Beautiful People – (J Reyne) 1979 and The Boys Light Up (J Reyne) 1980 and Downhearted (G McDonough/W McDonough/S Higgins) 1980 and Hootchie Gucci Fiorucci Mama (J Reyne/D Briggs) 1980 – Australian Crawl
Australia Crawl emerged as the archetypal Aussie band, five sun-bronzed surfers from Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula, nurtured within comfortable middle -class lifestyles; possessing none of the angst and anger of the punks.
The original band members came from various local groups but primarily a band known as Spliff and the Rouch, two words virtually identical in meaning to colloquial terms for marijuana, their preferred recreational drug of choice at the time.
They conveyed a certain cocky, insightful arrogance which endeared them to their fans as they peered into the lifestyles and social pecadilloes of the very classes from which they had sprung. They played up the sarcasm, droll witticisms, and self-effacing humour over a catchy backbeat which stamped them as a pub rock band who played engagingly within their limits.
When the band went into the AAV Studios in Melbourne with producer and LRB guitarist David Briggs in 1979, the group were James Reyne (vocals), Simon Binks (lead guitar), Brad Robinson (rhythm guitar), Paul Williams (bass) and Bill McDonough (drums).
James Reyne was the focus of attention, a handsome and charismatic frontman with a Kirk Douglas dimple, who wrote original songs, his early influences were local surf rock bands Taman Shud and Khavas Jute, the country rock of the Dingoes and the satirical suburban-based songs of Greg Macainsh of Skyhooks.
Their debut album The Boys Light Up was incredibly successful, charted at #4 and stayed on the national charts for 101 weeks, sold over 280,000 copies and yielded three bona fide hits.
Beautiful People was the first single lifted off the debut album, it’s a perky slice of pub rock, guitar, drums, and several brief guitar solos by Simon Binks keep things moving but it was the idiosyncratic, clipped vocal style of frontman James Reyne that drew attention, the concept of mondegreens, mishearing lyrics, went into overdrive and persisted throughout much of the band’s life.
Pre-publicity for the record was also of interest as the ABC produced a mini-documentary which followed the band through the whole creative process right to the record’s debut performance on Countdown, with both of Reyne’s arms in plaster casts after he was involved in an accident in Swanston St (Melb)
The lyrics skewer the middle- class morality of those fascinated with pretentious, conspicuous consumption – “Robert Palmer T-shirts…$200 pushbikes (this was 1980!) …art deco sonic boom…cocaine cough…People just want to break you down/They just want to take you down.” The song charted at #22 for a national breakout hit for the group.
The second single off the album was the much raunchier The Boys Light Up, which has generally been interpreted as either a song about smoking marijuana, or as Reyne has stated, primarily about fellatio, although the lyrics also focus on infidelity, which may of course lead to fellatio.
The intro features Reyne on harmonica and there is a reggae cadence to the song, brief guitar solos feature and Reyne introduces one of his most famous lyrics when he rhymes the word “corseted” with the neologism (not a real word) “dorseted”, after the Dorset Hotel in Croydon where the band regularly performed. The song charted at #22 and became a live performance favourite, the album was also gathering pace and heading into the national top 10.
Crawl’s brand of finely crafted and accessible pop was exemplified by the diverse songwriting skills of the band members as shown in Downhearted, where without a contribution from James Reyne three other band members collaborated on this reflective lover’s lament, which was the third single lifted from the Boys Light Up album and charted at #12 in July 1980, and namechecked some of the boys favourite overseas surfing spots at “…Bali bays”.
Of the co-composers of this song only Bill McDonough was a member of the band at the time, Guy McDonough and Sean Higgins had been bandmates with Bill in the Flatheads, but Guy would subsequently join the band in 1980. Reyne’s vocals were effective here, he was not a showy or demonstrative frontman and this persona worked well with this strong yet sensitive ballad.
Hootchie Gucci Fiorucci Mama was also lifted from the Boys Light Up album and is a piano -based social satire on the vacuous lives of the carefully coiffured, private-school-educated, pampered young ladies who shop and do lunch along Toorak Road, (South Yarra) in Melbourne “I’ve seen your peers pouting over beers/ The loneliness it showed/Mistaking tacky shit for sensuality/ They bought in Toorak Road”.
Co-written by Reyne when he was seventeen with producer David Briggs it has fallen from favor with him over time, he has been critical of the lyrics as being too try-hard and his piano playing as amateurish and critics too have been equally critical describing the lyrics as “preachy”.
But there is a timelessly engaging naïve quality to the music and lyrics and a foretaste of the creative skills of James Reyne as the sarcasm drips from the chorus “..so it’s back beach for the summer, chalet for the snow, hootchie Gucci, Fiorucci mama, you got really no place to go….”.The mondegreens for which Reyne became identifiable in the future are obvious here, but he projected a luminous youthfulness, an impressive mullet, and displayed convincing vocals in the very straightforward promo video.