Living in The Seventies (G Macainsh) and Horror Movie (G Macainsh) – Skyhooks 1974
Skyhooks started out as two Norwood High School (Melb) buddies Greg Macainsch and Fred Strauks who were inspired by Chuck Berry, the Kinks and Bob Dylan and formed a garage band called Reuben Tice who specialized in Grateful Dead covers, and original songs that referenced their Melbourne suburbs.
Within several years the band made their debut performance at St. Jude’s Church Hall (Carlton) and gravitated towards becoming an anti-glitter band who dressed eccentrically and wore makeup as part of a parody of the glitter poseurs and glam groups who were dominating charts here and overseas. When the original lead singer Steve Hill realized the confronting public image the band were intent on creating, and after his underwhelming performance as front-man at the band’s 1974 Sunbury debut gig, he quit.
Hill was replaced by Graham “Shirley” Strachan, a high-pitched, blond-curled apprentice carpenter and surfer, whose smart-arse, jumped-up cheeky chappie stage persona, and neurotic twitchy vocals, made him the perfect front-man. He wore figure-hugging jumpsuits with an outstretched red hand painted on the crotch and adopted a laconic surfer dude persona at live performances.
But Shirley didn’t get to hog the spotlight, each member of the band had their own unique spin on costume and performance – lead guitarist Red Symons in kabuki makeup, satin and matching cape, his tongue flicking like a lizard, bassist Greg Macainsh in platinum hair, drop earrings, yellow suit and Stetson hat, guitarist Bob Straukie impersonating a frill neck lizard or Zorro or Morticia Adams, and drummer Fred Strauks alternating between a Roman centurion’s helmet and a blinking spaceman suit that flashed on an off during drum solos – they were startling, unique, talented, and their arrival coincided with the launch of color television in Australia.
The newspapers of the time observed that “Their music had been described as camp rock, rock and rouge, glitter rock, punk rock, revolutionary theatre rock, and even as an explosion of the decadent decade!” (The Australian 1974).
Despite the band’s bizarre appearance their success was founded on the unerringly accurate and ironically satirical songs of bassist Greg Macainsh who traded in clever, colloquial lyrics which name checked Melbourne locations – Balwyn, Carlton, Toorak, Lygon Street, etc. and challenged censors with their strong drug and sex references.
Macainsh was at a Boy Scout jamboree in Dandenong when he first heard the wildness and abandon of the Beatles I Saw Her Standing There, and immediately decided that his future was in a rock and roll band, not collecting merit badges and singing Kumbaya around the campfire.
Thereafter he recalled that period in his life in the liner notes to the Great Australian Songbook “I was an intense 23-year-old with a Fender Precision and inner discomfort that would not easily subside … the lyrics (to Living In The Seventies) were scrawled down in a notebook in my downstairs room at North Warrandyte.”
He namechecks MacDonalds (“eating fake food under plastic trees”), and teachers who criticized his lacklustre efforts (“I feel like a schoolboy that’s grown a beard.”).
Ross Wilson became their producer and Michael Gudinski signed them up to his fledgling Mushroom Records label, they recorded their debut album Living in the 70’s at TCS studios (Melb) in only 100 hours, and it went to #1 and stayed on top for sixteen weeks, so eclipsing the previous record-holder, Daddy Cool’s’’, Daddy Who? Daddy Cool, as the biggest-selling album in Australian music history to that time, after sales climbed to over 240,000, and the album clocked up 56 weeks on the charts.
The original lyrics to this song were changed at Wilson’s suggestion from “I feel like a call girl that’s never been had” to “I feel like a good time that’s never been had,” to ensure that at least two songs- Horror Movie was the other -on the album would be approved for general transmission.
The Australian Broadcasting Commission banned six of the tracks on the album Living In the Seventies and so contributed to its notoriety and ultimate success. The tracks You Just Like Me ‘Cos I’m Good in Bed, Smut, Toorak Cowboy and Motorcycle Bitch were all deemed to offend because of sexual references and Whatever Happened to The Revolution? and Hey What’s the Matter were banned for drug references. In retrospect none of these songs would offend today, and at the time it’s hard to understand why Balwyn Calling and Carlton (Lygon Street Limbo) which included the following lyrics “When the sun sets over Carlton/ And the day begins to fade/All those night-time junkies /And long-haired monkeys/ They all pull up the shade” – were not also singled out for treatment by the fun police.
Living in the Seventies, the title track off the album, charted top 30 nationally due to strong support in Melbourne, it was an anthem of the 70’s, and heralded the arrival of a very influential group nationally.
The second single from the album, Horror Movie, a provocative song about the carnage and destruction served up in the evening television news each night, became the band’s first #1 single in December 1974, it was backed with Carlton (Lygon Street Limbo) which was equally as good, at this time the Hooks simultaneously occupied the #1 positions on both the album and singles charts nationally.
Horror Movie was the first song performed on the initial color transmission of Countdown, and the band were ubiquitous guests on the show, Molly Meldrum was a fan. ABC’s new youth-oriented radio station Double J defied a ban to make You Just Like Me ‘Cos I’m Good In Bed, the first single they broadcast, the media loved the Hooks, and they were riding the crest of a wave, and keeping Michael Gudinski’s Mushroom Records from sinking into bankruptcy.
The band would continue to dominate the charts with their next album, Ego Is Not A Dirty Word, during a golden run for the band in 1975 when they would take three more singles into the top ten – Ego Is Not A Dirty Word (#2 April), All My Friends Are Getting Married (#2 July) and Million Dollar Riff (#6 November). In 1992 the ‘Hooks were inducted into the ARIA Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.