom- and this has certainly happened with Crowded House.
There’s a mystery in any successful song like that, really. It has performed amazingly well and traveled incredible distances and seems to be an important song for a lot of people, so we’re just totally grateful for it. I can’t really attribute it to much other than I think occasionally with my writing—and it’s not entirely clear what every line’s about in that song, either. But I think certain doorways get opened, like I was saying—it has a universality about it.
I was noticing this today about it, that it has current—it seems to be current still. Particularly with Donald Trump talking about building walls [in 2016], the line in the chorus “To build a wall between us/We know they won’t win” seems almost ridiculously pertinent to modern times. Universal, timeless quality—but you’re not shooting for that when you’re writing it. Some things end up resonating for longer than you think.
Obviously, there’s some a frustration [with “Don’t Dream It’s Over” being virtually our only popular song internationally] since I know I’ve produced a lot of what I think of as really good quality work over the years. When there’s all this interest on one song, sometimes I want to go, “Hey, look over here.” But it wasn’t just one song. “Something So Strong” was a Top 10 hit at the same time, but it was slightly overshadowed since “Don’t Dream” was a bigger song.
But I don’t dwell on that. I’m actually grateful that that song has done what it has. It seems special. Stevie was giving it such a huge buildup every night. It was hard to come out and know what to say after it. I was so grateful. I just think to have a song that has traveled so far is a wonderful thing. The other thing I’m really grateful for is that I actually like the song still. I think there’s some people that are in the unfortunate position of having a novelty song that they wrote become their most famous song. I feel a bit concerned for people in that sense. At least I feel proud of that song.
I did [watch Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande’s cover], yeah. They did it in animal costumes, which I really enjoyed. And I think they sang it very well. And then it was done again at Ariana Grande’s Manchester benefit [One Love Manchester]. I was really happy to be present, in some ways, at that moment. I thought it was quite a soulful show that she put on in that aftermath of that shocking event. I enjoyed that, and I’ve enjoyed a lot of the other covers. I like them all in a way. The song goes wherever it likes. You can’t control who your kids sleep with.
With regards to a hit song resonating with a wide group of people for a long period of time, there’s something about “Don’t Dream It’s Over”. That song alone ensures Crowded House’s inclusion on an already strong list, in my opinion. With the group selling 10 million records as of 2010, Crowded House was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2016. Their self-titled debut in 1987, which included “Don’t Dream It’s Over”, reached number 12 on the U.S. charts, while their third album Woodface and fourth album Together Alone were popular in South Africa and other parts of Europe. “Don’t Dream It’s Over” also reached number 2 on the Billboard Charts in 1987, behind “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me” by Aretha Franklin and George Michael. With lead singer Neil Finn and his brother Tim each being awarded an OBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in June 1993, for contributions to music in New Zealand, the group also won a lot of APRA awards and were overall nominated for 68 awards, having won 31 of them. Outside of Australia and New Zealand, the world only predominately knows the song of “Don’t Dream It’s Over”- and judging from what was explained in the interview about, the main reason, I believe, for the success of “Don’t Dream It’s Over” is because of the universality of the lyrics. That’s not to say that other songs aren’t that compelling nor impacting nor encouraging nor inspirational… but it’s just the luck of the draw sometimes that some songs are iconic, and others are not. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles, I say, and when you as an artist see a song blow up- well you could bemoan that other songs haven’t been exposed to the radio and to international fans that much, or that the hit song has been receiving too much attention… but if I was an artist I’d gladly accept any attention that came my way, regardless if it was via one song or via a million songs. In this day and age, I’d say that with streaming and Youtube and social media, it’s possible, maybe even probable, to carve out a career of hits via the internet, without your music being heard by the older generation and on the radio. But way back in the 80’s when Crowded House was finding its feet, radio was paramount to success. And with “Don’t Dream It’s Over” being as big as it was, well you don’t knock back that exposure, or complain about the rise to fame, do you?
I’m still learning about music in the 80’s and the 90’s. it’s a different era to me. I’m not as well-versed as Jon in the ethos of songwriters and singers back then, nor the way they wrote songs and how radio received songs in general in the 80’s. The 6 artists I’ve written about were artists mostly recorded from the 2000’s onwards, and because my teenage years were in the 2000’s, and these songs I have blogged about resonated me in the sentimental and nostalgic way; Crowded House and writing about that, and figuring out to say off the bat, makes me fearful and apprehensive. I mean, this is stepping into the unknown to the nth degree, and what if I don’t know enough about the band, their history and the ins and outs of each of the member’s beliefs and values? And then I stopped myself. Am I making this endeavour bigger than Ben Hur? If I’m not confident in writing about Crowded House’s history, should I write about that part of the band? There’s an extensive page on Wikipedia about Crowded House, Neil Finn, and the band’s discography– and if you’re an avid fan of the 80’s and older music (like more of a fan than myself!), then you should read these pages word for word, hang onto them like gospel, and then read on about my feeble attempt to link Crowded House songs to themes and relevant issues today. Apple’s Zane Lowe and The Professor of Rock have also interviewed Neil Finn about the band’s legacy- and they both interviewed Neil in a more professional and knowledgeable way than I could ever write about these guys. And so you can watch these interviews and maybe I could leave the blog like that… and thus is this blog (or maybe other blogs in the future!) as simple as saying- yep, these songs resonated with me, these songs resonated with this group of people, watch these music videos and read these interviews, enjoy, the end? Are blogs really that simple?
We had the three of us, Nick, Paul, and I. Paul [who died in 2005] was the funniest person I’ve ever known and naturally subversive in his humor. And Nick, being ridiculously outgoing and sociable and able to be sent up quite easily and take it well, that meant that there was good banter on stage between the three of us. And we started off as a band really, before anybody was that interested in our record. We went on these promotional trips where we just played stand-up snare drum, acoustic guitar, and Nick played bass and we all learnt to sing together, but we ended up playing in people’s lounge rooms and restaurants, and that environment just meant we really went for it in terms of being loose and involving the people in the room, embracing hilarity, and probably entertaining ourselves, largely, with what was possible. And then we just ended up taking that sort of agenda on stage. I think there’s that feeling on a show where you break through that invisible wall of awkwardness which is delicious. You can suddenly feel that you have a new level of freedom in terms of even the way you can play. At that point anything’s possible, you can really feel free and have more courage.
Unless there is a regard and an affection for each other and a sense of brotherhood, sisterhood, whatever, I don’t think it’s a really good time [being in a band]. I’ve seen bands who are actually really successful who can’t stand each other. And I’ve heard stories about bands (I’ve been recently in) who have had some extraordinary moments of misery, on account of losing regard for each other. And I just can’t imagine how you could do that. I really can’t. To withstand the ups and downs of whatever the public or the media are saying about you, your tight little unit is such a powerful device for maintaining belief and reassurance. There’s a lot of things out there that are conspiring against you, especially with longevity as well. I suppose, once that initial gloss rubbed off your relationship, if you have a success and it’s going really well, and all of a sudden people are a little bit less interested in something that you’re doing, that’s when the band needs to find its heart and its soul.
I think it comes in rehearsals. I remember rehearsals after being dropped by record companies, or management suddenly disappearing, or we found out that the manager’s been doing a terrible job and everything’s just back to the band again all of a sudden. You’ll turn up to rehearsal and somebody will have a new song. And you’ll kind of attach yourself to that new song with a particular fire because you’re stubborn and you go, “nah, fuck them. We’ll just be really excellent and show them.” And you don’t always get a chance, sometimes it takes longer than you wished to show them what you’re really made of. I’ve done solo stuff, I’ve been lucky enough to play with my wife in a band. I’ve been lucky enough to play individually with my sons and other great people. But when you’re out there on the road on your own, and doing your photo sessions on your own, and doing interviews on your own, it’s all down to you. It’s really not as much fun and it’s lonely. And if you get a bad review or something, you feel it a lot worse. So, yeah, bands are great. They’re hard to keep together.
I’m an absolute believer in the power of a good band. When Split Enz broke up, I suppose in the end, Tim [Finn] had left, but I kind of decided I needed to start fresh. It was to form a band of my own. I didn’t need to be convinced of the value of a band, that had come through my experience with them. And Split Enz was a real band, like everyone had their role. We were mates. I didn’t get to know many other people in that time because we were so insular. And Nigel [Griggs], the bass player, would tape all the rehearsals, and he’d stay up all night, finding the best bits and playing it for the band the next day. All the things that bands do that are so valuable, so I was a devotee and I wanted to form my own band, have my own experience of it and it worked out great.
The aim shouldn’t be to sound exactly like the record [when you do covers or live shows]; it’s to sort of make that your muscle memory position, and then to try and forget everything. So you can get to the point where you don’t actually have to think about it anymore. At that point, there is an opportunity to improve on any given night. Then you can actually mine a mistake. Quite often on the road you reach a point with the songs where you go, “shit, we should’ve recorded it now.” Cause we’re just really nailing it. And that’s probably inevitable, the band just gets sharper and better. I think you can really beat the record, but I love the process of being respectful, or reverent about, the records.
Actually a good example of that is when I did the Fleetwood Mac tour: for years and years, they’ve done ‘Landslide’ with just Lindsey [Buckingham] and Stevie [Nicks], he played the acoustic guitar for her, and it was a great theatrical moment. There’s a lovely little bit of filigree [on the recorded version], the guitar solo is very sweet and it has an electric guitar on the record, but he would just do a sort of an approximation of it on the acoustic and it was fine. But when we toured it, Neale Heywood, who’s always been their backup guitarist, did the exact record solo, and I was playing the guitar for Stevie at the time, and you could see the audience, and the ones who’ve been to lots of shows, kind of give a little gasp, like they didn’t expect to hear that. So it made me realise that some of that stuff is worth being reverent towards. I mean, on the other hand, jeez, we got into the habit with Crowded House of being loose as hell.
When I read the above interview, and saw how at ease Neil was with speaking about the band and how knowledge he was about the band- I questioned why I was doing this blog in the first place, when I myself aren’t as articulate as Neil nor am I knowledgeable as Neil. It’s possibly because I was extremely sheltered when I was a kid, and I was listening to Carman and Delirious? until 2006. No other artist. I was listening to Christian music (I don’t regret my upbringing one second!), and then I missed the boat on Australian mainstream music. Crowded House weren’t at the top of my list of priorities, if you will, but rather I later on in 2018 and 2019 immersed myself in artists like Guy Sebastian, Missy Higgins, Delta Goodrem, The McClymonts, Tina Arena, Vanessa Amorosi and Natalie Imbruglia (with the odd John Farnham song thrown in for good measure). I don’t think I connected with any Australian rock band (no to AC/DC, Powderfinger, Silver Chair, INXS, Midnight Oil, Cold Chisel, Savage Garden, John Butler Trio, Air Supply, Men At Work, 5 Seconds OF Summer, Eskimo Joe and Rogue Traders), and it’s only this year that I stumbled upon The Veronicas and gave them a chance. And as for Crowded House– I think that even though I have lived in Australia my whole life, I have acted, and still do, like a casual fan of the band. In awe of them for creating that one hit of “Don’t Dream It’s Over” but largely ignorant of everything else. And how could I really be personally impacted by and immerse myself within every single aspect of a band for one whole week, if I’ve been indifferent about them before?
Where were you when you heard “Don’t Dream It’s Over” for the first time? I don’t know where I was, nor what year it was, but I do know that it was an ad for Tourism to New Zealand- 100% New Zealand, and then promoting the flight company Air New Zealand. You can watch the ad right here, and no doubt the video will bring back lots of memories and sentimental nostalgia. There was an air of simplicity and naivety and innocence throughout this ad, and as I remember about years’ gone by, and immerse myself in the song’s lyrics- this is why this group is in this list, for no other reason than that they inspire a generation, and they provide hope and comfort. Having been covered by Sixpence None The Richer, Susan Boyle, Westlife’s Shane Filan, Lauren Daigle and Paul Young, “Don’t Dream It’s Over” is a song that is literally for the ages. And as Neil reiterates how the song was written and recorded, it truly is amazing and legendary and iconic: I wrote that on my brother’s piano. I’m not sure if I remember what the context was, exactly, but it was just about on the one hand feeling kind of lost, and on the other hand sort of urging myself on: Don’t dream it’s over. That one actually fell out literally, without me thinking about it too much. I really enjoy singing it every time I do it, and I’m super pleased and proud that the song that is almost the most identifiable for us is, I think, one of my best songs. The day I did it, I knew I had something quite special. Then the next day we played it with the band and it sounded like a bag of s–t. It was only when Mitchell suggested the bassline, which Nick (Seymour) elaborated on, that it really found its groove. I was wavering away doing demos, and Mitchell made some quite profound suggestions. Like an R&B bassline might be better than a rock or pop approach, or a Hammond organ could sound nice. These were not textures I was used to. He filled in quite a few areas that we weren’t covering, but maybe it made our individual sound less distinctive. It took a while, but then ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ started to work in the US and whole record went on to have a pretty big life. With the song being synonymous with the ad and with Australian culture and with the atmosphere of the holidays and living a carefree life and being content with where you are right now in the moment, as well as hoping and dreaming for a better future and a better tomorrow (‘…hey now, hey now, don’t dream it’s over, hey now, hey now, when the world comes in, they come, they come to build a wall between us, we know they won’t win…’); there’s no wonder why this track has had the longevity that it has had.
I could end the blog here, and the blog would be valid. “Don’t Dream It’s Over” is the reason why Crowded House is influential. Case closed. But a number of other songs remind us why this NZ band is very underrated and worth checking out. “Weather With You”, from Woodface, subtly encourages us to take life as it comes, to ride out the storms and take the good with the bad, and with Neil passionately reiterating that there are things in life that are confusing and head scratching (like wanting to be vulnerable versus being closed off and not inviting to everyone), we are reminded that life is messy and that people are doing the best they can at any certain time. With Neil crying out ‘…well, do I lie like a lounge-room lizard, or do I sing like a bird released?…’, he wonders why he sometimes lies and puts on a mask on stage (like a lizard does) and why he at other times wangts to be brutally and emotionally honest to the audience at concerts. This dichotonomy leads him to the simple, yet effective chorus where the group proclaim to always take the weather with us, meaning the good and bad aspects of life. Living life with just good things is just as dull as living life with just hardship- as you’ll feel muted and unfulfilled with only good things (or you’ll take them for granted!)- and having an experience of both good and bad, will make us humble, grow our characters and let us appreciate the mountain tops a whole lot more. It’s a weird way of looking at the world, but “Weather With You” give us food for thought. “Fall At Your Feet” is another song that resonated with me from the band- and actually I heard it before as a Roma Waterman cover. Back then, I saw the song as being a worship song to Jesus, but when I discovered that this song was a cover and Roma altered the lyrics to make it sound more ‘Christian’… well then I heard the original and I still loved Roma’s version better. On a more serious note though, the track is just as captivating and compelling when Neil sings it, and as he relays to us his feelings of love towards a woman, and the fact that he wants to fall at her feet and worship her; we are reminded to give our highest devotion and praise to the people who need it and are worthy of it. Some people may not be worth our adoration and admiration, and that’s ok. The trick is figuring out who in our life is important enough to warrant sticking by- and this song reminds us that once we do find that person, we can shower them with praise like in this song. Or you could direct the track to Jesus… your choice!
“Chocolate Cake”, a weird and obscure song that hardly makes any sense, is a song that is fun and silly, and reminds us of the versatility of the band- able to do serious and silly songs; while “Something So Strong” speaks about the power of love, and concludes that love can be a force for good and for bad, and that ‘…something so strong could carry us away, something so strong could carry us today…’. “Better Be Home Soon”, a heart-warming, honest and vibrant acoustic guitar ballad, is one of the most important songs of the group’s career, as Neil reiterates to a loved one that they better be home soon- the persona and who they’re singing to is in the midst of a relationship breakdown, one of them has left, and the other person is voicing out their concerns. And as the group highlight the fact that relationships need to be strengthened so that we can each feel the love of a companion and spouse, the song spurs us on to ensure that we keep our loved ones close, and we actively choose them every day for the rest of our lives. Important in the sense that this song could be the make or break of a relationship, Crowded House are to be congratulated here as they deliver a track still relevant today. “Into Temptation”, a warning track that encourages us not to give into the temptations of this world, is an acoustic ballad, with the track feeling right at home in the background of a Lucifer episode; while the confronting “Never Be The Same” delivers an ultimatum from one person to another: change and never be the same (in a good way) or risk destroying every relationship you are invested in. it’s a track that exposes the dark secrets that we all have (anger, hate, abusiveness, lying), and twists our hand, forcing us to make a choice of ourselves versus the other people. This song also lets us know that change, and I mean real change, must start from within and not from external forces.
“World Where You Live”, from the band’s debut album, dives deep into our own incessant need to know everything about everyone else’s lives- which in itself is exhausting; as Neil relays to us that he himself longed to know about his neighbour when he was younger- I was staying in my manager in L.A.’s house, and there was a woman that lived next door to him who always seemed to be having wild sex at about 6 in the morning. It used to wake me up. And I had no idea anything about her, except that she was really rampantly enjoying the thrash-around. I think that’s where I got the lines ‘I don’t know where you go, do you climb into space, to the world where you live,’ just speculating about this mystery life that was going on next door. Wanting to know in that much detail about someone’s life, especially a stranger… is disturbing and troubling indeed; but Crowded House’s song gets deep into the heart of the issue very quickly: the reason we would want to know about someone’s life, about the world is which they live, is because we are a people who long for connection, in whatever facet we can find it. It’s probably why we are always on social media, wanting to be connected to the latest TikTok celebrity. It’s why we religiously buy an artist’s discography and attend their concerts like clockwork- to feel connected to them in some way. It’s why we comment on Youtube and try to be friends with everyone we can on Facebook. It’s to ensure that people like us and that we matter. Being connected with others is part of the human condition, and is part of what makes us, well, you know, us. But obsessing over something isn’t healthy, and this song warns us of the perils of going too far. In that way, this song is needed- and maybe needs to be listened more so than the happy-go-lucky and feel good “Don’t Dream It’s Over”.
“It’s Only Natural”, a confessional track to a lover detailing that their love is only natural, could sound sweet at first glance; but a deeper listen reveals a song similar in theme to “Every Breath You Take” by The Police, a song that is icky at best and possessive at worst. It’s another ‘warning’ type song in my opinion; and as Neil and his friends firmly sing from the point of view of the person doing the pursuing, we are reminded to treat everyone in our life with respect and dignity, especially the women in our lives. “Distant Sun”, from the 4th album Together Alone, is led by the acoustic guitar, and seems to be a new-age-y bohemian and hippie type track that offers peace and love; however I see this song as a track between two mates, one of them offering mateship and friendship to the other. Sure, the lyrical setting behind this song is dubious, and could be viewed as a cult-ish song; but can God use any song He wants to? Yes, He can, and that’s inclusive of this one! “Locked Out” is about the end of a relationship, with the rock melody being about someone who can’t understand why the relationship has dissolved and disintegrated (he’s someone in denial, but this song reminds us again to always actively cherish our relationships and treat them right with respect); while another song which demands attention, is the lyrical ambiguous guitar led ballad “Instinct”- I for one cannot figure this song out, can anyone help me? The video depicts a western setting and a cowboy, with Neil singing about trusting your instincts… and the song is weird beyond belief!
“Pineapple Head” is also weird, but at least I can try to follow along with it; as the song, inspired by Neil’s son Liam being sick and spouting off random words for fun, is sung from the point of view of the virus, encouraging us to give in and let the virus run amok. It’s also a song that simply encourages us to be healthy and the best version ourselves we can be; while the lyrical imagery-laden “Private Universe” speaks about the beginnings of a relationship- wanting space between both lovers and the outside world, just to exist and be before any labels are defined. It’s a song that reassures us that puppy love or infatuation is a part of life, and that if it’s real love, it’ll grow out of that and people can start to make real commitments based on the lingering and strengthening of feelings. “Nails In My Feet”, a covertly religious or spiritual song, speaks about Jesus, but the video is a bit weird; while I’ve found a page of what other people on the internet think about the song, and you can all read about the potential song meaning here. “Pour Le Monde”, from the group’s 5th album Time On Earth, is a verseless, chorusless song that speaks volumes, as the track is anti-political, talks about social commentary issues, and at times is about their band member Paul who committed suicide. It’s about having a close circle of friends, and believing the best in people, and standing close to your beliefs… and for this reason of how the song brings positivity and optimism in the world… I reckon it’s the group’s most important song aside from “Don’t Dream It’s Over”. “Fingers Of Love”, a song that is rumoured to be about masturbation, contains loads of imagery (and again, I need help figuring out this song because the bulk of it goes entirely over my head!); while “Not The Girl You Think You Are” calls out a particular girl (maybe Neil’s ex) for having a new boyfriend, and also being her inauthentic self around him, which will only end in heartbreak later down the track. “Either Side Of The World”, from 2010’s Intriguer, is another head scratcher for me; as Crowded House do what Crowded House do best- and that is include plenty of metaphors and imagery. Though the music is easy to listen to, the lyrics are hard to understand- and does this mean that no one else will find it meaningful? Anyone, everyone, need some help deciphering this one!
It’s always hard to know, coming in [releasing a comeback album]. I’m always slightly apprehensive that people will have forgotten about it. To some extent, the mainstream music industry is hard to track. After you’ve been doing this for a while, it seems like once you’re not the new kid in town or the thing that’s on the roll, there’s a certain wall that goes up. I have the same insecurities that a lot of artists do, but I’m actually very reassured by individual experiences now. And I did this thing called fan radio while the lockdown was on. It was my way of – as many people did – communicating with fans and doing some music every day. And it was a few hundred people, a thousand at most tuning in, but it felt very significant to be getting that kind of support. People have a depth of feeling for the songs that I’ve done, the way I perform them. And it’s extremely reassuring. It doesn’t need large numbers or the chart positions necessarily to feel that support from people. But that’s why live gigs become so important as well, because that’s where you sense that as well, that long standing, abiding relationship with an audience who’s been listening.
There’s a few [artists I admire], and I haven’t seen them for a while actually, but for some reason I’ve connected with Talking Heads at pivotal stages of their development, and also mine. I saw them for in the first time playing in Amsterdam with XTC on their first or second record. It was really early on. “Psycho Killer.” We were at Split Enz in our early stages. That was a couple years into my musical life. And I saw them again at Central Park, the first time they did the big band. And again, two other times, with that big band on the Stop Making Sense tour. Later on. And David Byrne came to New Zealand on a solo tour. I was actually blessed to be able to get up and sing a song with him on that tour. I sang “Heaven” with him. As an artist, I’ve watched him and felt a relationship. Just his hunger and his thirst for creating and forward reinvention and reimagining what he might be able to do is very admirable. People like Neil Young who’ve kept whole generations of people fed creatively, it’s inspiring for me to see somebody have such a strong sense of self and willfulness about what he wants to do. Operate outside the boundaries and parameters of what the industry would suggest.
I feel my voice is stronger than it was when I was in my 20s, which I’m very grateful for. But [it’s also] having Liam, Elroy and Mitchell, all coming into the record with a great respect and reverence and fondness for some of the nuances of the early arrangements which we kind of let slip. As you do with bands. You become less respectful of some of the battles you fought on the record, because live you can just get a long way on the extra energy. They’ve brought back some of these nice little ideas, arrangement ideas that were just delightful on stage. And they have given the performance, rather than it being a polished rendition of the album, it actually feels like there’s these little emotional peaks. Individually it might not seem important but together it seemed to spark little hairs on the back of the neck moments. And so there’s the reinvigoration of the material that comes. And some songs seem to leap out years later and some seem to be consigned, well they were ok but not one of our finest moments. I’d willingly admit that on every record probably six songs have risen over the years and four have slightly fallen. It’s the nature of the beast.
I deliberately leave accidents alone [in how my lyrics are structured]. That’s a bit of a contradiction but it’s true. In the hope that they will make connections in different ways for different people, but also for myself. I’ll have little discoveries about what they mean. It’s just the way that I’ve found that I’m most happy with my lyrics. I’m not a literary person. There are writers out there whose lyrics I greatly admire but I can’t be Bob Dylan, I can’t be Leonard Cohen. It’s just not in my sphere. So the way that I’ve found that I’m the most happy is, I have lyrics that are impressionistic and suggestive and allow people to spark their own ideas. And I do that myself.
When you’ve been out of the music business for a while, coming back into it can seem like real hard work, when you’re not sure how listeners will receive you. The band’s latest album Dreamers Are Waiting, released last year after an 11 year hiatus- and though right now I’m not the most avid fan of Crowded House… I do find this latest offering quite solid, as Neil and co. offer to us relevant topics we all need to ponder over. “Playing With Fire”, a track with heavy trumpets and brass instruments, speaks about two different issues, as the concept of believing that a band comeback could be possible against the backdrop of the haters and the doubters, is juxtaposed with the concept of becoming older and not knowing when to quit your day job. As Neil fervently cries out that ‘…some might say we’re winding down, I’ve never seen such a thing, never seen such a thing…’, we are met with a defiant and stubborn group who believe they’ve got more to give to the world lyrically. But also, Crowded House encourage all of us who are becoming older by the day and who may believe that their best days are behind us, to solider on and strive on for greater things, as age isn’t any issue, just an issue of the mind. Certainly thoughts of failure and inadequacy and unworthiness may creep in during lockdowns and quarantine, but as Neil reiterates that ‘…when my legs and my arms let go, that’s when my hands and my heart say no…’, we are met with a track that encourages us to reach for the stars, and to push through the pain barrier when our legs and arms give away- after all, with our determination and with God on our side, we can do anything we set our mind to, can’t we? “To The Island”, a haunting, mysterious and beautifully recorded ballad, is sung in typical Crowded House fashion, including metaphors and imagery, and speaks about a mystical island that you can travel to, to unload all of your worries and cares (is the song speaking about Jesus being the island? I can certainly see it that way!); while the sobering “Whatever You Want” speaks about people lying to your face to make you feel good, that ‘…people will tell you whatever you want, whatever you want, to keep you in your place…’– it’s another warning to ensure that we’re honest, vulnerable and transparent to people, and actually likeable to be around. The song a dig at Trump as well; while songs like “Show Me The Way” and “Love Isn’t Hard At All” are thought-provoking and confronting within the themes of love and how we as humans can love effectively and efficiently and healthily.
I’ve always mentioned time and time again about how an artist is influential based upon their life outside of the spotlight. Crowded House’s life outside of the spotlight isn’t well documented, but there is a Wikipedia page for Neil, and everything he does outside of the band. His solo material has been featured in various film and TV soundtracks including Rain, Boston Legal, Boston Public, The Waiting Game, Antz, and Sports Night; while in 2012, Neil recorded the song “Song of the Lonely Mountain“, for the end credits of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. A tribute album- She Will Have Her Way, was released in 2005, followed by He Will Have His Way in 2010, both of them with artists covering Neil’s solo material and his songs from his two bands; while Neil himself toured as a member of Fleetwood Mac in 2018 and 2019. Neil and his wife Sharon released an album in 2011 called Pajama Club, while Tim and Neil also are a part of the group The Finn Brothers. Truly though, there’s not much more information of anything outside of music on the internet, so I have no idea what these guys do when they’re not doing music. I know that Neil has a solo career and he was a part of Split Endz prior to Crowded House. But that’s about it… and I think that in this case, it’s enough for me not to know. When you hound a person and want to know their every waking moment… it’s a bit much and it’s very obsessive. In the past, if I had written this blog 2 years earlier, I may have wanted to know all about Crowded House and what they do apart from music- I may have searched and searched and searched high and low. But now, I’m not that bothered. Crowded House have been around for eons, and have delivered thought-provoking ansd confronting songs, and iconic melodies for the ages (including one such track that was placed in the New Zealand ad!), that they’ve earnt their right to privacy for a little bit. Crowded House are influential, with or without their career- simply because of “Don’t Dream It’s Over”. But now that we know that they’re so much more than that song- let us marvel at their songwriting, because it is truly sublime. And so as I finish up this blog, and remind you all that influential artists on someone else’s list can be different, and that’s ok; let us all immerse ourselves in Crowded House’s discography. There is something special about this Australian/New Zealand band- even though half their songs don’t make sense… Perhaps a Christmas album or a covers album next? Or a duets album of past and present and future influences of theirs? Well done guys, you certain deserve all the recognition, and then some!
I‘ve learnt over the years to trust that process [of songwriting] because it does seem to spark transformative moments for people that do get my music and people that often connect with lines that weren’t consciously created. They came out in the original form with the melodic idea from my subconscious, so I trust that. It’s a vulnerable place. So yeah, I have insecurities as most artists do, but I trust the process and I trust like a melody. You can’t explain why a melody hits you in a certain way. You can’t explain the feelings it gives you. And similarly to me, you can’t explain why certain words slammed together feel good to say. And pop music is littered with amazing songs that you just enjoy singing, even if you don’t want to intellectualize the process actually. It’s a liberation not to have to for me anyway.
Does Crowded House make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Influential Artists of all Time’ list? Is there any song (other than “Don’t Dream It’s Over”, “Fall At Your Feet”, “Weather With You”, “Better Be Home Soon”, “World Where You Live”, “To The Island”, “Whatever You Want” and “Distant Sun”) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far, or even your walk with God? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!