I am very excited that I will be joined on this list by INXS superfan Stu Hirayama who will be giving counterpoints to my rankings. I’m a big fan of the band but Stu is the biggest INXS fan I know.
When INXS (pronounced “In Excess” not “Inks,” which is what I called them for a while back then) first entered my cultural radar, their fellow Australians Men At Work were one of the hottest bands in the United States. It was not unusual for radio DJs to talk about an “Australian invasion” and to compare Men at Work to The Beatles. At the time (1983, I think), I recall thinking I was being very profound by repeatedly stating that INXS was, thus, like The Rolling Stones. That metaphor holds a little better than the Men at Work = The Beatles metaphor, but its still completely wrong.
There’s a few things worth acknowledging about the band right from the top. While many fans perceived the band as Michael Hutchence and some other dudes, the internal reality is that the six band members had a couple of important “centers.” First, three of the band members – keyboardist Andrew Farriss, drummer Jon Farriss, and guitarist Tim Farriss – were brothers and the original name of the band was “The Farriss Brothers.” Second, Andrew Farriss was the principal composer working in concert with main lyricist Hutchence. Hutchence was, thus, a vitally important part of the band, but the sibling relationship was there at the band’s core and after Hutch died, they still had the dude who composed most of their music.
They founded the band with bassist Garry Gary Beers and guitarist and saxophonist Kirk Pengilly in 1977 and that line-up worked together until Hutchence’s death in 1997. Thus, from the band’s perspective, they lost their dear friend and lead singer, but only 1/6 of the line-up of the band. These guys were committed to each other and suggesting they should have packed in INXS after Hutchence death ignores the band’s internal reality. Say what you will about INXS: Rock Star (no, seriously, say it – it deserves it) but at the time it was an almost savvy marketing move to bring the band back into the cultural spotlight and establish an identity apart from Hutchence.
So, that said, this list is going to include all singles released by INXS as well as Hutchence’s solo singles and his singles with his short-lived side-project Max-Q. Its also going to include everything INXS released with alternate singers after 1997. If this is your first time here, please feel free to read the FAQ if you’re curious about my working method or why I’m doing this or if my cat is friendly (she is not – just saved you a click). I rank the songs more or less based on the principal of “I must like each song more than the previous one.”
You might not need this, but it is in fact what I need:
65. Good Times (Jimmy Barnes and INXS)
First single from The Lost Boys: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1987), released as a single in 1987
Cover of a song originally recorded by The Easybeats
The Easybeats are a very successful and much loved 1960’s Australian rock band best known in the United States for their hit “Friday On My Mind.” “Good Times” is one of their most covered songs – I first heard the Hindu Love Gods version of the tune in 1986. Jimmy Barnes is the lead singer of Cold Chisel, also a well loved and very successful Australian rock band. When INXS was right on the cusp of breaking huge, they teamed up with Barnes and recorded this well-loved song. So, three huge Australian acts all in one song. The only problem is I can’t stand this song no matter who sings it. I’m not sure I can even explain why – maybe I would have enjoyed hearing a song that name checks some characters from 50’s rock songs more if I’d grown up in the 60’s? No idea. Furthermore, something about the chorus is just hateful to me. There’s something about the song that many talented people like (legend has it that when Paul McCartney first heard it, he pulled over and called the radio station to request that they play it again) but it just makes me cringe.
The Lost Boys was pretty good in 1987 through. I wonder if it holds up?
Stu’s counterpoint – I don’t know what to make of this song. On one hand, I like the pace and feel, as well as Andrew’s ’50s era piano. But on the other, I don’t particularly care for Barnes’ voice. Not that it’s bad – I think he uses it in ways that Michael can’t pull off very well. But somehow, it grates on me. In some moods, I’m apt to skip this song if it comes up in rotation; in others, I’ll turn it up in my car while I’m driving.
Second single from Elegantly Wasted (1997), released as a single in 1997
Elegantly Wasted was INXS’s final album with Michael Hutchence and includes some rather decent songs. “Everything” is not necessarily bad on its own but I think its ruined by this sing-a-long gimmick. It sounds like they had a crowd at a sporting event sing sections of the song and then dubbed it into the final mix. Or maybe they played it live and the crowd sang along. The song was recorded in Dublin and I can find no indication that they actually brought a crowd in so my assumption is this is just the way Hutchence and A Farriss wanted to the song to sound. Maybe they were trying to encourage live audiences to sing along? I mean, I guess that’s an interesting idea? I cringe when the group-sung sections happen and would rather avoid the song entirely than hear them.
Stu’s counterpoint – I actually rather liked “Everything,” mostly because I liked some of the lyrical rhythms. Then, years after the album came out, I saw its music video for the first time. Like R. Kevin mentioned, I found the singalong portion to be awkward and self-indulgent. I wish I’d never found the video, as the singalong is something I can’t unhear.
63. Never Tear Us Apart (2010) (featuring Ben Harper)
First single from Original Sin (2010), released as a single in 2010
Cover of their own tune from 1988
INXS’ final album was Original Sin – an album of reimagined versions of their hits with different singers. Its a mixed bag, but when it works it really works (I’ve ranked the two other singles considerably higher than this one). Ben Harper is a great singer with a fabulous voice but I don’t feel like he or the band reveals anything new or different about this version of the song. Its simply a pretty, sort of MOR version of their classic. I would love to have heard a stripped down version of this song – maybe just Harper, his guitar and a little understated accompaniment like on “Burn One Down.” I think they were trying to go for something lush and radio-friendly here but in my opinion, its just boring.
Stu’s counterpoint – The original version of “Never Tear Us Apart” takes up only a middling position in my INXS rankings, but I really don’t *get* the Ben Harper version. I get that they are wanting to do something different, but I just don’t get how it works. I imagine this version in some sort of Face/Off-type movie’s soundtrack. Oh wait… that honor belongs to another song already.
62. Baby Don’t Cry
Second single from Welcome to Wherever You Are (1992), released as a single in 1992
In his review for INXS’s later album Switch at Entertainment Weekly, critic David Browne writes that INXS had always been “churning out riffy half-songs.” I don’t think this is a fair characterization of the bulk of their work, but I think its an extremely accurate description* of “Baby Don’t Cry.” To my ear, this song sounds like an extended ending to a song with no beginning – like it picks up right after the final chorus and just continues through the fade-out. This is sort of like skipping the bulk of “Hey Jude” and just performing the “na na na” business, except this isn’t as interesting a song as “Hey Jude.” This isn’t necessarily bad, but I want to hear the rest of the song.
* I acknowledge this isn’t really what David Browne probably meant.
Stu’s counterpoint – I think “Baby Don’t Cry” is a decent song, but suffers from some bad decisions in arrangement and production. Specifically, I don’t care for the orchestral arrangement and the choral umm… chorus… that goes on and on (and on… and on…) at the end.
61. Please (You Got That …) (featuring Ray Charles)
Third single from Full Moon, Dirty Hearts (1993), released as a single in 1993
Oh, I have mixed feelings about “Please.” Ray Charles sounds great and the band sounds like they’re genuinely energized by his presence. The tune is a classic catchy INXS dance rock song. But then here they are with Ray Charles – one of our lifetime’s great musicians who happened to also have a heroin addiction at one point in his life – singing a song with lyrics about being “a junkie when the heat is on.” I know that’s using a drug metaphor to describe a love affair, but it has always seemed painfully tasteless to me. If the lyrics were slightly different, I might have found it in my heart to bump this song up significantly.
Stu’s counterpoint – This is one of the songs I had a hard time placing in my rankings. I think if I re-ranked these songs every year, “Please…” would be the one with the widest year-to-year fluctuation. I feel that Ray Charles is an odd choice to collaborate with INXS. This is during a period when the band was trying different things (Welcome to Wherever You Are and Full Moon, Dirty Hearts albums), and the added blues and funk influence feels a bit awkward. Some days I love the chorus; on others, I find it to drone on.
Coming Soon: Some of the earliest and some of the latest