Man Overboard (Do Re Mi) – Do Re Mi 1985
In the early 1980’s Deborah Conway juggled modeling assignments – her naked derriere featured in a Bluegrass Jeans advertisement- with university studies, and fronting pub rock band the Benders who performed original songs and Devo and Blondie covers around the Melbourne pub/club circuit. She provided vocals for Tracey Mann, the star of the ABC series Sweet and Sour, and was lead vocal on the title track which was a hit song (#13 in “84) when attributed to the fictional studio-only group the Takeaways.
In 1981 Deborah and her bandmate Dorland Bray relocated to Sydney and formed Do Re Mi who became one of Australia’s most successful and respected post-punk outfits, producing stringent, funky, politically-motivated rock. The two men – Dorland Bray (drums) and Stephen Philip (guitar) and two women – Deborah Conway (vocals, guitar) and Helen Carter (bass) who comprised the group were equal partners in every way – composing and performing – Man Overboard was an anti-love song told from a woman’s perspective, with brutal honesty, and a no-holds-barred attitude to sexual politics.
Bass player Helen Carter was only sixteen years-old when she became Bon Scott’s girlfriend, in the days when he was living at the Squire Inn on Bondi Junction (Syd), so she would have been familiar with the casual carnality and at times brutal indifference of male rock stars to females, that would have informed some of the lyrics of this song. In 2019 Helen recalled the inspiration for the song “It was just about challenging all of the cultural expectations of what a relationship is but done in such a poetic and observational way… having the intensity and passion to play something and say something and be something that was … original, and not have to play the game.”
Deborah Conway was a haughty, beautiful, rebellious, sexually liberated young woman who has recently described that period she experienced in the early 1980’s “We were all on top of (contraception) and before the nastiness of AIDS came along it meant that women of my generation were all free to be as sexually expressive as we felt we needed to be with very little consequence. It was freeing, it was fantastic, it was fun.” (Stellar, Herald Sun, Nov 18th 2018)
Signed to Virgin Records in 1985 they went to London to record their debut album Domestic Harmony with producer Gavin McKillop, who coaxed an impressive vocal performance from Conway. Man Overboard was a masterful record, with a spirited persona and lyrical depth, essentially semi-spoken word lyrics by Conway were delivered with all the angst, defiance, and assertiveness, that would become the band’s identifiable sound. Musically it was edgy, abrasive, and unpredictable, it had first appeared on an indie EP and was not released as a single until several years later, surprisingly the confronting original lyrics had remained intact. Conway’s assertive/perfunctory vocals, Bray’s bongos, Roger Freeman’s trombones and a synth overlay from Steve Hogarth all miraculously merged and blended in a heady mix that was unique.
Never- before- heard lyrics including pubic hair, penis envy, premature ejaculation, razor rash, anal humor – and the complete absence of a chorus – set this song and Do Re Mi apart from their contemporaries. Man Overboard featured Deborah Conway at her angsty, assertive, compelling best and it hit #5 in June of ’85, the album Domestic Harmony too was a hit climbing to #6 nationally, but by the time the sleekly-produced The Happiest Place in Town album was completed in 1988, Virgin were encouraging Conway to go solo, and the band ultimately fell apart.
Conway and Bray subsequently fell out bitterly over writing credits for the band’s songs, including Man Overboard in which Bray contributed the killer line “Your pubic hairs are on my pillow…”. Bray also claimed a lack of recognition for the lyrics and vocal melodies which he contributed to the band’s album Domestic Harmony, and recently expressed surprise when he was asked to join Conway on a re-formed Do-Re-Mi to tour in 2019, an offer he apparently angrily rejected.