INXS Superfan Stu Hirayama and I had planned to start this list about a year ago and I find myself questioning my ranking choices now. As I work on Green Day, I’m constantly moving songs around even now that I’ve reached the top 20 (LMFAO says “every day I’m shuffling”). I felt I needed to commit more firmly to a ranking out of respect for Stu and sometimes find myself saying “what was I thinking” out loud.
With that context, let’s approach our next chunk of excellence.
40. Speed Kills
Artists: Don Walker, Jenny Hunter Brown, Michael Hutchence
Single from the soundtrack to the film Freedom (1982), released as a single in 1981
According to Stu – R. Kevin is nothing if not thorough when it comes to compiling the singles for these lists. I had to dig this sucker up for this project.
Not knowing anything about the song other than what R. mentioned above, it sounds like it was written to fit into the film. It’s short, and kind of fades off into the horizon. It has a rather Aussie Outback feel to it, whatever that means. I like the bass work in it, and I like the overall sound of the song. It feels like only about 2/3 of a song, but again, my guess is that it was meant to fit into the film.
According to Doyle – With regards to my introductory paragraph to this entry, I’m not entirely sure why I ranked this song here and not lower. I’ve directed some great plays and I’ve directed some lousy plays. Let’s talk about the lousy ones! They take up just as much time and effort as the great ones. I’m not aware most of the time when the show is lousy. I’ve written about my production of Henry IV: Part 1 and I tell you, while I was working on it, I thought it was really something pretty special. Indeed, when people were critical of it at the time, I was crazy defensive. In community theatre, the worst that comes of doing a bad job directing a show (especially when you’ve done a good job of directing prior shows) is that you get to try to learn and do better next time. Everyone is out a little time, hopefully the actors made some new friends, and people move on. Best of all, there’s really no record of the play other than, perhaps, a negative review.
This leads us to the film Freedom which – as a film – cost a lot more money. At the time (and perhaps to this day), director Scott Hicks was probably very invested in this film (his first) and was equally defensive of it when it was released and subsequently flopped. I imagine it occasionally runs on late night TV in Austalia, a mostly forgotten movie that is a footnote in an otherwise successful director’s career. And then, on the soundtrack to this flop, is Michael Hutchence’s first solo single – “Speed Kills.” The main thing that stands out to me is the “Monday Tuesday” business because it reminds me of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. I think a year ago I found the song to be catchy and a bit of a pleasant surprise, but I’m not nearly as into it now. So, to summarize, forgettable debut solo single form a forgettable directing debut film.
39. Mediate (featuring Tricky)
Third single from Original Sin (2010), released as a single in 2011
According to Stu – I’m often not a fan of over-synthesized clubby music, and remixes are hit-or-miss for me. While this version of “Mediate” may be Mediate 2.0 for some, for me, it’s the Mediate version of Windows ME.
According to Doyle –Tricky is one of my favorite musicians and he completely reinvents “Mediate.” (#58) Whereas I find the original to be a song that doesn’t really stand alone so well, Tricky’s version sounds both like a stand-alone song and a Tricky tune. It does not sound especially like something INXS would ever released, but I think that was the ultimate point of the Original Sin album – to reinvent some of their classics. It’s probably the most daring song (and among the more successful ones) on the record, so well done to all involved (but really to Tricky).
Japan and Australia only single from Full Moon, Dirty Hearts (1993), released as a single in 1993
According to Stu – I didn’t give Full Moon, Dirty Hearts enough credit when it first came out. I was rather listless in life at the time, and only got around to listening to the album years later. “Time” is a driving track, possibly the most “rock” of all INXS’ releases, and it makes me wish I paid more attention to FMDH.
Not that it’s the measure of a great or cool song, but “Time” has the feel of an arena anthem, but without the hit pedigree. It amps me up. It makes me want to drive fast. It makes me want to run faster than my body is able to anymore. It’s not a perfect song, and it’s not even my favorite INXS song. But if I want a song to pump me up, this is one that fits the bill. And that’s worth something.
According to Doyle –“Time” was only released as a single in Japan and Australia in order to promote their then-current tour. I love the guitar riff and am 90% loving the chorus (the sound if not the totality of the lyrics). The verses are fun for me because they pass the my “Tom Petty ‘Don’t Do Me Like That'” test, which is to say I can sing any sounds I want on the verses and have a good time that’s indistinguishable from the good time I’d have singing the words correctly.
37. Just Keep Walking
Single from INXS (1980), released as a single in 1980
According to Stu – Oh my goodness. This video.
Back in the day, I stumbled upon a tape at Blockbuster that was a compilation of INXS’ early music videos. I think this was the first one on it. This was when I was looking into their back catalog, still unfamiliar with Shabooh Shoobah and anything before it. I remember thinking, “Is that made of garbage bags and masking tape?!” And what’s with the zombie walk dancing? Ahh… the low budget beginnings. Did any of them imagine at the time that they’d be touring arenas worldwide 7-8 years later?
It took a while, but I came to enjoy this song quite a bit. Again, it’s pretty simple in composition. In particular, the vocal pattern in the chorus amounts to four eighth notes with the third one a note higher or lower than the others. But it’s a fun little song that really points to the band’s genesis.
I’ve heard INXS being categorized as New Wave, but you don’t hear it in their later albums. This song, off their debut album, is possibly the New Waviest of them all. It’s held up well over the years, and I think it would be a fun song to hear the band play almost forty years after its release.
According to Doyle – Exactly one single was released from INXS’ self-titled debut album. Stu has listened to that album. I have not. I considered trying to create an MS-Paint version of the album cover for this project but chickened out. I have a soft spot in my heart for the very early INXS songs (defined, by me, as everything before Listen Like Thieves). At the time, their tunes fit in equally well on our local college radio station (WXCI) and on our local rock station (I-95). While “Just Keep Walking” did not receive airplay on either (to my knowledge) and (truth be told) the first time I heard it was when I first listened to Shine Like It Does: The Anthology, I found it immediately familiar and catchy. The chorus in particular is a fun, kind of messy sign of things to come from the band in terms of hooks and lyrics. Not to be missed.
36. A Straight Line
Artist: Michael Hutchence
First single from Michael Hutchence (1999), released as a single in 1999
According to Stu – I can’t pinpoint what it is exactly, but “A Straight Line” just feels busy. I can’t figure out what I’m supposed to be listening to. But it’s not as if there are fifty instruments competing for my ear. Somehow, I can’t make heads or tails of this song.
It’s starts out simple enough, and I can make out the lyrics fine. I wonder if this solo release would have benefited from Andrew’s arranging touch, or if it’s just a matter of it being something that is not compatible with my tastes.
According to Doyle – I’ve never been sure what to make of Michael Hutchence’s self titled solo album. Its not that it is bad by any stretch of the imagination, it’s just that it seems to be largely in the same vein as INXS’s contemporary records. This is not a bad thing, but my inner snob feels like solo albums should be places where artists try things they couldn’t do with their band. Hutchence was half the song writing team and the front man. Maybe he just had more songs than they had interest in recording? His co-writer – Andy Gill of Gang of Four – and he produced some great, melancholy (but still funky) tunes. It’s difficult for me to read Hutchence’s lyrics for “A Straight Line” without the haze of his death obscuring my vision. The music, on the other hand, I find to be generally pretty exciting. I particularly like the runs into the choruses that culminates with “end to my losing streak.”
35. Black and White
Fourth single from Shabooh Shoohbah (1982), released as a single in 1983
According to Stu – The way I feel about “Black and White” is similar to “Kiss the Dirt (Falling Down the Mountain)”, though maybe not to the same magnitude: I like it more in the context of the album than on its own. But as standalone songs, I like “Black and White” a good measure more. It is considerably more energetic, so it often perks me up when I hear it. It is the evolution of tunes like “Simple Simon” and “We Are the Vegetables”.
According to Doyle – Shabooh Shoobah was an album I owned on vinyl and played to death back in 1982 and ’83. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but Men at Work were all over the charts and there was talking of an “Australian Invasion.” I – a brilliant music scholar at age 14 – told anyone who would listen that if Men at Work were The Beatles of this invasion, INXS was the Rolling Stones. Please take a moment to soak in my teenage prescience as you reflect on Men at Work’s continuing success and enduring legacy (side note – I still love Men at Work). I think “Black and White” is the song on this album that sounds most like the direction the band was ultimately going. “Don’t Change” and “The One Thing” are both New Wave classics that fit in nicely in your Spotify list with Tears for Fears and Ultravox. “To Look At You” is a great song, but the band only very occasionally traveled down that musical path again. “Black and White,” which mixes a little funk and a little rock, would have sounded about right on Listen Like Thieves (with a little more bombastic production). It’s not one of their best known songs, but if you dig their peak work and have not heard it, you’re in for a treat.
Sixth single from Kick (1987), released as a single in 1988
According to Stu – If you polled people who have a passing familiarity with INXS, I think “Mystify” would be way up among their favorites. Because Kick was so huge and its follow-up, X, released three years later, there was a long period where that album tossed around people’s minds. Though songs like “New Sensation”, “Need You Tonight”, and “Never Tear Us Apart” charted really well, “Mystify” seemed like the darling track to anyone who listed to the whole album much. I would say that I generally agree with that.
While I really like the high-charting airwave-friendly hits on Kick, for the most part, they’re pretty straightforward. The syncopated piano in “Mystify” grabbed me from the start, and the song’s lyrics are among the most poetic in the band’s repertoire. My affinity for “Mystify” has endured better than its big sisters on Kick.
The one slightly negative thing I’d say about the song is that I sometimes wish it was barer; it would be wonderful in an acoustic setting.
According to Doyle – “Mystify” represents the start of the next tier of INXS songs in my brain as we move from the good to the great. I really like Hutchence’s lyrics and vocal delivery, Andrew Farriss’s keyboard work, and Jon Farriss’ drums and percussion on this track. Stu talks about the best INXS songs as being greater than the sum of their parts and I think this is a great example of that – the tune itself is not necessarily a great one (though its good to be sure), but all of the performances on it are. Stu mentions wanting to hear a barer version of the song, and I think I agree – something with just voice, piano and drum would hit the spot just right with this one.
33. Beautiful Girl
Fifth single from Welcome to Wherever You Are (1992), released as a single in 1993
According to Stu – There’s something beautiful about “Beautiful Girl” that I often (but not always) can’t resist. I really like the stripped-down nature of the song, and that the instruments, including Michael’s voice, aren’t fussed with. I also like how the parts layer in – guitar, keyboard right hand, keyboard left hand, percussion and vocal.
I see this to be a song at a concert where some members take a breather. Garry and Kirk put their guitars down, and maybe grab a tambourine or something; Michael may take a seat. I also imagine local bands doing cover versions in small venues, maybe with the drummer using a cajón. Or even a Postmodern Jukebox-type version that’s jazzed up and uses a stand-up bass.
There are times that a song like this doesn’t fit the mood I’m in, or that I want. I also thought it strange that they used the lyric “doorway to doorway”, when it was just used on their previous album, X, in “The Stairs”.
According to Doyle – “Beautiful Girl” was only released in the USA as a Cassingle. Bono plays some guitar and you can hear his distinctive voice on back vocals. Andrew Farriss wrote the song (both music and lyrics) shortly after the birth of his daughter. I find that last note a little disturbing because the song itself seems to be about a girl whose run away from home because of an abusive situation. I am surely not saying that Farriss abused anyone (indeed, his bio suggests he’s a dedicated family man), just that that is a little weird. The tune (particularly the slightly more groovy Mendelsohn version) is a pretty little delight, particularly A. Farriss’ music box piano sections.
32. Devil’s Party
Third single from Switch (2005), released as a single in 2006
According to Stu – I think the greatest quality of INXS is that they are greater than the sum of their parts. I’ll probably say that over a dozen times over the course of this project. either in reference to their individual talents as musicians or the parts that they play with their instruments.
“Devil’s Party” is an instance where I just don’t get that cohesion, that greater sum. I find it sterile and uninteresting.
According to Doyle – “Devil’s Party” was a top 10 hit in Canada. I cite this fact because it makes me feel a little bit better about how much I love the tune. This is the last single we’ll be listening to from Switch and I genuinely believe it’s both the best track on the record. At the time that it was released, I thought INXS was trying to make a deliberate call back to “Devil Inside.” (ah ha ha ha) Perhaps not in lyric or music, but in marketing. “Hey everyone – remember INXS? Here’s a song by them that, by it’s title, conjures up memories of a song you liked before.” I think the song hangs together quite well and J.D. Fortune rises to the level of a great vocalist and decent lyricist on at least this song. I am particularly pleased with the “where do we belong” backing vocals and how the song (unexpectedly) resolves with a suggestion that we should take less and give more. You did good, Fortune, and I’m sorry you didn’t last long enough as the lead singer to grow into the part. And that’s that for Switch.
31. Dancing on the Jetty
Fourth single from The Swing (1984), released as a single in 1984
According to Stu – “Dancing on the Jetty” is a little unusual structurally, for a pop song. It still has a pretty standard verse – chorus – verse – chorus layout, but the verses (or the choruses?) are split in two different feels. Thus, it’s more like verse A1 – verse B1 – chorus – verse A2 – verse B2 – chorus.
What I love about The Swing is how varied the songs are on it. There a bit of an edge to much of the album, and you can hear it in this track. As for the two-tone verses, I’ve really come around to it. I used to have a hard time reconciling it, but I quite enjoy it now.
According to Doyle – The Swing was the last album by INXS that could be labelled as New Wave (indeed, that era was already in it’s late twilight when the album came out). That bass/guitar combo at the :35 second mark by Gary Gary Beers and Tim Farriss? That is the sound of INXS finding it’s classic sound. Most of Listen Like Thieves sounds like it was born in that instant – at least to my ear. Of course, it helps that this song was produced by Nile Rodgers (like so many other great songs on these lists). Tim Farriss plays a great little guitar solo on this track (he is only rarely afforded that opportunity). I appreciate the fact that no matter how much the verses heat up, the band cools things down during the choruses. As it happens, INXS were exactly one song away from their first huge international hit – both in order of singles released and in terms of sound.
Coming Soon: A little more Bono, a lot more Hutch