Australian songwriters have often been inspired by a sense of place which they reflected in their music – Banjo Paterson, Lucky Starr, Skyhooks, Cold Chisel, Paul Kelly, Midnight Oil. North American and British songwriters have similarly added to the catalogue of great songs imbued with an identifiable sense of place – Robert Johnson, Chuck Berry, the Beach Boys, Jim Webb, the Beatles, the Kinks, the Jam and others.
Paul Kelly is a gifted storyteller whose lyrical images are evocative of places and personal experiences and this song is no exception. At the time Kelly wrote this song his life had gone through several emotional upheavals – he had left his first wife Hilary, broken up his band, and relocated from Melbourne to Sydney, was this an act of escapism or a genuine step forward emotionally and artistically?
He wound up sharing space in Kings Cross with Don Walker (Cold Chisel) and living near Paul Hewson (Dragon), both were accomplished songwriters and they encouraged Kelly to persist and follow his dream. He used Walker’s white grand piano to develop songs that would form part of his next album, Post, the songs included From St. Kilda to King’s Cross, inspired in part by Robert Johnson’s From Memphis to Norfolk Is A 36-hour Ride and the Lovin’ Spoonful’s Never Goin’ Back. The song references Kelly’s thirteen hour bus journey between the two cities watching “…the white lines rushing past…” and a reflection on past experiences, as the lyrics include a warning about fair-weather friends and how to deal with them “I keep my mouth well shut, and I cross their open hands.” The album Post was named in honor of Paul Hewson, who died of an accidental drug overdose in 1985.
In Kelly’s song about leaving his home town, Adelaide, he had metaphorically burnt his bridges, “All the king’s horses, all the king’s men/ Wouldn’t drag me back again/ To Adelaide, Adelaide…”, here he is unsure if he has made the right move, having basically relocated from one red light area in St. Kilda to another red light area in Kings Cross, and the final verse reflects the lingering doubts he has “ I want to see the sun go down from St. Kilda Esplanade…I’d give you all of Sydney Harbor (All that land and all that water)/For that one sweet promenade.”
Recorded at the Silverwood studios in Sydney, Kelly was accompanied by Steve Connolly (guitar), Michael Barclay (harmony vocal), Pedro Bull (keyboards) and Chris Coyne (sax). Co-produced by Kelly and Clive Shakespeare (formerly of Sherbet), incredibly the song failed to chart, but has over time acquired a patina of respect and a sense of endearment amongst music fans, especially at live performances.