Stu Hirayama and I continue to tackle the pressing issue of the day – INXS singles.
60. God’s Top Ten (feat. Suzie McNeil)
Fifth single from Switch (2005), released as a single in 2006
It’s been 15 years since the release of INXS’ last album of original material, Switch, which was (in turn) released 8 years after Michael Hutchence’s passing. This album featured the vocal contributions of Rock Star: INXS contest winner J.D. Fortune. The reality show, the album and the continued existence of INXS all raised a few eye-brows back in the day, but you know, here’s five great musicians who’ve had world-wide success as INXS and who have every right to continue touring and recording, you know? Primary songwriter Andrew Farriss still had some good tunes in him and if this album doesn’t quite live up to INXS’ glory days, well, arguably it wouldn’t be the first INXS album to fail to do that. As it turns out, a couple of the songs are really quite good and are coming up later.
On the other hand, there is “God’s Top Ten” featuring Fortune and fellow Rock Star: INXS competitor Suzie McNeil. I genuinely appreciate the sentiment of the lyrics – the song was intended as a gift to Hutchence’s daughter Tiger Lily – and thus have not ranked it lower, but man do I cringe half the time when I’m listening to this song. I feel terrible about this because I’d love to like a song written as a tribute to a departed friend and band mate, but… I mean…
Stu, help me out here.
Stu’s counterpoint – Honestly, I’m not a big fan of Switch, but because of this project, I’ve gone back and listened to the album more, and with an open mind. I don’t *hate* this song, but I struggle to find something about it to grab on to. I mean, it’s pretty, and kinda dreamy… but I also find it pretty sleepy, and I’m not always in the mood for that.
Also, I’ve wondered about the term “God’s Top Ten,” as it’s also used as a lyric in “Here Comes”. Was it a favorite term of Michael’s, or the band’s?
59. Night of Rebellion
Third single from Underneath the Colours (1981), released as a single in 1982
I first heard INXS when our local rock station started playing “The One Thing” from Shabooh Shoobah in 1982. At the time, I thought that was the first INXS album and I don’t think I realized there were two earlier albums until at least a year later. This was because I didn’t realize that “In Excess” was spelled “INXS.” (as I mentioned in the intro for the first chunk of this list) I was a huge fan of Billboard magazine and noticed INXS (which I thought might be pronounced “inks”) on the charts but made no connection between that name and the band being played on I-95. Anyhow, once I put two and two together (“Aha! Four!” as my friend Tony might say), I flipped through INXS albums at Record World and Record Town and Record Isthmus (it could have existed) and noticed Underneath the Colours and INXS. As a big fan of the band, I did what any self-respecting 14 year old INXS superfan would do – I checked the sticker on the cover to see if I knew any of the songs and when I didn’t, I moved on to buy a record with songs I knew. Thus, I did not hear any of their early singles until I picked up Shine Like It Does: The Anthology (1979-1997) in the late 90’s. I didn’t hear “Night of Rebellion” (not included on that anthology) until I started working on this list. I have listened to it (according to the counter on iTunes) 40 times since then and could not even begin to tell you what this song sounds like without pressing play.
Stu’s counterpoint – “Night of Rebellion” has possibly the most forgettable lyrics of any INXS song. Like many of their earlier songs, it’s tricky understanding what Michael is saying, and the lyrical rhythm is monotonous. But on the positive side, I would guess that the jaunty bass line would fill the dance floor in a small venue. I just can’t imagine this song holding much value once they started filling arenas; it just has the feel of a different era for the band.
Video from Kick (1987), released as a video in 1987
“Mediate” and “I Need You Tonight” were frequently played back to back in 1987 so it got a bunch more attention then, perhaps, it deserves. I enjoy the Bob Dylan tribute video and (as a frequent writer of doggerel) the single rhyme choice in the lyrics, but don’t think the song stands up well on it’s own. It is a pleasant enough companion piece to “I Need You Tonight” and works in context of the overall Kick album.
Stu’s counterpoint – I remember making it a goal to memorize every lyric of Kick – I listened to it enough that it didn’t take too much effort – but “Mediate” posed a particular challenge. I never really got why the band segued “Need You Tonight” into “Mediate,” other than because it continued the rhythm. It’s like it was a poetic exercise built around the continued foundation from “NYT.”
As an aside, I have a hard time imagining “Mediate” as a separate track from “Need You Tonight.” For me, the two songs are more “Feeling This Way”/”Anytime” than “We Will Rock You”/”We Are the Champions.”
57. Monday by Satellite
Artist: Max Q
Third single from Max Q (1989), released as a single in 1990
Max Q was a Michael Hutchence side project featuring multi-instrumentalist Ollie Olsen. I recall when this album was released, there was a bunch of chatter regarding whether this meant Hutchence was leaving INXS. Obviously, he didn’t. Hutchence wanted to work with some of Australia’s underground musicians but the result wasn’t especially punk or underground. It was pretty solid experimental alternative rock, though. They released three singles and the least of them is “Monday by Satellite,” which is catchy enough on it’s own, but not especially memorable. It is sort of a trip-hop single from before trip-hop was a thing.
Stu’s counterpoint – I vaguely remember liking this song a bit back when this album came out, but I don’t think it’s aged well. Or maybe I haven’t.
56. Shining Star
First single from Live Baby Live (1991), released as a single in 1991
I dig the rhythm on “Shining Star,” which starts off terrifically funky before the pieces resolves into a more straightforward INXS tune. The song was a pretty good sized hit for a live single (it reached #4 on the US Modern Rock chart). The lyrics are fine – nothing special, mostly Hutchence singing the title phrase and then injecting a “you got it” comment. It seems to be a critique of the business of making people stars. Anyhow, I am ranking it low because it’s a live single that has a studio fade out followed by applause that sounds faded up. I could be completely wrong in my estimate, but the track sounds more studio enhanced than a typical live album Kiss track to my ear – and that’s a lot of enhancement.
Stu’s counterpoint – As much as I like the bass groove that opens “Shining Star,” I dislike the opening “Mmm… I got a plan” – it just sounds cheesy to me. Other than that, I rather enjoy “Shining Star,” though I imagine it to be much more interesting live than this recorded version.
55. Perfect Strangers
Third single from Switch (2005), released as a single in 2006
Another song from Switch – this one is an average rock track that is fairly catchy but that sounds like any band could have recorded it. To whit, there’s almost nothing about “Perfect Strangers” that sounds like INXS to me. Not a bad track, just not anything I would have chosen to own if it hadn’t had the INXS name attached to it.
Stu’s counterpoint – It’s hard for me to put a finger on why I don’t care for “Perfect Strangers” – besides the fact that it’s on Switch. But as I mentioned… I’ve been trying re-listen to this album with fresh ears. Maybe the best way to describe how I feel about the song is that it sounds like a bunch of individual performances, whereas I feel like the best thing about INXS is that they tend to be so much more than the sum of their parts. To me, that’s what sounds so un-INXS about “Perfect Strangers.”
54. The Loved One
Stand-alone single from 1981
Cover of a song originally written and recorded by The Loved Ones (1966)
As you’ll see, most of INXS’ early singles (early, defined by me, as anything before Shabooh Shoobah) are lower on my list. They’re all reasonably competent, fairly forgettable new wave rock. “The Loved One” is a cover of a 1967 track by Australian R&B band The Loved Ones. Hutchence sounds like he’s discovering his rock and roll voice here, which is good, and the band plays a tight, competent version of the track. It doesn’t especially stick in my head after it plays, but I do enjoy listening to it while it is playing.
Stu’s counterpoint – So, my history with INXS is quite different than R. Kevin’s. Radio in Hawai‘i during my teen years was very commercial, and I was not the type to go out and discover music on my own. Thus, my first taste of INXS was via *gasp* Kick; my acquaintance with their back catalog came in my late high school to early college years. Thus, I was originally familar with “The Loved One” from the Kick version, and only heard this version years later.
At first, this version was hard for me to listen to, simply because I was so familiar with the later one. But now, I much prefer it – so much so that I don’t understand why they re-recorded it for Kick. As mentioned in my counterpoint for “Perfect Strangers,” I find INXS to be greater than the sum of their parts, and I find the 1981 “The Loved One” to be a prime example of this. You can deconstruct this song in your head – many of the parts are quite simple. But as simple as the component parts are, the song as a whole just fuckin’ WORKS.
Considering the chronology of their catalog, I find this song to be not just a turning point for Michael in his vocal styling, but also for Andrew as an arranger and the band as a whole. I’d love to sing this version of the song at karaoke, or dare I say, with a live band.
53. Simple Simon
Stand-alone single released in 1980
“Simple Simon” was INXS’ first single. It’s a peppy New Wave number with an interesting (and sort of goofy) keyboard line I quite enjoy the sections where Hutchence sings quickly (hence the slightly higher ranking). Furthermore, the song does stick in my head – I’m just not always sure it’s something I want stuck in there. I have bigger problems to deal with and don’t have time to try and purge my memory of that keyboard line. I also spend a lot of time after listening to the track whisper shouting “SIMON.” Your mileage may vary.
Stu’s counterpoint – In the days of my first “discovering” INXS’ back catalog, I had a hard time getting into their early stuff. I think my brain is wired to favor familiarity, and songs like “Simple Simon” were still alien to me. But now that I’ve gained some of that prized familiarity, I can get into “Simple Simon,” despite the fact that I have very little idea of what Michael is saying. As with his work in much of the band’s early stuff, I think he suffered from a lack of enunciation, and the rapid lyrics in “Simon” certainly doesn’t help. But it’s an energetic, dancefloor-friendly tune. “Simple Simon” has become a favorite of mine among their earlier songs, much like “We Are the Vegetables” is (which wasn’t released as a single).
Second single from Switch (2005), released as a single in 2006
How many singles were there from Switch? Were they all about the absence of Hutchence? Guys, neither you nor your fans will move on if a significant portion of your songs ask them not to move on. “Afterglow” was a minor hit for INXS in 2006 and good for them. It’s also a fairly pretty ballad that shows off singer Fortune’s gentler range. Both he and the rest of the band are, in fact, living in Hutchence’s afterglow, I really rather like A. Farris’ composition here, but as with several songs from Switch, I want more INXS. They weren’t just a band that played solid rock songs – they were a band that played hella-catchy dance rock.
Stu’s counterpoint – This is a nice enough song, but it sounds like a J.D. Fortune solo project that could have been recorded with any ol’ backing band. It doesn’t feel like INXS. In rating this song, I feel like a judge on Iron Chef saying, “This is really tasty, but I’m not getting much buffalo flavor.”
Fourth single from Elegantly Wasted (1997), released as a single in 1997
The video for “Searching” was the last one the band made before Hutchence passed away, and the song was the last one released while he was still alive. It’s a genuine rarity – some sort of record company event prevented a full run of singles from being pressed and only about 2000 were made. I’d love to report that there is some sort of eerie Jim Croce “Time in a Bottle” message in the lyrics of “Searching,” but that would be a stretch. It seems to be more about searching for – and successfully finding – human connection. Like some of the other songs on this section of the list, “Searching” doesn’t sound especially like INXS, but it is a pleasant enough light-soul tune.
Stu’s counterpoint – “Searching” is probably my least favorite of the Elegantly Wasted singles. Again, it sounds like a solo project that could have been recorded with an anonymous backing band. But I definitely like it better than “Afterglow.”
Oddly, I once had the idea that this might have been a better choice to record with Ray Charles -instead of “Please (You Got That…)” – though I don’t know how they’d split the vocal. I just hear Ray’s voice in this song.
Coming Soon: Stuff starts getting pretty good pretty fast