Stay Young – (M Hutchence/A Farriss) 1981 and Don’t Change (M Hutchence/A Farriss) 1982 and Original Sin (M Hutchence/A Farriss) 1983- INXS
The Farriss brothers, Tim, Andrew and Jon originally hailed from Perth (WA) but relocated to Sydney in 1971 when their father Denis was appointed to a senior management position with a national insurance company. Tim enrolled at Forest High school where he met fellow student Kirk Pengilly, the two guitar buddies formed a garage band called Guinness which gigged semi-professionally. Dennis and Jill Farriss were very supportive of their sons’ musical ambitions and the family garage at their Belrose home became their practice space, younger brothers Andrew and Jon were showing promise on keyboards and drums respectively and they too would form a garage band separate from their older brother, called Dr. Dolphin.
Due to a Kafkaesque bureaucratic arrangement, neither Andrew nor Jon could enroll at Forrest HS, they were required to enroll in the yet -to-be opened Davidson High School, which like Forrest HS was equidistant from the Farriss home, but as Davidson HS wasn’t yet open for business the two younger Farriss brothers had to attend Killarney Heights HS while wearing their Davidson HS school uniforms – a bureaucratic masterstroke that ensured the brothers would be targeted by bullies and seen as unwelcome outsiders.
Michael Hutchence arrived in Sydney from Hong Kong where his father ran an import/export business, he too was enrolled at Killarney Heights HS after attending a British private school in Hong Kong, like the Farris brothers he wore his old school uniform and had a pronounced English accent, he was an irresistible target for the boofhead bullies at Killarney. Andrew and his mates defended Michael in a confrontation in the schoolyard and ultimately the two boys, who would become one of the most successful songwriting combinations in Australian popular music history, began to bond, and share their love of music.
Hutchence relocated to Los Angeles with his mother, a makeup artist, for a year in 1975, where he attended Beverley Hills HS, the alma mater of Slash and Lenny Kravitz, but returned and rejoined his Dr.Dolphin bandmates, Andrew and Jon Farriss, they also recruited bass player Garry Beers who attended Forrest HS but was not musically connected to either Tim or Kirk.
1977 saw the merger of Guiness and Dr. Dolphin and the emergence of the Farriss Brothers Band, the first time the fledgling INXS would play together, their first practice piece was Marley’s I Shot the Sheriff and they started gigging around Avalon and Sydney’s northern beaches playing Steely Dan, Roxy Music and Deep Purple covers.
In 1978 the Farriss family relocated back to Perth with young Jon who had yet to complete his secondary schooling, remarkably the other five band members followed them there, in a show of solidarity and belief in their future as a group. From such commitment great bands are formed, Cold Chisel band members had all relocated to rural Armidale in NSW for a year to be near their keyboardist/songwriter Don Walker who was completing his post-graduate degree in quantum mechanics, prior to becoming the masters of pub rock in this country.
In the late 1970’s Perth pubs were a covers band wasteland controlled by an oligopoly of promoters, the most dominant being one Des Jose who started out as the owner of the Top Hat night club and expanded his empire to include an extensive booking, touring, and events promotion agency. He banned original music in favour of current chart hits in the venues he controlled, the band was rebellious and had original music they wanted to market-test, they were effectively blackballed by Perth pubs with the exception of the more independently-minded licencees of the Broadway Tavern, Shenton Park Hotel and Steve’s Nedlands Hotel, but they were often forced to travel vast distances to country gigs in Bunbury, Busselton, Geraldton and Goldsworthy to make ends meet.
Although Des Jose rarely lets the facts get in the way of a good story, in his memoir Rock From Behind the Black Curtain (Des Jose and Heather Campbell 2017), he conceded that INXS probably deserved to be able to play their original music, “ I booked them to go to Kalgoorlie…they wouldn’t go…they packed up and went to the eastern states, changed their name to INXS, played original material, six months later they’re the biggest band in the world, drawing thousands of people and making millions of dollars and I had egg all over my face.”
Returning to Sydney the Farriss Brothers Band were the three brothers – Andrew (keyboards/synth/composer), Jon (drummer), Tim (guitarist/vocals), and Kirk Pengilly (guitar/sax/vocals). Gary Garry Beers (bass) and frontman Michel Hutchence (vocals/lyricist).
They had honed their skills in Perth, Kirk Pengilly had taught himself to play saxophone, Michael had refined his vocal phrasing, pitch and intonation, Andrew was mastering the synthesizer, they were finding their own unique groove, they played funk when the pub scene demanded hard rock, they made no apologies and moved to the beat of their own drum.
The Ferris Brothers Band became INXS after Midnight Oil manager Gary Morris came up with the name after playing around with XTC, the name of an English band and IXL, a local jam maker, they would retain an unchanged lineup for over twenty years and evolve into a harder pub rock outfit who aspired to ultimate world domination.
Signed to the Deluxe record label their eponymous debut album had been an uncomplicated new-wave rock outing with plenty of energy but not much finesse, but it had its fans and charted a respectable #27. The band’s first two chart singles were Just Keep Walking which crept into the top 40 at #38 in October 1980 and a brilliant cover version of the Loved Ones 1966 hit The Loved One, which provided their first top twenty hit at #18 in April 1981.
The band ultimately hit their stride and emerged from Studio 301 (Syd), with their second album Underneath the Colours, produced by Richard Clapton in his production debut, from which they lifted their third single, Stay Young, in 1981 the band were simultaneously touring and recording relentlessly, fronting over 300 gigs a year.
It was early days for the band and although there were indications of the slithery, funky, post-New Wave grooves that they would ultimately aspire to; and undoubtedly Michael Hutchence was a sexy Jaggeresque frontman, Stay Young was a typical slice of New Wave synth-inflected jangly 1980’s guitar pop, funky keyboards, and sinewy bass. The beach party promo video was a clumsy home movie and the lyrics were banal, but it charted #21 locally and the album #15.
By mid-1982 the band’s manager Chris Murphy had landed a support slot for INXS on a UK tour with XTC and an international distribution deal with RCA, he just needed Deluxe to stump up the costs of getting the band to the UK. Murphy’s requests were rejected by Michael Browning, so he did what all good manager’s do and mortgaged his family home to buy out the Deluxe contract and fund the UK tour.
WEA/Atlantic/Atco saw the band’s potential and signed them to a lucrative record deal, this afforded the band unfettered access to broad international markets and a distribution and promotional network that would underpin their future global success. More importantly, it ensured that INXS never relinquished ownership of all their music or even music videos, to another corporate entity, INXS Inc. was off and running.
Their next album Shaboo Shoobah was recorded at Rhinoceros Studios (Syd) with new producer Mark Opitz, One Thing was the first single lifted off the album and it took the group into the US top 30 for the first time in mid-1983, it made the Canadian top 20 and charted #14 locally, and cemented the INXS sound, genuine definable rock a la Led Zeppelin, they were no longer just another New Wave band. They had also become MTV-savvy, the promo video for One Thing was a stylish contemporary take on a Victorian banquet, lots of well-coiffured models, including Michael’s girlfriend Michele Bennet, lustily devouring meat from the bone, figs and other delicacies with a real carnal intent – the message was not lost on the fans.
The second single off the album was Don’t Change, again the lyrics are uninspiring, “I’m standing here on the ground…The sky above won’t fall down” so far so good, Newtonian physics have not yet been disproved … “See no evil in all directions/ Resolution of happiness/Things have been dark for too long,” and Hutchence had not yet joined Lennon/McCartney, Jagger/Richards, Dylan, Cohen or Simon in the pantheon of gifted songwriters.
But musically the song is interesting, from the sparse opening keyboard riff by Andrew Farriss, to the vocal harmonies of Kirk Pengilly, which wind their way around the lyrics, imparting light and shade and a beguiling wistfulness to the song, which was not immediately obvious in the written words.
Don’t Change charted at #14 and the album was a huge success, #5 locally and remained on the charts for 94 weeks! Scott Hicks directed the promo video inside an aircraft hangar near Adelaide, frontman Hutchence was luminous and lithe and delivered his barely serviceable lyrics with such power and animal grace that you never noticed the actual words. The international profile of the band was building rapidly, Nile Rodgers offered to produce them at New York’s Power Station Studios in 1983, and one of the songs to emerge from the sessions was the slithery funk of Original Sin.
The first line of the song relates to the biblical reference to original sin in Genesis, which avers that we are all born with the original sin of Adam and Eve and must be baptised to cleanse ourselves. At the suggestion of producer Nile Rodgers, the song also championed the concept of inter-racial relationships (black boy white girl/ white boy black girl) which was somewhat controversial at the time, and such lyrics as “…play with fire…” and “dream on in the name of love” reinforced the message.
Rodgers was one of the world’s most gifted producers, formerly lead guitarist with Chic he had overseen hits for such artists as Diana Ross, David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Duran Duran, Madonna, Kylie Minogue, and Britney Spears.
Rodgers tapped into the swinging, funky DNA of the band for the first time, the song twines its way around the serpentine bass line as steamy horns, funky guitar and Michael’s come-hither vocals are augmented by Kirk Pengilly and Darryl Hall, to deliver a memorable slice of hot, sexy pop. While Hutchence and his fellow bandmates thought they were just demoing songs for Rodgers, he was producing final versions for release, and Original Sin is better for its spontaneously funky rhythms and swinging groove.
He also imparted a commercial sheen and lustre to the song aided by an assured rhythm section of Beers and Jon Farriss, while Pengilly rendered impressive guitar and saxophone flourishes and Andrew Farriss’s keyboard riffs at the intro and the bridge were notable, a slick promo video with the boys astride motorcycles in a fairground in Japan, made this a truly international production.
The band was now a world act of growing stature, the song was their first #1 hit anywhere, charted #1 in Australia and France, #6 in NZ and #58 in USA where it was banned by some radio stations because of the inter-racial lyrics.
But the future conquest of the US market awaited INXS when they would chart there with no less than seven top ten hits including four top five hits – What You Need (#5 ’86), Need You Tonight (#! ’87), Devil Inside (#2 ’88) and New Sensation (#4 ’88) in the period 1986-90.